By David Bjorkgren, Editor
Special to the Hellenic News
For Dr. Spiro Spireas and his wife Emily, the students at The College of New Jersey are an investment in the future, in chemistry, science, the expansion of human knowledge and yes, a financial investment as well.
The Spireas’, founders and co-owners of Sigmapharm Laboratories, have just donated a new state-of-the-art organic chemistry lab to the college, located in central New Jersey, to make sure those students work with the best equipment they can, in the best environment available.
Drs. Spiro and Emily Spireas will chair the Nov. 12, 2017 gala dinner and awards reception celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the Hellenic News of America at The Merion in Cinnaminson, New Jersey. Dr. Spiro Spireas also serves as chairman of the American Hellenic Institute.
The Sigmapharm Laboratories Organic Chemistry Suite was dedicated Nov. 1 as part of a new $76 million STEM building, Chemistry addition and Forum at the college.
“I don’t want you to feel that we’re such philanthropists here,” Dr. Spireas said half-jokingly. “We’re also thinking about the good that comes.” The new lab will give organic chemistry students a chance to prosper in their learning, making them valuable assets later on to Sigmapharm and to science in general.
The Organic Chemistry Suite sits on the first floor of the new 23,300 square-foot Chemistry Addition. The 3,980 square-foot Suite will be used for sophomore and upper level lab courses and undergraduate research. It includes two organic chemistry laboratories and a shared preparatory laboratory. The two labs can each accommodate 20 students at a time, with multiple labs taught throughout the day. The chemistry department has about 150 students.
The labs are interconnected to encourage interaction between different students and faculty. State-of-the-art fume hoods line the perimeter, separating wet lab work areas from dry areas for writing and reading. The center of each lab contains key instruments with efficient access to long benches and a center island. Outside of the formal suite, the first floor has an informal learning space and a common area for students.
The goal of the suite is to “provide an inner-connected set of labs that are designed for 21st century pedagogy and research in organic chemistry,” according to a college press release.
The students have been in the labs for a few weeks now.
“My favorite thing about the new labs is that they’re all really connected and it’s easy to collaborate with a lot of the students,” said Kristen Vogt, a junior chemistry major at TCNJ. “So rather than being stuck in one lab you can go from lab to lab and there’s areas where you can do computational work and it’s really great.” She added, “A lot of the new equipment is really going to help me excel and I’m really looking forward to using it next year.”
Fellow junior chemistry major Eliana Aerts appreciated the open spaces of the suite. “I love how open they are because our old labs can get kind of cramped and kind of cluttered,” she said. “I love the windows,” she added.
She also pointed out that the fume hoods make the new labs safer and are ADA regulated for people with disabilities.
Dr. Jeffrey M. Osborn, Dean of the School of Science, speaking after the dedication ceremony, said it was a “thrill” to open the suite and partner with Sigmapharm.
“As you know, Sigmapharm has hired a lot of TCNJ students on internships and then brought a number of those full time students on board as full time colleagues once they graduated from TCNJ. So the philosophy, the mission of Sigmapharm and TCNJ are matched perfectly with each other,” he said. Collaboration, encouraged in the new suite, is also a philosophy of TCNJ and Sigmapharm, Dr. Osborn said.
What’s central to this chemistry department is face to face interaction, being in the laboratories, interacting with each other, interacting with the faculty, Dr. Osborn said. The student faculty ratio is 13-1 so the students get a lot of attention, even though TCNJ has one of the largest numbers of undergraduate chemistry majors in the country.
College President R. Barbara Gitenstein, speaking at the dedication, offered kind words to Spireas.
“On behalf of the TCNJ community, we thank you for your generosity and extraordinary commitment,” she said. The investment in programs at TCNJ will prepare its students for the region’s “critically important health/science pipeline.”
She thanked TCNJ alum Constantine Larigakis, who introduced them to the Spireas’.
Gitenstein pointed out that the TCNJ’s chemistry program is one of the premium undergraduate programs in the nation, ranked in the top 4 percent by the American Chemical Society and first in New Jersey for producing ACS-certified bachelor degree chemistry students.
“That’s remarkable,” she said. At the conclusion, she presented Drs. Spiro Spireas and Emily Spireas medallions with the TCNJ president’s seal.
“We are very excited about the opening and dedication of the Sigmapharm Organic Chemistry Laboratory Suite. These new teaching laboratories feature an open design that further improves pre-lab instruction and student safety. Students will gain hands-on experience with the latest technology in organic synthesis and compound analysis, preparing them for success in graduate school or employment in our local pharmaceutical and chemical industries. We are deeply grateful for the generosity of Dr. Spireas and his family and his trust in us to prepare the next generation of scientists. It was a pleasure to welcome so many members of Sigmapharm to TCNJ and the Department of Chemistry. We look forward to continuing our fruitful relationship with Sigmapharm in the years to come,” shared Dr. Donald Hirsh, Professor and Chair of the Department of Chemistry.
Dr. Spiro Spireas spoke about education and entrepreneurship. He had worked as a professor at the pharmacy school at Long Island University but left there to become vice president in research and development for a small pharmaceutical company in northeast Philadelphia. From there, he launched Sigmapharm Laboratories which today has 170 employees.
“Higher education, advanced education is a beautiful and powerful thing,” he said, but success through education is a very difficult phenomenon. “There is a small step which has a tremendous height even though it’s a small step that you need to climb,” he said. “That small step is learning through experience.”
“You can learn things much better, you can understand things much better when you have something that gives you hands-on experience,” he said.
A well-equipped lab will keep students working instead of getting disheartened when the research becomes too difficult, he said.
It was that thinking that propelled him to donate the lab. “A laboratory goes a long way and the equipment inside a laboratory goes much, much further. It is a huge advance in creating new talent, new knowledge and tremendous capability to fuse events, to fuse those things in your life. This is the secret to success,” he said.