The College of Humanities and Sciences uses private endowment resources to support the work of its faculty on a wide range of research and teaching activities. Faculty members are awarded endowed chairs and professorships when they have distinguished themselves through their teaching, research, scholarship, service, creativity, and innovations.
Faculty are nominated for an endowed position by their colleagues, and these applications are reviewed by the College Endowed Review Committee. The committee selects candidates for nomination to the Dean of the College, and the Dean’s recommendation is sent to the Provost Office, University Committee, and President of the University for approval.
Professor and Chair of the Department of Chemistry, Samy El-Shall, Ph.D., was appointed to the Mary Eugenia Kapp Chair of Chemistry, and Professor Maryanne Collinson, Ph.D., was appointed to the John B. Fenn Professorship in Chemistry in 2017.
Endowed chairs and professorships are funded by donations to the college, and are used to provide professors with summer support and a research budget. The financial security of an endowed position allows professors to pursue research and support projects that they’re passionate about, without necessarily having to seek outside funding.
“It gives you a lot more flexibility in the types of projects you can do and explore,” Collinson said.
As the John B. Fenn Professor in Chemistry, Collinson plans to use her endowment to fund the development of a sensor that will measure the redox, or oxidation-reduction potential (ORP), of human blood. The ORP is a measurement which evaluates the capacity of a solution to either release or accept electrons from chemical reactions, and if she and her students can develop a sensor to measure it, they and many others will be able to fully explore its usefulness in medicine.
Collinson’s endowed professorship was named in honor of a former chemistry professor at VCU, John Fenn, who won the 2002 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his invention of electrospray ionization, a technique that allows researchers to detect and characterize large biological molecules. Collinson said that having her project funded in his honor is particularly appropriate, because he too had to compete for a limited pool of research dollars to support his own groundbreaking research.
“I knew John Fenn. We overlapped and I knew that he faced the challenge of getting his ideas off the ground,” said Collinson, “If we can just get some more data and just keep pushing hard at it, then I think we can do what John Fenn did – get something that somebody says won’t work, to work.”
The Mary Eugenia Kapp Endowed Chair in Chemistry was established by a bequest from emerita faculty member, Mary Eugenia Kapp, Ph.D. Kapp joined the faculty of the Richmond Professional Institute (RPI) as assistant professor of chemistry and chair of the chemistry department in 1940. She continued in this position when RPI and the Medical College of Virginia (MCV) merged to become Virginia Commonwealth University in 1968, until her retirement after 29 years of service in 1972.
El-Shall plans to use the endowment fund for the development of highly efficient catalysts for the production of clean fuels derived from biomass and natural gas resources. He is also planning to develop new nanomaterials for solar water heating, purification and desalination of seawater and brackish water. The new graphene-based materials being developed in his laboratory offer many advantages over the currently used solar collector materials with regard to photostability, thermal stability and weathering during operation.
“This is not a reflection of one. We have a lot of very, very excellent people in our department,” said El-Shall.
Endowed chairs and professorships also support faculty in other disciplines across the college such as the Dr. and Mrs. Harold Greer Jr. Distinguished Professorship in Latin American History, and three endowed positions in the religious studies program including the Harry Lyons Distinguished Chair in Judaic Culture, the Bishop Walter F. Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies, and the Powell-Edwards Distinguished Professorship in Religion and the Arts.
“For our little department to have a distinguished professorship and two endowed chairs – what that says to me is there are people out in the community giving money specifically for the teaching of religious studies here at VCU,” said Cliff Edwards, Ph.D., the Powell-Edwards Distinguished Professor in Religion and the Arts. “They think it is so important in the world today that they’re giving not just little bits of money, but millions of dollars.”
Written by Megan Schiffres