Professor Spotlight: Travis Ragsdale – Chemist cooks up excellence, dishes out experience


Photo by: Austin Kemmerlin

Ragsdale has spent 41 years working in the FMU chemistry department.

Lauren Cole, Staff Writer

Francis Marion’s Chemistry Laboratory Manager, Travis Ragsdale, has watched the university blossom, while leaving marks of excellence through his work with thousands of students in his 41 year long career.

He began teaching at FMU after completing his Bachelor’s of Science in Chemistry from Furman University.  After receiving his degree, he was unsure of exactly what he wanted to pursue but was made aware of a lab manager position that had opened up at FMU through one of his professors. He took the job and has graced the chemistry department ever since.

Ragsdale has served the students of FMU for over four decades with an open mind and open door.  He is always one of the first to arrive and the last to leave the Chemistry department, staying well past normal hours to ensure that each student has their questions answered.

Ragsdale teaches both levels of inorganic chemistry, as well as both levels or organic.  On paper, he oversees all labs that take place and is responsible for ordering and maintaining all of the chemicals used; in actuality, he goes far beyond the call of duty and adds supervising student workers, advising, tutoring students and creating new labs to his resume.

In his long-standing career at FMU, he has never turned a student away or thought that a student was not capable of greatness.  He pushes each student to think about chemistry in a way that will help them with other aspects of life, not just learning to pass a test.

“The thinking accomplished in Chemistry labs enables you to deal with life better,” Ragsdale said.  “You might not use Chemistry in your everyday life, but you will use the skills learned in Chemistry to adapt to situations and problem solve in other areas.”

Ragsdale has embraced every moment of his teaching career and has become a fixture in a strong, successful academic program at FMU.  He urges students to enjoy lab and to not enter each week with a “get in and get out as fast as possible” mindset.

“Lab is where you get to ‘do,’ not just learn,” Ragsdale said.  “It is where you discover things and put to use what you have learned already.  It is where we change things and learn to make predictions.  We have a clear cut program [at FMU] and have some of the top labs in the state.”

With a majority of the students at FMU coming from low-income families and being first generation college students, Ragsdale caters to the needs of each individual student without any bias or prejudice.  He takes pride in watching the faces of students light up when the light bulb goes off and they grasp a concept and realize that they can actually do it.

“Some students have not received an adequate Chemistry background and wind up feeling defeated, even before the first day of class,” Ragsdale said.  “All they need is a little encouragement to embrace their desire to learn.  If they have a desire to learn, we can turn out some of the best students in the country.”

In addition to his desire to inspire students, Ragsdale also finds his own inspiration in his hobbies outside of the classroom; he holds a life-long passion for photography.  He states that photography enables him to create, preserve and convey a message without having to use words.

He also plays guitar and has a love of music that is obvious to anyone who passes his office and hears the soft sounds of folk music floating through the air.

Ragsdale plans to retire within the next three years and focus on his passion for photography and catch up on some much needed, and much deserved, rest and relaxation.

It is his demand for perfection, willingness to help any and everyone, desire to see each student succeed and his passion for transforming things from expedient to excellent that has made him a cornerstone of the university and a staple among the Chemistry department for the last 41 years.