Dr. Reggie Hudson ’74, the recipient of Pfeiffer University’s 2021 Distinguished Alumni Award, is among the most accomplished graduates of Pfeiffer College, where he majored in chemistry and mathematics.
He is the Lead Scientist in the Cosmic Ice Laboratory of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. He began working full-time at NASA in 2009 after first dividing his time between that agency and Eckerd College, a liberal arts college in St. Petersburg, Fla., where he taught chemistry from 1978 to 2008.
A future career path from professor to the space industry was not on Hudson’s radar, though, as his senior year at Albemarle (N.C.) High School was winding down. He had secured a full scholarship to study textile chemistry at N.C. State University. The textile industry in and near his home was still booming, so he could expect to be gainfully employed after graduating.
Then he met Drs. Don Jackman ’78 (Hon.) and Mike Riemann ’70 (Hon.) ’10 (Hon.), two former chemistry professors at Pfeiffer College.
Jackman, now a Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at Pfeiffer, had gone to Albemarle High to speak to Hudson and other members of the Chemistry Club during the spring of 1970. After the event, Hudson found himself the topic of conversation between Jackman and the late R.C. Hatley, a chemistry teacher at the high school. Hatley “told me, and I subsequently agreed, that he didn't think Reggie was quite ready for a big school, that Reggie was more of a small school lad,” Jackman recalled recently.
Hudson was persuaded to change his plans: “Dr. Jackman hooked me on Pfeiffer and Dr. Riemann reeled me in.” After visiting Pfeiffer, Hudson submitted a late-in-the-year application, having decided that a study of general chemistry on its much smaller Misenheimer campus would be a better fit for him at that stage of his education. He had concluded that he wouldn’t get lost in the shuffle at Pfeiffer, and his undergraduate education would be the one and only priority for every professor, who would know his name and his interests.
He could take advantage of the high-touch philosophy of close student-professor relationships, from tutoring that got him up to speed as a freshman to Jackman helping him gain acceptance to a doctoral program at Jackman’s alma mater, the University of Tennessee.
“I turned down a full-ride scholarship in order to pay full freight at Pfeiffer for college,” said Hudson, who holds a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from UT. “So, financially, it may not have been a good investment in the beginning. But, I made the right decision for the long-term.”
It was also the right decision for the greater community of research-scientists and students of chemistry.
This became apparent as early as Hudson’s college career at Pfeiffer. In addition to working as a lab assistant, he spearheaded a successful effort for Pfeiffer to join the Student Chapters of the American Chemical Society, the benefits of which include everything from grants to tips for various on-campus activities.
After Hudson earned his Ph.D. in 1978, he began teaching at Eckerd where he achieved three significant accomplishments during his tenure. First, he led the college’s successful effort to gain certification by the American Chemical Society. Second, he secured several substantial grants from the National Science Foundation and from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the funding from which established a biochemistry program. Third, he involved several Eckerd students in his research at NASA.
Along the way, Hudson received two awards at Eckerd. These were the 2005 Lloyd W. Chapin Award For Excellence in Scholarship and the 2008 John M. Bevan Teaching Excellence and Campus Leadership Award.
“I like to think that my Pfeiffer experience had a lot to do with my winning both of these awards,” Hudson said.
At NASA, Hudson’s principal research interest is astrochemistry, which examines the makeup not only of the earth, but also of other planets, the solar system, and objects like meteorites and comets. Among other things, Hudson has researched the chemistry of the outer solar system, and he has studied the organic chemistry of meteorites – both daunting in their intellectual rigor. Hudson has responded to these and other challenges in impressive fashion, having authored or co-authored at least 100 publications during his time at the Cosmic Ice Laboratory.
He has also chaired the American Chemical Society’s Astrochemistry Subdivision, served on the editorial board for the journal Astrobiology, reviewed manuscripts for numerous publications, and reviewed proposals sent to NASA and other entities.
As Hudson looks forward to receiving Pfeiffer’s Distinguished Alumni Award on Sept. 25 during the Annual Alumni Gathering, he remains thankful for his former professors of chemistry, including Jackman, Riemann, and the late Dr. Joe Echols. He remembers the late Dr. Harold Stephenson as the influential physics professor who provided the star-gazing sessions that inspired him. He credits Drs. Wade Macey, Jean Mobley and Delmas Petrea ’58 (all deceased) for a solid foundation in mathematics. Hudson also credited two humanities professors for their influence: the late Dr. Dayton Estes (German) and the late Dr. Melicent Huneycutt (English).
Hudson was so inspired by the dedication of his Pfeiffer professors that he decided he would pursue a career in teaching as well.
“The professors were so good that I thought, ‘Teaching is a calling,’” Hudson said. “I decided I wanted to teach, so I could give back something of what they had given me and so I could give back to those who, like me, were first-generation college students.”
Ken Keuffel, who authored this article, has served as Pfeiffer’s Assistant Director of Communications since December 2019. He welcomes story ideas from Pfeiffer’s faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends. The form for submitting story ideas is at www.pfeiffer.edu/newsform.