Dr. Gasparro has brought chemistry to life for generations of Hamden Hall students.
At age 77, Dr. Francis P. Gasparro logs onto a Zoom meeting on a Saturday evening after a long golf tournament, ready to review for the AP Chemistry test the next Monday. His weekends are typically filled with chemistry, as he never gets bored of science.
“Doc”, as those acquainted with Dr. Gasparro call him, led an accomplished life long before he became one of Hamden Hall’s most valued staff members. After receiving a full scholarship to Villanova University, which he attended from 1962-1966 to earn his B.S. in chemistry, Doc was admitted to Princeton University for graduate school. Doc thrived at Princeton, earning his Ph.D. in chemistry. It was after his education, however, when his career really began.
Doc learned he enjoyed teaching while he fulfilled his required role of two years as a teaching assistant. In graduate school, he began his professional teaching career at Wellesley and then Colgate before ending up at Columbia University Medical Center for several years. He helped to devise a new photochemotherapy method to treat lymphoma, which eventually led him to a research lab at Yale University in 1986. His research success prompted him to become a lecturer and a leader of the American Society of Photobiology. In 2000, Doc put his career on the back burner to coach his sons’ Little League baseball team, a hint at his future involvement in the Hamden Hall community.
Prior to moving on from his university career, Doc worked on several scientific publications. He holds seven patents, the proudest of which is his invention of Photoactivatable Antisense DNA (1987), which is the process of targeting a photoactivatable group to specific DNA sequences in a cell followed by other macromolecules via UV-light-activated intercalation.
When Doc left his university career (which included a myriad of jobs, such as a summer stint at Western New Mexico University), he began teaching high schoolers. He taught at public schools for four years before transferring to Hamden Hall in 2004. However, Doc’s thirst for a busy, chemistry-filled life was not satisfied by simply being the head chemistry teacher at Hamden Hall, a role that he took over from his predecessor Dan Zibello. He also worked with Mr. Izzo to create the Science, Innovation, and Design Program (SID), an initiative to provide greater scientific research opportunities for motivated students. Another one of Doc’s prominent accomplishments is his creation of the HH Chem Lab Manual. The manual outlines the format for the chemistry program at HH, with its most important tenets the value of lectures and the emphasis on empirical knowledge (as discovered through labs and demos as opposed to pure logic). With Doc’s power of persuasion and genius, he pushed the school to allocate more funds to the chemistry department, in turn improving the lab equipment to the point of college-level technology.
However, Doc is more than just a member of several science societies, ASP Photon Award winner (2000), and lifelong teacher who was awarded the town of Hamden teacher of the year award in 2013; he is also a valued member of the community. At HH, he helped with the golf team for several years, and then coached the middle school and JV baseball teams for six years. If asked, Doc is anything but reluctant to bring up his career 6-1 JV baseball record against Hopkins! Furthermore, he is an avid golfer and “gym enthusiast.”
Although Doc’s career as a chemist has brought him awards, publications, and patents, his influence on his students is his greatest achievement. Lucy Xu, former AP Chem student and repeated SID participant, stated, “Doc is the reason why I’m pursuing biochemistry in college. His constant enthusiasm and passion for chemistry impacted me in many ways.”
Doc always says that “if the whole class gets a five [the maximum score] on the AP exam, I’ll retire…but if the whole class gets a five, I might be too excited to retire.” Doc expects to be teaching for a long time to come because he loves spending his time among beakers, solutions, and bright, curious students in the chemistry lab at HH.