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Sciences turn to top grads for guidance in shaping future

Christopher Mirabelli

Jeff Kelly
 Debbie Good
 Amy Diegelman-Parente

SUNY Fredonia is tapping the minds of 12 of the world’s most talented science, technology and education professionals to help design its new Science and Technology Center. Though they’re spread across the U.S., they all have one thing in common: a Fredonia diploma.

Many of these distinguished alumni returned to campus last fall as members of Fredonia’s Natural Sciences Advisory Council to assist in the planning of the new center, set to break ground in 2011.

Dean of the College of Natural and Social Sciences David Ewing welcomed the opportunity to consult with these leaders as Fredonia designs its first new stand-alone academic facility in 35 years. Their collective expertise encompasses science, research, science-technology business and patent law. Several have experience in planning new academic buildings as well, which is extremely valuable. High on the agenda is a facility that educates students for the working world.

“All these folks are prominent in their field,” Dr. Ewing said. “They have their pulse on different careers in science and know what the trends are, so they are in a good position to advise us. Are we designing the right kind of facility to prepare students for careers in science down the road?”

Council members have already suggested ideas relating to curriculum and fundraising since forming at the 2007 Alumni Leadership Conference. They have also advocated an interdisciplinary approach to teaching and abundant hands-on experience.

“This is the way you do science today,” said Dr. Christopher Mirabelli, ’77, managing director of a Boston healthcare venture capital firm. The whole idea is to put biology in the same facility with chemistry, he stressed, so students can collaborate on research and projects.

“To be involved at this level is truly exciting,” added Dr. Mirabelli, who has participated in numerous lab/facility build-outs. “Modern science requires a multi-discipline approach and should be taught in the same kind of environment.”

Dr. Michael Marletta, ’73, has also pushed for the interface of biology and chemistry. As Chair of the department of chemistry at the University of California-Berkeley, he believes the separation of biology and chemistry into distinct departments was inherited from medieval universities.

“While it makes organizational sense, the natural world doesn’t work that way, and to truly understand it, a broader, interdisciplinary education is required,” Dr. Marletta said.

At Berkeley, Marletta is based in a building designed to be interdisciplinary and interactive, so he brings that bonus experience to this process.
Like Mirabelli, Dennis Costello, ’72, is also a venture capitalist, but he has devoted his 30-year career to energy technology and is interested in the energy efficiency of this new building.

So far, design plans have earned high grades from these alums, according to Ewing. Plans call for an open structure that offers plenty of natural sunlight. It will also ensure that the various departments are not relegated to separate floors.

“That’s the way science is going, and students need to see that. That’s how people work now; the disciplinary lines are breaking down in the sciences,” Ewing added.

Drs. Marletta and Mirabelli, along with Costello and Dr. Jeffery Kelly, ’82, professor of Chemistry and Chairman of Molecular and Experimental Medicine at The Scripps Research Institute, also took time during their visit to meet with upper-level students majoring in biology, chemistry, geosciences and physics at a panel discussion in the Williams Center.

The advisory council also includes Dr. John Baust, ’65; Dr. Christopher Cahill, ’93; Dr. Amy Diegelman-Parente, ’95; Dr. Deborah Good, ’87; Dr. Norman Karin, ’76, ’78; Dr. David Mittlefehldt, ’73; Dr. Susan Schall, ’81; and Steve Schultz, ’72.


posted @ Tuesday, January 26, 2010 10:18 AM by Christine Davis Mantai

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