The hallmark of a great university is its faculty. Teaching, researching, innovating, mentoring, and publishing, the faculty at the University of Nevada, Reno's College of Science underpin every aspect of college life. For students, they are the guides to a life of discovery and accomplishment. As leaders in their field, they take on complex challenges and unearth groundbreaking solutions. For the public, they are the go-to resource for understanding the natural forces that surround us.
Endowed faculty positions, whether a professorship or chair, named after visionary donors or in honor of outstanding thought leaders are one way to broaden the impact of the College's faculty. Similar to Cambridge University's Lucasian Chair (established in 1668 by Henry Lucas and held by groundbreaking scientists such as Sir Issac Newton and more recently Stephen Hawking), endowed faculty positions are a means to support great teachers and innovative researchers. The impact of these positions can literally unfold across centuries, benefiting generations of faculty and their students, and enabling a donor to create a legacy of generosity and vision.
Fred D. Gibson, Jr. Professor of Geography Scott Mensing was appointed to his named position in 2015. Reflecting on the past three years of international exposure to research, reinforced financial support for his graduate and undergraduate students, and the independence to pursue a variety of opportunities, his gratitude for his named position is evident.
"To think that someone would give to the University to somebody they don't know, to give a gift to the future, it is a remarkable thing to receive," Mensing said. "The Gibson name to me means a commitment to excellence. It's the ability to take on challenges I might not in my normal course or events be able to take on. It means flexibility and dedication."
Named chairs and professorships are the University's most important tool for attracting and retaining leading faculty. Considered one of the highest career distinctions, it is a significant way for the College to honor its top faculty and publicly endorse research achievements.
The flexibility of the funding associated with endowed positions provides opportunities rarely offered by other sources. Scientific research, an inherently creative and dynamic process, is often stunted by the slow, regimented process of pursuing grant proposals or other similar funding sources. The funding that comes with an endowed position is often unrestricted.
"The field of biology moves very fast. It's a technologically driven field these days, so having extra resources that I can spend on grad students and research spontaneously has really let me take on some new angles of investigation."
McMinn Professor of Biology
Trevor J. McMinn Research Professor of Biology Matt Forister was honored with his named position in 2015. Forister is a leading researcher in the field of entomology and runs the Forister Lab at the College of Science.
"In my field and in most of science we spend years of development working towards a particular grant proposal that has to be very well planned out," Trevor J. McMinn Research Professor of Biology Matt Forister says. Named in 2015, Forister is a leading researcher in the field of entomology. "It is a very effective process, but it doesn't always allow for spontaneity and for taking research in new directions. Having an endowed professorship has made me into a more flexible research machine. All of a sudden, I can do all kinds of different things which is really exciting. For me it's really about those flexible resources."
That flexibility of funds extends far beyond the professor's research expenses. Funds are often used to purchase resources and equipment for students, pay for travel to conferences or support collaboration with other universities and researchers world-wide.
"An endowed professorship or chair is a mark of respect and a mark of trust," Forister said. "It signifies someone in their field who has earned the trust of their university to take resources and do with them what they see fit."
"In all of our research, we're always striving to be at the top of our field," Mensing said. "My students know that through the Gibson Professorship that they have the support to do their research at a level which is at the highest quality in their field."
For those who choose to endow positions at the College of Science, the reasons are varied. Whether a tribute to a loved one, in gratitude to valued research, or a promise of support for researchers investigating a specific topic, disease or scientific discipline, the reason is always deeply personal to the donor. As a planned gift, Mike and Barbara Heffner chose to name the Mike and Barbara Heffner College of Science Endowed Professorship as a promise of support to future generations of science students.
"I used to think, oh, I want to be remembered after I'm gone," Barbara Heffner said, "but in many ways, it's not so important to be remembered, but to have made a specific difference. Way down the line, 100 years from now, it is nice to know that College of Science students will benefit from something small that we have done. These students need to have excellence. They need to have the best teaching them."
"I think science makes a huge difference. Facts matter. The scientific method as a way of solving complex problems, I still believe, is the best way to approach complex issues," Mike Heffner said. "What better place to put our support than with the College of Science which endorses all of those qualities."
The College of Science has 20 current or planned named positions. Over the lifetime of the endowments, the positions will provide an immeasurable amount of support to College of Science professors, researchers, students, and the University as a whole.
"The College of Science has a truly impressive faculty and has been successful over the past several years in hiring outstanding junior faculty," Executive Vice President and Provost Kevin Carman said. "As these faculty develop national and international reputations, endowed professorships and chairs will be an essential component of retaining this talent. They will also be an indispensable resource for attracting leading scholars to come to UNR from other institutions."
The College of Science has set a goal of reaching a total of 50 endowed positions by 2025.
"This goal represents the College of Science's commitment to a future of scientific discovery by our faculty and our students," Dean Jeffrey Thompson said. "With your name here, the future of scientific discovery is limitless."
"Way down the line, 100 years from now, it is nice to know that College of Science students will benefit from something small that we have done."
of the Mike and Barbara Heffner Endowed Professorship