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Published: October 12, 2017 Author: Jackie Osborne

How does one make an impact? How does one leave a legacy? By being a distinguished and inspirational professor, mentor and friend. Norman Cohn was such a man.

Cohn received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania, a master’s from the University of Kentucky and his doctorate from Yale University, making him an expert in the field of environmental and plant biology. Joining the Ohio University faculty in 1959 as a professor, he went on to serve as chair of the botany department and dean of the Graduate College for 11 years. He retired as a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Environmental and Plant Biology in 1996.

“He was brilliant, funny, a remarkable teacher and an inspiration,” said Bob Goldberg, a 1966 OHIO graduate and distinguished professor of molecular, cell and developmental biology at the University of California. “Norm was a mentor to me and introduced me to what excellent teaching is, as well as what research is all about.”

Beyond the classroom, Cohn was active in the Ohio Valley Summer Theater in Athens for more than three decades. He served on the board from 1975 to 1980 and played several roles in various performances such as in “You Can’t Take It With You” as Paul Sycamore and in “Harvey” as Elwood P. Dowd. In 1982, he was recognized with the organization’s Baedecker Award.

Cohn died in July 2016 at 86, leaving behind a legacy that has continued in part through the Norman S. Cohn Research Fellowship in Plant Cell and Molecular Biology, established by Goldberg; Ralph Quatrano, MS ’64; and Dean DellaPenna Jr., BS ’84, in honor of their late mentor and friend.

Candidates for the fellowship must plan to conduct research during the summer semester and have a minimum 3.0 GPA.

“Having a young student being inspired to go into plant research would be the perfect memory,” Goldberg said.

That student is Stacy Welker, a senior studying environmental and plant biology. Welker was awarded the $2,000 fellowship to conduct research alongside OHIO Environmental and Plant Biology Professor Allan Showalter. She examined dozens of plants and extracted DNA to study sugar enzymes in plant cell walls.

“The plant cell wall participates in every aspect of the plant's life, so if we can understand how this helps to guide the process of growth, we can use that to better grow crops, or some of these cell wall molecules can be refined and made into products,” Welker said.

Welker also participated in a celebration of Cohn’s memory on Sept. 9 at the first Norman S. Cohn Research Symposium. Faculty, staff and students alike were given the chance to present their research findings in any facet of science.

Welker presented her work with Showalter and the progress they had made over the summer.

“(Stacy) made great inroads in terms of progress in this process,” Showalter said. “If she wasn’t here to do this, it wouldn’t have gotten done.”