Chemistry Professors Inspire Alum to Teach with Passion

Howard Drossman: Ph.D., 1992 (Smith Group)

Recently we asked some of our alumni to reflect on their experience at UW. Here’s what Howard Drossman had to say.

Do you remember what brought you to UW–Madison’s Department of Chemistry?

I first came to Madison in the Environmental Toxicology graduate program, but I realized within my first semester that I loved analytical chemistry. Madison was a great place to live, and the chemistry department was top-notch.

Where are you working now and what is your current title?

I have been a professor at Colorado College for 32 years, with teaching appointments in three different departments: Chemistry & Biochemistry, Environmental Science, and Education. My current title is Professor of Environmental Education.

What importance did UW–Madison Chemistry have in your career path?

The highly interdisciplinary nature of our work—making sequencers for the Human Genome Project—stayed with me forever, as my work has always been at the interface of several fields: bioanalytical chemistry, environmental chemistry, and environmental education. Lloyd Smith was as supportive of my environmental education work as our work in bioanalytical chemistry. Dr. Merle Evenson was also an outstanding mentor. Lloyd and Merle were well-rounded and caring people who taught me as much about life as chemistry (and they taught me a lot about chemistry).

When you think of the Department of Chemistry, what key memory comes to mind?

Caring professors who loved to teach and who encouraged us to love to teach. I took many more classes than required so I could learn from all of the analytical chemistry professors, and each had a passion for what they taught that inspired us to learn. I try to bring that passion to my classes each day.

What would you like our current students to know about what they might do with a degree in chemistry?

Not only have I been in three different departments at Colorado College, but my work has allowed me to co-found and lead an environmental non-profit organization, the Catamount Center for Environmental Science and Education, along with my wife Julie Francis, whom I met at Madison. The skills you gain in chemistry are mostly about thinking more clearly and analytically, and how chemistry relates to many other disciplines. The degree is not an end but a pathway to anything you choose. I still love chemistry, but my skills were transferable to environmental science and education.