History of the Fredric Rieders Family Renaissance Foundation
Following a successful career as Chief Toxicologist for the City of Philadelphia, Dr. Fredric Rieders founded National Medical Services Labs (later NMS Labs) in Willow Grove, PA in 1970. Once the company was successfully established as a leading international forensic and clinical toxicology laboratory, he fulfilled another lifelong goal by creating a non-profit, charitable organization to conduct forensic science research and provide education and training to high school and college aged students beginning their scientific careers. That organization is the Fredric Rieders Family Renaissance Foundation, located in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, now housed in the building that had been the original home of NMS Labs. Today it boasts classrooms, laboratories and state of the art analytical instrumentation to continue providing mentorship and fostering a love of learning and scientific discovery in these young scientists.
The Foundation began in 1994 with a bare-bones staff including Dr. Rieders, an administrator, and donated time from a few of Dr. Rieders’ colleagues at NMS Labs and in his broader network in the forensic science community. The Foundation’s original purpose was purely charitable, and Dr. Rieders used it to support other organizations and individuals in their scientific and artistic endeavours. In its early days, the Foundation sponsored an art exhibit held at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, PA. The Foundation continues to support the arts through Dr. Rieders’ son, Dr. Michael F. Rieders; as he has promoted research into the use of DNA-testing to investigate the provenance of major artworks, and historical artifacts. As the Foundation’s laboratory facilities and capabilities grew, many individuals have been invited to use its resources to conduct their own original research on the premises. Among such early researchers were University of the Sciences professor Ara DerMarderosian and Temple University graduate student Anthony Macherone, who researched pharmacognosy (the study of medicines from natural sources) and the stability of methemoglobin, respectively.
In addition to its basic research and charitable activities, Dr. Rieders wanted to use the Foundation to promote science education. Over the years, he had many professional interactions with Dr. G. John DiGregorio, then professor of pharmacology at Hahnemann University Hospital (now Drexel University College of Medicine), including providing guest lectures to the medical students and residents. In 1997, Dr Rieders invited “Dr. D” to become the Foundation’s first Executive Director. Working closely together, Dr. D and Dr. Rieders developed the Foundation’s focus more deeply into teaching, mentorship and the development of noteworthy scientific research projects and investigations.
Dr. D and his colleague Bob McMichael had previously run a summer high school science research program at Hahnemann Medical School, and soon after joining the Foundation, Dr D proposed a similar idea to Dr. Rieders. As a result came the creation of the Forensics Mentors Institute (FMI). This novel program was designed to identify high school students with a strong aptitude for science, but whose schools could not provide the resources, challenges or encouragement for them to develop those skills, and put them in a real research laboratory environment, teaching them basic laboratory skills such as laboratory safety, pipetting, weighing, measuring and entrusting them with a research project to help them develop and use those skills. The program also helps the students grow personally by working in teams, speaking in public in front of their peers, teachers and mentors, and culminating in the annual “Presentation Day” ritual which gives the students the experience of presenting their work at a scientific symposium. Between 1997 and 1999 preparations were made, and in the summer of 1999 the first FMI students arrived at the Foundation. The educational model for the program was to pair high school students interested in pursuing a career in the sciences with a more experienced mentor who would guide their mentee through an original research project lasting through the summer. Originally, these mentors consisted of local high school science teachers. After a few years, Dr. D brought in some of his Drexel University graduate students who replaced the high school teachers as mentors. This annual summer event has become so associated with Dr. D that in 2009 it was renamed “The G. John DiGregorio Summer Science Program” Although Dr. D. retired from the Foundation in 2010, he retains the role of Director Emeritus of the program that he created and is active in selecting and working with the students to help them develop their maximum potential.
FMI students have tackled some very interesting and important topics over the years. Some of those earliest projects included “Stability of Pseudoephedrine in Formalin Solution,” “MALDI-TOF Analysis for Amiodarone in Human Heart Tissue,” and “Stability of GHB/GBL in Beverages.” In the years since, many FMI research projects have gone on to be accepted and presented at such prestigious annual conferences as the American Chemical Society and the Northeast Association of Forensic Scientists.
In 2004, Dr. Rieders and Dr. D led an effort to create a Masters of Science in Forensic Science graduate program in conjunction with Arcadia University. Together with Dr. Rieders’ sons Michael and Eric, and Arcadia faculty Dr. Mark Curchak and Dr. Chester Mikulski, they created a curriculum that has become Arcadia’s widely known MSFS program. This is one of the first programs in the country to be accredited through the Forensic Education Program Accreditation Commission (FEPAC), sponsored by the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS).
Seven years later, the program has grown in strength and currently has a total of forty two students enrolled. The Arcadia graduate students take core coursework in chemistry and biology on the nearby Arcadia campus and continue to take their applied forensic courses and do their research and capstone projects at the Foundation itself. Unlike many similar programs which have a more narrow focus, the Arcadia/Foundation partnership provides a diverse exposure to forensic science with a strong emphasis on the science and a uniquely applied perspective from forensic science professionals turned educators who have learned their skills in the field. Each year, several Arcadia students spend the summer as mentors in the FMI program, guiding the high school students and gaining first-hand laboratory research experience.
Dr. D has since become the Medical Director of NMS Labs. He was succeeded as Executive Director at the Foundation by Dr. Barry Logan. Dr. Logan is a forensic toxicologist with over 25 years of teaching, research and forensic casework experience and is beginning work on the growth and development of the Foundation’s programs into the future.