Mare Rünk was born on May 16 1938 in Narva, Estonia. In 1944, she fled to the west along with her mother, to avoid the Soviet terror. Their family moved to New Jersey in 1951. She studied in Finland in 1960/61 and married Rein Taagepera, presently Professor Emeritus at UCI, in October 1961. Since 1971, she taught at the University of California, Irvine, becoming a Senior Lecturer in Chemistry. From 1996 on, she was also a Visiting Professor at the University of Tartu in her native Estonia.
Mare first came to UC Irvine as a postdoctoral fellow with Professor Robert Taft, after receiving her Ph.D. in Physical Organic Chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania in 1971. She was appointed as a Lecturer in the Department of Chemistry in 1975. Her lifelong ambition was to make chemistry relevant and accessible to everyone. Not only was Mare passionate about teaching organic chemistry to UCI students, she worked tirelessly to transform science education in general, and especially K-12 education in Orange County. Probably if one polled the Chemistry teachers of Orange County to name one UCI faculty member, Mare would be the most often remembered person. Mare helped found the UCI Summer Science Institute in 1982 with the goal of providing continuing education for high school teachers.
Mare was active in the American Chemical Society Division of Chemical Education. She served on the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Research in Science and Technology Education and as the Chair of the California Curriculum Commission. Mare was also active in the UCI Academic Senate, and received the 1989 Lauds and Laurels Professional Achievement Award. Although Mare officially retired in 1994, she never stopped teaching and serving the public.
Among her many activities, she was developing a general education course, Chemistry Around Us, which she taught as recently as winter quarter, 2013. The course description nicely summarizes Mare’s desire to teach the importance of chemical knowledge to a general audience: “Topics involving chemistry are in the news daily. What is in the water we drink or the foods we eat? Should we use food colors? Should we use biodiesel fuels? Is there really global warming? What is the role of drugs in our everyday life? During our discussions you will learn about some basic chemistry concepts, which will make it easier to understand how chemistry affects your everyday life and plays a role in our global challenges. After understanding the issues we will use risk/benefit analysis to find optimal solutions.”
Mare Taagepera, 74, faded peacefully in the early morning of April 24, 2013, in a nursing home near Irvine, California. She had been diagnosed with metastatic cancer in 2011. Funeral services will be held in the Church of the Hills at Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills, 6300 Forest Lawn Drive, Los Angeles, on Tuesday, April 30 at 3:00pm. The service will be in Estonian. A memorial gathering to celebrate Mare’s life will take place at the University of California, Irvine at a later date. Mare is survived by her husband Rein, daughters Tiina and Salme, son Jaan, seven grandchildren, and sister Epp Raun, and their families. Her enthusiasm, strength and determination leave a strong legacy in the UC Irvine Department of Chemistry.
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