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‘My Greatest Encourager:’ Chemistry Professor Remembered, Scholarship Created in his Memory

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Dr. Richard Collison believed in Anna Bramblett and encouraged her to keep going even when it felt like no one else was.

“He believed in us,” said Bramblett, a Dalton State student majoring in chemistry with a secondary certification. “I don’t think I would have been as confident in my ability to succeed in the chemistry program had he not said, ‘You’re here for a reason. If you love something about chemistry, you’re supposed to be here.’ He inspired me to keep pushing.”

Collison, who was instrumental in beginning the chemistry degree program at Dalton State, died last week. He was 65.

The Richard Collison Scholarship in Chemistry fund has been created in his memory and to honor his commitment to student success.

Collison was a former associate professor of chemistry and chair of the Department of Physical Sciences, who had retired from teaching fulltime in December. He was scheduled to teach part-time when the fall semester begins Monday, Aug. 9.

“The impact he made on students is Dr. Collison’s greatest legacy,” said Dr. Randall Griffus, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences. “He had an open door, very student friendly attitude, toward teaching. Students always commented on their evaluations about how he took complex material and broke it down, so it was easy to understand. He was willing to do anything he could to help a student succeed. He belonged in the classroom and was so excited to be returning part-time for us this fall.”

Collison had attended classes at what was then Dalton Junior College before earning his bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga in 1982. He later earned his doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of Alabama.

“I consider chemistry to be a lot of fun,” Collison said when he was hired to teach at Dalton State in 2005. “Many people fear it. They develop a phobia about chemistry. What I enjoy is seeing students take a subject they fear and learn that they can do it.”

Morgan Johnson, a 2020 biology graduate of Dalton State, remembers Collison as “unique” and a “wonderful professor.”

“He would always come to class with a Diet Coke, pull up a PowerPoint and say, “This is what we are doing today, and this is how we do it. Any questions?’” Johnson said. “I looked up to him because he would give me the best advice, and he saw the potential in me even when I struggled. We had so many conversations through my time at Dalton State. I have countless memories of him, but one that stands out is when he titled our fourth exam in one of our classes ‘Revenge of the 4th,’ an ode to his love of movies.”

It was because of Collison’s encouragement, Bramblett decided to add her secondary certification so she could teach high school chemistry after graduating.

“He said, you strike me as the teacher type,’” said Bramblett, who is expected to graduate in 2023. “He told me he thought I’d make a fantastic teacher. I have a text from him that says I’d be great at it, and he was excited for me. He believed in me and was my greatest encourager. He understood my emotional and academic strengths and weaknesses. He invested his time in me.”

Collison was also known for encouraging his colleagues.

“Richard and I both began teaching chemistry at Dalton State in August 2005,” said Dr. Tricia Scott, professor of chemistry and chair of the Department of Physical Sciences. “He brought many years of teaching experience with him, while I was at the beginning of my career. I was very lucky to have Richard as a friend and mentor who helped shape my career. I can’t even count the number of times I went to his office for advice. Sometimes it was about teaching, and sometimes it was about life in general. He taught me that teaching is as much about empathy, compassion and changing lives, as it is about lectures and labs. I always admired his patience and calm, stoic manner in dealing with any issue. Richard had a great sense of humor and was fond of corny, chemistry jokes. One joke he told was ‘Old chemists never die; they just reach equilibrium.’ Richard reached equilibrium way too soon, but the time he spent with us was truly a gift.”

It was while a student at Dalton Junior College Collison and his wife, Gail, reconnected after high school.

“He loved Dalton State, both as a student and a teacher,” she said. “It’s a special place for both of us.”

To give to the scholarship fund, go to daltonstate.edu/giving and click on the “Give Now” button. In the “Select Fund” dropdown menu, select “Other” and indicate you are giving to the Collison scholarship. Or call the Dalton State Foundation at 706-272-4473.

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