Endowment to benefit microbiology grad students

by Greg Scott

CARBONDALE, Ill. — A retired microbiology professor who received initial inspiration for his research work from mentors at Southern Illinois University Carbondale has decided to return the favor at his alma mater.

Jnanendra Kumar Bhattacharjee, a graduate student in SIU Carbondale’s Department of Microbiology, 1961-1965, studied yeast genetics under the guidance of the late Carl Lindegren, a professor and department chair at the University. Bhattacharjee credits Lindegren for laying the groundwork for a distinguished career in which he conducted yeast genetics research for 45 years.

In appreciation for his experience at SIU Carbondale, Bhattacharjee, and his wife, Tripti, have established the Dr. Jnanendra K. and Tripti Bhattacharjee Endowment to support various endeavors of SIU Carbondale’s microbiology graduate students.

“The educational and research opportunities I received at SIU Carbondale were invaluable. And consequently, the professional success and accomplishments I’ve enjoyed occurred as a result of that experience,” Bhattacharjee says. “Additionally, my wife and I were quite impressed with the wonderful hospitality and the advances in the microbiology department during our visit to campus.

“Therefore, establishing this endowment presented me with an opportunity to give back to the department so that other graduate students can receive the same opportunities and encouragement that benefited me.”

Doug Fix, chair of the SIU Carbondale biology and microbiology department, says the endowment will provide funds for professional development activities. It will support graduate students interested in attending major conferences, which enables them to present their research and meet fellow researchers in the field to discuss future employment possibilities.

“Dr. Bhattacharjee has always been a contributor to the microbiology program. We are particularly grateful to him for providing this support for our graduate students,” Fix says. “And most recently, we are honored by his incredibly generous donation that has created a new endowment. The proceeds from this endowment will allow us to provide our graduate students with opportunities that have become increasingly difficult in these uncertain financial times when state and federal funding seem limited or dwindling. This is one of the most important ways we can help our students succeed and we thank Dr. Bhattacharjee for making this possible.”

Jeff Lorber, associate vice chancellor for institutional advancement and executive director of development for the SIU Foundation, says: “Dr. Bhattacharjee clearly treasures his experience at this institution and is pleased with the advances in its microbiology department. He values the mentors who guided him along the way, and aspires to support the educational and professional endeavors of young people who follow him.”

Bhattacharjee, a professor emeritus of microbiology at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, received his doctorate in microbiology from SIU Carbondale in 1965. He subsequently conducted postdoctoral research under the late Murray Strassman at the Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, and ascended to assistant member, 1966-1968. Bhattacharjee joined Miami’s faculty in 1968, where he mentored a large number of undergraduate, M.S., Ph.D. students, and postdoctoral fellows until his retirement in 2005.

Bhattacharjee’s career is highlighted by numerous published research articles, several U.S. patents, grants, awards, honors, and memberships in professional organizations. A life member of the SIU Alumni Association, Bhattacharjee is grateful for his experience at SIU Carbondale.

“The University presented me with outstanding opportunities. I’m forever grateful to Dr. and Mrs. Lindegren, who were both scientists; other SIU Carbondale microbiology professors, and President and Mrs. Delyte Morris, as well as foreign students advisor Ms. Mary Wakeland who provided a welcoming environment for international students,” he says. “My successful family and professional life really goes back to the education and experiences I received at SIU.

“I relish that period in my life. I have a great deal of gratitude and I’m humble for the experience.”

Doctoral Student Wins Inaugural Swartz Award

by Greg Scott

CARBONDALE, Ill. — An award named in memory of a former Southern Illinois University Carbondale administrator known for his generosity to international students has been presented for the first time.

Yuan Bingxin, an SIU Carbondale doctoral student from China, is this year’s recipient of the Willis Swartz Graduate Student Award. Scholarships will be presented on an annual basis through income generated from the Willis Swartz endowment. Preference is given to international and incoming graduate students.

Bingxin, who is studying chemistry and biochemistry, says the scholarship has special meaning.

“It demonstrates that others see me as having potential to impact our society’s future, and that my hard work has really paid off. The scholarship is also a great honor for my family, who has supported me from the beginning,” she says. “This award is not an ending; it’s just the beginning. It makes me want to be better personally and in my academic career. Additionally, I’m motivated to attain more achievements in chemistry.”

