The right chemistry

By Rebecca Renshaw

Bob Gower’s personal narrative over the past seven decades offers a touching portrait of the American dream. SIU played a part in his story of accomplishment, generosity and determination. Born in West Frankfort to parents with an eighth-grade education, Gower knew that hard work was going to be his personal key to achieving success.

“I worked and paid my own way through college, which wasn’t easy to do when majoring in chemistry,” Gower said. “Balancing classes and working on weekends was difficult, but through hard work I grew up fast. I learned that success doesn’t come automatically and that I just had to persevere through the hard times.”

Gower said that his experiences at SIU taught him so much about other people. He said those experiences taught him about character, taught him about honesty, and gave him an appreciation of diversity.

“In West Frankfort, Illinois, there were no African-Americans in the 1950s. When I arrived at SIU, I met all types of people from other cultures and countries, and it was a new and stimulating experience. I learned about people, what drove them and how to work with others who did not come from my background,” he said.

While he was a senior getting his undergraduate degree, Gower was encouraged by friends to go on a blind date with freshman Mary Beth Miller.

“I remember sitting across from this beautiful young girl, sharing a soda with her when she told me she was taking a freshman chemistry course and could really use some help with it. I thought, God must be smiling on me right now. I knew I was good at chemistry and that I could help her,” he said.

Fifty-eight years later, Gower credited his wife for helping him far more than when he helped her with her chemistry class.

Gower went on to receive his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from SIU in 1958 and 1960, respectively, and his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in 1963.

Upon graduation from SIU, Gower began an industrial career starting at Sinclair Oil Corporation as a research scientist.

“I quickly realized that I was just as able as some of the people running the companies that I worked for, so I asked to be moved into sales and experienced a range of business development and planning positions to broaden my background,” he said.

Gower soon rose to prominent positions in Atlantic Richfield and its divisions of the company. He became vice president of ARCO Chemical Co. in 1977 and senior vice president in 1979. In June 1984, he became senior vice president of Atlantic Richfield Co. Gower became president of Lyondell Petrochemical Co. when it was formed in April 1985 and was elected chief executive officer in October 1988. That same year, Gower led Lyondell through the largest initial public stock offering up to that time.

While Gower has had an illustrious career, he and his wife have always maintained a steadfast loyalty to SIU Carbondale’s chemistry department. Recently, Gower gave $800,000 to the department.

“SIU is moving toward being a well-recognized research institution with excellent faculty,” he said. “Beth and I would like to help it become a great research institution.”

One might think that with all of the success he achieved in his life, Gower would sit back and take it easy. Not so.

One of his current passions is the field of nanotechnology, which he has used to help develop a therapeutic, abuse-resistant opioid pain drug.

“It is currently in clinical trials, and the FDA recently gave Ensysce Biosciences a fast-track designation, which means we won’t have such a lengthy process to approval,” he said.

Gower said that opioid drugs are the only way to handle certain types of severe pain, so simply banning them from use is not the answer.

“The problem is that people quickly become addicted to opioid drugs,” he said. “We need to prevent abuse. What we have done with our drug is to modify it so that the drug is not active when taken. Only when it is in the digestive system and it meets an enzyme known as trypsin does it become activated via a two-step reaction. If a person snorts it or dissolves it and injects the drug, it will not be activated. If chewed, the reaction still will not take place until it gets to the digestive system.

Gower is also passionate about providing opportunities for underprivileged children. For the past 30 years, he has worked with Communities in School, and he headed its operation in Houston for much of that time. CIS is a campus-based, nonprofit organization providing direct services and resources to under-served children with unmet needs, many with mental health issues. By surrounding them with a community of support, CIS empowers students to stay in school and achieve in life.

“Anyone can do what I have done, or something better, or something comparable. Each of us brings our own unique set of contributions to society. Everyone is important on this stage,” he said.

To find out how you can contribute to the SIU College of Science and the chemistry department, visit

Saluki Food Pantry going above and beyond

SIU Food Pantry Shannon Denman

By Jeff Wilson

Since opening in August 2016, the Saluki Food Pantry has served more than 2,400 SIU students and their families. That kind of community service requires support and a lot of hard work.

Recently, the food pantry assisted students after a fire at Evergreen Terrace by supplying food and toiletries to affected individuals.

Much of the work at the food pantry is done by graduate assistant Shannon Denman, said Student Center Associate Director Kent Epplin.

“Without Shannon, we would not be able to operate because there is no dedicated staff member for the location,” Epplin said. “As a result of her ongoing efforts to schedule food drives, we have been successful at supplying our students with the necessary food items.”

During the first two SIU Days of Giving, the Saluki Food Pantry has received $1,800 in donations. Most of those funds are used to pay overhead costs and fund the graduate assistant position.

“Initially, the chancellor funded the pantry, but for the current fiscal year, we are operating off of the SIU Foundation funding,” Epplin said. “The pantry runs on a very simple budget.”

