The Stuff of Legends

September 01, 2011

By Lorrie Kyle Ramey

Collectively, they were members of the Rollins College community for more than 125 years, teaching and coaching an estimated 10,000 students. At the conclusion of the 2010-11 academic year, Rollins honored three retiring faculty members for their incalculable contributions to the College and the success of generations of Rollins alumni. In recognition of those contributions, the Board of Trustees ( of the College elevated each to emeritus status.

Erich Blossey
Balancing the Teaching–Learning Equation

For Erich Blossey, the key element of the teaching-and-learning compound is research. It’s what motivates him, and he’s imparted that enthusiasm to his students for 46 years.

Early in his career, Blossey tackled the problem of how to connect the dry theory of the classroom to the reality of the laboratory, first identifying an area of research undergraduate chemistry students could explore successfully, and then involving them as equal partners in the research endeavor. Meanwhile, he registered two patents, 30+ publications, eight books, and nearly 40 professional presentations—some shared with Rollins students—of his own.

In the summer of 1994, Blossey and his colleague Pedro Bernal, associate professor of chemistry, pioneered summer student-faculty collaborative scholarship projects for rising sophomores. The program, which has grown to embrace scholarship in every discipline, is now a flagship for the College and a magnet for prospective students, who recognize that few have the opportunity to collaborate with faculty, present at professional conferences, and publish in peer-reviewed journals before they begin graduate school.

Blossey’s fascination with chemistry began with the childhood discovery of a chemistry set. His formal education in chemistry includes a bachelor’s degree from The Ohio State University, master’s degree from Iowa State University, and Ph.D. from Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie-Mellon University). He earned postdoctoral fellowships from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Syntex, S.A., which took him to Stanford University and Mexico City, respectively. In 1965, he joined Rollins’ faculty, after spending a year at Wabash College as a Kettering Foundation-Great Lakes Colleges Association Teaching Intern.

Although his research carries intimidating titles (“Preparation and Catalytic Properties of Immobilized Chiral Dirhodium (II) Carboxamidates,” “Catalysts with Mixed Ligands on Immobilized Supports, Electronic and Steric Advantages”), Blossey found creative ways to engage less scientifically minded students, offering courses such as Photography: The Science and Art. He was an early adopter of technology in the classroom, including the Personalized System of Instruction (PSI), the Personalized Response System (PRS), and more recently, the use of "clickers" in the classroom.

Blossey was appointed Archibald Granville Bush Professor of Science in 1981 and was the inaugural recipient of the D. J. and J. M. Cram Chair of Chemistry, a gift to the College from Nobel Prize laureate Donald Cram ’41 ’88H and his wife. Other recognitions include appointments as Senior NIH Postdoctoral Fellow (University of New Mexico) and Visiting Scholar (Harvard University). Nonetheless, for Blossey, these professional recognitions pale in comparison to the graduations of his daughter Lisa ’04 and son, Erich Gordon ’07.

Blossey considers himself not so much a teacher as a guide in the learning process. Fortunately, that guidance will continue—reviewing textbooks for Pearson Prentice Hall and McGraw-Hill and refereeing journal articles for the American Chemistry Society. He hopes to focus much of his time on strengthening K-16 education in the U.S., particularly STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). As he noted, “Much to be done since we rank 25th out of 30 ‘developed’ countries!”

STEM couldn’t have a more fervent champion.

Gordie Howell
An Olympic Perspective

As Gordie Howell ’64MAT tells the story, he first came to Rollins as a student, pursuing a master’s degree in economics. In 1967, he returned as a physical education instructor and was persuaded by Rollins president Hugh McKean ’30 ’72H to undertake the position of soccer coach. Howell, who was ultimately appointed to the Raymond W. Greene Chair of Health and Physical Education, recalls he was thrilled by the $1000 increase to his salary until President McKean added, “Gordie, by the way, for every season you have a losing season, we’re going to deduct $100.”

Though his knowledge of soccer was limited to having watched a few games, Howell caught on fast. During his 14 years leading the Tar boosters, the men logged a 157-62-17 record, nine trips to NCAA tournaments, two All-Americans, and five draftees to professional teams. He also wrote the initial soccer handbook for the Sunshine State Conference. A former Marine captain who commanded Force Reconnaissance teams, Howell introduced his student-athletes to his disciplined style of leadership: high standards, hard work, and mutual respect, producing similarly close-knit teams. His players learned he wouldn’t ask them to do something he wouldn’t do himself, and they love to recount lessons learned from their coach.

