Hajek establishes Peter D. Livant Graduate Fellowship

LivantDr. Phillip Hajek, pre-med/chemistry ’83, is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon at Musculoskeletal Associates in Albany, Ga. He recently established the Peter D. Livant Graduate Fellowship in honor of Peter Livant, associate professor of chemistry. Livant, whose teaching and research career at Auburn University began in 1977, inspired the COSAM donor while he was a student at Auburn.

“The entire Chemistry Department was a friend to me during my years at Auburn, and Dr. Livant helped me when he did not have to,” said Hajek. “When I decided to do something for the college I found out he was still teaching, and I wanted to do something to honor him and help him. He is a great instructor, researcher, and person.”

Hajek is a native of Auburn, and after graduating summa cum laude, he attended medical school at Texas A&M University, graduated with honors, and completed his orthopedics residency at Louisiana State University in Shreveport. Hajek has conducted spine research and his work has been published in the journal, Spine, and The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. His practice is focused on aggressive non-operative management of all orthopedic conditions.

The inaugural recipient of the Livant Graduate Fellowship is Dana Lashley, a doctoral candidate and research assistant in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Her advisor is Prof. Stewart Schneller, former dean of COSAM, and her research is focused on the synthesis of nucleosidic antiviral drugs for the treatment of deadly viral diseases such as ebola. She has presented the results of her research in professional settings, and in addition to her dissertation project, Lashley serves as the vice president of the Graduate Student Council and the president of the Iranian Student Association. She has also assumed a major role in promoting the careers of young minority chemists with her participation in the Auburn Chapter for the National Organization for the Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers. As an instructor, Lashley is recognized as an excellent teacher of organic chemistry, and she volunteers to hold help sessions in the evenings for the students in organic chemistry classes. A child of Iranian immigrants to Germany, she obtained her bachelor of science in chemistry at the University of Frankfurt in Germany and joined the Auburn doctoral program in 2008. In addition to the Peter Livant Fellowship for Organic Chemistry, she was a recipient of the Dr. Mary Ellen Mazey Annual Graduate Fellowship for Women in Science, and she volunteers as a mentor in Project Uplift serving underprivileged children in the Auburn area and encouraging them to consider a career in the sciences.

Dr. Lee Van Carroll, pre-dentistry/chemistry ’81, a dentist in Dothan, Ala., specializing in endodontics, is a friend and fraternity brother of Hajek’s who shares fond memories of Livant.

“I needed one more chemistry course to graduate before I started dental school, and Dr. Livant allowed me to do research for him for three months. His generosity in allowing me to take that course made my application to UAB School of Dentistry more competitive and was part of the reason I was selected to enter school the following fall,” said Carroll. “A few years ago, my son started Auburn and we were in the Chemistry Building when we opened a classroom door and there stood Dr. Livant. I hadn’t seen him in 30 years, and he looked the same. When he saw me, without hesitation he said my name. It made me feel cared about that this man would remember me after all these years, and for my son to see that recognition made my chest swell. It was a good feeling that I will always remember, just as I will always remember what he did for me.”

In addition to honoring him with a fellowship in his name, Hajek provided Livant with laboratory supplies and equipment, including a rotary evaporator, as well as a gas chromatograph and an analytical/ semi-prep high performance liquid chromatograph, which are instruments for detecting the components of a mixture and separating them.

“When I got the news of my double good fortune, funds to purchase organic chemical research equipment, and the establishment of the Peter Livant Fellowship for organic chemistry graduate students, I must admit that the equipment seemed more exciting at that moment. After all, lack of appropriate instruments can handcuff a chemical researcher, and I was thinking, selfishly, about being able to shed at least some of my handcuffs,” said Livant.

“I was ecstatic, euphoric, like a kid at Christmas, overjoyed with the gifts.”

“As I reflected more calmly on what Phil Hajek had done, I came to the realization that the equipment funds, amazing though they were, obscured deeper gifts. The fellowship that Phil Hajek established for organic chemistry graduate students will be assisting promising students now, next year, and for years long after the laboratory equipment he provided has outlived its useful life, indeed long after my life - useful or otherwise - has ended. It’s truly amazing. He has built a bridge that extends far into the future. He has created something that is both good and permanent.

“Also amazing is that the fellowship is not named, ‘The Phil Hajek Fellowship,’ as it perhaps should be. His putting my name on it is an act of stunning generosity, kindness, and, most of all, humility. It took me awhile - I’m slow, it’s true - to grasp the fact that he consciously decided not to put his own name on the fellowship. It became clear to me that his focus was simply on doing good; he had no interest in self-promotion. It is an honor for me to be associated with a man whose character is woven with such rare, fine fabric,” noted Livant.

For more information on contributing to this fellowship or establishing a new one, contact the COSAM Office of Development at 334.844.2931.