Former student honors Deskin with chemistry chair

William Deskin, who taught chemistry at Cornell College from 1956 to 1989, opened more than his office to students; in at least one case, he opened his home and let a student stay with his family.

Bill Deskin
Bill Deskin taught at Cornell for more than 30 years.

Ralph E. “Chris” Christoffersen ’59 was Deskin’s first student researcher, and the pair have remained in contact for more than 50 years. Deskin and his wife, Ruth, let Christoffersen stay in their unfinished attic—the only place they had extra room—so he could work on research when classes weren’t in session.

So great was Deskin’s influence that Christoffersen and his wife, Barbara, have pledged $1.5 million to create the William Deskin Endowed Chair in Chemistry.

The fund will pay for the salary and faculty development for one chemistry professor.

“The faculty are the most important aspect of the college experience for the students,” said President Jonathan Brand, “and this gift honors a professor and his wife who were very important to Chris as a student, while ensuring that Cornell students have access to quality, dedicated faculty. It’s the past, present, and future brought together.”

Chris Christoffersen '59
Ralph E. “Chris” Christoffersen ’59

Christoffersen, of Boulder, Colo., went to Indiana University after Cornell and earned a Ph.D. in chemistry. He’s served as president of Colorado State University, senior vice president of research at SmithKline Beecham, and vice president of discovery research at The Upjohn Company. He is currently a general partner at Morgenthaler Ventures, a venture capital firm, where he heads the life science team.

“Bill Deskin played a very important role in my early days in chemistry through his excellent teaching, his pursuit of excellence, his willingness to introduce me to research that resulted in my first peer-reviewed publication, and the genuine friendship that Barbara and I have had with both Bill and Ruth over the years,” Christoffersen said. “It is a great pleasure for Barbara and me to be able to honor Bill’s terrific contributions as a Cornell faculty member.”

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