Michael Hagerman recalled as 'supportive teacher and mentor'

Publication Date

Colleagues, students and alumni are mourning the loss of Michael E. Hagerman, professor of chemistry, who was well known for his passion in the classroom and his friendly and wide-ranging collaboration in the research lab. He passed away Dec. 3, 2020 after a long battle with melanoma. He was 50.

Professor Michael Hagerman faculty photograph.

He taught a range of courses in Chemistry, Environmental Science, Policy & Engineering and Science, Medicine and Technology in Culture.

His research, much of which was done with interdisciplinary teams of students and faculty, focused on inorganic and materials chemistry applied to the synthesis of inorganic and organic nanocomposites.

He was co-director of the College’s Nanotechnology Program, which offers an interdisciplinary minor that explores the many applications and policies related to the inconceivably small.

“We are heartbroken by the loss of Mike,” said Joanne Kehlbeck, chair of Chemistry. “He was a caring and dedicated teacher, committed to the Union experience of mentoring students to find their passions and achieve their very best. His impact on the College is ongoing, most notably in his work initiating the Nanoscience program, developed through numerous grants for course development and the acquisition of exceptional research instrumentation.

“He championed undergraduate research in the most substantial way, by welcoming every student to work with him in the lab and enabling them to travel to professional conferences to share their results,” Kehlbeck said.

“He was an exceptional writer and was passionate about helping students write well, too. His colleagues will remember him for his sincere warmth, caring and innate ability to send a note of encouragement exactly when needed.”

He received a number of grants, most recently as lead principal investigator on a National Science Foundation MRI award for a Powder X-Ray Diffraction (PXRD) system. The research activities using the PXRD span the departments of Chemistry, Geology, Mechanical Engineering, and Physics and Astronomy, as well as the interdisciplinary programs of Nanoscience and Environmental Science, Policy, and Engineering.

Hagerman, who joined the College in 1997, held a B.S. from North Central College, and a master’s and Ph.D. from Northwestern University. He earned tenure at Union in 2003.

Survivors include his wife, Gail Donaldson, who has taught in the psychology department; and two children, Sarah and James.

According to his wishes, there will be no memorial immediately, according to Kehlbeck, who added that the department will plan “a celebration of his extraordinary passion for teaching chemistry and working with students.”

In an email to alumni, Kehlbeck said, “Working with students in the lab was one of his greatest passions and kept him fighting until the end. Please know how proud he was of your success.”

Isaac Ramphal ’14, responded: “This is heartbreaking news for [those of us] whose lives were touched by his kindness. My success can certainly be attributed in large part to him.”

Mayrita Arrandale ’05 added: “He was the most supportive teacher and mentor I ever had. I'm certain I wouldn't have had any of the success without him believing in me.”

Former students and faculty have created the Hagerman Fund for Student Mentoring and Professional Development. The fund will support students in the chemical sciences, nanosciences and engineering with costs associated with research and participation in professional and scientific conferences and seminars. Gifts to the fund may be made here.