The food pantry works with students both on and off campus, and networks with Saluki Cares and other campus organizations to ensure students are aware of the available resources.

The Saluki Food Pantry is located on the Lower Level of the Student Center and is open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Mondays and 1 to 4 p.m. on Thursdays. Any student with a valid student ID can access the pantry’s resources. To learn more, visit

College of Engineering receives donation from the George Bates Foundation

SIU College of Engineering receives donation from the George Bates Foundation

By Rebecca Renshaw

The College of Engineering received two checks for $10,000 each from a longtime supporter of the university.

Dr. Mike Murray, trustee of the George A. Bates Memorial Foundation, presented Dean John Warwick with a $10,000 check to go toward the George A. Bates Memorial scholarship.

“We greatly appreciate the ongoing support by the Bates Foundation for these undergraduate scholarships,” Warwick said. “These scholarships are important to our college, and we are deeply grateful to the Bates Foundation for their history of partnering with SIU.”

Murray also presented Dr. Bruce DeRuntz with a $10,000 check to support the College of Engineering’s Leadership Development Program. Based in the College of Engineering, the LDP is designed to mold students into future executive leaders in a STEM field (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) by providing leadership training, mentoring and community service opportunities.

The LDP began with a donation from Dick Blaudow, an SIU engineering alumnus. Blaudow, along with his wife, Brigitte, established the program as a way to help develop the next generation of America’s technical leaders. DeRuntz, professor of technology who leads the LDP, said the program truly transforms these students into leaders.

“To achieve success, these students must prepare for success,” DeRuntz said. “This program gives them the tools to do so.”

DeRuntz said the foundation’s donation will go toward bringing in guest speakers to the program. The funds will also help fund the annual team-building week at SIU’s Touch of Nature, during which new students meet their more experienced teammates to learn about the program’s culture and history.

Bates was a successful stock market investor and avid big game hunter. He was born in 1903 in the Chicago area, and resided in Cary until his death. The Bates Foundation was formed when he passed away in 1989. The foundation provides funding to numerous charitable organizations, as determined by its board of trustees. Along with SIU, the foundation supports The Hope Light Project, a cancer awareness organization, also located in southern Illinois.

SIU College of Engineering receives donation from the George Bates Foundation

“Mr. Bates believed in supporting education,” Murray said. “It has been an honor to be a trustee for the George A. Bates Memorial Foundation, and it was a privilege to deliver these checks.” Other local organizations the foundation has supported include Brehm School, SIH Cancer Institute, the Poshard Foundation, Saluki Kids Academy, and Lead SI. The foundation supports eight different charities and has donated $3 million dollars in the last 10 years. A total of $6 million has been donated since its inception.

Murray was instrumental in securing funding from the Bates Foundation. As a former close friend and confidant of Bates, Murray was aware of Bates’ philanthropic tendencies. He submitted a proposal for support in 1997 while working as a central development officer for the SIU Foundation. Now, as a Bates Foundation trustee, he is able to continue to provide funding to scholarships at the College of Engineering. To date, the foundation has provided about $400,000 to SIU for scholarship funding.

The foundation looks for two things when deciding to support an organization: Dedication by the organization to the mission and passion for the cause of those representing the organization.  “I know the dean, and I know professor DeRuntz very well,” Murray said. “I have no doubt this money will be put to good use.”

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Saluki Athletics dedicates Charles Helleny Pavilion

By Drew Novara

CARBONDALE, Ill. – Monday marked the inaugural celebration of the Charles Helleny Tip-Off Classic as the Salukis took on Buffalo at SIU Arena. In honor of the event, a special pre-game ceremony took place to rename the East Lobby of the arena as the “Charles Helleny Pavilion.” In September, Helleny donated the fourth-largest gift in Saluki Athletics history.

SIU Saluki Athletics Charles Helleny PavilionIn honor of Helleny’s gift, the first Division I men’s basketball home game each year will be known as the Charles Helleny Tip-Off Classic game.

“I don’t want to take anything away from the game itself,” Helleny said. “I am embarrassed, but honestly this is a great honor, as I love SIU. We have had our ups and downs and we have always remained competitive.”
Helleny said his history with Saluki Basketball goes back to the Walt Frazier era, and he gets excited recalling the many signature home wins, such as the 2001 victory over eventual national runner-up Indiana and the thrilling battles with arch-rival Creighton. Those memories help fuel his desire to give back to SIU.

“Giving to the SASF is a commitment – not just a one-time donation — but a lifetime commitment,” he explained. “Donors help offset the budget for the department and help secure funding for scholarships, trips and recruiting.”

The Charles Helleny gift will continue to help support the SASF and the scholarship costs for 350 student-athletes in 17 intercollegiate sports, and will also help toward the Forever SIU campaign.

