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2024 Faculty Distinguished Lecture

On Mar. 19, Meredith college hosted its annual Faculty Distinguished Lecture, which highlights a “significant achievement of research by a faculty member.” Since first introduced in 1964 and presented by Professor of English, Norma Rose, Dr. Walda Powell was the 60th presentation with her “Life in Chemistry” lecture. 

Dr. Powell was introduced to the stage by Dr. Beth Mulvaney, Professor of Arts. Dr. Mulvaney describes having met Dr. Powell through College Committee work and they “got to know each other quite well.” For Dr. Mulvaney, her favorite moment of the evening, was seeing Dr. Powell “celebrated and honored for her achievements as a teacher, researcher, mentor and colleague.”

Covering “Life in Chemistry,” Dr. Powell opened her presentation with her daily routine, describing her morning coffee to the audience and explaining some of the chemistry behind the taste and aroma. Dr. Powell later went on to dive further into the interconnectivity of chemistry within the world of food and beverage in different regards, showing glimpses of some of her experiences in cheese making, as well as some of the history behind beer. Dr. Powell shared that she views cooking as an extension of her lab work, noting that better understanding “the science of cooking, baking, and fermentation,” it reminds her of “the chemical processes [she] learned in a chemistry lab.”

In terms of preparing for her lecture, Dr. Powell describes having “spent a lot of time working on the talk and trying to make it work for a general audience” and that she started working on the presentation in September of last year. Dr. Mulvaney noted that she believes that Dr. Powell succeeded in making the lecture interesting for non-specialists. In addressing Chemistry, Dr. Powell stated that “Chemistry is not just an isolated academic experience that happens in a classroom” and in talking about the significance of chemistry, she shared that she wanted the audience “not to fear it.” While “some chemicals have the potential to cause harm to our health and [the] environment,” Dr. Powell believes that as consumers, there is a necessity to be informed on both the positive and negative effects of the chemicals in people’s lives.

Dr. Powell also described her love of chemistry. She shared that she loves understanding “how chemical structures predict the properties and reactivity of organic compounds”  and added that “Chemistry bridges scientific disciplines, encouraging interdisciplinary work.” Her hope was that she showed the audience how Chemistry enhances people’s lives in many ways.  

When asked about her favorite moment from the evening, Dr. Powell did not isolate it to just one thing. She shared that she was excited to see both past and present colleagues who “offered much support in [her] career.” She also made special mention of Dr. Bumgardner and her late mentor Dr. Suzanne Purrington, both of whom taught her “so much about Fluorine as both an undergraduate and a graduate student.” Dr. Powell explained how she was grateful to all who came and all the support she received. 

The audience ultimately would have different takeaways from the presentation, but Dr. Mulvaney shared that she “loved how [Dr. Powell] was able to show all of [the audience] several different ways she has worked with chemistry.” Dr. Mulvaney added that she also loved the incorporation of the videos, namely the research video and Dr. Powell’s cheese making video. 

After the lecture, the audience was invited to Johnson Hall where food and beverages were offered. 

Overall, faculty distinguished lectures give insights into different disciplines, addressing various topics and fields of study. Dr. Mulvaney concluded that “It is an event not to be missed!”


By Shae-Lynn Henderson, Editor in Chief

Photo courtesy of Dr. Powell

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