At the heart of Al Schoffstall’s 55-year career at UCCS has been a willingness to take on any challenge. Whether it was helping his father-in-law build the first two signs on the Colorado Springs campus or starting the Chemistry and Biochemistry Research program, Schoffstall has always welcomed the opportunity to build something new.
Schoffstall’s journey started in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he was born and raised to the age of 6. After his father died, his mother was forced to send him to an orphanage in Philadelphia. He spent 10 years at the orphanage and now looks back at the experience with gratitude.
“It was a good thing,” Schoffstall said. “If I hadn’t gone to that school, I probably wouldn’t have gone to college. I probably would’ve struggled.”
After high school, Schoffstall attended Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. After a brief stint in engineering, Schoffstall found his passion in chemistry and earned a B.S. in Chemistry in 1960. He then made a stop at the State University of New York, now known as Buffalo University, where he earned a Ph.D. and post-doctoral honors in organic chemistry in 1965-66.
After one year at the University of Illinois as a National Institute of Health Fellow, Schoffstall and his wife, Carole, looked west. Their appreciation for the natural beauty of Colorado led them to Colorado Springs, where Al had an opportunity to start a research program at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs.
It was when they arrived on campus in Colorado Springs that Schoffstall realized the next challenge that was ahead of him.
“When UCCS initially started, there was nothing here. There were two buildings, and that was it. They had overnight turned hospital rooms into faculty offices. The first few years here were daunting,” he said.
Not only was the campus in its early stages, but Schoffstall and his colleagues found it difficult to garner support from the administration for development.
“It was a struggle.”
Schoffstall’s research program, however, found some momentum in welcoming nursing students. At that time in Colorado Springs, nursing students received their education and training in hospitals as staff. But two schools had recently closed, and in their place, nursing students were turning to bachelor’s programs, including those at UCCS. Within a year, Schoffstall had found the first research students for his Chemistry and Biochemistry program.
Since those early years, Schoffstall has seen the UCCS campus and its programs make significant progress. “Until the mid-1990s, it was really touch-and-go,” he said. “It took longer than I hoped, but in the last 20 to 25 years, we’ve really developed something.”
Schoffstall has played a big part in pushing the school and its students forward. For the past 55 years, he’s succeeded in many roles. As a researcher, his findings led to the publication of “Microscale and Miniscale Organic Chemistry Laboratory Experiments,” an introductory textbook on organic lab techniques. As a coach and booster, he supported the UCCS women’s soccer program.
But his most gratifying professional role, in his estimation, has always been teacher. Schoffstall has taught organic chemistry to more than 3,000 students for more than 15,000 student credit hours. And if you ask his students, many will tell you he makes each one feel special.
Helen Gerhard, a student in Schoffstall’s organic chemistry lab in 1992, remembers Schoffstall for his welcoming nature as much as his scientific approach.
“Dr. Schoffstall’s class was one of my favorites because the way he taught was logical and answered the next logical question,” she said. “His door was almost always open, and it was a pleasure to come in for some help or just say hello.”
Another UCCS alum, Paul Cross, had Schoffstall as a professor in 1997 and later worked as a teacher’s assistant in the Organic Chemistry lab under Schoffstall. He credits Schoffstall for his patience with students.
“He was always working to explain something in multiple ways until I got it, and eventually I did,” said Cross. “I doubt I would be a physician today without a professor like him. His gifted teaching, wise mentoring, and patient demeanor have made me a better father, husband, and physician.”
It’s a relationship that works both ways.
“I enjoy seeing students do well and looking after them after they get out of UCCS,” he said. “You want to prepare people as well as you can. I really hate to see people leave. You get so close to them in the time they’re here, but that’s just the way it is. You want to usher them to the next place, and for the most part, our students have been quite successful. That’s a nice reward.”
Schoffstall continues to teach organic chemistry at UCCS while also researching and developing compounds that seek to treat colon cancer. When asked why he’s stayed at UCCS for more than 50 years, Schoffstall responded without hesitation.
“The challenge. This campus is here for the students, and what we’ve been able to do in our research has been my proudest accomplishment.”
UCCS is celebrating Dr. Schoffstall’s 55 years of excellence with the Schoffstall Faculty Support Fund in Chemistry and Biochemistry. To give to the cause or share a memory of Dr. Schoffstall, please visit https://give.uccs.edu/schoffstall55.