Monday, October 3, 2011

50th Anniversary—Celebrating Science

Dale Pleticha, professor of physics, has been teaching at Gordon for 27 years. So when Notes Along the Way wanted to write a story on the 50th anniversary celebration of the Division of Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Computer Science, we knew great history and stories could be found on the second floor of the Ken Olsen Science Center where Professor Pleticha is usually found.

Though the official date of the anniversary is still an unfolding mystery, the first majors in biology, chemistry and physics were offered to students in 1961. Currently the second smallest division at Gordon, the Science Division includes biology, chemistry, kinesiology, mathematics, computer science, physics, and 3-2 engineering. “It’s not uncommon—especially when you think of our own beginnings as a missionary training school—for Christian colleges and universities to have small natural sciences divisions,” said Pleticha. “But Gordon’s programs have experienced remarkable growth over the last 50 years. It’s exciting to look back at our history and celebrate our future.” Pleticha continued to share stories of long-time faculty like Jack Haas, Dick Wright and Jerry McNatt, whose leadership (30+ years) provided great advancement in the sciences on our campus. Though now retired from teaching, Dick Wright still has one of the top textbooks in environmental science. The book, Environmental Science: Toward a Sustainable Future, is now co-authored with another Gordon scholar—Dorothy Boorse—and is in it’s 11th edition. Another book by Wright, Biology Through the Eyes of Faith, provides a comprehensive look at stewardship in the realm of biology for many Christian scientists today.
Of course, we also honor those first days of marine biology in Gordon’s history when Barrington merged with Gordon, bringing Jane Andrus and her passion for marine science to our faculty.

“We also must look back at the intellectual caliber of our students over the last five decades,” said Pleticha. “These young scholars and many alumni have shaped our history and are a living testimony to the quality of the degrees we’ve awarded since 1961.”

Faculty achievements in the broader community have also shaped the division we celebrate today: such as Gordon’s executive leadership role in the American Scientific Affiliation; Dorothy Boorse’s testimony in front of the United States Congress; as well as Irv Levy’s use of the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry—the go-to educational resource for teaching green chemistry. Or when the Department of Kinesiology opened the Center for Balance, Mobility and Wellness in 2008—now the premier facility of its kind in Greater Boston for gait and balance disorders. In the business world? Where would our science program be without the generous financial and computer equipment donations of Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation. Or look at the example of Bill Swanson’s recent meeting with Gordon student Morgan Shook ’13 and her advisor David Lee, where the Raytheon CEO asked questions about Shook’s future in engineering and spoke with Lee on his latest golf patents. Even Gordon’s recent partnership in Gordon’s 3-2 engineering program with the University of Southern California—ranked sixth in the nation for engineering—which has added another notch to the natural sciences timeline of achievements.

“Gordon has the capacity to make a substantial contribution to the relationship between science and democracy,” states Provost Mark Sargent. “We have a strong commitment to scientific inquiry, a good network among people of faith, and a commitment to respectful dialogue. That should give us an opportunity to forge a greater relationship between the lab and the sanctuary as we endeavor to understand our world more fully through vigorous scientific inquiry, and to bring the lens of a Christian conscience to the major social and ethical issues raised by scientific advances.”

This weekend Gordon College will celebrate the 50th anniversary during Homecoming and Family Weekend, where each Great Scot alumni honoree is a graduate who majored in science studies. At Friday’s Homecoming Convocation we will have the opportunity to hear from these alumni and Dorothy Boorse, associate professor of biology, as she talks about the future of science at Gordon. It’s a time of great history for Gordon College, the sciences, and our students. Happy 50th anniversary!

Photo: The late Tom Dent, who taught biology at Gordon College 1969–91.

This is the 50th anniversary year of the Division of Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Computer Science at Gordon College. Departments include Biology, Chemistry, Kinesiology, Mathematics and Computer Science, and Physics and 3-2 Engineering.

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