||Schofield Hall 218|
||Eau Claire, WI 54702-4004|
Former Student Establishes Scholarship|
To Honor Teacher and Mentor
MAILED: April 15, 1999|
Most people can reflect on their life experience so far and identify key people who made a difference at certain pivotal points along the way.
Chemistry professor Leo Ochrymowycz made the difference at such a crossroads for University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire alumnus Mark Purgett back in the 1970s when Purgett was at the end of his first semester as a chemistry graduate student.
"I was about to be flushed. He plucked me out of the vortex, bought some time, gave me a hand and a push, and changed my story completely," says Purgett, who today is a successful polymer chemist with 3M. "I am one of a great many. He is the 'George Bailey' of teachers, with an attitude."
Purgett entered the master's program in chemistry with only a chemistry minor granted by a small private college without the resources to prepare him for a competitive graduate program. His first semester grades weren't adequate to maintain teaching assistant funding so the department chairman called him to his office, thanked him for sticking out the semester and gave him a textbook as a consolation prize.
"Without faculty like Dr. O and his colleagues, it would have been time to pack. Instead they took a personal interest in me, realizing that my problem was an inadequate background," Purgett said. "Dr. O welcomed me into his research group and provided essential financial support."
One-on-one, Ochrymowycz showed him how to set up his first reaction and to start working and thinking like a "pot boiler," said Purgett, who with this kind of help and confidence-building survived the difficult catch-up process and successfully completed the master's program.
"I personally was amazed that the same guy who helped the brightest on their way to med school, grad school and industry would also enthusiastically invest time in someone anchoring the other end of the academic spectrum. Class rank and obvious short-term potential did not matter. He has something in his toolbox for everybody, and he helps each one to set his sights high and succeed," Purgett said.
The research experience and Dr. O's reference opened the door to 3M, later followed by some very challenging opportunities including completion of the polymer science doctoral program at the University of Massachusetts, a two-year postdoctoral program in Tokyo, and 14 years of doing fundamental process and product development at 3M.
"My career opportunities, as well as my current ability to contribute to 3M, would have been greatly diminished if Dr. O had reserved his attention for only the more promising or productive students," Purgett said. "He connects with his students and personally invests in them. In myriad ways he helps them to define their options or goals and get on track to reach their potential. There are hoops to jump through, but we jump with confidence that he is squarely in our corner."
To show his gratitude and acknowledge Ochrymowycz's influence, Purgett decided to give something back by establishing the Students of Dr. O Scholarship, a full-tuition award, which was presented for the first time in the spring of 1998. Besides his own $2,500 annual commitment over four years, which is matched by 3M, he wrote to other alumni who might have an interest in supporting the scholarship fund. Responses poured in, according to fund administrator Jerry Richards of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation. "Some are giving $25 a year, some $1,000 yearly, and one alumni donor is giving in multiple thousands," Richards said. "Like Mark they were touched by Dr. O and now want to do good with their money."
Applicants for the award must have earned at least 45 credits toward a major in chemistry, chemical education or chemistry with business emphasis. The criteria for the scholarship include a combination of financial need, aptitude, background and in particular demonstrated persistence, which Purgett describes as a "fire in the belly" to succeed. "It is my personal intent that the criteria will remain flexible, so that a broad variety of opportunities can be facilitated. This will best reflect the scope of Dr. O's impact."
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: April 15, 1999