Rocket Scientist and Outstanding AlumKnight

UCF030316-0226UCF Chemistry alumnus, Robert DeVor, Ph.D., ’03, ’05, was honored as a 2016 College of Sciences Outstanding AlumKnight Award recipient in March at the College of Sciences Outstanding AlumKnights awards reception. Dr. DeVor was nominated for this award based on his outstanding career accomplishments and his enduring partnership with the UCF Chemistry Department.

Dr. DeVor holds two degrees from UCF, including a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry in 2003 and a doctorate of philosophy in Environmental/Materials Chemistry in 2008. He received his master’s in Analytical Chemistry from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2005. He served as a teaching assistant at both UCF and UNC-Chapel Hill and as a chemistry instructor at Valencia College.

Upon completing his doctoral work at UCF, Dr. DeVor was hired at NASA, where he has continued to work for the past eight years. Currently, he serves as a research scientist for Vencore, Inc. at the Kennedy Space Center supporting the Engineering Services Contract. Serving as a subject matter expert to NASA in environmental remediation and hypergol propellants, his duties include the development of new technologies, proposal development and submission and oversight of research projects as such as the analysis/testing of materials for new Propellant Handler’s Ensemble (SCAPE) and the testing and development of analysis methods for “green” propellants.

Dr. Cherie Yestrebsky and Dr. Robert DeVor at the 2016 College of Sciences Outstanding AlumKnights award reception.

Dr. Cherie Yestrebsky and Dr. Robert DeVor at the 2016 College of Sciences Outstanding AlumKnights award reception.

He is also an accomplished author and researcher who has received many awards and accolades in his field. Dr. DeVor holds two patents, is a member of the American Chemical Society, and has assisted with numerous community outreach events.

These are just some of the many attributes that make Dr. DeVor truly an ‘Outstanding Knight.’ Dr. DeVor discussed his time at UCF, his career, and his advice to students in his spotlight responses below.

Why did you choose to attend UCF?

I attended UCF for my bachelor’s in Chemistry and had actually gone to the University of Chapel Hill at North Carolina to pursue my Ph.D. Unfortunately, I did not find the same type of academically nurturing atmosphere at UNC, as each student seemed to receive far less individualized attention than I received during my undergraduate work at UCF. I also realized that I truly missed the environmental research that I performed with Dr. Yestrebsky and Dr. Clausen at UCF, and that I wanted to focus my dissertation work on that area. With that in mind, UCF seemed to be the ideal place for me to obtain my doctorate in Chemistry. 

How has your UCF degree helped you in your career?

I was extremely fortunate to attend UCF. I decided early in high school that I wanted to be a chemist, but was uncertain where to direct my focus within the field. To obtain practical experience and narrow my course of study, I approached Dr. Yestrebsky and asked to work in her laboratory. I distinctly remember telling her that I had no interest in pursuing Environmental Chemistry as a career; I simply wanted to deepen my understanding of the different avenues of study within the field. Luckily, Dr. Yestrebsky agreed to let me work for her and I quickly grew to love the work and developed a passion for Environmental Chemistry.

Just as significant, I was put on projects with collaborating researchers at Kennedy Space Center, such as Dr. Jacqueline Quinn, almost from the time I started. This allowed me to form professional relationships and friendships which have served me well to do this day.

Were you involved in any extracurricular activities at UCF?

I began performing research as a freshman at UCF, and consequently, I was extremely busy in the laboratory as an undergraduate and graduate student.  However, I was involved in a few, including the American Chemical Society (local and national chapters), Burnett Honors College, and the National Honors Society

Have you stayed involved with UCF since graduation? If so, how?

I have maintained a close working relationship with both of my research advisors, Dr. Cherie Yestrebsky and Dr. Christian Clausen. We often collaborate on joint research proposals as my research in Environmental Chemistry evolved from the work that I started in their labs. 

In addition, I have been asked to present my research for the UCF EXCEL/Compass program which is designed to direct students toward a career in chemistry or another STEM-related field. 

What is your best UCF memory?

I always felt like I was a part of family there, especially within the Chemistry Department. If I had to choose a single memory, it would probably be when I walked for my doctoral degree. There was an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment at that moment, which I was able to share with my family. In addition, I was Dr. Yestrebsky’s first Ph.D. student to walk, which made it even more special.

What is your favorite thing about your job?

I feel almost a sense of wonderment to be able to say I work for NASA. It’s a special opportunity that I don’t take for granted. More importantly, working in Applied Chemistry means that I’m almost always working on new and exciting things. One of the functions of our laboratory is to quickly respond to problems and issues as they arise, which means each day brings fresh challenges to overcome. 

What is your most memorable experience on the job?

I’ve recently been tasked to work with a group of Russian chemists who prepare the chemical pre-treatment units for water purification on the International Space Station. It was a remarkable experience to work with this talented group of scientists and to contribute to something that will actually be used onboard the ISS. Also, I was humbled to learn that these scientists specifically requested my assistance for their next visit.

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

Explore and take nothing for granted. Your current course of study may be based upon preconceptions or misconceptions rooted in second-hand knowledge. Only by truly experiencing something for yourself can you make an informed decision on what you plan to do with the rest of your life. Even for alumni, we are often given the chance for new training or other avenues of involvement to broaden our professional horizons, although we have to be willing to grasp those opportunities when they arise. Keep your eyes open and embrace new opportunities—the world is full of wonders.

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