Silveiras’ Gift Continues Legacy of Support for Oswego
Room 175 in the Richard S. Shineman Center–a place where students take classes, seniors culminate their programs in capstone courses, and faculty and students share research during the college’s annual Quest Day–will be known from now on as the Dr. Augustine and Beverly Silveira Lecture Hall. The Silveiras’ naming gift is timed to honor President Deborah F. Stanley upon her retirement at the end of the Fall 2021 semester.
In 38 years of teaching and 34 years chairing the chemistry department, Dr. Silveira, who retired in 2000 at the rank of distinguished teaching professor, served SUNY Oswego under six presidents and became friends with all of them. But, he said, he and Beverly, whom he met on a blind date when she was 16 and married five years later in 1957, have especially high regard for the current leader.
“President Stanley is my favorite of all time. She and Michael [her husband] are faithful supporters of the college and constant advocates for students,” Silveira said. “When she announced her retirement, Beverly and I decided that instead of bequeathing the naming gift as part of our will, we would release it now to honor President Stanley and her visionary leadership over the past quarter century.”
The Silveiras’ monetary gift to name the lecture hall comes in addition to substantial contributions they have provided for student scholarships and enrichment over many years. They generously support a fund created by Tom Weil ’66 to honor his former professor in three components: The Augustine Silveira Jr. Chemistry Scholarship; the Augustine Silveira Jr. Research Award in Chemistry and the Augustine Silveira Distinguished Alumni Lecture Series.
The Silveiras’ motivation for such generosity stems from their humble beginnings as children in the early years of the 20th century.
“Having grown up in the Depression, I knew my family could not afford to send me to college,” Dr. Silveira said. “I held four jobs throughout my undergraduate years. I vowed that when it became possible, I would do everything I could so that the best students would not have to work as hard as I did while earning a degree.”
Upon his graduation from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth in 1957, Silveira earned a Ph.D. at the University of. Massachusetts at Amherst, and was recruited by eight or nine academic institutions across the United States. He chose Oswego’s fledgling chemistry department after meeting Dr. Richard Shineman, the founding chair, and seeing the potential for building a strong organic chemistry program at the lakeside college.
All evidence points to his success in that goal. Oswego was the first SUNY college to earn accreditation for its chemistry programs from the American Chemical Society, and it was the first to offer a master of science degree in chemistry. Silveira has won more than 50 grants and awards for the college (he credits his wife with having typed most proposals) and is responsible for its national and international reputation as an outstanding school for scientific study.
Behind the statistics lies the essence of Silveira’s status as an educator: his total and intense focus on students. Speaking on behalf of dozens of alumni who have been immersed in research projects and juried papers with their organic chemistry professor is Michael Plante M’75, who collaborated with Silveira and 2010 Nobel Prize in chemistry awardee Ei-ichi Negishi. Papers on which Plante and Silveira were co-authors were part of the total package of evidence put before the Royal Swedish Academy of Science that secured the prize.
“We were proud to have a role in that Nobel award,” Plante said. “But what makes Gus unique is his brilliance as an educator. He brought his signature high energy, magnetic personality and complete dedication to subject and student to every class, lab and project.
“As a graduate assistant, I monitored labs and got to know the undergraduates. I’d sit in on some of the classes just to hear Gus lecture, and I was always amazed at the number of students who gathered after class to continue discussions with their beloved professor,” Plante said.
Plante added that Silveira was at the helm of a “rigorous” program that made demands for academic excellence on every student and faculty member in the department. A unique aspect of SUNY Oswego chemistry labs under Silveira was the pioneering practice of operating project-oriented research that mirrored professional investigations and didn’t just rely on pre-ordained methods and outcomes.
Plante said the naming of a lecture hall is significant because it will keep the Silveiras’ name alive, and he knows the couple’s ongoing giving is vital to the school’s reputation and the success of future students.
“But,” Plante added, “Gus doesn’t have to make a monetary gift to secure his legacy. That has been done with every class he ever taught and every student he ever mentored over nearly four decades as an Oswego professor.”
When Silveira talks about his former students, he names them and their accomplishments as if he’s unfurling a scroll of achievers. There are industrial engineers, medical doctors, industry executives, pharmaceutical researchers, lab managers, government leaders and environmentalists. One outstanding physician who has stayed in close contact through the years is Dr. Colleen Enwright O’Leary ’74, who is considered a third daughter. She took four courses with Silveira and credits him with teaching her how to learn.
“I’ve always had an excellent memory, so I relied on that to assimilate new material early in my college days rather than approaching problems analytically,” O’Leary said. “Gus taught me to be a critical thinker.” She added that he encouraged students to apply the knowledge they already had to lead them to new discoveries.
“These same skills translate across the sciences as well as to other fields of study,” O’Leary pointed out. “They are, in fact, integral to the study and practice of medicine.”
O’Leary said no story about Silveira would be complete without due attention being given to Beverly, who has supported him in every endeavor. “She is warm, loving and caring,” O’Leary said. “She welcomed students into their home and nurtured us along with her own two daughters. Bev is the practical one, who holds Gus’s feet to the ground while his head is often in the clouds. Gus credits her with his success and always seeks her wise counsel.”
Silveira himself affirmed O’Leary’s observations saying, “I always trusted Bev’s guidance.”
SUNY Oswego’s administrators, faculty members and students can be grateful for that trust. Throughout the years, Silveira was vigorously recruited by other colleges and universities, including the University of California at Irvine, where he lectured and taught during sabbaticals. He was offered several lucrative administrative posts at private as well as public institutions.
Tempted by, and almost finalizing one such offer, Silveira was forced to reconsider when his wife, realizing his days would be consumed with administrative tasks, said, “Gus, I know when you’re happy. You’re happy when you come home after a day of working with students.”
With that bit of wisdom, Silveira had an epiphany and realized his best course of action was to remain at the college he chose initially with the students he inspired in the program he directed. So, although he continued to lecture across America, Australia and Asia, Dr. Silveira remained rooted at SUNY Oswego where, as O’Leary declared, “He is a legend.”
O’Leary added, “Gus is the best kind of teacher and mentor, advocating for and encouraging students, then celebrating their success. A named lecture hall, the seat of learning, will serve as a permanent reminder of the gifts and talents he embodies. Perhaps those who teach and learn there will be inspired to hone their minds, to become critical thinkers, and to strive in their own careers to share their talents and create new knowledge.”
Ten Things About Gus Silveira, Ph.D.
- He holds the highest academic SUNY rank, that of distinguished teaching professor.
- He and his students collaborated over a 23-year period with 2010 Nobel Chemistry Prize awardee Dr. Ei-ichi Negishi.
- In addition to an earned doctor of philosophy degree, he holds two honorary doctorates, one from his undergraduate college (1975) and one from SUNY (2010), and he has been the commencement speaker at University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth and SUNY Oswego.
- He and his wife, Beverly, are avid hikers, kayakers and Red Sox fans.
- In 1988, he received an American Chemical Society award for outstanding contributions in chemistry and chemical education.
- A member of Rotary International, he worked in areas of student scholarships and chaired Oswego Meals-on-Wheels.
- He was named the City of Oswego environmental representative in 1989 and maintained that position under subsequent mayors until his 2000 retirement.
- He was appointed by NYS Department of Environmental Conservation to serve on the Remedial Advisory Committee to make recommendations to clean up the Oswego River basin and Lake Ontario.
- He was a leader in obtaining an Environmental Protection Agency grant to remediate environmental issues at the abandoned Colombia Mills site in Minetto, N.Y.
- He was one of the first recipients, in 1990, of the New York State/United University Professions Excellence Award.
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