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Wayland Noland.

Wayland Noland will be honored for his 54 years of service to the U in October.

Doing it his way

By Steve Anderson

From M, fall 2006

The last time Wayland Noland had a birthday party people came from Japan, Taiwan, India and all across the United States. That was 10 years ago. In October, he's having another one, and with 3,500 invitations in the mail, chances are good that this year's crowd will be just as impressive.

Former students, colleagues and friends will wish Noland well as he turns 80 with a daylong celebration (see sidebar, below right). It all seems like a bit much to the self-effacing Noland, who is also being honored for his 54 years of service to the U's Department of Chemistry. "It wasn't something I sought, but I do look forward to seeing my former students," he says of the party, which organizers have dubbed Wayfest.

Jeff Roberts, chemistry department chair and one of the planners of Wayfest, believes the honor is fitting. "Way's length of service to the University, his dedication and efforts on behalf of chemistry students and his selflessness are extraordinary," he says. "I hope that everyone who comes will reflect on what Way has to teach us about kindness, loyalty and service."

In 1951, after earning a Ph.D. at Harvard, Noland arrived at the U as a postdoctoral fellow in physical-organic chemistry. A year later, he was appointed assistant professor. His focus has shifted to synthetic organic chemistry, and he has been teaching and researching in Smith Hall ever since. "I guess I like it well enough, and I leave well enough alone," he jokes of his impressive tenure.

The estimated 12,000 students that have passed through Noland's classes, his numerous research students and his faculty colleagues would probably disagree about leaving well enough alone. According to Roberts, "Way is quick to welcome new faculty, staff and students to our department, and to get to know them." Roberts points to last year's graduation ceremony: After quietly shaking hands with Roberts and other administrative heads, degree candidates greeted Noland with unprecedented warmth and affection as he sat on the stage. "It was a telling and humbling experience," Roberts recalls.


On Oct. 14, chemistry alumni, faculty and friends will gather to honor Professor Wayland Noland as he turns 80 and marks his 54th year teaching at the U. The celebration includes a morning lecture program, an afternoon river cruise and a bobblehead doll. "That's very clever," Noland says of his springy-necked likeness. "It makes it fun."

After 54 years in the classroom and lab, Noland shows no signs of letting up. Known for his blackboard lectures, he believes that face-to-face student-teacher interaction still beats technology enhanced learning. It's hard to argue with success. Last year, Noland received the Charles E. Bowers Faculty Teaching Award for exceptional teaching in the Institute of Technology.

Noland's commitment to students goes beyond those in his classes. He has also helped dozens through his endowed fellowships and scholarships in chemistry. "My gifts have always been to help students become better students and better citizens as a result of their education at the University," he explains.

Thanks to his endowed scholarships and fellowships, his extraordinary service and his influence on countless alumni, Noland has left a deep impression on the U. Despite his preference for a low profile, he does hope to leave a legacy at the institution he's given well over half his life to: "One lives on in the memories of the people with whom that person has been associated. I hope that I will, in a favorable way, live on in the memories of the people I've been associated with and that I have helped."