Science Sage Hyde Retires After 43 Years

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After four decades in Snygg Hall, Kenneth Hyde, distinguished teaching professor of chemistry, recently traded in his course notes for a hammer and level.

Dr. Kenneth Hyde, distinguished professor of chemistryDressed in a denim shirt and warm vest on his last day on campus in December, Hyde reflected on the end of a 43-year career in the classroom. "I know a lot about chemistry and computers," Hyde said, "Once you leave, those things have no meaning."

But he realized that his academic discipline prepared him for a different, post-retirement activity. "I learned the ability to work on problems and solve them," he said, skills perfectly suited to his new avocation: fixing up an old camp on the south shore of Skaneateles Lake, where he and his wife will spend time in retirement.

Hyde is known to generations of Oswego students, who first contemplated the periodic table in Chem 111 and 212, large lecture classes. They learned a lot from the soft-spoken man of science, but he took away something from them, too. "You work with students in the prime of life, some of it rubs off," he said of the energizing effect of working with undergraduates.

Hyde joined the chemistry department in 1968, recruited by founding chair the late Richard Shineman and Augustine Silveira, who would go on to chair the department during his own 40-plus year career at Oswego.

"When I first came to campus, the buildings were new, the faculty was young and there was energy here," Hyde said. "It was new and positive." Over time, the faculty and facilities both aged, he pointed out, but in the last five to seven years, the campus has invested in infrastructure and new, energetic faculty members have joined the college.

"There is a rebirth, a resurgence — the enthusiasm is back," Hyde said, especially evidenced in renovations for the Science, Technology and Innovation Corridor. He spoke at the groundbreaking for that complex in September.

"A new faculty, a new building — it makes me happy," Hyde said. "[The young science faculty members] are having the same situation as we walked into. It's a good time [for me] to leave."

In looking back, Hyde is philosophical. "When I reflect back on my career, it's not important what you accomplished, but what your students accomplished," he said.

And he had plenty of students to be proud of.  He taught thousands in chemistry survey classes that served majors and non-majors alike. But the 50 to 100 research students he guided hold the most memories for him. "You form really close bonds, working in the lab," he said. "You get to know them and sometimes their families too."

Hyde hesitates to single out any of the dozens of research students he worked so closely with, but when pressed, he points out two who went on to successful careers in science: Ruth Baltus '77, who chairs the department of chemical engineering at Clarkson University, and Peter Bocko '75, who did undergraduate research and published articles with Hyde and who is now chief technology officer for Asia with Corning.

The first in his family to attend college, Hyde remembers the strong support he received from his parents. "Dad always wanted me to achieve all I could," he remembered. His father had to give up a college scholarship to support his family in the Depression years, and was proud to see his son not only achieve a doctorate, but be promoted to Distinguished Teaching Professor — the highest rank in SUNY.

Hyde passed on the love of science and education to his daughter, Valerie, who earned a doctorate in mathematical statistics at her father's alma mater, the University of Maryland, and now works for IBM.

Throughout his career, Hyde used sabbaticals to learn new skills that he brought into the classroom to benefit his SUNY Oswego students. He was an early adopter of computers in the laboratory and received a National Science Foundation grant to purchase computers for Oswego's general chemistry lab. His work with the University of Frankfurt in Germany, General Electric and the Oak Ridge National Laboratories, among others, all translated into enhanced lessons for his Oswego students.

And despite four decades on the faculty, Hyde was always willing to try something new. During the past two years, he participated in a living-learning community with students in Riggs Hall. A small group — limited to 19 students - lived in the hall and participated in classes there. Students would sometimes come down in their pajamas to the early morning class, and Hyde would also eat meals with them "It was a good time in my life to do something reinvigorating," he said. He was touched when students from the first group invited him the next year to their apartment for dinner.

Now that he has hung up his lab coat and left Snygg Hall for good, Hyde has pleasant memories to tide him through retirement — and so do hundreds of former students who benefited from his dedication and knowledge.

— Michele Reed 

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