Dr. Alex Nisbet discovered his love of chemistry when he was 5, and after teaching chemistry for 46 years, he is retiring as Ouachita Baptist University’s longest-serving faculty member.
He received a chemistry set from an aunt when he was a child, and he said he understood the directions enough to do some experiments.
When he was 10, his uncle gave him some college chemistry textbooks.
“I understood what I was reading, and I enjoyed browsing through the books,” Nisbet said.
He said his high school chemistry class and teaching labs in college both propelled him into the field.
“In chemistry you had three choices: teach, work for the government or in industry,” Nisbet said.
“So I chose to teach.” Nisbet, 71, joined the faculty in 1963 after getting his Bachelor of Science in chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin in 1959 and his doctorate in 1963.
Nisbet teaches quantitative analysis, physical science, instrumental analysis and introductory chemistry for nurses and dietitians.
As a junior chemistry student, Joe Jeffers took Nisbet’s quantitative-analysis class. He said because of Nisbet’s slight build, he thought Nisbet was a student.
“He was an excellent teacher,” Jeffers said. “But he gave quite demanding exams.”
Now Jeffers is dean of the School of Natural Sciences at OBU, and he emulates Nisbet’s exam style.
“Dr. Nisbet gave us exams during our lab time instead of during lecture time,” Jeffers said. “So instead of 50 minutes to take a test, we had three hours. I liked it so much that that is how I give my exams now.”
Jeffers said Nisbet has always been a team player and he will be missed from the department.
“Dr. Nisbet has always been ready and available to help anybody with anything,” Jeffers said. “He has been here so long, and we are going to miss him greatly. He is a fixture here.”
OBU President Rex Horne said Nisbet has contributed to OBU’s legacy.
“Dr. Nisbet has contributed to our natural sciences students and carved out a unique legacy across 46 years at Ouachita,” Horne said. “His character, personality and teaching will not be forgotten.”
Ni sbet sa id t he biggest changes to the campus are the buildings. Many of the facilities that existed when he first started teaching are no longer there.
“When I arrived, it was a beautiful, well-kept campus,” Nisbet said. “And there are not too many of the same buildings around.”
Nisbet has also been around to see five different university presidents come and go: Ralph Phelps, Daniel Grant, Ben Elrod, Andrew Westmoreland and Rex Horne.
“I am the only one left from the Phelps era,” Nisbet said.
After retirement, Nisbet said he will catch up on his reading and reconnect with his passion for music. He started playing the piano at age 5, about the same time he discovered chemistry, and the cello in junior high school.
He also said he wants to work more on composing music, which he started doing in fifth grade. His original pieces have been performed at the annual composer’s symposium at OBU.
He played the piano in the junior high symphony until his teacher asked him to learn the cello. He continued playing the instrument in the San Angelo Symphony in Texas, South Arkansas Symphony and the Arkansas Symphony.
Nisbet also plans to spend more time with his wife, Meredith, and two children, Carl and Audrey.
By Elizabeth Pannell, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Tri-Lakes edition, May 10, 2009