Alumni News

February 4, 2017 at 3:54 pm

Alumni Honor Legacy of Distinguished Professor Emeritus Norman Cohn with Fellowship

Dr. Norman Cohn

Dr. Norman Cohn

Sometimes in college, you meet a professor who ignites a passion within you, changing your life forever. For Ohio University alumni Ralph Quatrano, Bob Goldberg and Dean DellaPenna Jr., that professor was undoubtedly Norman “Norm” S. Cohn.

When they discovered the news of Cohn’s passing in June 2016, the three alumni did what they thought Cohn would want: continue providing students with an enriching research experience.

“The opportunity to directly enter a lab and start doing research at OHIO under Norm was critical for my foundation in science,” said Quatrano, a 1964 graduate and special assistant to the provost for corporate engagement at Washington University. “We thought about the impact a summer research internship had [on us] at different times and manners.”

Quatrano, Goldberg and DellaPena Jr. established the Norman S. Cohn Research Fellowship in Plant Cell and Molecular Biology in honor of their late mentor and friend. The fellowship will benefit an undergraduate student enrolled in the university with a clear academic focus on plant cellular and molecular biology. The student must be conducting research during the summer semester and have a minimum GPA of at least 3.0.

‘He Was Brilliant, Funny, a Remarkable Teacher, and an Inspiration’

Cohn joined the Ohio University faculty in 1959. He retired in 1996 as distinguished professor emeritus of Environmental & Plant Biology at OHIO, where he also served as chair of the Botany Department, followed by an 11-year term as dean of the Graduate College and a founder of the interdisciplinary graduate Program in Molecular and Cellular Biology.

Cohn’s success as a leading professional in plant cytology—now known as cell biology—captured admiration from his students and colleagues. He was dedicated to teaching, providing hands-on research for his students and fostering their success.

“He was brilliant, funny, a remarkable teacher, and an inspiration,” said Goldberg, a 1966 graduate and distinguished professor of molecular, cell and developmental biology at University of California. “Norm was a mentor to me and introduced me to what excellent teaching is, as well as what research is all about. He continued to be my mentor and friend up until he sadly passed away.”

Not only did Cohn’s students consider him a mentor and friend, but also family. He and his wife, Margaret “Peggy” Cohn, former dean of Honors Tutorial College and also referred to as “Ma Cohn,” followed their students with such care.

“Norm and Peggy also had children around the same ages as mine, so our families became close, forming an even stronger bond and friendship between us,” Quatrano said. “For the next 40 years or so, we followed each other’s careers, kept in touch, saw each other occasionally, and I never felt like I was a stranger to him even after extended absences.”

Quatrano and Goldberg met through Cohn’s botany lab, with Goldberg as an undergraduate student and Quatrano as a teaching assistant.

DellaPenna, a 1984 graduate and professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Michigan State University, enrolled at OHIO years later. DellaPenna bonded with Quatrano and Goldberg over the many interactions he had with Cohn, along with the plant biology community Cohn fostered.

Quatrano, Goldberg and DellaPenna Jr. hope the fellowship will help a student develop the same love of research and plants that Cohn passed on to them.

“Having a young student being inspired to go into plant research would be the perfect memory, just as the three of us were by our interactions with Norm,” Goldberg said.

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