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$200,000 Gift Helps Equip ESF's Chemistry Lab


SYRACUSE, N.Y. - The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) has received a $200,000 gift from an alumnus who said he wanted to give something back to the college that started him on a path to a successful career.

Walter Smith of Portola Valley, Calif., a member of the Class of '54, donated $200,000 to the Jahn Lab Appeal, the fund-raising campaign to equip the college's new, state-of-the-art chemistry building. Smith's donation is the largest gift the college has ever received from an alumnus.

The gift brings the Jahn Lab Appeal to within $50,000 of its $1.1 million goal.

"I was a chemistry student, so this fits very well with what I had been given by the school," Smith said. "I think ESF has a sense for excellence. I look for that in people I work with. It's a place you learn that average just isn't good enough and I like that."

Ross S. Whaley, college president, said Smith's gift will help equip the Jahn laboratory "in a fashion commensurate with the quality of our students and faculty and the importance of the work they do on behalf of a better quality of life for all of us."

Smith, a Kingston, N.Y., native, is the founder of Prognostics, a company that developed new methods for measuring consumer satisfaction and loyalty. He sold the company last year to NFO Worldwide Inc., a market research company based in Greenwich, Conn., for $30.9 million in stock. NFO is traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

He said his methods take a technical approach to assessing customer satisfaction, much the way a chemist tries to solve a problem.

"You get data and do experiments over and over again," he said. "You always have to be measuring what's important."

The aim is to achieve a balance between what is important to a customer and the customer's level of satisfaction.

"Without having been at the college, I never could have developed the methodology of precise measurements," he said.

"I'm very pleased to see a continuation of the level of excellence I remember being at the college when I was a student. It takes real dedication from a lot of people to maintain that level of excellence for that many years."

Smith studied pulp and paper technology, and high polymer chemistry at ESF. He later earned a master's degree from the Harvard University Graduate School of Business.

He began his career in the plastics division of Dow Chemical Co. and then worked with Longview Fibre Co., where he gained experience in the paper industry. He then moved into IBM's paper industry marketing group in San Francisco, where he worked on marketing computer techniques for use in the paper industry. In the 1970s, he worked with two marketing/consulting companies in the high-tech sector, and founded Prognostics in 1981. During the next 16 years, Prognostics developed a client list of 250 companies in 30 countries.

The $21.3 million Edwin C. Jahn Laboratory is an environmentally safe, high-tech facility that planners say will carry the college's internationally known chemistry program well into the 21st century.

The building's 71,080 square feet include 24 special purpose research laboratories, three large teaching laboratories, and 34 rooms supporting a variety of functions such as organic trace analysis, mass spectrometry and radioactive counting. It also contains 26 faculty offices, several conference and meeting rooms, and an administrative suite.

The building will support increased undergraduate student research and provides additional lab space for innovative teaching.

The Jahn lab is the first new building on the ESF campus in nearly 30 years.