Irwin Oreskes, Biochemist and Educational Innovator, Dies

Professor Emeritus of Medical Laboratory Sciences Irwin Oreskes, a beloved teacher and mentor to generations of Hunter College students who helped found the College’s School of Health Sciences and later served as its Dean, died on March 1. He was 86.

Dr. Oreskes was a member of the CUNY Doctoral Faculty in Biochemistry until his retirement from Hunter College in 2003. He founded the College’s Medical Laboratory Sciences Program, the largest clinical technology program in New York State and one of the building blocks for the School of Health Sciences, which opened in 1974 at the Brookdale Health Science Center at East 25th Street. The School, which offers an undergraduate program in Medical Laboratory Sciences and a graduate program in Communication Sciences, prepares liberal arts professionals to enter and advance in health-related careers.

While serving on the faculty at Mount Sinai School of Medicine during the 1960s, Oreskes was asked by Beatrice Konheim, the first dean of Hunter College’s Institute of Health Sciences, to design and implement an undergraduate degree program to prepare medical laboratory professionals. The Medical Laboratory Sciences Program he developed, of which he was the first Director, was founded in 1970. Together with the other programs in this initiative, the School of Health Sciences was founded as a Professional School at Hunter College, and moved to its present home in the Brookdale Center. Oreskes served as Dean of the School for several years.

In addition to developing and teaching unique coursework in Clinical Biochemistry, Professor Oreskes guided a curriculum that underlies the Medical Laboratory Sciences course of study to this day. It is based in fundamental biomedical science, with applications to patient care and research.

President Emeritus Paul LeClerc, who led Hunter College from 1988 to 1993, stated: “Irwin Oreskes was, quite simply, one of the single best faculty members I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing and working with. He was smart, principled, balanced in his judgments, totally dedicated to the welfare of Hunter College and its students, and a source off unfailingly wise counsel to me.”

According to Professor Regina Linder of the School of Health Sciences, more than 1300 students have benefited from the School’s rigorous and supportive educational environment. “Many graduates cite Professor Oreskes for providing them with the motivation, inspiration and tools they needed to expand their goals and gain admission to leading graduate and medical schools,” she said.

Oreskes was deeply committed to The City University of New York, where he studied and spent much of his professional career. A 1949 graduate of City College, he received his master’s from Brooklyn College and his doctorate from The City University. He was a longtime member of the Hunter College Faculty Senate.

Dr. Oreskes viewed CUNY as a door to opportunity and success for talented students who might not otherwise be able to obtain quality higher education. He took pride in mentoring economically disadvantaged students, minorities and immigrants.

One such student is Maria Bezugly, who was 8 years old when she came to the U.S. from the Ukraine in 1995. A 2010 graduate of Hunter College with a B.S. in medical laboratory sciences, she works at Mount Sinai Medical Center as a medical laboratory technologist.

“Professor Oreskes told me about his own difficult struggle to obtain an education and pursue a professional career,” she said. “He understood the importance and value of perseverance and dedication in education and subsequently in the workplace.”

With encouragement from Oreskes, Bezugly is presently studying for a master’s degree in forensic science at John Jay College. “He was deeply committed to bringing women into the medical field, and also to creating a bridge between physicians and the laboratory because laboratory tests are at the very the heart of medicine. He is the reason I am where I am, and he had a similarly profound impact on many other students.”

Oreskes’ professional interests were in the areas of protein denaturation and aggregation reactivity of human rheumatoid factors with altered IgG. Much of his scientific research was concerned with the immunology of rheumatoid factor and altered immunoglobulin G in rheumatic diseases. He studied rheumatoid factor model systems in animals and developed various laboratory tests for clinical and diagnostic immunology.

Prior to joining Hunter College he was a Research Associate Professor of Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, where he also headed the Clinical Research Center and was director of the Rheumatology Laboratory.

Dr. Oreskes was a Visiting Professor at The Johns Hopkins University and a Visiting Lecturer at the Welsh National University and other academic institutions. He was a member of numerous scientific organizations, including the American Association of Immunologists, the American Association for Clinical Chemistry, and the American College of Rheumatology. He was co-author of Rheumatology for the Health Care Professional, with Dr. Harry Spiera, M.D.

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