Welch Foundation donates $2.5 million to establish chemical engineering chair

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From left, C. Buddie Mullins, Jennifer Brodbelt, Cheryl Johnston, Keith Johnston, Keith Keitz, Nathaniel Lynd, Norbert Dittrich, Grant Willson, Debbie Willson, Gregory Fenves, Thomas Truskett, Van Truskett and Delia Milliron attend the Welch Gala 2019. The Welch Gala was hosted by the Welch Foundation, a private funding source for basic chemical research that donated $2.5 million to UT’s McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of The McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering | Daily Texan Staff

The McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering will establish the Norbert Dittrich-Welch Chair in Chemical Engineering following a $2.5 million donation by the Welch Foundation, a private funding source for chemical research.

UT has received $180 million total from the foundation since 1954, and the chair will honor the foundation’s former president Norbert Dittrich, who retired this year after 26 years of service.

“The reason to why we’re establishing the chair is twofold,” Dittrich said. “The first is a recognition of my service at the Welch Foundation, and the second is the significant work UT’s engineering department has done in general. I have been with the Welch Foundation for 42 years. I know the foundation will continue doing great work with UT and in general.”

Thomas Truskett, McKetta department chair and engineering professor, said once a professor is nominated and approved to hold the chair, they will determine how the money can be used to advance the University. 

“They could use some of the money to support an undergraduate student to do research in the lab over the summer, help recruit a student to UT, buy a piece of equipment, support travel to conferences — I mean, you name it,” Truskett said. “Really, the value of these endowed chairs is they help us attract the very best faculty and retain those faculty members by giving them the flexibility to pursue the science where it leads.”

Welch Foundation president Adam Kuspa said the chair is an essential component of resources needed to support faculty goals.

“It allows the program to maintain integrity,” Kuspa said. “Let’s remember that faculty members can hold their position for 30 to 40 years, which is a game-changer in building the capacity.”

Camila Saez, a chemical engineering graduate student, said she is excited because the donation will not only support students but also help the department flourish. 

“Most of the projects we do start out as ideas on a whiteboard,” Saez said. “When organizations like the Welch Foundation support and take this chance on challenging ideas, it really helps us stay creative.”

Truskett said the tentative date for choosing the chair is next fall.

“Chemical engineering is one of the places on campus where some of the most innovative work in chemistry and in science takes place,” Truskett said. “So, it’s kind of a natural place for (the Welch Foundation) to invest in.”