Dr. Jerry Odom
on January 8, 2010
Dr. Jerry Odom has made the University of South Carolina his home for more than 40 years. However, the opportunity to delay the start of his career at the University may have been one of the most important decisions to keep him here. He was the 2009 recipient of the Honorary Life Membership Award which was presented during Homecoming Activities in October.
“I was incredibly honored,” Dr. Odom says. “I received a lot of awards at the University, but this was a capstone for me. To be recognized for everything I had done, it was a tremendous honor.”
Dr. Odom is not only a Distinguished Professor Emeritus and Provost Emeritus at the University, but he currently works as the Executive Director for the University Foundations. He graduated from the “other” Carolina, the University of North Carolina in 1964, and he earned his doctorate in chemistry in 1968 from Indiana University. He has also served as a professor and a dean during his tenure and has won numerous awards including the Russell Research Award for Science and Engineering, the Mungo Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, Lilly Foundation Senior Teaching Fellow Mentor, Amoco Foundation Outstanding Teaching Award, and was an Alexander von Humbolt Fellow in Stuttgart, Germany. In addition, he has generated millions of dollars in funding from federal agencies to support research.
Like One of the Family
After earning his doctorate in 1968, Dr. Odom interviewed for and was offered a teaching position at Carolina, but he also received a fellowship from the National Science Foundation to go to England. This left him in a quandary, but he found that the University treated him like he was one of their own before he officially took a position at the school.
“I really wanted to go to England because that was a great opportunity for me,” Dr. Odom explains. “So I called the University and told them I had an offer to go to England for a year, and the chairman O.D. Bonner said ‘It’s OK, we’ll take you the following year.’ That was a wonderful thing, because what I dreaded was coming back from England and having to start all over again with a job search.”
Dr. Odom thoroughly enjoyed his days as a chemistry professor, and he also served as the Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry from 1986 to 1992. He was appointed as the Dean of the College of Science and Mathematics in 1994. In March of 1997 Dr. Odom was named Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost. He returned to teaching chemistry in August of 2004 before accepting his current position in 2006.
The Professor Never Stops Learning
A return to teaching is not out of the question for Dr. Odom, who admits a desire to be in the classroom again some day. Among the many changes he’s seen through his 40-plus years at the University, he says the biggest difference can be found in the quality of students here.
“When I stepped down from the Provosts office in 2004, I wanted to go back to teaching chemistry.” Dr. Odom recalls. “I told the chair that I wanted to teach general chemistry, to teach freshmen. It was very noticeable to me that the quality of the student had improved dramatically. I taught chemistry when I was a Dean and came to be Provost in ’97. So in that seven year span since I had taught, I could see the remarkable improvement in the quality of the students, certainly in chemistry. I’ve been told that if I want to teach again that that would be a possibility.”
That’s not to say that he’s not enjoying his current position as the Executive Director of University Foundations. In that position, Dr. Odom is in charge of the Educational Foundation and the Development Foundation, which is a real estate foundation. He also sits on the board of the Business Partnership Foundation, the Research Foundation, and the Board of Governors of the Carolina Alumni Association. He says the best part of his job is learning something new every day.
“I’m learning new things all the time, particularly working with the Development Foundation,” Dr. Odom says. “If you look around my office you’ll see various things having to do with different kinds of property. Well, getting a PhD in chemistry didn’t train me to be a real estate person, so I’m learning all of the facets of real estate, and it’s just fascinating to me at my age to take off and learn a lot.”
After more than four decades at one institution, Dr. Odom doesn’t even blink when asked about why he’s stayed at Carolina.
“It’s the people,” Dr. Odom says. “No doubt about it. The chemistry department is a fantastic department, not only because of its reputation in teaching and research, but the people there are a very cohesive group. They really have an attitude of doing what’s best for the department. That’s continued for the whole 40 years I’ve been associated with them.”
Dr. Odom and his wife, Toni, who earned a degree in Pharmacy from Carolina, are the parents of daughter Jules, 38; and son Ben, 13. The couple also has three grandchildren.