Parks celebrates 45 years of teaching and traveling

-Mary J.C. Segal, Contributing Writer

This fall marks the 45th anniversary of Woodstock, Sesame Street, and Dean Parks’ presence in the chemistry department at Mississippi College.

The Kentucky native’s first visit to the great state of Mississippi was for an interview with the dean of MC, Howard Spell. Amongst numerous positions available to him, Parks singled out Mississippi College as his next workplace, a choice with which he is still very happy.

“I obviously have liked it, because I’m still here!” Parks said.

Since he began working at MC in 1969, Parks has had a strong hand in the shaping of MC, especially the chemistry department.

parks

“When I came, I was one of three in the chemistry department,” said Parks.

As a result, he explains with a half-smile, he has taught nearly every course in the department, the exception being organic chemistry. This is because it lies outside his field of expertise. He graduated from Georgetown College with a Bachelor of Science in inorganic chemistry.

“My wife Barbara was a chemistry major and we met in the lab, of course,” said Parks.

His father was a chemistry major, and his father’s brother was such a well-known chemist that he traveled on several occasions to Europe to present his ideas and insights regarding chemistry.

The love of travel has also been a part of Parks’ life.

“Starting in 1999, I was named director of the London Semester Program,” he said.

His office walls bear witness to his love of travel, and given the chance, he will urge a student of any major to study abroad while at MC. A neat row of framed photographs featuring Parks and students of different London trips are arranged near his desk. Pictures from England, Greece, Israel, Italy, Spain, Russia, France, and all across the North of Africa hang in places of honor in his office, like medals won by an athlete. He excitedly points to captured moments of memory and hints of the stories they hold. “Here’s where I’m hanging out with the guys in Morocco,” he explained for one photo.

Parks regards travel as an integral part of education.

“It has dramatically increased my appreciation for history, and art,” Parks said with a meaningful nod. In 1977 and 1979, Parks led a group from Mississippi College in an archeological research project in Tanah, Israel. That’s “Samson’s hometown,” he explained.    Part of his travels has included teaching courses abroad, not dissimilarly to his uncle.

Parks said that in 1993 and 1995, “I was on MC teams that did teaching English as a second language in Hainan, China.”

Parks is passionate in his study of inorganic chemistry, but it is the London Semester about which he speaks the most. No matter what their majors, Parks will encourage students to participate.

“I personally want to stress about the London Program that there are benefits to all majors,” he said. He will tell people from experience that their lives will never be the same. One may, as Parks did, meet Gwyneth Paltrow!

In 2002, while waiting to buy a ticket for the play she was in, Parks met Paltrow as she exited the Donmar Theater in London. But meeting the well-known isn’t just in Parks’ experience. William and Harry, the British royals, chatted with MC students visiting Windsor castle. While neither of the brothers was married at the time, the ladies amongst the MC group did not join the royal family despite valiant efforts. Once, two students held flowers intended for the queen beside a parade procession. Elizabeth II stopped her royal carriage and allowed the students to present her the flowers, which she graciously accepted.

Parks has been the professor during the London Semester five times, but has attended each and every trip since 1999. With every trip his urging students to participate becomes more earnest. His office bears witness to the effect travel has had on him. Postcards of foreign lands overlap each other. Black and White photographs of Chemists peak through memories, and always, the call of adventure echoes from the memories around the room in which this white-haired chemist from Kentucky works.

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