Dr. S.K. Airee, professor of chemistry at the University of Tennessee at Martin, will officially retire from university service May 31 after 54 years in the classroom. Airee is UT Martin’s longest-serving faculty member.
He joined the UT Martin faculty July 7, 1965, as an assistant professor of physical sciences at the UT Martin Branch, and has seen many changes during more than five decades of service. He served on the UT Martin Faculty Senate the first year it was formed and was re-elected twice in later years. He also helped the UT Martin bachelor’s degree program in chemistry earn accreditation from the American Chemical Society.
Airee chartered the UT Martin chapter of the Student Affiliates of the American Chemical Society (now known as the Student Members of the American Chemical Society) in 1971. This chapter is the most decorated chapter in ACS history and holds more than 30 Outstanding Ratings, more than any chapter in the nation, and has received a Green Chapter Award every year since the award was created, an honor no other chapter can claim.
“Professor S.K. Airee, the faculty adviser of the University of Tennessee at Martin’s Student Affiliates chapter, deserves special commendation. Few faculty members are willing to make the great commitment of time and energy that a successful chapter requires of its adviser. It takes more than exceptional effort to be recognized as an outstanding chapter; it takes the nurturing attention of dedicated staff. Professor Airee’s efforts certainly represent the best in undergraduate education and mentoring around the country,” wrote ACS President Brian Rushton in a letter to then-UT Martin Chancellor Margaret Perry in 1995.
“Remarks like these humbled and inspired me, but the most cherished reward was the light of pride in the students’ eyes after they successfully executed a difficult project year in and year out,” said Airee. “Dr. Abigail Shelton has now very ably taken over as (chapter) adviser.”
Under Airee’s leadership, the chapter has coordinated more than 35 high school science bowls,
30 area collegiate chemistry meetings, 30 Boy Scouts of America chemistry merit badge clinics, 20 local chemistry Olympiads, and 30 weeks of National Chemistry Week activities.
Airee has been affiliated with the American Chemical Society in one way or another for the past 61 years. In addition to his classroom work, he worked closely with the Kentucky Lake Section of the ACS and served as chair in 1992 and councilor from 1999-2010. He also spent eight years as co-editor and producer of the Kentucky-Illinois-Missouri-Arkansas-Tennessee Chemistry News and Views Exchange, a publication sponsored by five chemistry departments and two local ACS sections. This publication was distributed to approximately 1,000 high school chemistry teachers and ACS members in the five-state region.
He is the recipient of numerous university, industry and community service awards, including the UT Distinguished Service Professorship Award in 2016, the Dr. Joe Johnson Lifetime Service Award from the University of Tennessee System in 2015, the UT Martin Cunningham Outstanding Teacher/Scholar Award in 2006 and Kiwanian of the Year in 1968.
“Scientists have the uncanny ability to be critical about everything and focus mainly on what needs improvement/optimization. S.K. has an eye for what is good. He recognizes the positive aspects of any accomplishment and readily shows pride for good work, whether his own or that of others. S.K. sees the best in people and believes the best about people,” said Dr. Genessa Smith, UT Martin associate professor of chemistry and one of Airee’s longtime colleagues. “He has been a champion of chemistry for a very long time, and I have no doubt retirement will not change that.”
The Airee family has initiated three endowment funds – the Martin Kiwanis Award for Leadership and Service, the S.K. and Shashi Airee Scholarship, and the Monsanto SAACS Fund – to help UT Martin students fund their education. Airee is an active member of the Kiwanis Club of Martin, and he and his wife, Shashi, have three children, all of whom are UT Martin and UT Health Science Center alumni.
For more information on Dr. S.K. Airee’s UT Martin legacy or the Department of Chemistry and Physics, contact the UT Martin Office of University Relations at 731-881-7615.