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Chemistry Professor Stephen Drucker
Wins Prestigious Dreyfus Award

RELEASED: Nov. 1, 2006

Dr. Stephen Drucker
Dr. Stephen Drucker

EAU CLAIRE — A chemistry faculty member at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire has been awarded a prestigious Dreyfus award, making UW-Eau Claire one of just four public and private undergraduate institutions in the country to have four or more Dreyfus teacher-scholar winners on its faculty.

Dr. Stephen Drucker, associate professor of chemistry, received the Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation of New York. It honors him for his accomplishments in teaching, mentoring and research with undergraduate students.

"I'm very excited," Drucker said of the $60,000 award. "This will allow me to expand the experimental techniques I'm using, which will make them more like what is happening at many of the more ambitious research institutions in the country."

With Drucker's award, UW-Eau Claire moves into an elite category of colleges and universities, said Dr. Scott Hartsel, chair of the chemistry department. Of the 1,200 public and private undergraduate institutions in the United States, only UW-Eau Claire, College of William and Mary, Haverford College and Furman University have four or more Dreyfus teacher-scholar award winners, he said, noting three of UW-Eau Claire's awards have come in the last five years.

"Having a Dreyfus winner on our faculty is like having a Nobel Prize winner on the faculty of a large research institution," said Hartsel. "It's that prestigious. That we have four Dreyfus winners in our department boggles my mind."

A first-rate teacher and scholar, Drucker is exactly the kind of scientist that the Dreyfus award is intended to honor, Hartsel said.

"This award says that Dr. Drucker is doing everything right," Hartsel said. "He's doing a great job in his teaching, mentoring and research. He's also serving the institution well, involving himself in department and university-wide initiatives. This is a very special award because it honors his work in all of these areas."

Students consistently rate Drucker among the best teachers in the department, Hartsel said. The student support is impressive because Drucker's expertise is in physical chemistry, an area that is extremely complex, he said.

Drucker said the award was possible because a year-long sabbatical gave him the opportunity to develop a plan to advance his research and the time to write a quality application to the Dreyfus Foundation. He spent several months at Purdue University studying techniques faculty there use that he wants to replicate in his lab. He returned to Purdue to test the techniques to be certain they would work with the kinds of experiments he had planned at UW-Eau Claire, he said.

As a result, Drucker was able to write a specific plan and demonstrate that it would work, which greatly enhanced his Dreyfus application, he said.

"The investment the university made in my sabbatical has come back to benefit the university in the form of this Dreyfus award," Drucker said. "It's going to benefit the students, the department and the university.

"It will help students who are interested in graduate school because it will give them access to state-of-the-art techniques and they'll get an authentic picture of science. If we scale down our experiments, they don't learn as much and they get a distorted or restricted view of science."

Drucker's experiment will involve studying the properties of certain kinds of molecules and how those properties change when the molecules absorb light.

"We want to get as much information as we can about the new structure," Drucker said. "It's difficult because the molecules are moving and colliding rapidly at room temperature. The new technique will slow down the molecules so we can study their properties more precisely."

Drucker uses the analogy of a collision between a truck and a bicycle to explain the goal of his research. People can predict the outcome of a truck-bicycle collision because they understand the properties of a truck and a bike. By understanding the properties of the molecules, scientists will better be able to understand what will happen when they interact, he said.

The ultimate goal of his experiment is to help people better predict chemical reactions, which will help them control outcomes and make things more efficiently, Drucker said.

"I am certain this is not being done at any other undergraduate institution in the country," Drucker said of his planned experiment. "Our students will see something that's almost identical — or even better — than what students are getting at many larger research institutions."

It's those kinds of opportunities that are attracting an increasing number of UW-Eau Claire students to the field of chemistry, Hartsel said, noting there was a record-number of freshman who declared chemistry as their major this fall.

"I attribute a lot of the increase in student interest to our outstanding faculty," Hartsel said. "Students are excited about chemistry. They want to be part of it."

Having multiple Dreyfus award winners in the department also will help UW-Eau Claire recruit new faculty, Hartsel said. UW-Eau Claire recruits faculty who are exceptional teachers and scholars — the same faculty who are being recruited by many other institutions, some of whom can offer better pay or benefits, he said.

"Prospective faculty see the amazing things our faculty do here and they know we'll give them the tools they need to succeed," Hartsel said. "It gives us an advantage."

Previous Dreyfus teacher-scholar winners from UW-Eau Claire are Dr. James Phillips, a professor of chemistry who won the award in 2004; Dr. Jason Halfen, a professor of chemistry who won it in 2001; and Dr. Fred King, professor of chemistry, who won an award in 1983.

In 1969 the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation established the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Awards Program to support the teaching and research careers of young faculty in the chemical sciences. In 1993, the Foundation divided the program into two awards, the Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Awards Program and the Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Awards Program. The Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Awards Program recognizes accomplishments in research and teaching with undergraduates.

This is Drucker's second award through the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation Inc. When Drucker came to UW-Eau Claire in 1998, he was one of 10 new chemistry faculty nationwide to receive an award under the Foundation's Faculty Startup Grant Program for Undergraduate Institutions.

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JB

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