Lehigh community mourns late professor Richard Vinci

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Richard Vinci recently passed away from Lou Gehrig’s disease on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. A memorial celebration is planned for Wednesday, May 1, 2019, at Packer Memorial Church. (Courtesy of Lehigh University website)

Many people on campus mourned the loss of their professor, colleague and friend, Richard Vinci.

Vinci, a professor of materials science and engineering at Lehigh, lost his battle to ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, on March 13. Vinci was diagnosed with ALS approximately two and a half years ago.

In his self-written obituary, Vinci recounts his time studying at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and later going on to earn his Ph.D. in materials science and engineering at Stanford University in California.

Stanford, he said, is where he found his love of materials science and engineering and “the joys of teaching.”

“Professionally, I have been blessed with the best job in the world: working with fabulous students and colleagues as a professor at Lehigh University,” Vinci said in his obituary. “I have looked forward to going to work nearly every day.”

There will be a memorial celebration on Wednesday, May 1, at 4:30 p.m. in Packer Memorial Church and a reception in Butz Lobby in Zoellner Arts Center.

Stephen DeWeerth, the dean of the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science and professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering, remembers Vinci fondly.

“Ric (Vinci) was one of those amazing faculty members who did it all and did it all well,” Deweerth said. “I found him to be one of the most generous colleagues with his time and his energy. His commitment to his students, colleagues, to the college and the university was exceptional. I do not think you could find a single person around here who would say something negative about Ric.”

Wojciech Misiolek, a professor and processing chair in the materials science department, worked alongside Vinci for over 20 years.

Misiolek and DeWeerth both emphasized Vinci’s positive attitude, passion for teaching others and his ability to take on leadership roles even after he had been diagnosed.

Misiolek said he thought of Vinci not only as a colleague, but also as a friend.

Misiolek said a few years ago, the materials science department discussed the creation of a co-op program.

“I gave up and said there is no way we can do it, but if you say it is impossible, there was a push for him (Vinci) to prove us wrong,” Misiolek said.  

A Ph.D. advisee of Vinci’s since 2015, Trevor Verdonik, recognizes Vinci as a professor who truly cared about science education and the progress of his students. He said Vinci was a devoted educator who saw the bigger picture.

“It was not enough for him to know the answer, he wanted the students to not only know the answer to the big questions we were asking were, but to understand how we got there,” Verdonik said. “It did not seem to matter how difficult of a problem it was. He was always encouraging everyone to push harder and longer to find the last piece.”

Verdonik said Vinci never shied away from a chance to help his students learn and do more. He said he thinks this is a rare quality in a teacher or professor.

Vinci was the recipient of the Donald B. and Dorothy L. Stabler Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2011, and the College of Engineering changed the name of its faculty award to the Richard P. Vinci Award for Educational Excellence.

DeWeerth said Vinci’s passing from Lou Gehrig’s disease, was a loss to the entire Lehigh community.

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