Keep eyes, hearts and minds open


By Heather Travis
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
In order to change the world, you need to have open eyes, open hearts and keep an open mind, says chemical engineer Alice Gast.
A “humbled” Gast spoke to about 500 graduates from the School of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies, the faculties of Engineering and Science (Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, four year BMSc programs, and three and four year BSc and BA programs) at the June 16 afternoon session of The University of Western Ontario’s 295th Convocation.
Alice Gast
A Doctor of Science, honoris causa (D. Sc.) was conferred upon Gast in recognition of her work specializing in surface science and interfacial phenomena, and as the first female president in the history of Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Just as a photographer looks through the lens of a camera, graduates need to keep their eyes open to see different perspectives of the world around them with clarity, depth and focus, she says.
An open heart will allow graduates to be passionate and avoid indifference.
She also encouraged them to have a critical and questioning mind to distinguish truth from fiction, and to always be curious.
“There are many challenges in the world awaiting your help,” she says, noting to address these will require teamwork, collaboration and multiple approaches.
The use of social media, the Internet, and open source software allow people to be more connected, collaborative and engaged.
“Never before have educated people like you had so many opportunities to contribute so much, so please contribute.”
Underneath each scientific and technical problem and solution, “is a very human story and situation,” she adds.
Since taking over as president of Lehigh University in 2006, Gast, a world-renowned scholar, researcher and academic leader, has focused on positioning the university as a premier residential research university of international distinction, capitalizing on the university's strengths as a research university and a residential college.
Prior to Lehigh, Gast served as the vice-president for research and associate provost at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she was also the Robert T. Haslam chair in chemical engineering. Prior to joining MIT in 2001, she spent 16 years as a professor of chemical engineering at Stanford University and at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory.
The focus of Gast's distinguished research career was the study of surface and interfacial phenomena, in particular the behavior of complex fluids. Her areas of research include colloidal aggregation and ordering, protein lipid interactions, and enzyme reactions at surfaces. She is the co-author of Physical Chemistry of Surfaces, a classic textbook on colloid and surface phenomena, and has presented named lectures at several of the nation's leading research institutions.
She serves on a number of national advisory committees and boards, including the Board of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and is a member of the Academic Research Council for the Singapore Ministry of Education and the National Research Council Committee for Science, Technology, and the Law. She is also a member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and the American Physical Society.
In recognition of her achievements, Gast has received numerous awards and honors including the National Academy of Sciences Award for Initiative in Research, the Colburn Award of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Teacher Scholar Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2001 and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2002. She was named an AAAS Fellow in early 2007.
After earning a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from the University of Southern California, Gast was a Hertz Fellow while earning her doctorate in chemical engineering from Princeton University. She spent a postdoctoral year completing a NATO fellowship at the École Supérieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles in Paris.
In his citation, Western Engineering Dean Andrew Hrymak says the field of engineering is fortunate to have such an illustrious individual as Gast, a true role model for young females interested in studying engineering at university.
“As many of you know, women are the minority in the profession of engineering. Significant strides have been made to attract women to engineering over recent years, however, more needs to be done to recruit and retain females in our field,” says Hrymak. “As you can see, Dr. Gast is a scholar, a researcher and a leader who is a great inspiration to female and male students alike, who aspire to enter the profession of engineering.”
As part of the ceremony, the status of Professor Emeritus was conferred upon Biology professor Brock Fenton and Biology Associate Professor Paul Handford.

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