Reigh retires: “Every human is a science person”
There are signs on the outside of the door that report DANGER, warning of acids, alkali and oxidizers. A commencement robe adorned with velvet stripes down the front hangs on the front of an equipment closet and looks strangely out of place in this office/laboratory that is being slowly emptied of its contents.
Its sole occupant, Dr. Darryel Reigh, sits in front of his computer, wrapping up last minute business before his career that has spanned more than three decades comes to an end. He is wearing a Woody Guthrie t-shirt that has flecks of cut grass on it from working at the USAO Habitat Area earlier in the day.
A serious yet thoughtful look spreads across Reigh’s face.
“We shouldn’t separate students into science and non-science people,” he says.
“Every human is a science person.”
Darryel Reigh was born in Madill, Oklahoma in 1947. His childhood was a time, he says, when society valued science and he was encouraged by both his family and his teachers to pursue his interest in it.
By the time he was ready to graduate from Plainview High School in 1965, it wasn’t just his science teacher who helped to shape his future.
“I had an interest in history and in science,” Reigh said. “I went to my history teacher and asked him what he thought about my pursuing a degree in history and science.”
“He pointed out that people generally pair science and math and so that’s what I did.”
Reigh graduated from Southeastern Oklahoma State with undergraduate degrees in chemistry and math in 1969 and completed his doctorate in chemistry from the University of Oklahoma in 1973.
After working at the University of Colorado Medical Center and for the Oklahoma Medical Research Association, Reigh got the teaching bug.
“I had always wanted to be a teacher,” Reigh said. “Teachers had always been my role models and the urge to follow in those footsteps was difficult to resist.”
After a year teaching science at Anadarko High School, Reigh was hired to teach chemistry at USAO in 1979.
Almost immediately, Reigh’s contribution to the campus was felt well beyond his role as an instructor. He saw a possibility for outreach in an annually recurring social science and business fair that brought potential students to campus.
“They were a bit like a scholastic meet but they emphasized things that were going on in those departments,” Reigh said.
“Just coming from a high school where we participated in a scholastic meet at Cameron and Southwestern, I thought we needed something like that at USAO so we put together a math-science contest.”
In time, this idea spread to include nearly every department on campus resulting in the annual Academic Meet that has since melded with the Montmartre Chalk Art Festival and Droverstock to produce a celebration of student achievement without peer statewide.
Reigh has been instrumental in transforming the off-campus area known as the College Farm into the now-renovated USAO Habitat Area. Reigh, along with former science faculty members Dr. Mike Mather and Dr. Larry Magrath, had put forward proposals over the years to use the property for educational purposes but had run into obstacles that seemed insurmountable.
Reigh, however, was persistent and, in time, his efforts paid off.
“I give a lot of the credit to Mike Coponiti [vice president for business and finance],” Reigh said. “The property had always just been considered another money resource for the university, whether through oil and gas revenue or cattle leases and farming.
“Mike had greater insight into the educational potential and so, three or four years ago, I asked if we could pull the cattle off and turn it into a habitat area. He was very supportive and even found us a little extra money that got us started on the path to the habitat we have today.”
Twice appointed as chair of the science and physical education division, Reigh is leaving his post optimistic about the division’s future at USAO.
“We’ve got a great group of faculty who understand that USAO’s core curriculum is important and not just a hurdle for the students to get over to earn their science degree,” Reigh said.
“It’s integral to what we do and the kind of graduates we produce.”
And, that road, Reigh insists, runs both ways.
“Every human is a science person. I know sometimes they don’t want to be, but they are,” Reigh said.
“They live in the natural world. They experience the natural world. What I hope every student at USAO learns is that science is a way to be more comfortable in the natural world.”
He pauses for a moment before adding: “When you understand the scientific basis for the natural world, it does more than just give you a fact.”
“It gives you the ability to make a change.”
Darryel Reigh retired on Aug. 30.