Wednesday, March 28, 2007

From model, to colleague, to friend: Honoring the memory of Albert V. Baez (1913 – 2007 )

Albert Baez stood as a model of meaningful service at three critical times in my life. The first was in 1954 when, having completed my post doctorate at Harvard, I was determined to find a liberal arts college where I could both teach and have students join me in research. When a Research Corporation representative told me about an Albert Baez who was demonstrating this very practice as a physicist at the University of Redlands in California, I applied for and obtained a position there in the chemistry department. I have deeply satisfying memories of those years at Redlands where both Albert Baez and I combined teaching in our respective disciplines with working with undergraduates as research associates.

In 1963, Albert Baez once again proved to be an influential model to me, calling me, not from his laboratory in Redlands, but from Paris, France, and inviting me to come join him as a member of his team at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). He had gone to UNESCO a year earlier to set up an international science education program. He envisioned taking improved content and methods of teaching science to beleaguered teachers in developing countries. Al’s vision resonated with me, for as with many other professionals of that era, I was influenced by John F. Kennedy’s statement: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.” When my wife agreed to take five children with us and set up home in Paris, I accepted Al’s invitation and became the chemistry specialist on his team. My part was to plan and administer the UNESCO Pilot Project for Chemistry Teaching, which was implemented in 12 countries on Asia.

The third time I found Albert Baez a model occurred in 1987. After 20-years of service with UNESCO (12 in Paris and 8 in Nairobi, Kenya) and almost a decade as a consultant with the World Bank in Washington, I was open to various options for retirement. Al’s own retirement experience in heading up Vivamos Mejor, a nonprofit organization he founded to serve Mexican families in his native region of Mexico may well have influenced me to accept the invitation from Glenn Seaborg, the Noble Laureate, to serve as Executive Director of a nonprofit organization he had helped found, the International Organization for Chemical Sciences in Development (IOCD).

I recall with warm feeling the collegiality of my days with Al at the University of Redlands, both of us dedicated to working with students as research associates. Al and I frequently took part in faculty discussions defending undergraduate research. His mature articulation of the case for this hybrid role we were both pursuing proved helpful to me as a relatively junior member of the faculty. Through this association with Al, I came to understand the critical contribution this innovative teaching practice could have in the education of scientists and became a champion for this teaching practice in American colleges through membership in committees of the American Chemical Society.

During that Redlands period, Al and I were both involved in the national curriculum reform projects funded by the National Science Foundation, Al in the Physical Science Study Committee (PSSC), and I in the Chemical Bond Approach (CBA). This brought us both into working contact with science teachers from secondary schools. I am almost certain that it was Al’s prominence as a creative developer of instructional films for the PSSC project that brought him to the attention of the leadership of UNESCO in Paris. Frequent visits to the Baez home enabled me to witness Al’s passion for using optical and electronic instruments as teaching aids. His house was filled with every variety and model of film projector, slide projector, overhead projector, camera, tape recorder, etc. Al brought great originality to applying his specialization in the physics of light (optics) to his lectures and talks to student groups.

Al and his wife Joan welcomed my wife and me as family. We stayed in their home many times through the years and shared family concerns with them. Al and Joan were members of the Society of Friends and we often accompanied them to the quiet services at the local Friends Meeting House. We will greatly miss Al. I particularly acknowledge that knowing Albert Baez enriched my understanding of science and gave me opportunity to live a life of service and meaning.

Robert H. Maybury

Read more about Al Baez, the first director of science education at UNESCO.

Editors note: Bob Maybury served as a member of the Board of Directors of Americans for UNESCO for a number of years, and continues to have a close relationship to the organization. He is a distinguished chemist, the Executive Director of the International Organization for Chemical Sciences in Development, and an expert in science education. JAD

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