Chemistry and Biochemistry

Bevan and Renae Ott Honored at Homecoming Alumni Dinner

Posted: Oct 12, 2011

Department alumni, emeritus professors and current professors gathered in the rotunda of the Benson Science Building on Friday, October 7, for an enjoyable evening talking with old friends and making new ones.

Dr. Greg Burton, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, welcomed the guests and thanked them for their support in “continuing the tradition” of excellence. Dr. Burton also announced the 2011 Distinguished Pillar Award recipient, J. Bevan Ott, a physical chemist.

The Distinguished Pillar Award, awarded for the first time last year, is given by the department to emeritus faculty members who have helped build the tradition of excellence in the department. “There are two purposes of [this award],” Dr. Burton said on Friday. “To honor individuals and acquaint others in the department with them.”

Dr. Juliana Boerio-Goates introduced Dr. Ott to all in attendance. “It is a great honor to be asked to introduce Bevan Ott,” Dr. Boerio-Goates said to begin her presentation. “Bevan always went for the best – he set high goals for himself.”

Dr. Ott attended graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley and took his first teaching position at Utah State University before joining BYU in 1960. He first collaborated with J. Rex Goates, a previous Distinguished Pillar Award recipient, and later with Reed Izatt in the department, James Christensen and John Oscarson of chemical engineering. Dr. Ott also mentored several students who have since returned to teach as full-time professors including Randall Shirts, Phillip Brown, John Lamb, Adam Woolley and Brian Woodfield.

“An outstanding teacher, students sought him out,” Dr. Boerio-Goates said. Dr. Ott received multiple outstanding teaching awards, served as department chair for nine years and was the associate academic vice president over research at BYU “for a time.”

Along with his tireless service, one of Dr. Ott’s trademarks in the department was his desire “to have the newest, the best equipment.” He owned an early calculator and looked forward to each new development.

In addition to introducing Dr. Ott, Dr. Boerio-Goates took the opportunity to “take some liberties” and highlight Dr. Ott’s wife Renae on behalf of the Catalyst Club. An association of women who are current or emeritus members of the department or spouses of current or emeritus members, Renae Ott was one of the Catalyst Club’s founding members. “Renae has played an important leadership role over the course of decades,” Dr. Boerio-Goates said. “And she’s always been there to support Bevan.” In addition to presenting Dr. Ott with a plaque for the Distinguished Pillar Award, Dr. Boerio-Goates provided a corsage for the emeritus professor to pin on his wife.

Steven Haderlie, a chemistry teacher at Springville High School and an adjunct BYU professor, credited the Otts with the inspiration needed to begin writing his address for the event. “When [the department] asked me to speak, I was having trouble deciding what I wanted to talk about – until I found out we were going to honor J. Bevan Ott,” Haderlie said, and set off into a detailed description of his undergraduate years studying chemistry at BYU. Drs. Ott, J. Rex Goates and Eliot Butler’s classes fueled Haderlie’s love of chemistry and inspired him to become a high school teacher. “There’s something magical about the world, and chemistry really explains everything,” he said. “My philosophy for teaching chemistry is, chemistry is fun!”

Haderlie went on to share many of his philosophies for teaching chemistry, including his belief in peer-to-peer tutoring, not lowering expectations of students and the power of explaining things simply. He finished off the night with a bang, performing two exciting chemical demonstrations.

Dr. Juliana Boerio-Goates applauds as J.

Bevan Ott finishes pinning the corsage

on his wife.

Steven Haderlie talks with alumni after his 

presentation, "A View From the Chemistry

Classroom"

By Jessica Henrie