Professor of Chemistry Daniel O'Leary was the 2012 recipient of the second annual American Chemical Society's Zaida C. Morales-Martinez Prize for Outstanding Mentoring of ACS Scholars, recognizing his work with Pomona students headed towards a career in the chemical sciences or related areas. The ACS is the world's largest scientific society.
O'Leary, who serves on the program's selection and steering committee, first became aware of the mentoring program through Angelo Gonzales '98 in the fall of 1995, when Gonzales requested a ride to San Diego to attend a regional ACS meeting, which featured a gathering of ACS scholars. "It was a classic case of a Pomona faculty member learning from a student," says O'Leary.
Gonzales, who gave the keynote address at the awards ceremony and is the program's 100th Ph.D. recipient, was impressed that his professor would take time out for him—not only for the ride but also for three years of close mentoring and encouragement, and concern for Gonzales' best interests. "When I started having doubts about chemistry and decided to spend a semester in Washington, D.C., Professor O'Leary actually encouraged my policy-related pursuits," he says. "Without his support, I don't know if I would have had the courage to make the leap from chemistry to politics." Gonzales now teaches at University of New Mexico's Department of Educational Leadership and helps run an educational policy research center. "Without exaggeration, I attribute much of my current success and happiness to Professor O'Leary's nurturing guidance at Pomona, and I owe him more than I can ever hope to repay."
But O'Leary feels the rewards are his, saying the benefits of working with his students are extraordinary.
"I've been able to work closely with remarkable students in a teaching and research setting. Among these students are Angelo, Tom Vasquez '02, Kimm Groshong Fesenmaier '02 and Marvin Vega '13. Tom is now a member of our department as the organic chemistry laboratory coordinator and Kimm is a science writer at Caltech. Marvin and I worked side by side in the lab last summer, and that experience ranks among my most memorable Pomona experiences—a wonderful mix of successful and failed experiments, peppered with long conversations and laughter." Vega calls O'Leary a great mentor and credits him for his skills in the laboratory.
O'Leary says serving on the selection and steering committees brings its own rewards, too, including learning how to effect change within the umbrella of a large organization.
O'Leary has been with Pomona since 1994 and was awarded the College's Wig Distinguished Professorship Award for Excellence in Teaching three times (1997, 2003, 2008) and received the Irvine Distinguished Faculty Mentor Award (2004).