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Chemistry Department Pioneer Wins Top Philanthropy Award

October 12, 2013

Dr. Walter CooperThe Rochester Area Community Foundation recently presented Dr. Walter Cooper, an alumnus of the University of Rochester, with its highest honor in recognition of his many charitable contributions. Cooper received the Joe U. Posner Founders Award at the foundation's annual luncheon at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center on September 18.

Cooper was the first African-American to receive a Ph.D. in physical chemistry at the University and soon joined Eastman Kodak Company as a research scientist, eventually becoming manager of technical communications and manager of research innovation. He published more than 25 scientific papers and obtained three patents in polymerization during his three decades with the company.

"I became a scientist because I did not see any black scientists," said Cooper. "I looked around and I saw black doctors, black lawyers, but no black scientists. I chose that as a challenge."

In the 1960s, when race riots rocked the city of Rochester, Cooper became a key African-American leader, respected across divisions in the community. He wrote the original proposal that secured funding for Action for a Better Community and became the organization's associate director in 1964. The following year, he served as associate director of the Rochester and Monroe County Anti-poverty Program and was a founding member of the Urban League of Rochester. In recognition of his engagement in civil rights, Cooper was asked to serve on the New York State Advisory Committee of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

To open opportunities for African-American students, Cooper helped found the city's Urban-Suburban transfer program in 1973. From 1988 to 1997, he served as a New York State regent and today continues to lend his expertise to regent committees, including the Interstate Migrant Education Council, which advocates for the educational rights of migrant workers' children.

-Peter Iglinski, Senior Science Writer

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