When famous physicist Michio Kaku talks about string theory, he describes chemistry as “the melodies you can play on vibrating strings.” When Dr. Néstor Chévere, assistant professor of chemistry at AIC, talks about helping students master the subject matter (and energy), he, too, refers to music.
“I always compare chemistry to playing an instrument,” said Chévere. “I tell students, if you want to play the guitar, you need a guitar and you need to practice. If you want to learn chemistry, you need a book and you practice by doing the problems. That’s the best way to develop the skill you need.”
Chévere should know: in addition to being a scientist, he is also a self-taught musician. “Someone gave me a guitar about 11 years ago and I taught myself to play. Then I organized a choir for the Spanish Mass at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart parish. I’ve also been trying to teach myself piano, but it’s time-consuming.”
Time may be in short supply for a busy professor, but Chévere manages to find multiple ways to serve. He is a member of his parish council, the Hispanic Ministry music director, diocesan choir director, a retreat leader, and diocesan vice president of the Movement of Parochial Retreats, John XXIII, for the diocese of Springfield, MA. “God gives me the time to do everything,” he said.
Chévere “grew up in the faith” in Puerto Rico and, as a youngster, dreamed of becoming an astronaut. “I always had an interest in the sciences,” he said. “I was always doing experiments when I was a kid, but when I took chemistry in 12th grade, I fell more in love with it. I realized that everything in life is chemistry. Our bodies are humongous chemical reactors with thousands upon thousands of chemical reactions occurring every second. You can name anything, and I can tell you how chemistry is involved.”
Chévere went on to earn his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez, as a first-generation college student. “No one in my family had gone to college, so it was challenging in the sense that I felt some of that weight on my shoulders, that I had been chosen to represent my family.”
After applying to several universities for his doctoral studies, Chévere accepted a scholarship to the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and moved to Springfield in 2002 to live with his sister. He remembers it as a time of radical adjustment. “I found it difficult at first to adapt. My sister had been living here for seven years before I arrived, and even she had changed. For the first time, I had to deal with people from different countries and learn about many different cultures. Now I have friends from all over the world. In fact, I recently visited a friend in Thailand and I can’t wait to go back.”
Chévere may have experienced some mainland culture shock when he first arrived, but he threw himself into his research at UMass, and his doctoral dissertation has been included in the Handbook of Nanoelectrochemistry from Springer International Publishing. He has published and presented numerous papers, worked as a chief research scientist in the pharmaceutical and product development industries, and taught at several colleges and universities, but what intrigues Chévere now is the possibility of developing an undergraduate research project at AIC.
“I started here in 2011 as an adjunct, and then became an assistant professor in 2012, and what’s so fascinating about teaching at AIC is that I have the opportunity to teach almost any course in the chemistry curriculum—general, organic, inorganic, physical, instrumental analysis—and this prepares me to start a research project in any of the chemistry fields. I have some students right now who would be great to work within that capacity. I am actually learning from them.”
For Chévere, who left the corporate environment for the college classroom, it’s all about the students. “At AIC, because it is a small school I have the opportunity to interact more with the students. They’re not just numbers. Each student is his or her own world. Each generation is new. Every semester I have new people to work with, and they all bring me a new experience of the world.”
“Teaching is a calling for me,” he said. “That’s why I’m here. I love being in the classroom with the students. They bring a good energy and youth to my life.” One might even say, for Chévere, the chemistry at AIC is just right.
-By Ellen Dooley
Featured Photo Credit: Seth Kaye