From the Spring 2018 issue of Elements
Alan Esker is no stranger to service. He has served on and held leadership positions on a number of departmental committees. Nineteen years after he joined the department, Alan will embark on his newest role: Department Chair. With just under two months until he takes the reins, Alan reflects on everything leading to this moment and shares some of his goals for the future.
Going back to the beginning, what made you choose chemistry for undergrad and then want to pursue your Ph.D.?
I did not decide on an undergraduate major until my junior year when I took thermodynamics. The merging of mathematics, physics and chemistry was and remains to this day something I find truly beautiful.
As for the Ph.D., it all comes down to my Ph.D. advisor,
Professor Hyuk Yu at the University of Wisconsin. He was my undergraduate thermodynamics professor and one of the sharpest people I have ever known. Even though I was a transfer student, he gave me the opportunity to do undergraduate research in his lab, groveled to his colleagues on the graduate admissions committee to allow me to stay at Wisconsin as a Ph.D. student, encouraged me to do a post-doc in Germany and a second one at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and sent me the advertisement for the position at Virginia Tech with an emphatic “apply there.” I would not be where I am without him.
Why did you want to serve as Chair?
I knew I wanted to better serve the department and the timing was just right, as the girls will still be in elementary school when my term is up. (Alan and his wife Candace have two daughters, Stella, 3, and Malene, 2.)
Are there any specific goals you’d like to accomplish?
I’d like to see the department grow, both in terms of faculty members and in terms of students. We’ve also taken some steps already this summer to participate in the Howard Hughes Medical Initiative to try to improve student success in general chemistry.
Is there anything you’d like to tell the alumni?
When you chose Virginia Tech to study chemistry, you joined a family. Don’t be a stranger. This fall, we are having the Celebration of Chemistry on October 19 and 20. While this event coincides with the completion of the Davidson Hall project, our department is much more than any building. Virginia Tech Chemistry is the faculty, staff, students and alumni, and we all have a role to play in the continued success of the department. We hope you can participate in the Celebration of Chemistry and reconnect with the department. If you can’t make it, we hope you will stop in and check out the changes in the department the next time you are in Blacksburg. You are always welcome and I look forward to working with all of you in the future!