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Prof. Howard Burkett '38 Reminisces on His Life of Teaching and Scholarship

Prof. Howard Burkett '38 Reminisces on His Life of Teaching and Scholarship

May 27, 1981

DePauw Seal.jpgMay 27, 1981, Greencastle, Ind. — According to Howard Burkett, who is retiring as a professor of chemistry at DePauw University, "Real learning should be a bit painful." He should know. Since joining the DePauw faculty in 1945, Burkett has remained an active scholar in the field of chemistry, as well as teaching more than 2,100 undergraduate and graduate levels.

Burkett has a multitude of memories from his teaching years, but cites the following as examples that remain especially vivid:

  • The student who, two-thirds of the way through the semester, chose himself "The Student Least Likely to Succeed" and is now a nationally-known chemist for a large firm.
  • The young woman who entered DePauw as a music HOWARD BURKETT.jpgmajor and was the first of his female students to receive a Ph.D. in chemistry.
  • The day an entire organic chemistry class decided the weather was too nice for laboratory work and held a picnic instead.

Howard Burkett was born 10 miles north of Greencastle and attended a two-room school in Morton, Indiana. He graduated from DePauw with honors in 1938 and received his doctoral degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1942. Burkett then worked as a research chemist for Eli Lilly & Company, but decided in 1945 to go into teaching and returned to DePauw as a faculty member.

"Leaving Lilly was one of the most foolish things economically that I could have done," Dr. Burkett says, noting that he took a 50% pay cut. But today he has no regrets, saying he enjoys young people and teaching a great deal.

HOWARD BURKETT y.jpg"It sounds a bit presumptuous, but I felt we needed teachers who were rigorous and who could keep the field alive."

Burkett has done a great deal of work in chemical research, through two sabbaticals at the University of Washington; a year at the National Institutes of Health, where he studied arthritis and metabolic diseases; and a year with the customer service laboratory at the Hitachi Corporation in Japan.

"Sabbaticals are absolutely essential for keeping alive as a scholar in your discipline," the professor says.

Burkett plans to teach half-time next year, as well as enjoying his hobbies of photography, gardening, woodwork, reading and repair work. He and his wife will also plant 3,500 more trees on the family farm as part of a continuing conservation project they started because of their concern about the depletion of trees in the United States.