Rensselaer Alumni Magazine - Winter 2011-12 - (Page 64)
WRITE TO US!
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For the Love of Science
A red-and-white ribbon sparked a career |
BY BEN JACKSON ’51
WHAT FOLLOWS HERE IS AS PERFECT an illustration of the old saying, “When one door closes, another one opens,” as you can find. It is in no way a “poor me” piece. At my initial interview for college planning, now more than 60 years ago, the high school guidance counselor told me, “There are no colored engineers.” I might as well have told her I wanted to grow up to be president someday. It was 1946 and she can be forgiven for her ignorance. In high school, I had high marks on the New York State Regents tests in mathematics and science. I liked to draw and make things and somewhere along the line I had decided that I wanted to become a mechanical engineer. The previous year, I had seen the winner of the Rensselaer Medal for the highest mathematics marks awarded a scholarship to the Institute. The guidance person dashed my hopes when she told me there were no opportunities for “colored” engineers. “You had best go to a teacher’s college and go south to teach your people,” she told me. That year, at graduation I was awarded the Rensselaer Medal for the highest average in mathematics and the Bausch & Lomb Honorary Science Award, but no scholarship was forthcoming. I had applied to the New York State College for Teachers at Albany and in September I was on my way to Albany. I found Albany State congenial and the quality of the education outstanding. I majored in mathematics and science, preparing to teach high school. When I became
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graduation, at Lederle Laboratoconsisted of Dr. Robert Luce, chaira senior, I was unable to find a job ries. man of the department, Drs. David teaching in New York state. DurWith Dr. Walker as my advisParetsky, Ronald Mueller, and ing my junior and senior years I had er, I produced a thesis that enabled Roland Walker. I assisted Dr. developed an interest in biology, me to get a master’s degree in biolWalker and Professor Luce in the especially in comparative anatomy ogy. More importantly, I learned, laboratory in fulfillment of the and parasitology. One day while from his example and from the fellowship. Contrary to what my thumbing through the Rensselaer intellectual atmosphere in the guidance instructor had told me, catalog that I had saved from high Biology Department at Rensselaer, I saw on campus several others school, I learned that Rensselaer a love of science that I never awarded fellowships for lost. When I continued my graduate study. Thanks to Rensselaer and the generosity of my graduate studies at New One early spring afterfellowship, I had a career in science that was as York University, I found noon, I made a bus trip satisfying as anything I could have imagined. My that the graduate courses to Troy, climbed the medal with the red-and-white ribbon meant that I had completed at Approach, and found the something, after all. Rensselaer were readily registrar’s office. I asked accepted toward the Ph.D. how one went about applyI didn’t become a mechanical who looked like me. ing for a fellowship. I can only imagengineer, but thanks to Rensselaer I shall never forget the genine the amusement generated by and the generosity of my fellowerosity of Dr. Walker and Mrs. someone walking in off the street ship, I had a career in science that Walker (Dr. Vivian Trombetta) and asking for a fellowship. was as satisfying as anything I could during my year in Troy. Mrs. WalkAs I write this today, I am still have imagined. My medal with the er worried that I wasn’t eating astonished by my naiveté and red-and-white ribbon meant someproperly and getting enough vitaaudacity. Nevertheless, the people thing, after all. mins. Dr. Walker must have had in the office helped me and subsean infinite store of patience when quently I was awarded a RensseBen Jackson ’51 (M.S., Biology) he attempted to turn the raw laer fellowship for graduate study became a toxicologist and worked on material that I was, into a serious in biology for the academic year the safety of new drugs in the pharscientist. 1950-1951. It covered full tuition maceutical industry and on the safety Dr. Walker taught me to make and a stipend of $1,500. of food and color additives for the FDA histological slides, a valuable skill The Biology Department, in Washington, D.C. that won for me my first job after housed in the Proudfit Building,
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rensselaer Alumni Magazine - Winter 2011-12
Rensselaer Alumni Magazine - Winter 2012
Taking Care of Business
One Last Thing
Rensselaer Alumni Magazine - Winter 2011-12