Volume 6, Number 2, 1997

John Burmeister:

My 1,667th week at the UD, to be precise . .

Sunday, Sept. 15 As befits my penchant for order and organization (you'd expect something else, with a name like Burmeister?), my daily routine is like a metronome-to bed at 11 p.m., up (without an alarm) at 6 a.m.

Our 7-year-old black toy pug, Rhubarb, is the first to occupy my attention every morning: Outdoor constitutional, fresh water, food and insulin shot (he has been diabetic for more than a year). This is followed by the usual newspaper-with-coffee ritual. (Yes, I read the sports pages first!)

This morning departs from the norm in that I transport our son, Jeff, to Fair Hill, Md., for his first mountain bike race. He does well, finishing 7/23 in his group.

My Christian faith has occupied a central place in my life as long as I can remember. Sunday morning is always devoted to Sunday school and worship. We have been members of Head of Christiana Presbyterian Church for 30 years. Aileen, my wife of 36 years, teaches a class of junior high-age students, while I happily assume the role of student in our adult class. The afternoon is devoted to my twin passions-hiking and mountain biking. On a day that is a prototypical example of why fall is my favorite season, Aileen and I hike the three-mile Twin Ponds Trail in the newest section of White Clay Creek State Park. We linger at the ponds, watching two gliders and a flock of gulls trace lazy circles against the brilliant blue sky. That is followed by a more physically demanding, but equally satisfying, 21-mile mountain bike solo ride in Fair Hill. Life is good!

Aileen, Jeff, Rhubarb and I walk off dinner by circumnavigating the two-mile outer circle in Covered Bridge Farms. Despite his badly impaired eyesight, Rhubarb moves surprisingly well, as long as he is on a leash. I suppose that makes me a "seeing-eye man."

Reality 101 intervenes, and I sequester myself in my den for the rest of the evening.

Although the fall term is not yet two weeks old, the 1997 spring teaching schedule is due this week. This is my 23rd year as associate chairperson of our department. One of my primary duties is to plan the teaching assignments and class schedules every term.

Orchestrating the efforts of 30 faculty members, two full-time teaching specialists, six part-time faculty and 50 teaching assistants to deal with 45 lecture sections, 104 laboratory sections and four seminars is akin to creating an educational symphony. I take considerable pride in producing works that are as free of discord as possible.

Monday, Sept. 16

I have commuted by bicycle since my second year in graduate school at Northwestern University (1960). My fleet includes a road bike (1974 Schwinn Voyageur II), a Multitrack Trek 700 (1992) and my new Trek 800 mountain bike. I began to clock my mileage via odometers in 1979, and have pedaled over 27,000 miles since then. The one-mile, downhill run to White Clay Creek on Wedgewood Road clears the cobwebs from my brain. That is followed by an easy three miles into Newark on Creek Road-a time when I do my very best thinking.

My indispensable assistant, Marian MacMillan, is, as usual, already in her office when I arrive. As is the case every day, my morning in 102 Brown Laboratory begins with a review of my accumulated electronic mail and voice mail. This morning, the yield is eight and four, respectively-equally divided among students, alumni, staff and faculty.

I resuscitated our departmental newsletter, (The Blue Hen Chemist) last month, after a lapse of three years, and have been overwhelmed by the response. Since it was delivered, not a day has gone by that I have not received multiple communications from some of our more than 2,700 alumni via the aforementioned electronic media and by snail mail. Responding to the former is easy; responses to the latter take more time, and I have fallen badly behind. Nonetheless, I am delighted to have been able to reestablish contact with so many of our extended departmental family.

With a few key strokes, I am able to send computer messages to each of my 88 CHEM-105 (General Chemistry for Nursing Majors) students. I use this note to pat them on the back for a fine performance on Quiz I, alert them to the coverage of upcoming Quiz II and announce the latest winner of my Find an Error in the Textbook contest.

Normally, I would ride home today to have lunch with Aileen. Unfortunately, two events conspire to preclude this. Our planning committee meeting (called to map out our game plan for the upcoming academic program review by the provost's office) runs a half-hour late, coincident with the arrival of a rainstorm. I hustle a sub and have a working lunch in my office.

The afternoon, as usual, is filled with back-to-back student appointments: A help session with one of my CHEM-105 students, a graduation check-out for one of our seniors, course selection advisement for two of our underclass majors and three change-of-major consultations.

These encounters illustrate several truisms that I have learned during my 32 years at Delaware: The first students who seek help in a given semester are those who need it least; the first seniors who go through graduation check-out are perched at the top of the class; and changes in major are frequently put off much too long.

I have a penchant for clearing my desk prior to departing for the evening. Consequently, Aileen has, somewhat begrudgingly, become accustomed to my arriving for dinner after 6 p.m. Today is no exception. It is still raining, and I arrive at 1 Carriage Lane thoroughly drenched.

Tuesday, Sept. 17

I delay my departure to put the finishing touches on our schedule of Division of Continuing Education offerings for next summer and to write to one of my hosts for my upcoming weeklong lecture tour in Idaho, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming-my 14th such tour sponsored by the American Chemical Society.

