A nonconformist in a school of mavericks

Emeritus professor of chemistry, in his 53rd year of teaching, includes classes that help students maximize potential, feel valued and heard

Frank Andrews

Frank Andrews, an emeritus professor of chemistry, believes life often takes someone exactly where they need to be. (Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)

If not for a clerical error, Professor Frank Andrews might never have changed the lives of so many students at UC Santa Cruz.

As Andrews tells it, it was near the end of the Korean Conflict and he had volunteered to go overseas with 14 of his 30 classmates in the Army counterintelligence division.

Instead, late one night, a clerk — who Andrews says was mostly likely intoxicated — mixed up the applications, and Andrews never went to Korea. Of the 15 classmates who went overseas, Andrews says, 13 never came home.

Andrews, an emeritus professor of chemistry, tells the story in a matter-of-fact way mixed with just enough wonder to let a listener know he believes life often takes someone exactly where they need to be.

And, at 81, Andrews believes that place is UCSC.

In a university known for its mavericks, Andrews is something of a nonconformist. In addition to teaching non-stop chemistry classes, he also founded courses like Science and Human Values, and Personal Empowerment, which were designed to help students reach their potential and transform their lives both on and off campus. He remains a champion of narrative evaluations, has written a book titled The Art and Practice of Loving (free for download from www.heartfeltyes.com), and requires his students to sign a contract pledging to be honest and open, and to take risks in his classes.

"I wonder how my life would have looked if I had not met him?" asks Desiree Bernard (College Eight '08, psychology and religion), now a student at Harvard Divinity School. "It's hard to imagine because Frank was such a tremendous force in my life."  

Andrews came to UCSC in 1967 with a Harvard Ph.D. in theoretical chemistry. But a five-year stint with his wife as residential preceptors at Crown College changed his life's direction.

"I fell in love with the students," says Andrews, sitting in a battered desk chair in his fourth-floor office, "and I realized so many were blocked from using their abilities to the fullest and from enjoying life. If it had been a few years earlier, I might have thought, 'Well, that's too bad.' But I had just been exposed to the ideas and practices that were forerunners to today's cognitive behavioral and positive psychotherapy. I realized they were teachable and learnable, and if people practiced them, their lives would improve — often dramatically."

Inspired by the young university's ideals of interdisciplinary education, Andrews started a course called Personal Empowerment that focused on helping students to break negative patterns in their lives and find their true potential.

The class, which he still offers, includes assignments like instigating a meaningful interaction with someone outside your circle, keeping a journal, writing about the inner voice that sabotages you, and expressing gratitude for the positive aspects of your life.

"He was incredibly nurturing at a time when I was trying to sort out a lot about myself," says Bernard of the class. "He helped me to accept myself as I am and accept my challenges, to see my gifts in being exactly who I am."

Chris Lay (Crown '95, math), a lecturer in environmental studies at UCSC and now Andrews's son-in-law, says Andrews's classes helped him deal with the grief of his mother's sudden death while he was in school. "He really is an expert in getting people through difficult times, and making the most out of their lives," Lay says.

Andrews also founded a senior seminar titled, Teaching Science in a University, in which each student in the course led a study group in the large, general chemistry lecture course Andrews was teaching at the time.

"But the truth was, it was more a class about what was going on with your life and how you can maximize your potential," says Chazz Hacking (Cowell '88, science and design), who was one of Andrews's students and now works in retail design for the parent company of KEEN footwear. "It was a lot of writing and reading, but it was really people stretching to obtain their best."

A man who posts his home phone number right next to his office hours, Andrews's teaching even spilled into his home when, 28 years ago, current and former students began gathering every Wednesday night to continue their discussions. They still do.

Now retired, Andrews is entering his 53rd year of teaching, leading his two non-chemistry classes without pay.

Nicole Dunn, 21 (Stevenson '13, environmental studies), says Andrews's class not only honed her writing skills, but also taught her about "living a grateful and reflective life" and connecting with others.

"Frank values community and, in so many ways, creates community, especially intergenerationally," Dunn says. "He makes time for the stranger and for the friend. When you're with Frank you feel valued and listened to."