‘Festschrift’ to honor Skip Spear
May 27, 2014Tweet
Former doctoral students and colleagues of Norman “Skip” Spear will return to Binghamton University this week for a festschrift in honor of the retiring distinguished professor of psychology.
“Skip has been a major contributor to the department,” said Terrence Deak, professor of psychology and the primary organizer of the event. “Skip and a handful of others formed the cornerstone of the Psychology Department and made it what it is today.”
Spear, who has been a member of the Binghamton University faculty since 1974, will retire on Aug. 31. He will be honored on May 30, for a career that has trained dozens of doctoral students in the area of learning and memory across early development. The latter half of his career has examined early developmental consequences of alcohol exposure.
“My reaction was terror,” Spear said with a laugh about learning that his half-century career would be the subject of an academic salute. “I was really pleased. It’s the kind of thing that I would always deny that I wanted, but I love it. It’s an emotional − but fun − episode.”
The tribute will begin with a scientific symposium from 8 a.m.-3 p.m. in Symposium Hall, Room 1011 of the Center of Excellence. The symposium, open to the public, will feature three sessions on topics dealing with “infant learning and memory,” “early exposure to ethanol” and “ontogenetic mechanisms of alcohol dependence.” The 12 speakers include researchers and professors from throughout the United States and South America who are connected to Spear and his studies.
“There are people coming who are leading their fields,” Spear said. “Ed Riley, a student of mine at Rutgers University, comes to mind. If you talk about the phenomenon of fetal alcohol syndrome and its effects on the brain, you have to go through Ed.”
Besides Riley, who is director of the Center for Behavioral Teratology at San Diego State University, other speakers include Juan Molina, professor of experimental psychobiology at the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba in Argentina, and a collaborator on several publications with Spear.
Developing introductions for each speaker has been a challenge, Spear said.
“I’ve been trying to generate one-minute descriptions of the speakers,” he said. “But the memories flood through and it’s so hard. It’s been a battle, but it’s been fun.”
Deak said those who worked with Spear are considered “extended family.”
“I like the idea that we will get to meet these people who trained with Skip over the years,” Deak said. “When you get to meet somebody’s family, you learn more about that person. So I feel that I’ll walk away from the day knowing even more about Skip.”
Following the symposium, the speakers will tour Science 5 and other parts of campus, before taking part in a wine-and-cheese reception at 4 p.m. in the Grand Corridor of the Fine Arts Building (also open to the public). The day will conclude with an invitation-only, evening reception at The Binghamton Club.
Technically, a festschrift is a collection of essays or articles published in recognition of a scholar. In addition to the symposium, a special issue of the journal Physiology & Behavior will be issued in early 2015 in Spear’s honor. The title is: “Early ontogeny as a unique developmental epoch for learning, memory and consequences of alcohol exposure: a Festschrift to honor the work of Norman E. Spear.” Deak will serve as guest editor of the issue with one of Spear’s former doctoral students, Pamela Hunt, who is now a professor at the College of William and Mary.
Deak, who planned the Festschrift after members of the Psychology Department came up with the idea, has an Ohio connection to Spear: Both did their undergraduate work at Bowling Green State University.
Spear has co-authored 10 books, presented more than 450 papers at meetings of professional societies and has more than 340 publications to his credit. But when he arrived at Binghamton in 1974, he was simply looking for a strong research university that wasn’t in a metro region.
“I wanted to move,” said Spear, who had joined the Rutgers University faculty in 1963. “I liked Rutgers. It’s a great place to do research and I liked the people, but it wasn’t a great place to live. Don’t tell anybody in New Jersey I said that! Binghamton is a great place to live – no traffic jams and the people are nice.”
Adding to Spear’s satisfaction was a “pleasant and helpful” faculty in the Psychology Department and a new office in a new building: Science 4. It is a satisfaction that has lasted 40 years.
“I’ll miss the teaching, the conversations and learning from students,” he said, adding that the flow of new students and new ideas has been “pure fun.” “If you could do that without writing grant proposals, it would be a wonderful world!”
But first, Spear will get to sit back and listen to scientific experts who have been directly influenced by his work.
“The program is organized beautifully,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing the people and learning what they have been doing. I haven’t seen some of them for 20 to 30 years, especially those who received their degrees from Binghamton in the 1980s and 1990s. They’ve become very successful. It’s exciting.”