Western Washington University Receives $100k Gift from Former Faculty Member Mark Wicholas

By Frances Badgett, University Advancement

Recently deceased Western Washington University Professor Emeritus of Chemistry Mark Wicholas has donated $100,000 to a university fund previously established by a Chemistry alumnus, Terry Smedley (’75), in Wicholas’ name.

​Wicholas died in hospice on Nov. 20, surrounded by family and friends.

The Wicholas Endowment ensures success for students who may have financial barriers that prevent them from being able to engage in research or travel for conferences. Attending conferences like the American Chemical Society — which brings together 10,000 – 15,000 chemistry professionals from around the world to share research — is invaluable exposure for Western’s undergraduates and creates networking opportunities and a lasting impression that shapes their professional careers.

Before his death, Wicholas talked about the the endowment and gift and why he felt compelled to make such a generous gift to the place he worked for 40 years.

“I’m giving undergraduates the opportunity to go to national conferences and symposia to see for themselves what it’s like to be in a university department. They can plug into the undergraduate symposia, see what research other undergraduates are doing, and get a sense of what the professional world of chemistry is like,” he said.

Wicholas joined Western’s faculty in 1967 and was chair of the Chemistry Department from 1982-2007. His influence on the department — and on Western’s academic landscape — can be felt to this day, as he shifted the curriculum from strictly an on-campus classroom and lab focus to the addition of travel, research, and professional development, effectively engaging students in what were then considered solely postgraduate pursuits. This shift was unusual at the time, and remains a hallmark of Western’s academic programming to this day.

WWU Professor of Chemistry David Patrick said of Wicholas, “Mark was an early and influential advocate for the importance of involving students in scholarly research at Western, believing that providing students hands-on experience in the practice of scientific investigation is the most effective and inspiring way to help them develop into professional scientists themselves.”

In 2000, Wicholas led the effort to attain a successful departmental development proposal to the Research Corporation and the Murdock Charitable Trust, which offers research grants.

Professor and chair of the Chemistry Department Spencer Anthony-Cahill said these outreach efforts to secure research funding were pivotal in the department’s growth.

“That was a significant and critical achievement in the evolution of this department as a national model among predominantly undergraduate institutions for the engagement of students in research,” he said.

WWU President Sabah Randhawa said this support will highlight Western’s position in national academics and contribute to student success.

“Mark’s commitment to Western Washington University inspires the amazing teaching and learning occurring on campus each and every day,” he said.            

WWU student Andra Nordin (’19) thanked Wicholas for her scholarship.

“I see first-hand how individuals like you help create real change by bringing the world to Western and Western to the world. Through your future legacy gift, you are generously supporting the success of our faculty and students like me,” she said. “Because of you, my fellow Vikings and I will continue to think critically, push boundaries, and engage both on and off campus in meaningful ways.”

Smedley was a student of Wicholas’s and said he and his wife Maureen, also a 1975 Western graduate, wanted to support Western after they left. 

“There are, of course, always opportunities to donate generally to the school, but we were really looking for a way to make a specific, tangible difference for Western students. The idea of funding an endowment targeted at participation in undergraduate research was immediately attractive to both of us,” he said. “And I was delighted to be able to participate in that with Mark, because he had been so supportive and influential during my undergraduate career.”

For more information on the Wicholas Endowment, contact Stephanie Bowers, Western Washington University vice president for University Advancement, at (360) 650-2055 or stephanie.bowers@wwu.edu; to make a gift to the Wicholas Endowment, go to https://foundation.wwu.edu/WicholasEndowment

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017 - 9:45am