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Robert Knouss ’66

When Bob Knouss ’66 says, “I’ve done so many things,” it’s no exaggeration!

Since his days studying chemistry at Muhlenberg, Knouss has gone on to hold many important titles and currently works in the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Despite his busy life, Knouss has had plenty of opportunities to re-visit his alma mater; several members of the family, including his wife and daughter, are also Muhlenberg grads.

Following his years at Muhlenberg, Knouss went on to complete medical school at the University of Pennsylvania. After an internship with the University of Wisconsin, Knouss went into the U.S. public health service.

Knouss has been a strong force during many crucial national and international events. “I directed health affairs during the Cuban-Haitian Boat Lift and was responsible for the healthcare of the refugees,” he says.

Two years ago, Knouss took on a high-profile role as Chief of the Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP) to provide healthcare guidance following September 11, 2001. “As OEP Chief I provided the needed resources and people to provide healthcare around the World Trade Center site, including care for responders and victims,” he explains. He also oversaw the identification of victims of United flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania.

An expert on bioterrorism, Knouss has since been called to direct the medical response to anthrax outbreaks. Responsible for treating those exposed, Knouss arranges for the necessary drugs to be gathered and distributed.

In addition to his work in public health, Knouss has also worked for the Senate Committee for labor relations and spent 10 years as deputy director of the Pan-American Health Organization. His leadership abilities and passion for both health and politics were evident as a student at Muhlenberg, where he was president of the student body. “I was active in politics even then,” he remembers.

With a strong lineage of Mule alumni, the Knouss family has a true legacy at Muhlenberg. Knouss’ father, Francis ’37, wife, Martha (Schlenker) ’68, and daughter, Rebecca ’00, are all graduates, as are Martha’s parents, two sisters, and brother.

It’s no surprise, then, that he has such fond feelings for the ’Berg.

“I really enjoyed my time at Muhlenberg and in the chemistry department,” Knouss reminisces, naming Richard Hatch and Russell Smart among his most influential faculty members. “They were wonderful professors. I was very actively involved in the life [at Muhlenberg] and I truly value the education Muhlenberg gave me.”

— Lindsey Aspinall ’04


Dana Scholar Deanna Howarth ’04, a biochemistry major, initially planned to attend medical school but is now applying to Ph.D. programs in environmental toxicology.

“I started out pre-med, but during my sophomore year I realized I enjoyed chemistry more than biology,” Howarth says. “My toxicology research eventually could include some medical research, such as studying environmental factors that cause cancer.”

Howarth, who is completing a second major in music and takes applied music lessons in clarinet and piano, clearly appreciates the interdisciplinary opportunities available at Muhlenberg. “I chose Muhlenberg because of its combination of excellent science and music programs,” she says. “I knew I wanted, at least, to minor in music.”

“It’s hard to squeeze everything in,” says Howarth, who estimates that she spends about 20 hours a week in class and lab, on top of her practice time. “The music department has been very flexible with me because I spend so much time in the lab.”

Lab space and equipment is a constant concern for science students and faculty. With support from Dr. Russell Smart, professor emeritus, and his late wife, Margaret, the chemistry department was able to overhaul an organic chemistry research lab, that was the workspace Smart originally occupied. The new facility is equipped with state-of-the-art organic synthesis; plans for more science renovations are underway so that all students can participate in active research projects.

Noting the department’s commitment to expanding student-faculty research opportunities and a more active approach to teaching science, Associate Professor Bruce Anderson describes proposed renovations to the science facilities as a space to house interdisciplinary programs like biochemistry and environmental science.

“The goal is to have any new facility designed to physically link the existing facilities and serve as a bridge between disciplines,” says Anderson, a member of the Science Facility Planning Committee. “Informal interactive spaces will provide students with a comfortable setting to study, work on a group project, talk with a professor about questions from class, or their latest research results.

“The facility should provide significant amounts of natural light, and lure visitors (not just scientists) to come inside and see science in action,” Anderson continues. “We envision an atrium area with windows opening into laboratories showing teaching and research labs in action.”

Shive, who has been a member of the department since 1969, thinks these renovations are appropriate, given the pedagogical changes he’s seen over the years. “Laboratory work is more open-ended and thought provoking now,” he says. “We offer a hands-on approach with a focus on understanding how science works, rather than just the outcome.”

That hands-on approach may not be quite as prominent in non-lab classes designed for non-majors, but students need not consider themselves “scientists” to gain a working knowledge of basic chemistry. The chemistry department offers Chemistry of the Environment and Chemistry of Life, designed for students majoring in social sciences and/or humanities and provide studies of the basic principles of chemistry. With discussion of important discoveries and current chemistry-related concerns, these courses offer students an excellent introduction to the discipline, contributing to the ideal “well-roundedness” of the liberal arts.

Whether their students are humanities and social science majors or straight-A chemistry majors, the chemistry department faculty are warm and encouraging. “I like all of the members of the department,” Howarth says. “They’re excellent scientists, but I’ve never felt intimidated. They’re interested in me and my life, and what I’ll be doing after college. I’m really glad I decided to come to Muhlenberg.”


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