Mentorship that began in college continues for glass scientist

John Mauro, a glass expert and professor at Penn State, has maintained a lifelong relationship with his undergraduate adviser Arun Varshneya, who until recently taught at Alfred University. This past summer, Varshneya was keynote speaker during a glass conference organized by Mauro. Varshneya also invited Mauro to co-author the third edition of his book "Fundamentals of Inorganic Glasses," which publishes in May. Credit: Patricia L. Craig / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Sometimes it’s the most casual of occurrences that have the most impact on the trajectory of our lives.

For John Mauro, a glass expert and professor at Penn State, taking an introductory glass science course at Alfred University did just that.

As a student, Mauro already saw glass science in his future. But he never could have foreseen how a relationship forged with the class professor, Arun Varshneya, could lead to a lifelong partnership of learning, research, mentoring and friendship.

Take the book that Mauro carried into that classroom decades ago. “Fundamentals of Inorganic Glasses,” which was authored by Varshneya, taught Mauro the basics of the material. The textbook’s third edition, slated for release in May, boasts a new coauthor: Mauro himself. In fact, he’s agreed to take the reins for future editions with Varshneya’s blessing.

Mauro, who owns copies of the first two editions, joked that the third edition is well-timed to replace his well-worn second edition. He said he’s excited to build on Varshneya’s work.

“This book is a big part of his legacy,” Mauro said. “This is the go-to textbook for students and professionals in the field of glass. Varshneya has a deep interest in making sure the book stays not only relevant, but is the best source of information on glass science and technology going into the future, which will be my role.”

It was Varshneya’s mentorship that led Mauro to Corning Inc., where he developed several iterations of the company’s famed Gorilla Glass, and later to his academic path at Penn State.

Varshneya, who called Mauro one of “his most brilliant students,” said he wanted Mauro to join Corning because of the company’s investment in research. He also supported his decision to become an educator and academic researcher because he thought it well-suited his potential.

Varshneya also experienced a career change when he left Alfred University to start Saxon Glass Technologies, the chemical strengthening company that’s behind the high-strength glass found in the EpiPen.

When Mauro chaired his first University Conference on Glass this past summer, fittingly, Varshneya delivered the keynote lecture.

Mauro’s glass laboratory in the Steidle Building also has ties to Varshneya. A laser profilometer donated from Varshneya’s lab is being used by Penn State researchers to assess the topography of glass surfaces.

Mauro said his teaching methods are also closely influenced by Varshneya, who was both his senior thesis and doctoral adviser. Mauro said Varshneya’s artful ways of storytelling helped him grasp complex science. Mauro finds himself mirroring the same methods in the classroom.

“He’s an outstanding lecturer,” Mauro said. “A lot of my own presentation skills came from observing him and seeing what he was able to do effectively. I’ve tried incorporating that into my own lectures.”

Mauro was also drawn to Varshneya’s research, which looks to answer scientific unknowns while also having a real, practical application.   

“That’s the line I tried to walk throughout my career at Corning because research that is just pure science may not have the same impact as that with a practical end goal,” Mauro said. “At the same time, if something is too applied, you’re not really advancing the science.”

As he amasses a pool of graduate students at Penn State, another thing Mauro is learning from Varshneya is that it’s a lifelong relationship.

“That adviser is there for you for a lifetime,” Mauro said. "It’s like being a parent. He’s been that for me. Throughout my career he gave me a lot of great advice and tremendous support.”

Varshneya said he got into academia to make an impact on both students and research and he’s pleased Mauro continues to advance the approaches he set as an educator.

“When I was a faculty member, I tried to do my best,” Varshneya said. “I can see that John is driven to do the same. He’s a true motivator to the students. The graduate students that I have met at Penn State simply sing about him. And that’s important because once these students are motivated they can achieve bigger and better things in life.”

Last Updated March 14, 2019