[Congressional Record Volume 148, Number 56 (Tuesday, May 7, 2002)]
[Pages S3951-S3952]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]


 Mr. DURBIN. Madam President, I rise today to honor a woman who 
for nearly a quarter century has brought the joys of science to 
thousands of students in Chicago and who through every one of those 
years has given of herself tirelessly to ensure that anyone who sets 
foot in her classroom can succeed.
  Zafra M. Lerman is no ordinary science teacher, and she has led no 
ordinary life. Born in Israel just before the second World War began, 
the young Zafra found high school chemistry a bore. It wasn't until she 
was a soldier in the Israeli Army and taking evening classes that she 
discovered her aptitude--and love--for the subject. Zafra went on to 
earn a doctorate in chemistry from Israel's renowned Weizmann Institute 
of Science and then did post-doctoral research at Cornell University in 
New York.
  As remarkable as these achievements are, they are really only the 
beginning of a career that--though certainly filled with personal 
accolades--is most notable for the success of those she has guided. 
``Equal access to science education is a right that belongs to all,'' 
she says, and she has lived by that axiom both professionally and 
personally. As a professor, scientist and friend, Zafra has been a 
mentor first and a chemistry teacher second.
  In 1977, Zafra Lerman became the very first professor of science at 
Columbia College in Chicago, a liberal arts college that at the time 
didn't even have a single science course. Her first course, Chemistry 
in Daily Life, was filled with artists and writers and historians who 
hadn't the first thought of majoring in science. One day near the 
beginning of the school year, Zafra took a group of students to a pub 

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the Congress Hotel, across the street from the college. There, she 
realized she could connect the unfamiliar scientific world to a world 
the students knew well. The alcohol in the drinks and the acid in the 
salad dressing became links between science and experience that brought 
meaning to molecules and bonds and chemical reactions.
  And so began an innovative curriculum that has been as successful as 
it is unconventional. What began as a new way to look at science has 
grown into a new way of bringing the power and wonder of the subject to 
those who for whom learning has all too often been an unrealized 
privilege rather than the right Zafra Lerman believes it to be. Over 
the past two decades, Zafra has made it her mission to ensure that all 
students, regardless of their background, can experience science in a 
meaningful way. She has encouraged her students to explore chemistry 
through music and dance rather than forcing them to work behind a lab 
bench and has helped them learn the abstract material on their own 
  Each week, students from the Chicago Public Schools board busses and 
travel to Columbia College to experience science the Lerman way. During 
the summer, Zafra leads a month-long ``science boot camp'' where 
teachers learn for themselves how to unite the realm of science with 
the universe of a teenager in Chicago. Over the years, more than 16,000 
youths on the southwest side of Chicago have found the potential in 
science education and--thanks to Mother Zafra, as they call her--have 
for the first time seen high school as a beginning to their education 
rather than an end.
  Zafra Lerman's work doesn't end at the shore of Lake Michigan. In 
addition to her devotion to the students of Chicago, she has long been 
a champion of international human rights. She has traveled extensively 
overseas--often to the most dangerous corners of the world--to help 
address the plight of dissident scientists in China, Russia and 
Belarus. She even learned the Russian language so she could converse 
directly with Andrei Sakharov instead of relying on the translator 
provided by the KGB.
  I would like today to congratulate Zafra Lerman on being awarded the 
Charles Lathrop Parsons Award for Outstanding Public Service to 
Chemistry from the American Chemical Society. I assure you this is not 
her first honor--indeed, she is the recipient of more than three dozen 
well-deserved awards and grants over the past 15 years, including the 
prestigious Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics 
and Engineering Mentoring. But I know this one means a great deal to 
her, for the late Franklin A. Long, her mentor at Cornell University, 
received the same honor in 1985 and had dreamed that she would one day 
follow in his footsteps.
  ``If I am able to see that I made a change for the better in 
someone's life,'' Zafra has said, ``then I know that it was a good 
day.'' Madam President, Zafra Lerman's life has been a collection of 
good days from which so many have benefitted. All of us whose lives she 
has touched owe her a debt of gratitude.