Who was Wally Cordes?

Wally Cordes
Dr. Wally Cordes

The Wally Cordes Teaching and Faculty Support Center was named in 2002 after Wally Cordes, a renowned chemistry professor known for his academic scholarship, commitment to teaching, and classroom antics.

Cordes, who died in 2014, served the University of Arkansas for more than 40 years. The University Professor emeritus, who joined the chemistry department in 1959, was best known for innovative teaching strategies and his power to connect with and motivate students in large classrooms.

"He developed a reputation as one of the most outstanding teachers ever that called the U of A his home," said his colleague and friend, chemistry professor Bill Durham in 2014. "His enthusiasm for teaching was infectious."

Provost Bob Smith said in 2002, "Dr. Wally Cordes has amazed, interested and excited literally thousands of students and has influenced colleagues in every college and school. Simply put, the U of A is a better institution because of Dr. Wally Cordes."

Cordes had a knack for developing innovative ways to help students understand difficult concepts. For example, he led an effort to build a giant periodic table with switches that shined lights behind different elements as he discussed lessons.

His classroom antics are legend. Many former students remember him sitting in the audience on the first day of class, pretending to be the janitor and discussing the potential attributes of the instructor who was obviously late. Others remember him passing out bags of popcorn in class and distributing holiday treats.

Cordes, who earned his doctorate from the University of Illinois in 1960, specialized in crystallography and published more than 200 articles. He served as the chemistry department chair and the head of the Faculty Senate. He was a charter member and past president of the U of A Teaching Academy, co-founder and two-time co-director of TFSC, and a long-time member and leader of the American Crystallography Association.

Over the years, Cordes earned many awards: the Arkansas Alumni Association Faculty Award for Teaching and Research, the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences Master Teacher Award, the Burlington Award for Teaching, the C.A.S.E. Arkansas Professor of the Year, the Carnegie Foundation Arkansas Professor of the Year, and the Innovative Excellence in Teaching Award from the International Conference on Teaching and Learning.

Today, his memory is honored as current faculty and instructors pursue teaching excellence through programs and services offered by the Wally Cordes Teaching and Faculty Support Center.