Educational Editorial: Loss of Nobel Prize winner Dr. John Fenn

By Dr. Bill Bosher, NBC12 Educational Specialist

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Virginia Commonwealth University, and the world, lost a wonderful teacher and remarkable scientist when Nobel Prize winner Dr. John Fenn passed this week.

In 2002, he was recognized for his work in chemistry and as noted by the Nobel Committee, he caused a "minor revolution" when he was able to make large proteins fly through a mass spectrometer so that they could be measured.

As Dr. Fenn quipped, he had simply made elephants fly. He was an experimentalist…he liked to make things work. He was a brilliant man who never lost sight of the ultimate goal, practice…how do we apply what we have learned?

I recall standing in front of a 7-Eleven near the VCU campus and talking with Dr. Fenn about what schools should be doing for young people. He noted that his father had taught vocational education and that he had decided to attend Yale for graduate school because someone had offered him a ride.

With the humility and work ethic of a Berea College graduate, he spoke with a great sense of urgency about the need to teach young people how to "do something."

Virginians responding to a VCU Commonwealth Education Poll this week seemed to agree. While respondents supported their public schools, those who believe that students are prepared to get a job dropped by eight percentage points.

There seems to be a disconnect between what young people are taught and how it helps them to get and keep a job. With high unemployment and families in fiscal distress, it seems critical that we teach our graduates to "do something."

Dr. Fenn stated, "to succeed as a theorist, you have to be good.  To succeed as an experimentalist you have to be lucky." Perhaps luck is when preparation meets opportunity.

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