Drew Salutes Nobel Laureate William Campbell: Mentor, Teacher and Friend
Students connect with 2015 Nobel Prize winner during a day of celebration.
March 2016 – Remarkably, 2015 Nobel Prize-winning scientist William Campbell wanted to know as much about Drew University students as they did about him.
During an hour-long talk to science honors students on March 3, Campbell, a longtime fellow in Drew’s RISE program, stopped to hear what they had to say—be it about the difference between science and art or their artistic talents. Clearly, he continues to enjoy the interplay between students and mentors, even in the afterglow of his global recognition.
Also, Campbell perhaps was just a bit tired of talking about himself. The students were rapt, however, as he described the arc of his life—from his childhood in Ireland and graduate studies in Wisconsin to his early years of working in the labs at Merck, his paintings and poetry about parasites and his crowning achievement: developing a drug to combat parasitic diseases. He also reflected on the perks of winning the 2015 Nobel Prize in Medicine, including meeting President Obama at the White House and sitting next to a princess at a banquet in Stockholm, Sweden.
The humble Nobel Laureate ended the classroom session at Hall of Sciences by saying, “It’s very nice to be here and I wish you all good luck.”
Campbell’s talk was part of a day-long celebration of his prize-winning work and his decades of mentoring and teaching at Drew. For students, professors, administrators and trustees, it was a unique opportunity to hear his story, shake his hand, thank him for his dedication to the University and even take some selfies.
“It was one of my dreams to meet a Nobel winner,” said Tyler Dorrity C’18, a biochemistry major. Dorrity fulfilled that dream during a lunch at Mead Hall at which Campbell met a group of Baldwin Honors scholars. The students talked about their studies, highlights of their years at Drew—including studying abroad—and future plans. It ended with a round of selfies.
Later, during a broader campus celebration in the 1867 Lounge of the Ehinger Center, Drew President MaryAnn Baenninger read quotes from past students that Campbell had mentored and handed him a framed proclamation from the Board of Trustees, which established March 3 as William Campbell Day. The quotes were part of an outpouring of appreciation that surfaced on social media after Campbell won his Nobel Prize in October. At the time, former students described him as brilliant, eloquent and kind with dry sense of humor.
At the EC, Campbell was greeted by stream of well-wishers, including Board Chairman Dean Criares, other RISE fellows, Dean Chris Taylor, more students and Robert Conley, mayor of Madison, N.J., home of Drew. At times, the scene resembled a receiving line at a wedding, with attendees queuing up to say a few words to the man from Ramelton, Ireland.
That joyous spirit carried over into a later reception in the Founders Room of Mead Hall, where Campbell reconnected with Ruby deStevens, widow of Dr. George deStevens, a key figure in the history of RISE, a unique program that pairs students with retired scientists. DeStevens was RISE’s first director and the person who welcomed Campbell into the fold in 1990, the year he retired from Merck.
Campbell spent the next 20 years mentoring science students in labs and teaching at the College of Liberal Arts and Caspersen School of Graduate Studies. Along the way, he helped shape scores of men and women, including some who went on to become professors, a cancer surgeon, a family doctor and a veterinarian. Indeed, Dr. Campbell’s influence is still tangibly felt, nearly 30 years after he first set foot on campus. And Drewids can’t thank him enough.