Reva Savkar retired in 2017 after teaching at NOVA for 43 years and returned on April 24 to the Annandale Campus to present the 2018 Legacy Lecture in the Ernst Center Forum.
The event was hosted by the Annandale Campus Lyceum Committee and sponsored by the Annandale Campus Forum and was the eighth annual speech presented by a recently retired long-serving faculty member. Savkar was named emeritus professor by the NOVA College Board in January 2018 and was warmly received by a packed house of academic colleagues and former students.
Jill Caporale, chair of the Annandale Campus Forum and assistant dean for biology and environmental sciences in the Math, Science, and Engineering (MSE) Division at the Annandale Campus introduced her longtime MSE colleague.
“We have walked on our respective journeys together for many decades,” Caporale stated. “Throughout that, Reva has been a wonderful educator, mentor and a wonderful person.”
Savkar received a bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and physics from the Institute of Science at the University of Bombay in India, where she also received a master’s in organic chemistry, ranking first in her class, on an Indian Atomic Energy Commission fellowship.
“I departed from warm tropical Bombay [now known as Mumbai], where winter meant sunny 70 degree days,” she said, “and made my new home in Washington where the first winter brought an early 24-inch blizzard followed by more snow, sleet and ice!”
American University offered her a fellowship to do research in synthetic drugs, and her plans changed based on her family situation. Savkar was hired at NOVA as an adjunct faculty member in 1974 by Dr. Merriam Jones, assistant science division chair, who would tell colleagues “I have just hired Miss India.”
“I loved teaching from the very first day in the classroom,” said Savkar, “and that feeling has stayed with me through the years.” She taught chemistry for 12 years while raising her children and earning a master’s in computer science from Virginia Tech. In 1989, Savkar was hired as a full-time NOVA faculty member with a dual appointment to teach chemistry and computer science courses.
Savkar used her computer science and chemistry background to develop the first online chemistry course in the US for Chemistry 111 for the Extended Learning Institute in 1995 through a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, then went on to create online courses for Chemistry 112 and Chemistry 101.
For 21 years, starting in 1996, she chaired the Science Seminar Series at the Annandale Campus, which brought together outside science experts with NOVA faculty members to discuss current topics in science. She also served as a member of the “Science Across the Curriculum” team that helped faculty in non-science disciplines at NOVA to introduce and incorporate science concepts and principles into their teaching.
Savkar was awarded a one-year sabbatical to India, where she organized a “Science Across the Curriculum” seminar series for humanities faculty at several Indian universities and presented the distance learning chemistry courses she developed at NOVA at other Indian universities.
Over the years, Savkar received the Alumni Federation “Faculty of the Year Award,” the NVCC Educational Foundation “Excellence in Teaching Award,” and the Annandale Campus Student Government Association “Golden Apple Outstanding Faculty Award.”
She received the 2013 Chancellor’s Award for Teaching Excellence from the Virginia Community College System, which included a $5,000 check. She contributed that check to the NVCC Educational Foundation to create the “Reva A. Savkar Excellence in Learning Scholarship” to provide an award of $1,000 to a student in a science-related curriculum each year.
“The awards that are the most meaningful to me are the words of my students,” she said. “Words that say ‘You taught me to think, to question, to reason, to reach and take risks, to believe in myself.’”
In 2015, she was invited to speak at the White House National Teacher Appreciation Day Ceremony. “I did not have the wisdom to choose to teach as my profession,” Savkar stated. “In my real life, teaching chose me.”
Savkar’s Legacy Lecture was recorded by NOVA Video Services and can be viewed at https://vod02.nvcc.edu/Watch/Kk24RiBo.