A Career Launched at Williams

by Andy Hess '62

Andy Hess and his entrymates
Andy Hess and his Sage Hall entrymates in the fall of 1958

I was a rising senior at Friends School in Wilmington, Delaware. One summer day I dropped by my classmate Peter Gehret’s house. While I was there, his brother, Dr. John Gehret '55, stopped by. He overheard Peter and me discussing where we were thinking about going to college. John, not  being a bashful person, interrupted our discussion and proceeded to convince me how great Williams was and that I should go there.

Later that summer I took a tour of colleges in New England, including a stop in Williamstown. My interviewer spent 30 minutes telling me all the advantages of an education at Williams. My next stop was Amherst, and I experienced just the opposite. My interviewer began by saying that I probably would not like Amherst, even though he had not seen my high school record.

The Williams "recruiter" stopped by Friends School that fall. He also sold me on Williams. I applied to two colleges, Williams and Duke (back up school). I was offered early admission at Williams.

John's remarks that summer of 1957 laid the foundation for my very successful career. I graduated with highest honors and received my Ph.D. in chemistry in 1966 from Yale.  

After a two-year postdoc I was hired by the chemistry department at Vanderbilt University, where I spent the next 52 years of life, rising through the ranks, and served an unprecedented 12-year term as department chairman.

I retired in May 2020 with 200 refereed publications, and I continue my research, at this point a collaboration with a professor at the ETH in Zurich, Switzerland.

My career also led me to meeting my wife, Dr. Lidia Smentek, a physicist. I spent a year at the Czech Academy of Sciences on a National Academy of Sciences Fellowship. One of my Czech colleagues, who happened to be in Nashville in 1982 as my collaborator, introduced me to a Polish scientist whom he had met at conferences in Central Europe. She had come to Vanderbilt for postdoctoral study.

There is no question that my education at Williams was the most important step in my professional career.

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