Chemical Bonds: Alumni Couple Endow Summer Research Experience for Chemistry Students
“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.”
— Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst
What happens when you mix a white lab coat, the scent of old sweaty tennis shoes, knowledge of Italian food and long hours in a chemistry lab?
Well, for Peter ’75 and Andrea Guglielmo Bocko ’73 M’75, the combination yields a long and prosperous marriage, a pair bonded by gratitude for the summer research experiences at SUNY Oswego that brought them together and prepared them for their careers.
In appreciation of those experiences and the life they’ve built together, the couple established the Peter ’75 and Andrea Guglielmo Bocko ’73 M’75 Forever Award Endowed fund through a $500,000 gift to SUNY Oswego. The fund will support summer research opportunities for Oswego chemistry students. The couple had previously established an endowed scholarship for one student to have a summer research experience and had provided additional annual support to help Chemistry Chair Fehmi Damkaci give more students research experiences. This most recent—and largest gift—will enable Oswego to provide paid summer research opportunities to chemistry students in perpetuity.
“The opportunities we had outside of the normal academic experience were extremely important for both of us,” said Peter, who retired from his position of chief technology officer at Corning Incorporated and then taught at Cornell University for six years. He credits his summer research experience with Dr. Ken Hyde and the resulting five publications as key to his acceptance at Cornell University for graduate school.
“The lab work that occurs in the classroom is important, but it’s reproducing something that’s already been done and the students are simply trying to get the same results,” he said. “When you’re in the lab actually doing hands-on work, you have to integrate the theory you got from the books with problem-solving and your own senses. For example, you may feel a beaker and it’s warmer than you expected so you know that something is going on.”
Andrea added: “Summer research also gives students a chance to get paid while getting the experience to add to their resume and help prepare them—whether they intend to go to grad school or get a job. More and more places are expecting students to have had some hands-on experience.”
Plus, from her two decades as a high school science teacher and her work with an after-school program for students in Japan, she has witnessed the benefits of hands-on, minds-on learning, and how those kinds of projects can ignite curiosity, develop confidence and encourage deeper learning in students.
“Chemistry is everywhere,” Andrea said. “Everyone from hairdressers to nurses to environmentalists need to understand at least some basics of chemistry.”
Peter added: “When people understand some fundamentals of chemistry, they become critical citizens who can judge what they see and read. We get inundated with a lot of misinformation in the areas of medicine, climate change, consumerism. Having some basic understanding of chemistry and science can help you discern fact from fiction.”
When the Bockos learned that their mentor and former professor, Dr. Gus Silveira had made a substantial gift (see related story), timed to pay tribute to retiring Oswego president of 26 years, Deborah F. Stanley, they checked over their finances and decided to make a transformational gift to the college now, too.
“We’re both crazy about President Stanley,” Peter said. “She’s been very kind to me. Despite all the pressures facing higher education, Oswego has thrived. I give Deborah Stanley credit for that. She’s a very well-rounded, practical, problem-solver—a perfect leader.”
Now back to the smell of stinky sneakers…
Andrea, who was a graduate assistant for Dr. Hyde, was working in the same lab as Peter on a dangerous inorganic synthesis with pyridine, which created a pungent smell of old sweaty sneakers. Besides being the only female in the lab, everyone noticed when Andrea was there because of the smell her research created.
“What can I say? I’m a sucker for a smart, cute girl in a white lab coat whose research stinks,” Peter laughed.
Their Painted Post, N.Y., home is adorned with another piece of their Oswego history—a brick from old Snygg Hall. They painted it gold and wrote on it: “Snygg Hall, 1968-2014,” and on the other side: “Andrea and Peter Forever.”