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Alumni Profile: Paul Deck ’87

As a graduate of Hope with a degree in chemistry, Paul Deck has positive memories of his varied academic experiences and the outstanding faculty from whom he learned college-wide.

“I took a lot of biology, math, and physics courses that were not required for my degree, and I loved my humanities courses too,” he says. “My single most prominent memory of Hope was the unbelievably high quality of the professors.”

While conducting research in organic chemistry as a Hope student, he valued that his faculty mentor, Professor Steve Taylor, not only provided lessons in the process of their work but also its broader meaning, and modeled qualities of character—as a chemist, as a teacher, as a manager and as a Christian—that he came to admire. He appreciated that he could be active in other programs as well, participating, for example, in the music program as an accompanist for voice performance majors and even playing piano in the jazz ensemble.

After Hope, Dr. Deck earned a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Minnesota and obtained a postdoctoral research fellowship at Northwestern University. Since finishing the research fellowship in 1995, he has been a member of the chemistry faculty at Virginia Tech, where he also manages the graduate program in chemistry, which has about 150 students.

As a chemistry professor himself, he values all the more the combination that he found at Hope, since the opportunities that he enjoyed as an undergraduate provide just the sorts of qualifications that graduate programs like his are seeking in prospective students. He thus encourages undergraduates to push themselves to pursue a variety of interests and develop a variety of skills.

“Obviously we value research experience higher than most anything else,” Dr. Deck says. “I would, however, be interested in knowing that a student did some kind of athletics, or performed mission work, or even if they worked on the family farm, or if they were an RA in their dorm.”

“We look for reference letters that say, ‘He or she did research with me and demonstrated unusual curiosity, creativity, drive, independence, motivation, perseverance, organization, teamwork, enthusiasm, resourcefulness, and integrity,” he says. “Those are the factors that will ultimately determine success in the latter four years of our program.”

This profile was written by Christopher M. Lewis, a 2009 Hope College graduate from Troy, Mich., for the 2009-2010 Hope College Catalog.

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