For Immediate Release — April 25, 2005


Mary E. McCrank

Media Relations Officer

(585) 245-5516




Retiring physics professor David Meisel to deliver commencement address

GENESEO, N.Y. — In recognition of his highly regarded service as a steward of public service and as an accomplished scientist and acknowledged leader in education, State University of New York Regent Emeritus Walter Cooper will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from SUNY at SUNY Geneseo’s 139th commencement on Saturday, May 14.

Geneseo Distinguished Professor of Physics David D. Meisel, who is retiring after a 35-year teaching career with the college, will deliver the commencement address at the 10 a.m. ceremony. The title of his speech is "The Answer is 42." Meisel, who specializes in searching for interstellar micrometeors, took the title of his speech from "The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy," which states 42 is the answer to life, the universe and everything.

Geneseo’s commencement will be held on the site of the "B" parking lot on campus, adjacent to South Hall, just off of Park Street/College Drive between Main Street and Route 63. Approximately 1,220 undergraduates will receive their diplomas during the exercises, and approximately 30 graduate students will receive master’s degrees.

Meisel, who joined the college in 1970, was promoted to the rank of SUNY Distinguished Professor in 2001. It is the highest rank in the SUNY system, and Meisel was the fourth faculty member at the college to receive the title, which is conferred on SUNY faculty who have achieved national or international prominence within their field. Meisel has been a prominent astronomer since he investigated Comet Kohoutek shortly before his arrival at Geneseo in 1970.

His contributions to the field of astronomy have extended to the development of instrumentation, analytic methods and spectroscopic techniques that influence the way astronomers conduct research today. Recently, Meisel’s work has centered around meteor, upper atmospheric and space science research, including collaborative endeavors with researchers from colleges in the U.S. and abroad, including the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. He is the lead researcher in a collaborative effort that provided the first evidence that micrometers originating outside the Earth’s solar system are affecting the Earth’s atmosphere. Meisel will continue to conduct his research in this project after retirement from teaching.

Also at commencement, SUNY will honor Cooper for his numerous contributions to science and to Rochester, Monroe County and New York state. He is a tireless and generous practitioner of personal philanthropy and is an exemplar of the educated and involved citizenship SUNY Geneseo strives to develop in its own students, according to Geneseo President Christopher C. Dahl.

Born in Clariton, Pa., Cooper received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Washington and Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., in 1950. In 1956, he became the first African-American to earn the Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of Rochester (UR). After completing his doctorate, he began a successful career at Eastman Kodak Co., from which he retired in 1986. Starting out as a research chemist, he was promoted successively to senior research chemist, research associate and technical associate. In 1985, he was named manager of the office of technical communications, overseeing the publications and technical reports of 2,300 scientific and research personnel. In addition, he managed the office of research innovation. During his career, Cooper published a wide array of scholarly papers in the fields of chemistry and physical chemistry and became the holder of three patents.

In 1988, Cooper was named a Regent of the State of New York for the Seventh Judicial District, and he remained on the board until 1997. During his tenure, he was Chair of the Regents’ Committee on Administration, Law and Legislation. He also served as a member of the Board’s Committee on Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities and Higher and Professional Education, as well as the Regents’ Subcommittees on Quality, Telecommunications and State Aid. He continues to lend his knowledge and expertise to the Board as a member of the Regents’ Review Committee, which adjudicates disciplinary hearings for those who hold Regents licensure in their professions.

Cooper has remained dedicated to education. He serves as the state’s Representative and Chairman of the Interstate Migrant Education Council of the Education Commission of the States. From 1991-97, he was the Principal Investigator of the New York State Statewide Systematic Initiative Program of the National Science Foundation and now serves as Co-Principal Investigator. As a member of the Board of the U.S. Department of Education’s Eisenhower National Clearing House for Math and Science Education, he has worked for improved access for teachers, students, parents and others to K-12 mathematics and science resources. He also is a member of the Board of the New Standards Project.

In 1973, Cooper helped found the Urban-Suburban Pupil Transfer Program in the Rochester city schools, an effective program still in place. Since 1999, he has chaired a strategic planning group developing and supporting major educational reforms at the historically troubled Benjamin Franklin High School. All Franklin students now have the opportunity to graduate with a Regents diploma and an associate’s degree. Franklin has become a case study by the Association of American School Administrators, and presentations about Franklin have been made around the country.

Cooper was a founding member and associate director of Action for a Better Community from 1964-65 and associate director of the Anti-Poverty Program in 1965. In 1965, he was a founding member of the Urban League of Rochester, serving on its board until 1971. He was chairman of the Education Committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from 1959 to 1965. Cooper served in these capacities during years of social turmoil in Rochester, a statement of the respect he commanded and the faith that all members of the Rochester community had in him. His activities in civil rights resulted in his appointment to the New York State Advisory Committee of the United States Civil Rights Commission.

In 1967, Cooper became involved in the first survey of pediatric lead poisoning in Rochester. His expertise as a research chemist and his access to the African-American community propelled him into the role of liaison between the science and African-American communities. As president of the Urban League, Cooper educated voters in the black community about the issue. Within a month of taking office, a newly elected city council and mayor passed a bill making the presence of loose lead paint on the interior of a dwelling an emergency under the city’s building code.

As a business and philanthropic leader, Cooper has been a long-time supporter of initiatives to increase Rochester’s economic growth. In 1972, he was a founding member of the Rochester Area Foundation. He also is past-chairman of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council for Black Business and Economic Development, and held an appointment as special consultant to the administration.

Cooper’s humanitarian efforts also are international. In 1975, he was the chair of the Bamako, Mali-Rochester, N.Y. Sister Cities Committee, and in 1985, with the support of the city and the UR, he was a founding member of the Bamako, Mali, Children’s Committee, which was formed to alleviate medical atrophy of Bamako’s children. In 1982, he was named Chevalier of the National Order of the Republic of Bali for his work on several programs.

Geneseo’s commencement will be broadcast live on the Web at

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Media passes are required for admittance to the grandstand. For more information, or to obtain a pass, call Sarah Grace Frisch at (585) 245-5516, or after 6:30 p.m. and on weekends at (585) 657-5488.