Exceptional steward of the environment inspires scholarship

Exceptional steward of the environment inspires scholarship

D r. Susan Daneman Richardson, ’84, and Andy Richardson, ’83, are each on a mission. Susan’s striving to make drinking water safe, and Andy’s offering scholarships to Georgia College & State University (GCSU) chemistry students. 

Dr. Susan and Andy Richardson at the Integrated Science Complex
Dr. Susan and Andy Richardson at the Integrated Science Complex

Susan’s been the recipient of several national awards and international recognition. She developed an interest for chemistry in high school, which grew from there and matured at Georgia College.

Dr. John Hargaden helped inform that growth. He taught physical chemistry—known by seniors as the most difficult class in chemistry. He taught her how to get answers to challenging chemistry problems using a few basic equations.

“That was mind blowing for me,” Susan said. “Dr. Hargaden opened up that whole world, which was life-changing—to realize I could memorize very few equations to figure out the rest.”

She’s grateful to Margaret Uhler, professor emeritus of English, too. She taught creative writing and encouraged the use of strong verbs.

“She taught me how to be a better writer,” Susan said. “That impacts science, because I have to write journal articles and grant proposals all the time. I’ve got to be a good writer to win grants and make nice publications that people will notice.”

To Andy, the whole Georgia College experience made him more well-rounded. From interdisciplinary classes and working on campus to being in a fraternity and playing intramurals—he took advantage of the whole Georgia College experience.

“It's very interesting how the four years I was here really impacted my life,” Andy said. “I learned so many intangible things. Not only did I learn from challenging classes, but I gained other skills by working in the financial aid office.”

“Just seeing how things function when you're at that stage of life, was one of the most amazing things,” Andy said. “We just embraced everything at Georgia College. It was like home for us.” 

Dr. Susan Richardson observes a rotary evaporator in a chemistry lab, while (left to right) Dr. John Trombley, senior lecturer of chemistry, Dr. Sayo Fakayode, professor and chair of the Chemistry, Physics and Astronomy Department and Andy Richardson look on.
Dr. Susan Richardson observes a rotary evaporator in a chemistry lab, while (left to right) Dr. John Trombley, senior lecturer of chemistry, Dr. Sayo Fakayode, professor and chair of the Chemistry, Physics and Astronomy Department and Andy Richardson look on.

After Susan got her Ph.D. from Emory University, she worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Exposure Research Lab in Athens, Georgia. She researched health issues surrounding drinking water and identifying unknown chemicals. These invisible chemicals are often byproducts formed during drinking water treatment. These byproducts come from natural organic matter reacting with chloramine and other disinfectants used to treat drinking water.

Her interest in safe drinking water began when two scientists visited Susan’s lab. They needed help in identifying unknown chemicals in drinking water. She collaborated with them and, over time, discovered about 700 of these chemicals lurking in drinking water. 

You can come from Georgia College and do anything. It provides a great education and great professors—the whole college experience—all that plays a role in student success.
– Andy Richardson

“Those scientists showed me the importance of disinfection byproducts in drinking water and how there were so many unknowns,” Susan said. “There were important health effects seen in human studies. So, I thought, ‘Aha, I could really make a difference in human health.’ That was the turning point for me. So, that became my whole career.”

She has published over 190 journal articles and book chapters on the subject of water analysis.

Susan expanded her research and water analysis at the University of South Carolina, where she’s the Arthur Sease Williams Professor of Chemistry in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Her students help measure chlorinated, brominated and iodinated disinfection byproducts in drinking water.

Susan still has strong ties with EPA’s Office of Water, which helps ensure drinking water is safe. She works with engineers, toxicologists and epidemiologists and recently recommended two important groups of disinfection byproducts for EPA to consider in their upcoming regulations.

Her research has been used to inform ways to make drinking water safer. Her work’s been used in testing and treatment technologies in drinking water utilities across the U.S.

Susan’s recent career shift to the university has been a big change for her. But working with students has been rewarding. 

Dr. Susan Richardson looks at a student's work on a FTIR spectrometer.
Dr. Susan Richardson looks at a student's work on a FTIR spectrometer.

“At some point, the students become part of your family,” Susan said. “It's just so rewarding to mentor them and see them grow into independent scientists. You train them. They're so uncertain when they start, and they're in-and-out of your office often for the first two years. Then, all of a sudden, they graduate.”

Watching this transformation in her students and seeing some obtain their Ph.D.’s is the ultimate reward.

“I’ve seen them grow into independent scientists,” she said. “Now, they can make decisions and know how to address certain issues with research, troubleshoot instruments and understand how to ask the right questions, write papers and journal articles that get published and give talks at conferences.”

Often called “the lab dad,” by Susan’s students, Andy recognizes that often times students just need hope. 

At some point, the students become part of your family. It's just so rewarding to mentor them and see them grow into independent scientists. You train them. They're so uncertain when they start, and they're in-and-out of your office often for the first two years. Then, all of a sudden, they graduate.
– Dr. Susan Richardson

“When Susan won the American Chemical Society’s Herty Medal, I thought Georgia College chemistry students could do the same,” Andy said. “These students who pursue their dream can accomplish anything and also make an impact.”

“They're just kids who need somebody to believe in them and say, ‘Hey, good job,’” he said.

Andy recalled how a $1,000 scholarship really helps in college. It got him thinking. To show his appreciation for students’ efforts, Andy surprised Susan with a birthday present of a scholarship, bearing her name, for Georgia College students.

“That was the best birthday present I've ever given her,” said Andy.

The Susan D. Richardson Environmental Chemistry Scholarship is for rising juniors who have a minimum GPA of 3.5, are pursuing a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Georgia College and who demonstrate a passion for protecting the environment.

“We want this scholarship to last after we're gone,” Andy said, “and to put it in my wife's name along with all of her accomplishments. And to think that it all started at Georgia College.”

“GCSU means a lot to our family,” Susan added. “It’s also where Andy and I met.”

The Richardson’s children—Kelsey Richardson Podo, ’15, and Andrew Richardson, ’17—are third-generation Georgia College students. Susan’s mother, Dr. Rebecca Daneman Groves, ’53, was also a chemistry major at Georgia College.

“You can come from Georgia College and do anything,” Andy said. “It provides a great education and great professors—the whole college experience—all that plays a role in student success.”