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Scientist comes home to Maine, USM to honor professor

PORTLAND (NEWS CENTER Maine) — Some teachers can have a lifetime impact on their students. That’s what happened to Ray Stevens of Auburn back in the 1980s when he was a student at the University of Southern Maine.

Stevens said his chemistry professor offered some help when he was struggling in class — and it changed his life.

Stevens said professor John Ricci introduced him to research work, and the story took off from there. Stevens earned a Ph.D. and is now director of two leading research laboratories, one at the University of Southern California and the other in Shanghai, China.

Ten years ago he created the Ricci Fellowship program to help USM chemistry students further their own careers.

Stevens was back on the USM campus Friday to celebrate that program and bestow a new honor on his former professor: He and his wife made a financial gift to the school, which will renovate a large science lecture hall and name it in honor of Prof. Ricci.

“Yes, he helped me find what I wanted to do with my life, my career," said Stevens of Ricci. "And that’s the importance of being a professor, a teacher," he said. "A teacher has that ability to inspire, instill and bring out the curiosity. And that’s what John did for me and what I’ve tried to do over the years for others."

Ricci, who is now retired, called it a great honor to have the hall named for him. And he said Stevens’ rise from a student to achieving a highly successful career in chemistry is the "wildest Cinderella story I’ve ever come across."

Stevens said some of the 10 Ricci fellows who went through the program are now becoming professors themselves. He said he hopes they start their own version of the Ricci Fellowship programs to inspire new generations of students.

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