The below was sent to the campus community on July 24, 2019, from President Kim Cassidy.
Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff:
Dr. Maryellen Nerz-Stormes, Senior Laboratory Lecturer in Chemistry and member of the Chemistry Department since 1988, passed away on July 17 from metastatic breast cancer. As many of you know, this was a disease that she fought for 18 years with tenacity and courage. Throughout this time, and indeed through her entire career, Dr. Nerz-Stormes was animated by her passions for her family, for sharing the beauty of organic chemistry with her students, and with a desire to continue to grow as a teacher.
Dr. Nerz-Stormes received her B.S. in Biological Chemistry from the College of Saint Vincent in 1980, and her Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from the University of Pennsylvania in 1985. She held a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and spent two years on the faculty at Wagner College before coming to Bryn Mawr in 1988.
While Dr. Nerz-Stormes periodically taught other courses, the focus of her work was the Organic Chemistry laboratory. In this role she taught chemistry majors, premed students, and nearly every postbac over the past 31 years. She created both the lecture and laboratory components of the Organic Chemistry lab course, and continually worked to update and improve both. She believed that “most importantly, [our students] need to learn and work as scientists”; her goal for a 2017 major revamp of the organic curriculum was “to have students work on long term, real research projects.”
I have received many messages from colleagues and former and current students about Dr. Nerz-Stormes as a teacher, a mentor, and a professional and personal source of inspiration. Professor of Chemistry Bill Malachowski describes her as “one of those truly exceptional educators who combined an intense passion for her discipline with an unparalleled dedication to students’ success. To thousands of current doctors and scientists, she was their chemistry superhero.” This dedication took the form of a website filled with study aids and YouTube videos, extended office hours, and bolstering students’ belief that they had the talent and dedication to succeed as scientists. As Chair and Professor of Chemistry Michelle Francl describes, “Maryellen's passion for her students [was] legendary. Students tell me not only did she believe in them, but that her clear joy in the subject was contagious. I was always amazed by the way she could tie the course to fields outside of science, peppering her lab materials with literary quotes and poetry. And she was a good friend who would share her last bar of chocolate with you.”
Ashley Osimetha ’19 wrote, “Dr. Nerz played an essential role in my understanding and love for Chemistry and I will truly miss her. I can't thank her enough for seeing my potential and deciding that I was qualified enough to be an Orgo TA, for that led to my growth as a scientist.” In the words of Wynne Kandur ’06, senior national security analyst at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, “Dr. Nerz was the absolute best. She was inspiring, but it wasn’t just because she was fighting fiercely for her existence; she simultaneously fought fiercely for our success. She was so incredibly giving of her time, knowledge, and her true belief in each of us.”
The College recognized Dr. Nerz-Stormes’ teaching excellence with the Roslyn R. Schwartz Teaching Award in 2000 and the Christian A. Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching in 2007. In addition, she received the American Chemical Society Philadelphia Section’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 2016.
Dr. Nerz-Stormes also contributed significant service to the College. Of particular note she served on the Undergraduate Premedical Advisory Committee for 21 years (and as acting Undergraduate Health Professions Advisor in 1999-2000); on the Undergraduate Admissions Committee; and on the Undergraduate Council.
Dr. Nerz-Stormes' commitment to her work, her students, and her family continued through nearly two decades of often debilitating cancer treatment. She was open about her illness, and became an informed student of her disease and an advocate for cancer patients, including through service on the Institutional Research Boards at Bryn Mawr, Paoli, and Lankenau Hospitals and as a volunteer reviewer of grant proposals to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Professor of Chemistry Susan White notes that “she was a guest lecturer in Health Studies and spoke of her life with breast cancer. She was extremely courageous to recount the details of her treatments and interactions with doctors to a large class of students and intentionally included humor and optimism so the students wouldn't be scared or sad. Helping others and showing kindness was a constant with Maryellen despite her worsening condition.”
She was deeply committed to her husband Marc Stormes and sons Joe and Clem. Professor White recalls “how proud she was of Joe and Clem, whether they were playing with chemistry models, studying philosophy or energy, or finding a real job.” She also leaves behind her parents and six of her seven siblings.
In the words of colleague and Assistant Professor of Chemistry Yan Kung, “we will all remember Maryellen’s unique and uplifting spirit, her never-ending positivity, her love of chemistry, and most of all, her love of teaching and her students."
Condolences may be sent to Marc Stormes at 226 Old Eagle School Road, Wayne, PA 19087. A memorial service will be held at the College in the fall.