Late Professor’s Legacy of Service and Smarts to Continue with Student Award

The legacy of the late Dr. Mitchell E. Johnson, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, is living on in a new way at Duquesne—through an award presented to a graduating senior by the Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences faculty.

The first recipient of the Mitch Johnson Award, 2015 graduate/physics major Courtney Au-Yeung, received a certificate from Johnson’s wife, Laura—and a pair of chili pepper-emblazoned pants.

“Mitch was known for that,” said Dr. Partha Basu, professor of chemistry and chair of the committee for the new award, explaining this Johnson tradition and how the interdisciplinary scientist interspersed light-hearted moments with more serious missions and unwavering commitment.

“Not only was Mitch a good colleague, he was always willing to serve,” Basu said. “Mitch was on the Faculty Senate, served on many department and school committees, and also served on committees in other departments such as biology. He was one of the faculty members in the forensic science program. He was very involved in the Pittsburgh conference and was a chair of the Spectroscopy Society of Pittsburgh.  Whenever you needed to get something done, you would talk to Mitch.”

To honor Johnson’s legacy, faculty members decided to also encourage and pay tribute to an undergraduate who is an academic achiever but also is service-oriented—as was the academic who left the University with the Center of Excellence for mass spectrometry, which opened only six months before his passing in 2010. Johnson also played a key role in obtaining nearly $1 million in National Science Foundation grants to acquire instrumentation and software, including the largest single grant for scientific instruments in Duquesne’s history.

“Establishing an award in this way honors both Mitch and his example of providing scholarship and service to the campus community as well as our high-achieving students,” said Dr. Philip Reeder, dean of the Bayer School.

Like Johnson, Au-Yeung extended her service to her peers, her department and beyond. Nominating faculty member Dr. Simonetta Frittelli, chair of the physics department, noted that as president of the Society of Physics Students, Au-Yeung led them “from a loose band of physics enthusiasts to a respectable member of the student organizations.”

But there was more. “By looking at her resume, and in no other way, I realize that she did all this while at the same time serving other organizations, including the Duquesne new student orientation, the Junior/Senior Leadership Society, the math honor society, the integrated honors society and the Honors College graduation party planning committee,” Frittelli wrote, noting how service often succumbs to studies for students.

Au-Yeung also served the department in outreach and recruiting, hosting tours for prospective students, joining open house events and working as one of the best-received tutors and teaching assistants in the department. Off-campus, she was an unpaid intern for the Girls, Math and Science Partnership.