The 2017 SUNY Oswego President's Award for Teaching Excellence will honor chemistry faculty member Dr. Casey Raymond, who garnered praise in more than a dozen letters of support from colleagues and alumni for his 14 years of challenging, supporting and inspiring his students. 

Raymond, an associate professor specializing in inorganic and materials chemistry, X-ray crystallography, and fermentation and food science, drew enthusiastic backing from former students now working for renowned laboratories such as Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos, studying for doctorates in chemistry, and teaching at the college and secondary levels; and from colleagues in atmospheric and geological sciences, health promotion and wellness, and chemistry.

Martha L. Miller, now on the staff of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, said she took inorganic chemistry and solid earth chemistry from Raymond when she was a senior. She approached inorganic chemistry with a fear of failure or disengagement.

"Because Dr. Raymond taught with passion for the subject and inexhaustible enthusiasm for the success of his students, that was not the case," wrote the 2016 geochemistry alumna. "If you were to visit my apartment today, you would see notes and diagrams from CHE 451 (inorganic chemistry) hanging from my doors and bulletin boards, because Dr. Raymond taught me to keep pushing through the arduous moments and persist with learning."

Above and beyond

Several who supported Raymond -- also serving as acting director of the college's Honors Program through 2019 -- for the award spoke of his open-door encouragement of problem solving in chemistry or any area of study, far beyond the bounds of office hours.

"I remember being on campus over winter break for hockey, meeting with Dr. Raymond," wrote 2015 alumna and All-America goaltender Bridget Smith, who earned a bachelor's in chemistry and the Oswego Woman Scholar Athlete Award. "(It's) typically a time when students go home and enjoy some time off, and I assumed professors would do the same; Dr. Raymond had no issue spending extra time working with me over break."

Allison Wende, who in 2011 was the first graduate in the geochemistry program that Raymond and Paul Tomascak, interim associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, modernized from the ground up, said she began at Oswego in English and earned a dual-major degree. She recalled having a hard time moving from non-scientific courses to chemistry and geology.

"I found myself trying to shrink out of sight so that my confusion might go unnoticed," Wende wrote. "Fortunately for me, I could not hide from Casey, who is a highly perceptive educator."

Wende now has a master's degree in geoscience from University of Wisconsin-Madison and works "alongside some of the brightest scientists in the country" at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. She praised Raymond for his encouragement, ability to break concepts down into understandable components, and that perceptiveness of his: "Casey … made me believe that understanding was indeed within my reach."

She added, "Yes, a solid foundation in chemistry has allowed me to build expertise quickly in the once unfamiliar fields of geochemistry and nuclear forensics, but, more than that, I approach my work now with confidence, patience and a sense of humor. And, almost six years later, I know that if all else fails, I can still turn to Casey for help and advice."

University of Wyoming doctoral candidate Kevin Watkins was among former students recalling Raymond offering a large table for those doing homework in the former Snygg Hall.

"Even if we were working on assignments from other classes, Casey was happy to help," Watkins wrote. "This environment encouraged camaraderie between students and Casey. It was a comfortable atmosphere that stimulated thinking and learning."

Professional preparation

Raymond's department chair, Fehmi Damkaci, lauded his colleague for inventive uses of technology, including creation of workshop and tutorial materials in the college's learning management system, with the financial assistance of a SUNY Innovative Instruction Technology Grant.

Damkaci also noted Raymond's diligence in preparing students for presenting their research projects in national and regional academic forums. Raymond "takes detailed notes during weekly student research presentations and shares them with students to improve their presentation skills and quality of their presentations," Damkaci wrote.

Tomascak, a member of the atmospheric and geological sciences faculty, echoed the praise for Raymond's determined mentorship of students, most of them undergraduates. "His efforts as a mentor emulate the graduate experience more so than what I see many undergraduates receive in the sciences, at least in terms of serious attention to detail," Tomascak wrote. "Although he requires students to do their share of independent research, there is always a reflective component that harkens to the graduate experience of a 'lab group,' in which students and professionals gather to discuss and dissect ideas and problems."

As chair of the college's Sciences Planning Committee, Raymond was instrumental in helping guide the planning, design, construction and equipping of the $118 million Richard S. Shineman Center for Science, Engineering and Innovation, which opened in fall 2013.

A faculty member of many interests, Raymond, usually with his wife Melissa Hellman, attends virtually every SUNY Oswego men's and women's ice hockey game, and he is a faculty mentor to the women's team; the couple sometimes has students over for hands-on lessons in cooking chemistry; and Raymond also conducts study-travel programs to Belgium or Scotland or Italy to encourage students to learn firsthand about fermentation chemistry, and its end products -- beer, wine and cheese.

Ryan Barker -- a 2006 biology alumnus, adjunct instructor in health promotion and wellness, and an Oswego doctor of chiropractic -- recalled his own such trip with Raymond and about a dozen other students. "The challenges to organize and execute such a trip for an individual alone would test the patience of any person, but to be responsible for so many young people should speak to his love of organization and patience," Barker wrote. "And yet, year after year, he repeats this feat and dedicates countless hours of personal resources to give back to students and broaden their perspectives on the world."

Lawrence Livermore's Miller -- who was a nontraditional student with teenage children while studying at Oswego -- paid Raymond a high compliment by guiding her college-age daughter, who is interested in a career in chemical engineering, toward Raymond as her adviser upon the daughter's acceptance at SUNY Oswego.

"From experience I know Dr. Raymond will encourage her to push herself, to learn for the sake of learning, and that he will mentor her on how to be prepared for a professional setting after her schooling is completed," Miller wrote. "Most parents hope and believe this is the opportunity their children will have at college; I am fortunate to have certainty in that case."