Supporting Damkaci's selection are long, detailed and glowing nomination letters from five current and former students whose lives changed due to his mentorship, along with a listing of a score of research-assistant mentees who've gone on to top graduate schools and/or jobs in chemistry.
The letters attest that Damkaci, an associate professor who came to Oswego in 2006 following a post-doctoral fellowship in organic chemistry at Boston College, forges strong connections with students not only in the classroom, but in rigorous and complex laboratory activities involving such experiments as the total synthesis of molecules usually found only in nature.
Working with Damkaci "taught me countless laboratory skills that made me stand out among other applicants when I was applying for Ph.D. programs in organic chemistry," wrote Nicholas Massaro, a chemistry alumnus on both the bachelor's and master's degree levels and now a doctoral candidate at the University of Oklahoma in Norman. "His encouragement made everything seem possible ... Dr. Damkaci helped me realize what I wanted to be, and showed me the steps to reach my goals using my education from SUNY Oswego."
Currently a researcher in North Carolina, Ryan Cotroneo, with a bachelor's degree in biochemistry and master's in chemistry from SUNY Oswego, pointed to Damkaci's teaching style as a key to his effectiveness.
"Dr. Damkaci constantly demands input from students, which in turn grows into intelligent conversations that make the students think for themselves. Not only is he teaching the course at hand, he is teaching the student skills that are needed in their future academic career and professional experiences," wrote Cotroneo, who co-authored with Damkaci and alumnus Adam Szymaniak an article accepted with only minor revisions titled "Total Synthesis of Diabetes Drug Rosiglitazone for the Advanced Organic Chemistry Laboratory Curriculum" for the Journal of Chemical Education.
Szymaniak, now a doctoral candidate in organic chemistry at Boston College, said he struggled to put into words how much Damkaci's roles as teacher, research mentor and friend have meant to him.
"I don't think it is possible to explain in one word how much of an impact Dr. Damkaci has had on my life through the multiple classes I have taken with him and the two years of organic chemistry research," wrote Szymaniak, a 2013 recipient of the Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence. "The relationship that we have developed is one that I will always maintain ..."
Szymaniak, who published a journal article on the Biginelli reaction, a multiple-component chemical reaction, as co-author with Damkaci, added, "Fehmi is a laid-back, funny, motivational, extremely intelligent and immensely helpful research mentor, which after two years of successful research is how I believe it should be."
As laid-back as Damkaci can appear, however, all his student nominators said he fosters hard work, focus, staying on task and finding answers to difficult problems. Several of the nominators quoted Damkaci's signature ending to emails: "Where there's a will there's a way."
"As a mentor, he has always stressed the importance of keeping a deadline as well as the importance of organization and communication while working as a group," wrote December 2014 chemistry alumnus Joshua Malone, who added, "His teaching skills have motivated me to become a professor, so I can inspire and motivate others the way he has."
Known as the founder and director of the GENIUS Olympiad, a global high school environmental competition, Damkaci also is board of trustees president of the Syracuse Academy of Science charter school in Syracuse. With four other scientists, he holds a 2007 patent titled "Use of nano-gold particles as biosensors."
Damkaci will receive the mentorship award at a formal recognition event this fall under the direction of the college's Scholarly and Creative Activity Committee.