“The Charles Helleny Tip-Off Classic is a great way to honor Charles – a special and unique partnership created by Saluki Athletics and the Helleny family,” SIU Associate Athletic Director Jason Fairfield said. “Charles has a long history with SIU and we wanted to be able to honor his legacy with something that will live on forever.”

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Scholarships set the stage: Students display work ethic, dedication during production of ‘Punk Rock’

SIU Theater Department

By Jeff Wilson

The students in the Christian H. Moe Laboratory Theater are hard at work.

Sets are being built and painted, lines are being rehearsed, choreography is being perfected, and there’s always something more to be done.

“It’s a labor of love,” said senior Patrick Burke, stage production manager of the upcoming presentation of “Punk Rock.”

Scholarships at work

The play focuses on a group of teens in England as they deal with the pressures of their final year of high school. It will feature an all-student cast; all of the production has been completed by students; and even some of the funding has come out of the pockets of students.

“We’ve received donations from family, the community and set up a GoFundMe page,” said senior Kyle Aschbrenner, the play’s director. “Some of us have even used scholarship money. We’ve raised between $1,100 and $1,200.”

A recipient of the 2018 Verizon Scholarship and Department of Theater Undergraduate Scholarship, Aschbrenner said he and his fellow students are passionate about their work.

“In this department, we’re given a sense of autonomy,” he said. “Scholarships are especially helpful in accomplishing something like this.”

Christian Boswell, a senior who will portray one of the main characters in the play, is also the fight choreographer. The training he’s received while at SIU is a direct result of his DOT Undergraduate Scholarship.

“That’s been what has allowed me to attend workshops all across the country and work with groups like the Society of American Fight Directors,” he said.

Burke, who transferred to SIU after earning an associate degree at Rend Lake College, is a recipient of the Ronald Naversen Scholarship for Theater Design and Production. Naversen is an emeritus professor of theater and still an active part of SIU’s program.

“I could talk about Ron for 30 minutes,” Burke said. “Receiving that scholarship was a validation of my ability.”

Years in the making

The play was chosen by many of the students during their freshman year. They decided to make “Punk Rock” their senior project, with the hope of starting a new tradition at SIU.

“Being right out of high school, the play definitely spoke to us,” Aschbrenner said. “Now, the themes of the play speak to us more introspectively. It’s still very relevant to us today.”

About 25 undergraduate students have been involved in the process. Even though only a handful are featured on stage, many more are working behind the scenes.

The planning started in February. The physical production work started in early October. Many students have spent long days – and nights – working on the show.

The students are working on much more than acting. They create the sets and secure props and costumes. Behind the scenes, there is woodworking, painting, welding and other disciplines at work.

“There are a lot of aspects to it,” Burke said. “We’re prepping all the spaces and doing all the work. There’s a very fine attention to detail in this production.”

See the show

The three performances of “Punk Rock” will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 9, and Saturday, Nov. 10, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 11, in the Christian H. Moe Laboratory Theater.

Tickets are available online at, by calling 877-SALUKIS (877-725-8547) or in person at the SIU Arena or McLeod Theater box offices between noon and 4:30 p.m. Friday.

Individual tickets are $18 for adults and $6 for students.

SIU Day of Giving’s Rest of the Story

SIU Teacher Education Program Pinning Ceremony

For the 2018 SIU Day of Giving, Nancy and Paul Mundschenk had one simple goal: Ensure all students graduating from SIU’s Teacher Education Program had a proper pinning ceremony.

After making a $5,000 gift to the Teachers Shape the Future Fund, they challenged others to do the same.

“Everyone got involved,” said Nancy Mundschenk, director of the Office of Teacher Education. “To see the support for our future teachers was incredibly touching.”

Mundschenk said the pinning ceremony symbolizes an important milestone for the candidates – the moment they transition from students to professional educators.

“Each teacher candidate was called up on stage in the Guyon Auditorium and pinned by their public school mentor teachers. A personal note about the candidate, highlighting their strengths and sharing how they had matured as an educator during their time as a student teacher was read by their SIU Faculty Clinical Supervisor,” Mundschenk said.

After the pinning, the new teachers read the Educator’s Oath together, affirming their dedication to the profession.

The money raised during the SIU Day of Giving went toward the expense of the ceremony. The remaining funds will cover some of the cost of the teaching performance assessment, which is a required test that all candidates must pass before receiving their teaching license. The test is $300, and Mundschenk hopes to give at least $100 to each candidate.

“We celebrate the fact that these candidates are preparing to go out and shape the future of some young people. There’s no more meaningful profession,” Mundschenk said.

One such candidate was Jason Seaman, a COEHS alumnus and Indiana middle school teacher, who garnered national attention for his heroic actions during a May school shooting. Seaman was grand marshal of this year’s Homecoming festivities.

The college is already looking forward to the next SIU Day of Giving scheduled for March 6, 2019.