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Career educator, 2 alumni named new ACS fellows

​AAP Wilmington's Michael Stemniski, recently honored by the American Chemical Society. Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson.

​​Michael A. Stemniski, known as “Doc” to thousands of students over the past 46 years, is a teacher if ever there was one.

Since his first teaching position, at a junior high school in 1970, he’s explained chemistry to students of all ages — usually holding at least two jobs at a time at different schools and colleges in Delaware, teaching evenings and summers in addition to a traditional academic schedule.

This summer, Stemniski is in the classroom every day during University of Delaware summer sessions in Newark and will return in the fall to the University’s Associate in Arts Program in Wilmington. In all, he’s taught 44 years (and counting) at UD, 35 years (until retiring in 2006) at Thomas McKean High School and 25 years (1981-2006) at Delaware Technical Community College. In his spare time, he gives chemistry demonstrations at elementary schools and public events, to fellow science teachers and to industry professionals.

'I love chemistry'

“I love chemistry, and I love teaching,” he said. “I love working with young people, and I’ll continue doing it as long as I can.”

Stemniski’s long and productive career as an educator was recognized recently by the American Chemical Society (ACS), which named him one of its 57 new fellows for 2016. The world’s largest scientific society, the ACS selects fellows in recognition of their outstanding contributions to science and the profession and service to the organization.

With slightly fewer than 1,000 fellows among 157,000 ACS members, the selection process is highly competitive. Most fellows conduct research, publish in scientific journals or hold patents, among other accomplishments, and Stemniski was surprised when he learned that he was in the process of being nominated based on his teaching, outreach and service.

“I’m very honored and humbled that my colleagues felt I was deserving of this,” he said. “I told them that I’m not a researcher, but my nominator felt that my dedication to education over 46 years was sufficient to qualify me.”

Stemniski earned a doctorate in organic chemistry from Fordham University in 1967, intent on a career in industry. But after a few years with DuPont, he moved into teaching and says he has never regretted it.

His success as an educator has been well recognized. He’s been named the McKean High School teacher of the year and Delaware ACS chemistry teacher of the year, in addition to numerous other teaching honors and awards for public outreach in science. He’s worked on statewide science curriculum standards and has constructed, administered and graded the annual high school chemistry exam for the Delaware ACS since 1990.

At UD, his students praise him on online comment sites, often noting his clear presentations of class material and willingness to offer extra help whenever asked. That’s all part of how Stemniski sees his job.

“I don’t think there’s a secret to my teaching,” he said. “I try to present the material in an orderly fashion that is understandable to my students.

'I'm here to help them succeed'

“I’m not here to see how many students I can ‘weed out.’ I’m here to help them succeed, especially if they’ve struggled with chemistry in the past, and I’ll do whatever it takes to help them.

Outside the classroom, Stemniski estimates that he’s put on some 400 chemistry demonstrations over the years. He’s cut back on the number recently, but he still offers shows at some favorite events, such as the annual Invention Convention at Hagley Museum and National Chemistry Week celebrations.

He’s also held, and continues to hold, numerous volunteer leadership roles in the Delaware ACS.

“Mike has been a driving force for chemical education in the state of Delaware for many years,” said Murray Johnston, professor and chair of UD’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. He called Stemniski “particularly adept” at helping nontraditional students succeed.

“I am ecstatic that his efforts have been honored through selection as an American Chemical Society fellow,” Johnston said.

Two alumni named 2016 fellows

In addition to Stemniski, two other new ACS fellows have connections to the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Silvia S. Jurisson, who earned her bachelor’s degree in 1978, and Tracy C. Williamson, who earned a doctorate in 1992, both in chemistry, are also members of the 2016 class of fellows.

Jurisson, who is professor of chemistry and radiology at the University of Missouri, Columbia, was the featured speaker at UD’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry’s Convocation ceremony this May. She was recognized by the ACS “for developing highly innovative approaches for obtaining theranostic radiopharmaceuticals used in cancer imaging and therapy.”

Williamson has worked for the federal Environmental Protection Agency since 1993, as a chemist and then a manager, supporting Toxic Substances Control Act programs and implementing green chemistry programs. She is a co-author of the book Green Chemistry: Designing Chemistry for the Environment.

All the 2016 fellows will be honored at the society’s August meeting in Philadelphia. For more about the ACS fellows program, including a list of all honorees since the program began in 2009, visit the website.

—Article by Ann Manser; photo by Kathy F. Atkinson

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AAP Wilmington professor of chemistry Michael Stemniski was recently named a fellow of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society.

​AAP Wilmington professor of chemistry Michael Stemniski was recently named a fellow of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society. Stemniski has been teaching for UD for 44 years.​

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  • Associate in Arts Program
  • UD Academic Center
  • 300 N. Orange St.
  • Wilmington, DE 19801
  • Phone: (302) 571-5395
  • Fax: (302) 657-5198