Dr. John Zondlo didnt realize he was engineering change at West Virginia University. He just thought he was doing what he was supposed to do.
Flash back to 25 years ago. The professor was new to his post in the College of Engineering. Two students asked for his help. And he wasnt going to say no.
One was trying to jump-start the campus chapter of the Society for Women Engineers, which had been inactive for several years.
The other wanted to build a National Society of Black Engineers chapter, which had never existed. The students needed a faculty member to sponsor their efforts, so they went to the new guy.
I was actually flattered,Zondlo recalls.I guess they thought I was someone they could trust. This is also a major where you dont always see black faces and female faces, so I said, �€~Lets get started and see what happens.
His approachability and enthusiasm, plus respect for diversity, is just as much in place today as it was thenand those attributes are why the professor is being honored with WVU s 2007 Mary Catherine Buswell Award for Outstanding Service to Women.
Its one of the Universitys highest service awards, and hell pick it up at a 7 p.m. ceremony on Friday, April 20, as part of Weekend of Honors observances in the Mountainlair Ballrooms.
Buswell, the awards namesake, taught English here from 1947-78 and was an early proponent of womens rights on campus and throughout the Morgantown community.
That meant, of course, encouraging and empowering the female contingent of her classes, who, more often than not, were saddled with a host of responsibilities that went well beyond fulfilling the obligations of the course syllabus.
Zondlo was thinking about obligation when he said yes that day.
We might stand in front of a classroom or go in our labs and do research,he said.And thats good, as long as were not just going through the motions. We really do need to remember why were here. Were here for the students.
Zondlo spends a lot of his lab time looking for ways to recast the carbon of coal into new, energy-efficient sources of fuel and other products. Its the same with students, he said.
Both of the chapters he continues to advise regularly make a big presence at national gatherings in Boston and other major citiesactivities that engineer enthusiasm among the students, he said.
Its invaluable for them and fun for me,he said.I get to watch young engineers find their way to their careers.
One former student, Bethany Wilson, in turn, has gotten to watch her professional life soar as an engineer with NAVAIR , the Naval Air Systems Command. She was once an unsure undergraduate, and Zondlo, as she remembers, encouraged her to stay committed and become confident.
Five years and two engineering degrees later, he was not only an advisorhe was a great friend,Wilson wrote in her nominating letter to the Buswell selection committee.
He helps youngsters make friends with math and science, too.
For the past seven years, WVU s Society for Women Engineers chapter has coordinatedEngineering Our Lives Day,a project where Girl Scout groups across Morgantown and the region convene on campus to earn formerly elusive math and science merit badges with the help of chapter members who oversee their learning projects.
That exercise led toEighth-Grade Engineering Day,a program that takes the outreach to county middle schools and works the same way, with WVU students coordinating projects and experiments that are just as fun as they are educational.
Thats the thing,Zondlo said.Young people have a real sense of wonder. The idea is to grab onto that. If you go to these events, youll see kids laughing and having funbut theyre also learning pretty serious science and math concepts at the same time.
At 59, Zondlo hasnt lost his sense of wonder. Married with two grown daughters, he lives on a 26-acre farm next door to Morgantown in Preston County, where he raises horses and dabbles in amateur radio.
Theres too much life going on to get bored. Im a very lucky person, and I owe much of it to our students. They keep me going. Theyre why Im here.