By Lauren Lavelle
Rider’s very own Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs DonnaJean Fredeen recently accepted the highest alumni honor from Texas A&M University by being inducted into the Academy of Distinguished Former Students.
“I was both stunned and very humbled to learn that I would be inducted into the College of Science Academy of Distinguished Former Students at Texas A&M,” said Fredeen. “This honor usually is reserved for individuals who have contributed great laboratory discoveries during their career. I am proud that Texas A&M recognizes the value that our work in science education plays in furthering its mission as a research institution.”
Fredeen, who graduated from Texas A&M in 1985 with a Ph.D. in chemistry, did not originally foresee a career in education as her main goal and, instead, wanted to pursue a job venture directly in her line of study.
“I entered the graduate program in chemistry at Texas A&M thinking I would have a career in the petrochemical industry,” said Fredeen. “In my first and second year as a graduate student, I was paid to teach general chemistry and analytical chemistry laboratories. I enjoyed interacting with the students, but I think I discovered my love of and knack for teaching as a tutor.”
Eventually, with the help of her research advisor David Russel, Fredeen realized the impact she could make in higher education and accepted the role of Interim Dean of the School of Arts & Sciences at Southern Connecticut State University.
“When I approached Russell about the possibility, he broke into the biggest grin and said, ‘I was hoping you would figure this out. You belong in the classroom,’” said Fredeen. “I was surprised when asked to take on the role of Interim Dean of the School of Arts & Sciences, because I felt there were other faculty, more experienced than I, to do the job. However, it was an opportunity that I felt I needed to take.”
Through her experience in a leadership position, Fredeen gained the proper skills and mindset that eventually led to her alumni nomination and career at Rider.
“Along the way, I have learned a great deal about my own passion for the power of education and the ability to impact students as colleague in a research group, a professor, a dean and a provost,” said Fredeen. “In writing his nomination letter, Russell stated that I was the go-to person in the research group, dispensing advice and information. I believe, in addition to the excellent education in chemistry that I was receiving at the time, I also was receiving some very strong mentoring in leadership.”
Research professor for the Department of Technology and Society at Stony Brook University Eliza Reilly worked with Fredeen on the science education reform initiative “Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities” in 2001 and feels Fredeen deserved the high recognition because of her constant advances in the education field.
“She has been an outstanding academic leader and mentor to so many faculty, particularly in the S.T.E.M. fields and because of her positive impact on the institutions she has been affiliated with,” said Reilly. “I consider her an exemplary academic dean who communicates and embodies the best values of higher education.”
Overall, Fredeen hopes students take all of their career options into consideration, even if it is not what they initially intended to pursue.
“I would advise students to be open to the possibilities and to understand their evolving passions in life,” she said. “If you follow your passions and keep an open mind for the possibilities, you will certainly have a very rewarding career, wherever it may lead.”