Pittsburg State University’s sole organic chemistry professor, Charles (Jody) Neef, lives a life filled with more than just organic chemistry. Neef, who has taught at Pitt State for six-and-a-half years, is also an outdoor enthusiast and says his life is rather “simple.”
Neef said it is “interesting” being PSU’s sole organic chemistry professor, explaining his organic chemistry courses are mainly for those studying pre-dental, pre-nursing, pre-med, and the like. Through his position at PSU, his main goal is for students to do well and become successful later on in life.
As part of organic chemistry, Neef said research is often conducted, as students frequently take part in hands-on research. Along with this, Neef also continues his research, primarily focusing on environmentally friendly flame retardance so as to replace materials that cannot break down within the environment.
In addition to participating in active research, Neef also represents and supports Pitt State in other ways. Neef serves on the safety committee, curriculum committee for the arts and sciences, and is currently working on a new project to develop a master’s in chemical education. This project is still in the works of acquiring university approval, though Neef said he has already received support for the new master’s idea.
Tuhina Banerjee, chemist 1, looks after the science labs and teaches two courses and has had positive interactions with Neef.
“As a person, he is really good, and I have had the pleasure to interact with him for more than five years now… I see him more in the labs,” Banerjee said. “So, he is very humorous and at the same time, he is easy-going … (and) he is very helpful—if something is not working you can always reach out to him. So, it’s pretty easy to work with him inside and outside the lab, what even I have heard about him from students as well, so he’s really good. So, you can reach out to him at any point of time.”
Before joining Pittsburg State as a Gorilla, Neef taught at Texas State University for three years, the school at which he also received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry. Neef also received his doctoral degree at the University of Oklahoma in organic chemistry. It was at Texas State that Neef found his mentor, Patrick Cassidy, and decided to “pattern” himself after Cassidy.
After growing up in Bastrop, Texas, as an outdoor enthusiast, travelling to Pittsburg in fall 2012 was a change of scenery and weather, though this did not keep Neef from his love of the outdoors. Neef said he took up both fishing and gardening ever since coming to Pittsburg. When he is not teaching or researching organic chemistry, Neef often spends his time outside, calling himself an “educated redneck.”
“At my age, I lead a pretty simple life,” Neef said. “… I like it that way.”
Neef is married with a wife and two children, an 18-year-old son who plays football for Fort Hays State University and a 16-year-old daughter who is a ballet dancer at Karen’s Dance Studio in Joplin.
Among organic chemistry and his outdoor hobbies, Neef also highly enjoys supporting his students. Neef said he draws in a few grants for the chemistry department, including from Ford, Kansas Soybean Company, and Kimbre. These grants are used to benefit students, with the highest purpose as support—supporting both students as well as the university itself. Neef said that these grants, among others brought into the university, are often used to allow graduate students to attend PSU who may not have been able to otherwise.
“I think he’s a good addition to our department,” Banerjee said. “I think students are fortunate and our department is fortunate to have an instructor like him. And he does a good deal of research and he has been getting grants as well, so that’s really impressive.”
While Neef said he teaches to see his students succeed, he also said he is how students often describe him as on “Rate my Professor,” which is that he is helpful but is also very demanding. Though, he said sometimes he will “drop everything” in order to help a student when needed.
“… How I see him in his labs … he’s very approachable,” Banerjee said. “So it’s not like he has the ‘professor professor’ thing where you can only approach him at certain student hours. But what I have seen … he’s always ready to help the students. So that’s a very good thing, and I think that’s kind of there for all other professors that we have in the chemistry department because if you go to big schools you have to go by either appointment or by the student hours … and Neef … you can approach him at him at any point of time. I’ve seen students always sitting outside his office.”