Formula for the Future—Endowment Supports Chemistry student research

Mark Wicholas (1940-2017) Reshaping the Landscape of Chemistry at WWU

Recently deceased professor emeritus of Chemistry Mark Wicholas dedicated his years teaching and as chair of the chemistry department to ensuring that students and new faculty had adequate funding for research and research-related travel. Wicholas joined the faculty in 1967 before student research was a part of the academic experience at Western. He shifted the chemistry curriculum from strictly on-campus classroom and lab focus to travel, research, and professional development, effectively engaging students in what was then considered post-graduate pursuits. Though unusual at the time, student research and professional development are now hallmarks of the Western education. The Wicholas Endowment funds student travel and research. Just before his death in November, he donated $100,000 to the endowment. “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.”

With the help of the Wicholas Endowment, Pui Man “Audrey” Cheung (’16, B.S. Chemistry) traveled to the 2017 Portland State University to the Linus Pauling Symposium. Her rental cars, hotel rooms, tickets to the banquet were all covered by the endowment. She says of her experience there, “The symposium was a wonderful opportunity for us to meet other chemistry students and professors and get to know their research…it is an excellent platform to share our great work in research, as well as to network with students and faculties in other institutions. More importantly, it is also very helpful for advancing our presentation skills.”

Kyle Burns, an MS student studying inorganic Chemistry with Dr. John Gilbertson, also  traveled to the 2017 Linus Pauling symposium with Aurdrey Cheung. Funds from the Wicholas Endowment covered lodging and travel costs, enabling Burns to meet with Linus Pauling Award winner, Christopher Cummins of MIT. “The awardee invites three of their colleagues to also give talks, so you are able to preview research done by four distinguished chemists who are big names in their field. The ability to meet these individuals during the event is a fantastic opportunity, as it isn’t often that students from a smaller school like Western have the chance to meet these well-known researchers.”

Dr. David Patrick, Professor and Director of Scientific Technical Services at WWU said of Wicholas, “[During his tenure] 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.”

Key Faculty

David Patrick

Dr. David Patrick is a professor in the Chemistry Department, and Director of Scientific Technical Services. After his retirement, Mark Wicholas relied on Patrick to let him know where the departmental needs were at Western, and how he could help. Patrick says of Wicholas, “Mark’s gift will enable future generations of students to have the opportunity to participate in research, and to travel to scientific conferences to present their results. These are career-launching and life-changing experiences. Many Western students have to work part-time jobs to make ends meet, leaving no time for involvement in research.  Fellowships like Mark’s provide students a stipend allowing them to focus on research, develop valuable skills, and grow as professionals and individuals. The impact can be especially large for students from traditionally underrepresented groups, for whom the costs of college are often especially burdensome.”


Dr. John Gilbertson

Dr. Gilbertson is an inorganic chemist who works on science relating to global climate change. “My group is actively pursuing compounds that can transform environmental pollutants such as carbon dioxide and/or nitrate into less harmful, more useable substrates.” He worked with both Audrey Cheung and Kyle Burns on research they presented at the 2017 Linus Pauling Symposium for which the Wicholas Endowment covered travel and lodging costs. “Conference attendance to disseminate that scholarship is vital to the research experience. However, it is extremely cost burdensome to attend conferences. The Wicholas fund has provided students the opportunities to travel to conferences to present their work, and to meet/interact with some of the biggest names in Chemistry.”