FTU Alumnus Credits UCF for Strong Chemistry Foundation

Jeff DonnerDr. Jeffry Donner, ’77, remembers UCF much differently than it is today. Dr. Donner graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from UCF when it was Florida Technological University. Dr. Donner continued to credit UCF throughout his education and career with giving him a strong foundation in chemistry and science.

Now retired in Florida’s Treasure Coast, Dr. Donner worked for Honeywell UOP for almost 29 years in Illinois after earning his Ph.D. in Inorganic Chemistry at Louisiana State University. UOP started in 1914 and is a world leader in petroleum refining technology. Dr. Donner said he enjoyed working with a large number of very smart people and solving problems.

FTU Campus in the 1970's

FTU Campus in the 1970’s

Dr. Donner worked in research and development for his entire career. “Essentially that is solving problems on a daily basis; trying to understand how to make something work, why something does not work, or many times trying to understand why and how something works so that you can make it better or use that knowledge to make something new,” Dr. Donner explained.

Dr. Donner said that the ability to discuss problems and issues with other professionals that were not chemists ended up being very important to his career. He interacted with a wide variety of technical professions; chemists, chemical engineers, physicists, mechanical engineers, etc., all of whom look at a problem from a different perspective. Dr. Donner explained that understanding their technical language was sometimes a challenge but he learned on the job and it was great working with all of them as a team. As Dr. Donner was promoted into more managerial positions, he enjoyed helping others learn how to solve problems and finding ways to help them develop into better scientists.

Dr. Donner shared more on his time at UCF, his career, and his advice to students and alumni.

Why did you choose to attend UCF?

At the time it was Florida Technological University, a small school with a emphasis on science and technology, and I was interested in majoring in chemistry so it seemed like a good fit.

How has your UCF degree helped you in your career?

One of my best memories of how my chemistry education was helpful to my career was when I started on my Ph.D. program in Louisiana. At the beginning of my graduate studies, all of the incoming graduate students were required to take a set of qualification exams from the American Chemical Society to determine if any remedial undergraduate courses would need to be taken. My UCF education allowed me to pass all 4 exams (organic, analytical, physical, and inorganic chemistry). Out of the incoming class I was only one of two that passed all four exams. Not needing to retake undergraduate classes helped me get started on my graduate training that much faster. I credit the UCF chemistry faculty for providing a superb foundation.

And the foundation followed me throughout my career. One of the things that I noticed during my career was how many chemists did not have a firm foundation. It is not just remembering facts, but how to apply what you know to solving problems.

Were you involved in any extracurricular activities at UCF?

I was a member of Lambda Chi Alpha.

Jeffry Donner in UCF 1979-80 Handbook

Jeffry Donner in the UCF 1979-80 Handbook

What is your best UCF memory?

My best memory of UCF was the openness of the faculty and being able to easily go to them and discuss things going on in the class and about chemistry in general. I also consulted with them on graduate schools that I should consider attending.

What is your most memorable experience on the job?

There are lots of experiences that are memorable, but a couple stand out. The first is when I was newly hired and my manager told me; when you get into a position where you are hiring someone, always hire someone that knows things you don’t. Probably the second most memorable experience I had was receiving my first patent (where I was a co-author).

What piece of advice would you give to current students as well as UCF alumni?

Keep learning.

Know how to give your elevator talk. That is a short one minute talk on what you do and why it is important to the company. Imagine you are on an elevator and the CEO of your company asks you what you do. Can you explain what you do concisely, why it is valuable and do it without too much jargon?

Make sure you look forward to going to work. Since you probably spend more time there than anywhere else, you should enjoy what you do.

Dr. Donner answered some more questions in our 30 second get-to-know-you round of the interview.

Do you have any special/hidden talents?

I love to program computers. I did some for work and I do it at home. Currently I am writing software for controlling the dedicated home theater I built where I can control everything for the theater, including lighting, from a remote that is also a little computer. I plan to extend that to controlling much more throughout the house (lighting, TVs, AC, etc.).

I also enjoy cooking and the chemist seems to come out when I do. I never make the same dish the same way twice; I always like to experiment with recipes.

What do you do for fun?

Other than programming computers I love movies and the water; whether it is on the water or at the beach. My wife Nancy and I also enjoy going to various Caribbean islands and just purchased a boat that can take us to the Bahamas.

What is your favorite game?

Here I am kind of boring, I enjoy Sudoku. It is a logic puzzle and that is what I think of computer programming as, a logic puzzle.

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