By being named the Charles Goodyear Medalist by the ACS Rubber Division for 2019, it's clear that Roderic Quirk, a professor emeritus at the University of Akron, made an impact on the rubber industry during a career that has spanned more than five decades.
But what's even clearer is the impact he had on his students, as roughly 20 made the trip to the Rubber Division's Spring Technical Meeting in Independence, Ohio, to see Quirk receive the honor. He said besides coming from around the U.S. and Mexico, two former students came in from South Korea and one each from South Africa and Spain.
"I had the opportunity to work with really excellent students," Quirk said. "They're like family. It's a fantastic experience for me."
I had the pleasure of talking with several of Quirk's students, and it's clear the feeling is mutual.
Sergio Corona Galvan, the R&D advanced technology manager at Dynasol, nominated Quirk for the medal and presented him at the banquet. He said the most important thing Quirk imparted on his students was to always be thinking and "to not only be good researchers, but excellent people working for the world."
As a professor, Galvan said Quirk made sure students knew the information they were presenting, and that he still gives younger colleagues advice he himself received from Quirk.
Another former student, now working in the industry, said as a lecturer, Professor Quirk never just gave a lecture. Students had to participate. They realized they were going to be asked questions, and that it wasn't going to be easy, and you weren't always going to get it right.
When among themselves, he said the students used to talk about having a "batting average," on how they did on the questions. Some might be batting .800, while others may be around .150, or in need of improvement. "You were getting a degree in philosophy," the former student said. "And for him it was very much a philosophical thing. You had to learn how to think about science, and about what it means to be a scientist. And how you decide what's right and what's wrong."
Another said Quirk was a very energetic teacher, always being well-prepared and excited on days he was teaching. A former female student said Quirk was more relaxed by the time she became his student, but it was never his style to spoon-feed students the answers.
Because Quirk was so prepared, he expected the students to be prepared as well. His style may have made some uncomfortable, but his goal was getting students to engage, according to one former student.
"It wasn't something where he was going to entertain you for an hour," the student said. "It's like old school, I guess. People used to gather around the wise person, and they would listen and talk."