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Greenville couple makes gift to chemical and biomolecular engineering

Staff Report //March 19, 2018//

Greenville couple makes gift to chemical and biomolecular engineering

Staff Report //March 19, 2018//

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A retired Greenville couple who have donated to organizations ranging from the Peace Center to First Presbyterian Church are turning his philanthropic attention to Clemson University, where they are providing the largest donation in history to the chemical and biomolecular engineering department.

William and Martha Beth Sturgis are contributing $600,000 to create a distinguished professorship in the department, according to a Clemson University news release, which also said they plan to double their contribution in their will.

A faculty member who is selected for the professorship will use funds generated by an endowment to support graduate and undergraduate students as they do research, learn about entrepreneurship and travel to national meetings where they can present their research to leaders in their field, the news release said.

In a 37-year career, Sturgis served as executive vice president of worldwide packaging operations at W.R. Grace and president of its North American Cryovac Division.

Upon his retirement in 1997, Sturgis received the Order of the Palmetto, the state’s highest honor, and a commendation from the state House of Representatives, according to the news release.

Sturgis said he and his wife established the professorship because they wanted to do something for chemical engineering at Clemson, where he got his start studying under influential professor Charles E. Littlejohn Jr.

“The quality of the professors really makes the quality of the graduates,” he said in the news release. “If you’ve got the money to attract the top professors, you’re going to attract a lot of people who want to major in that particular area and go on and do well.”

David Bruce, chair of the department, said it is important to bring in great faculty who will inspire students.

The Sturgis contribution “will let us retain great faculty that we already have and be a beacon to bring in new faculty to the department,” Bruce said in the news release.

An announcement on which faculty member will receive the professorship is expected soon.

Sturgis, who grew up on a dairy farm in Rock Hill, received his bachelor’s in chemical engineering from Clemson University in 1957 and later graduated from the advanced management program at Harvard University, the news release said. He has also been a supporter of packaging science at Clemson. In 1995, he was inducted into the Packaging Education Hall of Fame for starting the Clemson program. Sturgis donated lots of his time to launching the program and played a key role in steering a $2 million contribution for scholarships from Cryovac, according to the news release.

By the time Sturgis retired in 1997, he oversaw 16 plants around the world and about 18,000 employees, including 900 in Simpsonville, the news release said.