Frank Creegan, Longtime Professor and Chemistry Chair, Passes


A viewing will be held Friday night in Chestertown, followed by a funeral and reception on Saturday.

Portrait of Frank Creegan in a lab coat

Frank J. Creegan spent four decades as a professor at Washington College and stayed involved in events at the College even after his retirement in 2007. He was an innovative teacher, a devoted advocate for his field and his colleagues, and an active member of the Chestertown community. He passed away peacefully on Saturday, May 4, 2024 at The Barnett Hospice Center in Centreville, Maryland.

Creegan joined the faculty of Washington College in 1967 as an assistant professor of chemistry.  He swiftly moved through the academic ranks and was promoted to full professor in 1974, then appointed W. Alton Jones Professor of Chemistry in 1982. In 2011, with a $2 million gift from an anonymous donor, Washington College established the Frank J. Creegan Chair in Green Chemistry, in recognition of Frank’s “40-year service to the college and his longstanding development and oversight of the chemistry program.”  

Creegan served as chair of the Department of Chemistry for much of his tenure at Washington and was an instrumental member of the premedical committee until his retirement. He served on many College committees and organized a number of symposia, including one on Women in Science that impressed current chemistry chair Leslie Sherman, whom Creegan hired. The year of his retirement, Creegan was awarded the President’s Distinguished Service Award.

“For 40 years, Frank tirelessly poured his heart and soul into the chemistry department and to the College as a whole. Frank was committed to student-centered learning decades before people started truly focusing on this,” Sherman said. “Through his guided-inquiry style of teaching, he encouraged students to create their own knowledge and understanding of organic chemistry as they worked in groups with his guidance. Many years later alumni would tell him that they remembered what they learned, due to the style of learning.”

In 1992, Creegan joined with chemistry colleagues from 13 regional undergraduate colleges to found the Middle Atlantic Discovery Chemistry Project, MADCP, which sought to change the undergraduate chemistry laboratory experience from a set of verification activities to true experiments in which results were unknown to the student.  Initial funding of MADCP came from the U.S. Department of Education through its Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education.  

With a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation in 1992, MADCP expanded into POGIL (Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning), a student-centered, learning cycle-based, team-learning approach to both classroom and laboratory instruction that is based on research on how students learn best. Creegan was a co-project investigator for the initial NSF grant. Today, POGIL is implemented in a wide range of subjects in more than 1,000 high school and college courses worldwide.  

His contributions to the way chemistry is taught and his personal teaching at Washington earned Creegan several teaching awards including the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching in 1970 and the American Chemical Society, Northeastern Section, James Flack Norris Award for Outstanding Teaching of Chemistry in 2015. In retirement, Frank continued to be involved in POGIL and in the Division of Chemical Education of the American Chemical Society as chair of the Regional Meetings Committee. 

But for all the impact Creegan had on chemistry education as a field, his work was perhaps most deeply felt at Washington College, his academic home. Retired psychology professor George Spilich worked with Creegan during their time at Washington and emphasized the impact of POGIL’s inquiry-based, active learning. Aside from the teaching innovation, Spilich remembered Creegan for his dedication to his colleagues and his students.

“Frank was an outspoken advocate for the chemistry department, and he maintained close and personal relations with former students,” Spilich said. “Many physicians and chemists who went through his organic class still to this day hear in their head the word carbon in Frank’s Boston accent.”

Current chemistry chair Sherman experienced the support Creegan showed colleagues firsthand. Not only did he hire her, he worked with the advancement office to successfully apply for a grant from the Clare Boothe Luce Foundation that ended up providing funding early in Sherman’s career for research, travel to conferences, and even childcare, which historically has been an impediment to women’s success in some fields. 

“Frank mentored me through my pre-tenure years. His encouragement and leadership were invaluable,” Sherman said. “His cheery disposition helped me through the challenges of those pre-tenure years.”

Creegan was born December 16, 1939, in Lowell, Massachusetts. He attended Keith Academy, in Lowell, and graduated with a B.S. in Chemistry from Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts in 1961, and a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from Fordham University in 1966.  

He remained active throughout his life in Chestertown with Sacred Heart Church, where over the course of 57 years he served in a host of ministries.  For many years he was a member of All Seasons Garden Club, serving as treasurer and as president.  

Along with his parents, Frank was preceded in death by his brother Paul G. Creegan and sister Patricia A. Creegan Kelley. Frank is survived by his wife of 57 years, Barbara Markert Creegan; his children Frank Joseph Creegan of Easton, Maryland and Thomas Alexander Creegan II of Baltimore, Maryland and his spouse Felicia Shakman; nieces Leann Kelley Weibel (David), Coleen Kelly Thurber (Craig), and Stacey (Cristain) Martins all of Colorado; nephews Paul G. Creegan (Suzanne) and Joseph Creegan of Lowell, Massachusetts, as well as five grand nephews, and five cousins and their offspring.

The family will receive friends and relatives on Friday evening, May 10, 2024 from 5:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m. at Fellows, Helfenbein & Newnam Funeral Home, 130 Speer Road in Chestertown.  A Mass of Christian Burial will be held on Saturday, May 11, 2024 at 11:00 a.m. at Sacred Heart Catholic Church at 508 High Street in Chestertown, followed by a Reception in Emmanuel Episcopal Church Hall at 101 North Cross Street.