Professor of Chemistry
Friday, September 21, 2001
Encouraging, upbeat, motivating--these are the words students from all decades repeatedly use to describe Dr. Kenneth R. Carle, professor of chemistry at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.
Born in Keene, New Hampshire, on September 16, 1929, Carle graduated from Keene High School in 1947 as a member of the National Honor Society and the recipient of the Frank Wright Scholarship. He graduated from Middlebury College in 1951 with an A.B. degree in chemistry. Dr. Carle then completed his master’s degree in organic chemistry at the University of New Hampshire in 1953. After earning his Ph.D. in physical organic chemistry at the University of Delaware in 1953, his desire was to return to a small college, similar to his alma mater, to teach. However, the pay in industry was substantially greater than that of a college professor, so Dr. Carle took a job at American Cyanamid in Stamford, Connecticut. Dr. Carle describes his next career move as follows:
“This was a fateful move for it was there that I met Edie Friemanis, a nurse at Stamford Hospital. We were married in 1957 and that year I started to teach nights at Bridgeport Engineering Institute. By 1959 I knew I wanted to teach full-time. In September we moved to Geneva, N.Y., where I started to teach at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.”
Ken and Edie’s family grew to include two sons and two daughters. Robert teaches religious studies and is an administrator at King’s College in Manhattan. Kenneth Alan is an anesthesiologist and chairman of the Pain Management Clinic at Saint Joseph Hospital in Towson, Md. Sigrid is an associate professor of biology at the Colleges, and Sandra was an elementary school counselor but at present is a stay-at-home mother in Alexandria, Va.
Dr. Carle’s impact on his students is legendary. Thomas J. Nordstrom ’73 recalls his first encounter with the “happy go lucky gentleman” as a reluctant prospective student. Carle left such a good impression that his “decision on where I wanted to go to college was made by the time we had driven home to Bloomfield, N.J. I applied early decision to Hobart and was accepted. I still feel that one needs to learn in an atmosphere of congeniality and friendship and the initial exposure to learn in an atmosphere of congeniality and friendship and the initial exposure I had to Hobart [through Dr. Carle] remained true throughout my years there.”
Carle was the pre-med advisor for 25 years. His guidance and encouragement in this role is well remembered and much appreciated by his former students.
William Truswell ’68 recalls “[His] door was always open to help with problems, both academic and personal, or just for a chat. A sense of belonging, of family in the department, flowed from the warmth and excitement which Dr. Carle brought to Lansing Hall each day. His enthusiasm, his skill as a teacher, and his infectious personality were inspiring.” Truswell recalls “(Carle) had limitless patience with students. There was encouragement when we were discouraged, guidance when we struggled and pride when we excelled. He loved the field and inspired his students to not just learn chemistry but to enjoy the process and the knowledge. Dr. Carle was our professor, our mentor, and our friend.”
Succeeding in Dr. Carle’s organic chemistry class was a sure sign of future success.
“In the realm of pre-med students, organic chemistry was the course that separated the ‘men from the boys.’ Those who did well in organic went on in science; others who did not picked a new major. After completing Dr. Carle’s course, I knew I had passed the hump and was on my way to dental school. To this day I often accredit his upbeat, caring teaching style to getting me where I am today,” says Dr. Deborah Pilla ’76.
Dr. Carle’s four sabbaticals reflected his love of travel and research, and also helped him support the Colleges’ development of the term abroad program and environmental studies major. His first sabbatical in 1966-67 was to teach in two Universities in Manila, Philippines, under a Fulbright-Hayes grant. Besides teaching, Dr. Carle helped the Colleges set up their programs to reflect the new advances in chemistry including istrumentation, as well as help Trinity College establish a strong chemistry department. In 1973-74, Dr. Carle taught water chemistry at Silliman University in the Philippines, which led to the development of a research program on Seneca Lake, and environmental studies course, and the beginning of a possible major. In 1980-81 Dr. Carle took environmental and advanced organic chemistry courses at Cornell University, which led to the founding of the environmental science major, now so successful that it now has the largest number of major and minors at Hobart and William Smith. Dr. Carle’s last sabbatical in 1988 took him and his wife around the world, looking for places where science students could be sent for studies abroad.
Ken Carle retired in June 1992, and was honored with the Faculty Award for Community Service for the twenty years he was chairman of the Pre-Med Committee. Other awards include the Sigma Chi Faculty Award in 1968, given to the faculty member who has done the most to improve faculty student relations, and the Hobart Student Association and William Smith Congress Annual Faculty Award in 1990-91 for his many years as the faculty member on the inter-fraternity council. He and Edie now split their time between their condominium in North Naples, Fla., and their cottage on Seneca Lake.
Perhaps an educator’s greatest hope is that he will be remembered for what he strove to instill in his students--a love of learning and the confidence to persevere in one’s academic journey. If so, Ken Carle’s teaching career is most certainly an undeniable and enviable success.
“I survived college, and kept a rudder in the water, largely as a result of our relationship with Carle; his enthusiasm and faith in us, and at times his kicking us in the butt, always made us feel that achieving our goals was as important for not letting him down as it was for our own futures. He is probably (some, including KRC himself, would say definitely) not the world’s greatest organic chemist, not the world’s best educator, and at times one of the most infuriatingly absent-minded professors to grace the Hobart and William Smith campus, but he is the archetype for what a mentor, a motivator, a big brother, a surrogate father, a friend, and a truly decent and thoughtful human being should be,” remembers James Fingeroth ’78.