In 1983, Howell gave up coaching duties to become the College’s director of physical education and athletics. During his tenure as AD, Rollins raised the minimum GPA requirement for student-athletes to 3.0; added varsity swimming, varsity sailing, and women’s soccer; constructed the Alfond Baseball Stadium, Martin Tennis Complex, and Alfond Boathouse; and received permission to light Sandspur Field for night games—the most difficult of the lot. To win the needed approvals, Howell cajoled and convinced naysayers ranging from the police, who predicted an increase in accidents at nearby intersections, to mothers who claimed their infants’ sleep would be disrupted. The team builder triumphed.

A decade later, Howell turned his focus to the academic side of athletics, particularly the study of sport and its relationship to other disciplines. Traveling to the University of Leicester (UK), he added a master’s of sociology of sport and sports management to his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. Howell offered some of the College’s earliest interdisciplinary courses. The jewel in his laurel wreath, Athletics in the Ancient World, culminated with travel to Greece where “Team Greece,” as his students called themselves, actually ran on original Olympic tracks.

An unanticipated consequence of Howell’s interest in Olympic history was an invitation to participate in the International Olympic Academy, followed by another from the People’s Republic of China Olympic Organizing Committee to speak on the subject of Olympism and volunteerism.

On his retirement, Howell returned to Greece to attend an international conference on sport and related social issues, which happened to coincide with civil unrest only five minutes from his hotel. He waded into the throng of protestors seeking to understand their grievances—an encounter he characterizes as “an interesting closure to a long, unintended relationship with Greek society” that began, ironically, before his association with Rollins, as a Marine in the early 1960s.

Marvin Newman
Raising the Bar

Ask students lucky enough to have enrolled in COM 445 to name their favorite course at Rollins, and undoubtedly the response will be Death and Dying. Marvin Newman’s consideration of the facts and ethics surrounding patients’ rights mesmerized not only Rollins students (Death and Dying stands unchallenged as the most popular course in College history, regularly filling Bush Auditorium and still generating a wait list), but legal experts and media around the world.

Considered an expert on such challenging topics as stem cell research, physician-assisted suicide, and organ transplants, Newman is called on by the likes of The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, CNN, and Fox News, and has been invited to lecture at Cambridge and Oxford Universities—along with others a bit closer to home. He has also been the “go to” person for Rollins prelaw students. Over the years, his advice and advocacy have earned Rollins graduates seats in law schools such as Georgetown, Harvard, Stanford, and Yale.

Newman, whose law degrees are from Northwestern University (no slouch, itself), followed in his trial-attorney father’s footsteps, but he always knew that he wanted to teach. In 1961, he offered his first course at Rollins, and thus began the juggling act that defined Newman’s life for nearly 15 years: maintaining a successful law practice (he tried more than 300 cases in 40 states and three nations before retiring); teaching at midday, in the evenings, and on weekends; eating dinner with his family every night; and running eight miles a day. He joined Rollins’ faculty in 1975, rising to the rank of professor of legal studies and communication, a pairing that also inspired Newman to tackle cyber ethics, particularly internet-privacy issues. He holds the distinction of having taught in every program of the College during his career, as well as visiting appointments at Washington University School of Law, Vassar College, and Sarah Lawrence College, garnering multiple awards for scholarship and teaching along the way.

Newman expected equally high performance from his students. He incorporated a service-learning component into his courses, compelling students to challenge preconceptions by involving them with the elderly in hospice training, the less advantaged through legal aid, and the terminally ill with organizations such as Make-A-Wish Foundation. The result: students who learned about themselves while learning the importance of compassion.

With a personal portfolio of volunteer activities that includes service on The Florida Bar’s Student Education and Admissions to the Bar Committee and the ethics committees of Orlando Regional Medical Center and M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and Cancer Research Institute, all of which he chaired, it’s unlikely that Newman will be bored in retirement. In fact, he’s been invited to return to Oxford to lecture on bioethics and has already signed on to inaugurate a program for M.D. Anderson working with cancer patients and their families.

At the top of Newman’s post-retirement “To Do” list is shooting baskets with his grandsons. No surprise for a man who wouldn’t miss an evening meal with his wife and daughters.

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