Yu Hu, PhD ’03, drove in from Indianapolis to express his best wishes to his former professor.
Thanks for success
Former students of Eric Baer gathered to celebrate the esteemed professor and his impact on their lives.
In his 60 years at Case, Distinguished University Professor Eric Baer built a legacy for the ages. He founded the Department of Macromolecular Science and Engineering, established the Center for Layered Polymeric Systems, and started companies and enhanced industries with his groundbreaking research.
But the clearest evidence of Baer’s impact may be his students; the hundreds of men and women he sent into science with master’s and doctorate degrees from Case Institute of Technology and, later, the Case School of Engineering.
Many of those students returned to celebrate their former professor October 21 at a “PhD reunion” celebrated at a restaurant near campus.
“We want to thank him, as a group, for teaching us to be difference makers,” said Mike Ponting, PhD ’10, who took a lead role in organizing the gathering. Ponting is the chief science officer for Peak Nano Systems, a Cleveland polymer firm that sprang from a company he co-founded with Baer a decade ago.
Baer, who turned 90 in July, beamed as former students and colleagues arrived from near and far at Edwins Too on Shaker Square. The celebration attracted more than 40 people, including Yu Hu, PhD ’03, who pulled up to the curb after driving straight through from Indianapolis.
“He helped me to prepare to have a successful career. That’s why I just drove five hours,” said Hu, a drug developer for Eli Lilly, where he leads a team of scientists seeking a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
Before he took Baer’s classes, he said, he’d been warned the professor was tough, direct and demanding. All of that proved true, he said. But Baer knew how to impart knowledge and spark creativity in his students, he said.
“I appreciate his style. He insisted we make everything simple. Three points per slide! I still remember that” he said. “I came to see Professor Baer and to see my lab mates. It’s a happy occasion.”
Stephen Carr, MS ’67, PhD ’70, left the Case Institute of Technology for Northwestern University and still teaches there, in a style shaped by Baer.
“Being imaginative was one of the things he preached to us,” Carr said. “He was creative. Very out of the box. Very good with ideas. A big thinker. It helped me with my career.”
The dinner also drew Karen Schuele, Weatherhead ’80, PhD, a Professor Emeritus of Accountancy at John Carroll University. For a time in the late 1970s, Baer and her father, Don Schuele, PhD ’63, ran Case Institute of Technology as co-deans.
Though in different fields—dad a physicist and Baer a polymer engineer, “They actually made for a great pair,” she said. She noted her dad kept a lab on campus and continued doing research with Baer’s students long after he had retired.
Roger Avakian, a retired chemist for PolyOne and a consultant, was not a student of Baer’s but considers him a mentor. He said Baer understood both science and business and prepared people to succeed in both worlds.
“Not many people can do that,” he said. “I hired a lot of his students.”
Baer holds the Herbert Henry Dow Chair in Science and Engineering, is a Professor of Macromolecular Science and Engineering and Director of the NSF Center for Layered Polymeric Systems. It’s estimated he has taught nearly 100 doctoral students across his six decades at Case.
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Karen Schuele, right, looks over a plaque to be presented to Eric Baer by his former students.
Ka-Pi Ho ’84, MS ’87, PhD ’89, joined the PhD reunion in honor of her former professor. She chairs the Industrial Advisory Board of Baer’s department.