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Meet Spring 2022 Distinguished Emeritus Faculty Lily M. Ng, Ph.D.

Meet Spring 2022 Distinguished Emeritus Faculty Honoree Lily M. Ng, Ph.D.Devoted professor focused on promoting chemistry, STEM education, science literacy and connection among all CSU populations

Professor Emeritus of Cleveland State University and past Chair of the Chemistry Department Lily M. Ng, Ph.D, has had a distinguished career. She has promoted chemistry education and science literacy among all university populations during her time at CSU—nearly 20 years in all—endearing her to thousands of students over the years.

If that track record wasn’t official enough before, it surely is now: Dr. Ng was conferred the Distinguished Emeritus Faculty Degree at the Spring 2022 Commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 14 at CSU’s Wolstein Center.

Dr. Ng has long been committed to ensuring participation of female and minority students, faculty and researchers in the STEM professions. In addition to her teaching, she has established awards to encourage student excellence, to recognize faculty excellence, and to recognize research achievements of young and established women chemists.

“A person has to develop character, be of service, be kind,” Dr. Ng said in a recent interview. “That’s the legacy to leave. It’s the legacy to my grandchildren, and great grand-children—to endeavor everything as a mission, commit to getting things done and you keep working on it.

“Helping people improve and succeed is important to me, and I guess that it’s selfish in a way, because it makes me feel good,” she added with a laugh. “There might be a bit of selfish intent for all people who help and contribute, but in my mind, it really does a lot to help make others succeed and feel good about themselves and their accomplishments as well. That is what we are all here for.”

Dr. Ng was the organizer and Founding Director of the Molecular Medicine Program (MMP), a specialization in the CSU-CCF Joint Ph.D. programs with the Chemistry, Biological Science and Bioengineering Departments, that drastically “expanded the involvement of the researchers in both institutes and students” (MMP Fellows) in the three doctoral programs.

MMP has evolved into the present Cellular and Molecular Medicine Specialization (CMMS), a signature program at CSU. To that end, the university and Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Center now share many strong partnerships that serve as national models of cooperation between an excellent university and a first-class medical research center.

Dr. Ng sustained an outstanding record of scholarship, teaching and service during her 18 years at Cleveland State. She served on 35 different university and college committees, 23 departmental committees and 77 dissertation/thesis committees, graduating eight Ph.D. and two M.S. students from her own research group.

With an impressive record of scholarship, Dr. Ng published more than 40 articles in refereed journals and, during her time at CSU, also served as Chair of the Chemistry Department and Director of Chemistry Graduate Programs.

“I really love our students and appreciate them very much,” Dr. Ng said of her time at CSU. “They try very hard, work very hard, and the university works very hard to help them.

“In the chemistry department, we engaged in social events on Fridays to help international students [get acclimated] to American culture, how football is played and so on,” she recalled.

Meet Spring 2022 Distinguished Emeritus Faculty Honoree Lily M. Ng, Ph.D.“Some students come from places where dating and marriage and funeral rites are entirely different from us. I like to create a mixture of connections, bridging gaps between cultures, finding places where people can come together and find common ground. CSU is really good at it. That contribution really helps students.”

Dr. Ng has also provided leadership in professional organizations, including Iota Sigma Pi: National Honor Society for Women in Chemistry, where she served as its first minority national president in its 100-year history; in the American Chemical Society (ACS) Cleveland Section, as its first minority Chair; and as founding member and two-time president of the Chinese American Faculty and Staff Association of CSU.

Described by her peers at CSU as one of “humble service,” Dr. Ng advised undergraduate students in preparation for (and choice of) graduate schools and careers; advocated environmental issues and development of alternative sources of energy; supporting STEM education for female and minority students and helping to connect them to opportunity, to research, and to one another.

Among Dr. Ng’s Many Accomplishments:

  • First minority National President of Iota Sigma Pi National Honor Society for Women in Chemistry (attracted minority members to serve on ISP National Council). Iota Sigma Pi is now 116 years old and Marie Curie was its first Honorary Member.
  • Only female and minority Chair among seven chemistry departments at state universities offering Ph.D. degrees in Ohio (CSU, Akron, Kent, Ohio State, Cincinnati, Bowling Green, Toledo), 2005-2009.
  • First female full professor in chemistry who has come up the ranks (from assistant to full professor) at the seven state universities offering Ph.D. degrees in Ohio.
  • First female and minority Chair in the Chemistry Department, CSU.
  • First female and minority full professor in the Chemistry Department, CSU.
  • Distinguished Emeritus Faculty Honorary Degree, Doctor of Science.
  • She also initiated two more awards in the chemistry department of CSU: The Summer Undergraduate Research Award and the Outstanding Teaching Award for Instructors—both of which she has pledged to continue her generous financial support of.

Dr. Ng attended the University of Hong Kong and Governors State University in Illinois and earned a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh. Currently an independent science education consultant in Minneapolis, Minnesota, she said “years of teaching at CSU has taught me that our students are special.”

Creating and teaching courses for chemistry majors and non-majors, Dr. Ng paid personal attention to individual student’s educational and career needs—recognizing the importance of graduate teaching assistants by establishing and funding the F.C. Mark Award for teaching excellence, in memory of her father, to be awarded to graduate teaching assistants. Her support of this award continues today.

Dr. Ng is emphatic that CSU students are very distinct and come at higher education from an entirely unique point of view. Her interaction years ago with a faculty member from Case Western Reserve University, who was interviewing for a role in her department, only helped cement her impression of CSU and its students.

“He said, ‘It doesn’t matter if Case leaves Cleveland, because if it did, there’s a notion that many people would follow. But what if CSU disappeared? It would be a disaster for Cleveland, because the city is the campus and the students are its lifeblood,’” Dr. Ng recounted thoughtfully.

“This observation has stayed with me for a very long time. There would be nowhere for Cleveland students to go,” she added. “That has also informed my approach to my profession, my students, my work—everything.”

And yet, despite all above, Dr. Ng. will tell you that she is “not an important person,” and that she is “far more comfortable being dedicated to my work, scholarship and her students” than in being under a spotlight or a microscope.

“Any time I get to work with students, I am happy,” said Dr. Ng. “I am still in connection with a lot of my students, from labs, from class—and they keep contact. The thing I miss most in retirement is interactions with the students. Whenever former students are in Minneapolis, they often reach out and ask to meet.

“Several students make a trip from China when they have time, others send me Christmas cards and have brought dolls for my daughters during trips. And one student from my research lab, who is now a professor in Taiwan, he sent me a Chinese painting of a lotus—the waterlily, my favorite flower and my namesake,” Dr. Ng. added. “That truly touched me and warmed my heart.”

Dr. Ng enjoyed all aspects of her time at CSU—teaching, research, her lab with her own grad students, and involvement on many committees. She said CSU still informs her approach to her work and life every day.

“Everything I do now is all still very connected to my CSU experience and keeps me using my brain, which keeps me sharp,” Dr. Ng said. “Tutoring, engaging with students, all of that helps keeps me young and young at heart.”

Dr. Ng called on Saturday’s graduates to remember all the “champions” who were in their respective corners during their respective collegiate journeys and to endeavor everything as a mission of commitment.

She also offered her personal four pillars of advice to graduates: “Be kind, be of service, continue to work hard and persist, and never stop being curious.” Her acknowledgements to students and the university is below.

For her outstanding services to CSU and to the profession that has led to a stronger chemistry department therein, the university recognizes esteemed colleague Dr. Lily M. Ng and conferred the Distinguished Emeritus Faculty Honorary Degree to her on May 14, 2022.