Despite a rainy forecast, I decide to take my chances and bike to the office. Happily, the ensuing round-trip proves to be dry.

After dealing with a veritable deluge of e/v-mail, I eat an early, brown-bag lunch while preparing for my 12:30-2 p.m. CHEM-105 lecture. I started teaching this course in 1984, my first nonmajor lecturing encounter. Little did I know then that it would develop into a mutual admiration society, and that I would teach the course every fall thereafter. (I always felt certain that the day would come when I would need the ministrations of a nurse who was a former CHEM-105 student. Sure enough, in 1993, following major intestinal surgery at Christiana Hospital, one of my nurses turned out to be my best student in 1988!) The class is a delight and a challenge to teach.

Following dinner, I head back to our church to chair a nominating committee meeting.

Wednesday, Sept. 18

This morning is one of the two work-at-home mornings that I have built into my schedule each week. I found, years ago, that my open-door office policy creates so many appointment opportunities that in-depth professional reading and writing are impossible while in 102 Brown Laboratory.

I develop a severe case of writer's cramp in dealing with my first task. As the UD Athletics Governing Board chairperson and NCAA Faculty Athletics Representative (since 1981), I am responsible for a variety of athletics-related concerns. This time, it involves signing a very large stack of forms certifying noncounter/nonathletics aid for student-athletes.

The remainder of the morning is spent preparing my CHEM-105 lecture notes for next week, writing two versions of next week's CHEM-105 quizzes (with answer sheets to be affixed after grading), writing detailed instructions for my two CHEM-105 teaching assistants regarding next week's laboratory and recitation section meetings and catching up on some of my professional reading. I am appalled at the magnitude of the stack. It is so easy for me to fall behind as a consequence of the hectic pace that is characteristic of the beginning of each term.

The afternoon's appointments are an eclectic mix: Two graduating senior check-outs, a faculty member with a major concern, a student desiring transfer-of-credit for chemistry courses taken at another university and a returning student. The last-named poses the most difficult advising challenge: Four years in the Air Force have intervened between her first two years of college and the present.

After dinner, I wall myself off in my den with Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops to begin work on my portion of our self-study for the aforementioned Academic Program Review.

Thursday, Sept. 19

My bike ride through the White Clay Creek Preserve is sheer pleasure. The day is drop-dead gorgeous. On arrival, I try to work out a scheduling conflict with Mac Taylor, my opposite number in the biology department. I have a fascinating conference with an experienced dentist who has decided to try his hand at high school teaching and meet with a visiting faculty member from Turkey.

Two potential senior faculty candidates are visiting our department today and tomorrow. I attend a seminar presented by one of them and am favorably impressed.

The usual Tuesday/Thursday brown-bag lunch accompanies my CHEM-105 lecture preparation. I squeeze in a conference with a doctoral candidate on whose dissertation defense committee I serve.

I am over-scheduled with appointments and do not arrive at home until almost 7 p.m. The afternoon was spent conferring with one of my best 1996 CHEM-112 students, who needs a letter of recommendation for our Medical Scholars Program, carrying out a graduation check-out for a senior who is switching her career plans to enter the field of high school teaching and meeting both potential faculty candidates, who function together as a research team. The second candidate makes an equally positive impression on me.

Friday, Sept. 20

My second work-at-home morning is devoted primarily to preparing for an unusual task that faces me tomorrow morning. I am to review the essentials of general chemistry before a live national television audience in a scant three hours. The program is to be broadcast from a Pearson Hall studio via the National Technological University network, under the auspices of the National Society of Professional Engineers. The audience will be composed of engineering graduates throughout the country who are seeking certification by passing a battery of national examinations. Questions, via telephone, can be posed throughout the program. My objective is to review the chemistry portion of the Fundamentals of Engineering exam.

Today is even nicer than yesterday, prompting me to take the off-trail route through White Clay Creek State Park to campus. I have a conference with one of my TAs who will soon face the decision of whether to seek a position or a postdoctoral appointment following the completion of her doctorate. Two more graduation check-outs precede this week's departmental colloquium speaker. Following a quick shopping trip to the Christiana Mall after dinner, I return to my den to top off my preparation for tomorrow.

Saturday, Sept. 21

I work off my excess adrenalin by hiking the Millstone Trail in White Clay Creek State Park with Rhubarb.

Studio B in Pearson Hall has become quite a familiar location to me. I have previously had two semesters of CHEM-105 and CHEM-112 course lectures videotaped there, and this will be my fifth video presentation.

The program goes off without a single glitch, and I hurry down to Delaware Stadium to catch the second half of the Blue Hen's last-minute, 24-17 win over West Chester University. I wind down with a mountain bike ride in the White Clay Creek Preserve.

The evening is spent with our two granddaughters, Lauren and Emily Boehm. Our daughter, Lisa, and son-in-law, Dan, live just north of Newark, enabling us to experience every grandparents' dream-close proximity to the grandchildren.


Looking back, it is obvious that the week measured up to the three most common characteristics of its predecessors: It was varied, busy and fulfilling. It is precisely that mix that has made my profession so satisfying, and has kept me at the UD for these past 11,701 days.