The Willis Swartz Graduate Student Award Endowment was established to honor the work of Willis Swartz, who was hired to chair the department of government at SIU Carbondale in 1930. He became the first chairman of the graduate council in 1943, and seven years later, Swartz was named the first dean of SIU Carbondale’s Graduate School. Additionally, Swartz, who served the University for 35 years, was chosen to direct foreign student programs at SIU Carbondale in 1947.

Swartz, who died in 1965, was known for making the transition to college life easier for international students. He was so appreciated that in 1957, a group of 26 Chinese students presented a plaque to Swartz and his wife in grateful appreciation for their help at SIU Carbondale.

A Carbondale couple — Juh Wah Chen, retired dean of SIU Carbondale’s College of Engineering, and his wife, Han Lin, who received her master’s in science from the University in 1958 — aspired to establish an endowment in honor of Dean Swartz. Han Lin communicated this concept to George and Nora Wang of Laguna Beach, Calif., and David and Isabella Yang of San Louis Obispo, Calif., and received their full support. The Wangs and Yangs obtained their graduate degrees from the University, with the support of Dean Swartz. Han Lin, along with the Wangs and Yangs, distributed letters to fellow international alumni — mostly Chinese students who attended from 1950 to 1965 — soliciting contributions and coordinated this effort.

“We were close to Dean Swartz because he treated international students really well,” Han Lin says. “Everybody thought very highly of Dean Swartz. His former students are contributing to this fund to continue this spirit.”

Han Lin says it only took less than a year to generate funds to establish the endowment.

“These alumni are successful and like to give back to SIU. And they appreciated Dean Swartz because he did so many little things to help international students as they made the adjustment to college life in the states,” Juh Wah says. “Dean Swartz often picked students up at the train station, and some international students even stayed at his home. Dean Swartz did so much for students and was highly regarded.”

John Koropchak, SIU Carbondale vice chancellor for research and graduate school dean, says the award appropriately honors a man who cared deeply for students.

“It is wonderful to learn of the great impact that someone like Dr. Swartz had on students’ lives. Even after 60 years, he is still fondly remembered,” Koropchak says. “Dr. and Mrs. Chen have rejuvenated that expression by reorganizing this alumni group to endow this award and create a vehicle for supporting incoming graduate students for years to come.”

Jeff Lorber, associate vice chancellor for institutional advancement and executive director of development for the SIU Foundation, says: “This award is a testament to the influence Dr. Swartz had on students. Particularly, international students who attended SIU Carbondale during that era are forever grateful, and now, they have chosen to give back and support current students in their educational endeavors. This is a true legacy in honor of a special man who contributed a great deal to this institution and its students.”

Teaching/research greenhouse gets boost from ISA

by Greg Scott

CARBONDALE, Ill. — The umbrella organization that serves the needs of all soybean farmers in the state of Illinois is making a substantial contribution, funded in part by the Illinois soybean checkoff, to Southern Illinois University Carbondale. This support will enhance educational and research opportunities for students in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

A $250,000 contribution from the Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) will help build a state-of-the-art undergraduate teaching and research greenhouse facility. This new 22,000-square-foot facility replaces a 50-year-old greenhouse that is a core learning laboratory for the entire Plant and Soil Science program.

The proposed modernized greenhouse facility will improve the hands-on education that inspires innovative solutions needed for the increasing global food demand.

“The Illinois Soybean Association is an important industry partner for the College of Agricultural Sciences. It has fostered growth of our soybean program, and it has created outstanding opportunities for our students and faculty,” says Todd Winters, interim dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences. “It is yet another example of the Illinois Soybean Association’s commitment to higher education. Support of this new facility is essential to preparing our students for the work force.”

With the help of the Illinois Soybean Association, the soybean program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale has evolved from research in soybean production management and weed science to biotechnology, genetics, environmental sustainability, health and nutrition.

“We’re committed to continuing our support for soybean research at SIU,” says SIU Carbondale graduate Dean Campbell, a Coulterville resident and ISA District 17 director. “This investment by our soybean farmers also aims to enhance our commitment to the soybean scholarship program by providing facilities for the recipients and other students to receive the training they need for careers in crop sciences.”

Jeff Lorber, associate vice chancellor for institutional advancement, concurs.

“The Illinois Soybean Association has a longstanding commitment to research and education,” Lorber says. “The new greenhouse is going to expand and enhance the educational experience for our students. We are thankful for this generous contribution.”

In addition, the new Undergraduate Teaching and Research Greenhouse will create space to accommodate workshop and outreach initiatives for industry partners including the Illinois soybean growers. It will also encourage life-long learning by accommodating educational programming for children, adults, and teachers at grade schools and high schools.