Daniell Mattern named inaugural Stefani-Miller Chair in recognition of excellence, STEM research

Published 11:19 am Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Daniell Mattern, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Mississippi, has been named to a new endowed chair established to bolster teaching and research in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

With a gift of $1.5 million, Dr. Rhett Atkinson and his wife, Elaine, established the Doctors Andrew Stefani and Eldon Miller Memorial Chair for STEM Teaching and Research in 2019 to honor Stefani, former professor and chair in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Miller, former professor and chair in the Department of Mathematics. Mattern is the inaugural holder of the position.

The Atkinsons’ gift provides income to the College of Liberal Arts to support the recruitment and retention of a top-tier scholar who demonstrates outstanding teaching in STEM and is also a productive researcher in biology, chemistry, biochemistry, mathematics, physics or astronomy.

“My wife and I strongly believe in education and academics, and we want to give back to the institution that gave me the background and the tools I needed to be successful,” said Atkinson, of Sedona, Arizona. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics from Ole Miss in 1970 and ’72 and graduated from the UM School of Medicine in 1979.

Mattern said he is delighted to be selected as the inaugural chair.

“I knew Andy Stefani, who was also an organic chemist and the department chair when the department hired me,” Mattern said. “I always admired his passion for teaching chemistry.

“I didn’t know Eldon Miller, although I did often see him around Oxford. He was also highly regarded as a teacher.”

Mattern is a great choice for the position, said Greg Tschumper, chair and professor of chemistry and biochemistry.

“I cannot think of a more deserving candidate for the inaugural appointment to the Stefani-Miller Chair because Dr. Mattern’s pedagogical activities epitomize the very essence of the position,” Tschumper said. “He has received numerous awards for his teaching excellence.

“Over the years, he has had an incredibly positive impact on the education and lives of many, many Ole Miss students who have been fortunate enough to have him as a teacher and a mentor.”

Mattern said he already has plans for the stipend from his new position.

“I can certainly use it to help fund my undergraduate research students, but I am also looking for ways it might enhance my classroom teaching,” he said. “I’m several years into drafting an organic chemistry textbook, and it could be helpful in developing that project.”

A UM faculty member since 1991, Mattern is a previous recipient of the Elsie M. Hood Outstanding Teacher Award, College of Liberal Arts Outstanding Teacher of the Year, Alpha Epsilon Delta Outstanding Teacher of the Year and the Margaret Coulter Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and the university’s 25-Year Service Award.

“I’ve had the good fortune to teach the organic chemistry class, which means that I get a lot of great students,” Mattern said. “Most want to be doctors, or pharmacists, or engineers or even chemists, which means they arrive both capable and motivated.

“A surprising number of Taylor Medalists on Honors Day – the university’s highest academic honor for undergraduates – have taken my organic chemistry class.”

During the pandemic year of 2020-21, Mattern “flipped” his classroom.

“I made videos of all my lectures and put them online,” he said. “In class, instead of listening to me lecture, the students do problem-solving activities in groups of four.

“Now my most enjoyable class time is when I observe a group express a misconception, then watch them work through a problem and figure out the correct view by the end.”

After completing his bachelor’s degree at Kalamazoo College, Mattern earned master’s and doctoral degrees from Stanford University. He has been a postdoctoral fellow at Tufts University School of Medicine and the University of California at San Diego.

Mattern’s research interests includes organic donor-sigma-acceptor molecules, fatty acyl analogs of acarnidine and aromatic iodination.

The Doctors Andrew Stefani and Eldon Miller Memorial Chair for Stem Teaching and Research Endowment is open to gifts from individuals and organizations. Send a check, with the endowment noted in the memo line, to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655, or give online at http://give.olemiss.edu.

For more information on supporting STEM teaching and research at the university, contact Charlotte Parks, vice chancellor for development, at cpparks@olemiss.edu or 662-915-3120.