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A born researcher

2:46 PM  Aug 28th, 2013
by Maureen Schlangen

When University of Dayton biology professor Robert Schuellein ’44 got an offer to work at the National Institutes of Health in 1963, he had to make a difficult choice between two things at which he excelled: teaching and research. (Read more here.)

Research won; Schuellein left the University and the Marianist order, took the job at NIH and stayed there until his retirement in 1983.

But Schuellein, who died in 2011 at the age of 91, never forgot UD. In his estate, he gave $2.5 million to the University for a faculty research endowment in biology. A story appears in the Autumn 2013 issue of University of Dayton Magazine. Here are some additional comments provided about Dr. Schuellein and his work.

Geneticist Eliot B. Spiess of Winnetka, Ill., was Schuellein’s doctoral adviser at the University of Pittsburgh. Now retired from teaching, Spiess is a professor emeritus of biological sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “He was my first graduate student,” Spiess said. “He was a wonderful person, very conscientious and just did a lot of hard work. He was quiet and humble, not attention-seeking at all. He did a lot of teaching before he came to me; we were investigating chromosomal anomalies in drosophila.”

Bernard Zalewski, S.M., a 1958 biology graduate, recalled his fellow Marianist as a man who excelled at both teaching and research: “I knew him as a brother,” Zalewski said. “He tried to convince me to get a Ph.D. and come teach at UD. I did come back to teach, but in the School of Business. … He enjoyed teaching; this was a difficult decision for him. But he liked teaching enough to draw me into it.”

George McGowan, a 1963 biology graduate who lives in Waynesville, Ohio, remembers Schuellein’s teaching well: “In the genetics lab, that’s where we dealt with all the fruit flies. I remember one time a plague of fruit flies that got loose. There were just thousands of them. … Dr. Schuellein was very nice, very easy to talk with, and always had a good sense of humor. Among college students, he just really wanted people to understand. … Dr. Schuellein stood out in the science area. I was not the best student he had, but I really enjoyed his class.”

George Noland, a biology professor who became chair of the department in 1963, maintained contact with Schuellein after he left: “When I would go to Washington, I would visit him, so I saw him two or three times in the first couple years he was up there,” Noland said. “He lived simply, and he was a stickler for detail.”

Patricia S. Bryant, Ph.D., a retired program director at NIH, worked with Schuellein during the 1970s and ’80s. Besides being “a beautiful person and a treasured colleague,” she said, he was an advocate for science: “He was helping to build an environment where scientists stay in science. Clinicians are well-rewarded in private practice, so that is an option for people after they’ve had their scientific training; if continuity of funding is a problem, you may lose scientists to private practice. He wanted an infrastructure that continues to value science and a pipeline of people who maintain their commitment to science.”

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