Hal and Mary Harris

“We Want to Pay it Back”

Hal ’62 and Mary Harris

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For these two retired chemistry teachers, life is an adventure. From 1970 to 2015, Harold (Hal) Harris ’62 was a member of the chemistry faculty at University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL), where he published research in physical chemistry and pioneered the use of computer symbolic/numerical mathematical processors in teaching physical chemistry. Mary Harris retired from teaching high school chemistry in 2010. Together, they established the Harold H. Harris ’62 Endowed Scholarship with a stock gift that was matched by the Shanahan Matching Challenge in 2014. They have continued to donate to the scholarship, which benefits students majoring in chemistry or physics. Here they discuss what motivated them to start a scholarship, the impact it’s having and their latest adventure: volunteering to participate in COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials.

What was your career journey like and what are you doing now?

Hal: My “adventurous” career started with my application to a promising but unaccredited science and engineering school back in 1957 (HMC), and continued with a postdoctoral fellowship at the brand-new campus of UC Irvine. My academic career at UMSL was also during its very early years. Intellectually, I made several changes in direction, from mass spectrometry to trajectory calculations to ion-molecule spectroscopy to flame chemistry and, finally, to chemical education. The St. Louis Academy of Science named me “Science Educator of the Year” in 2010.

Mary: I taught high school chemistry and middle school physical science for 34 years at John Burroughs School and was awarded the Presidential Award for Excellence in Secondary Science Teaching from Missouri. I spent many years promoting polymer science for K–12 teachers and students. During retirement, I have enjoyed volunteer opportunities, including tutoring nurses at UMSL, working at a food pantry and helping at organizations that promote the reuse of donated items. The proceeds of these charities have helped fund no-interest college loans, backpacks of school supplies for children and funds for other charities in the St. Louis area. I also crochet chemo hats for cancer patients, grow vegetables in my garden and create fiber-art pictures using men’s silk ties. I seem to be almost as active now as I was teaching and raising our children.

Hal: The St. Louis Post Dispatch just published my article about my experience as a guinea pig for the Pfizer vaccine. After two injections, my arm was really sore, so I’m pretty sure I got the vaccine and not the placebo. I volunteered early because I wanted to make a contribution to the development of a vaccine. It was also an opportunity to explain why mRNA vaccines differ from previous ones. It’s a breakthrough technology that has come to market with amazing speed. Mary volunteered for the same reason I did: we both want to make things better for the world.

“[The Harrises] believe in me—in me! They want to see me thrive and grow, in my own way.” CATHY CHANG ’21, HAROLD H. HARRIS ’62 ENDOWED SCHOLARSHIP RECIPIENT

Why did you both decide to fund a student scholarship at HMC?

Hal: I would not have been able to attend HMC had it not been for a scholarship from the Lockheed Leadership Fund. I wanted to “give back” for what I had received, and we began the scholarship in commemoration of my 50th year since graduation because of an opportunity to have our initial gift matched, making it large enough to be considered “endowed.” We hoped to inspire other alumni to also endow scholarships. We are also very pleased to have been able to endow a scholarship for chemistry students at UMSL.

Mary and I both loved to work with students during our teaching careers, and the connection with our scholarship awardees allows us to enjoy the energy, intellect and enthusiasm of the current students. Cathy Chang ’21 is a great example of the kind of students we have met through the scholarship. We were both impressed with what she’s done. She seems to have—like most Mudd students—a really good idea what she wants to do with her life.

Mary: I’m just totally impressed with all three of the women we’ve supported over the years. That’s why we want to increase the scholarship fund over time, because these students are incredible. They’re going to go places and change the world.

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