A series of conversations, an mutually benefitting relationship, and a new science building has led to a significant contribution to SIUE’s College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) according to Craig Steiner, director of development for CAS, and Robert Dixon, associate professor and chair of chemistry. An agreement between SIUE and Sigma-Aldrich will lead to a total donation of $150,000 over a five-year period.
Sigma-Aldrich is a local company with its headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri that manufactures specialty biochemical products for global consumption.
“Sigma Aldrich is the largest supplier of specialty biochemicals in the entire world,” said Dixon. “So, when you want to do biochemical research and you need chemicals, biological materials, and instrumentation and equipment, Sigma Aldrich is the number one company you would go to to purchase those items.”
According to Dixon, the process of looking for donations and contributions for new equipment and instrumentation for the new science building began nearly six years ago.
“The main pieces of equipment that we’re looking for are instruments and equipment that separate biological molecules, and equipment where we can study these molecules and how they interact with other biological molecules,” said Dixon.
As the new science building neared the construction phase, SIUE began to contact various scientific companies soliciting donations. Last summer, the conversation between SIUE and Sigma-Aldrich took a positive turn.
Dixon stated Bob Ringering, site manufacturing director with Sigma-Aldrich, and Deborah Slagle, vice president of life sciences operations at Sigma-Aldrich and SIUE alumna, sat down for a conversation with Dixon and Marilyn Marsho, former CAS director of development.
“The CAS Development Director at the time, Marilyn Marsho, and I went to lunch with them. We pitched a twofold idea: we would like to give you naming rights to one of the laboratories in the new building,” said Dixon. “And, I was also pitching the idea of a new degree that we were going to try and start offering that would tie into the expanded new building that we are moving into. That is a new Biochemistry degree that is completely different than the current degrees that we have now.”
The conversation was going slow until recently, according to Dixon.
“Things went slowly and we were notified about a month and a half ago that they were going to present this proposal to the treasurer [and vice president and interim CFO] of Sigma-Aldrich, Kirk Richter. The Dean [Aldemaro Romero], myself, and Craig Steiner went to Sigma-Aldrich and had a conversation. They let us know they were going to fund that new lab for $150,000 and the main thing they wanted was that their name would be on that lab. So it will be called the Sigma-Aldrich Biochemistry Lab.”
The connection between CAS and Sigma-Aldrich is a strong one, according to Dixon, who stated that nine years ago, Sigma-Aldrich donated $10,000 three times to SIUE. The donation helped to continue the Probst Lecture series. Dixon stated the lecture series is named for one of the founding members of the chemistry department.
“The Probst Lecture is a named lectureship for one of the founding members of the department. We bring in a world renowned scientists. They have a lecture at night for the general population and a lecture during the day for the more scientific population. We’ve brought in Nobel prize winners in the past with this. There is a dinner and a full day-long set of events that going along with the lecture,” Dixon said. ”We have had great success with the Probst lecture over the last few years, thanks to the support of Sigma-Aldrich, and we look for continuing this success in the future.”
Dixon stated that the new biochemistry degree, designed to meet the requirements of the American Chemical Society, will help prepare graduates for a career with Sigma-Aldrich. Sigma-Aldrich also decided to partner with SIUE after an internal audit revealed that many Sigma-Aldrich employees are SIUE graduates, according to Dixon.
“The biochemistry degree is going to fit perfectly with the employees that SA hires,” said Dixon. “With our biochemistry–as well as our chemistry–degrees, a lot of our students end up going to work for Sigma Aldrich. One of the reasons that Sigma Aldrich wanted to explore this possibility with us is that they did an internal audit and they saw that the number one supplier of college educated people in their workforce is SIUE.”
The new degree program will also help attract new students to SIUE. Chemistry and biochemistry currently have approximately 140 majors, according to Dixon. With the increased classroom and lab space, Dixon predicts that each year up to an additional 50 students will choose SIUE for their chemistry or biochemistry degree.
“Right now, a lot of students are in biology and chemistry, but mainly biology because its in tune with pre-med and pre-dental,” said Dixon. “This new degree will have more of the students choosing chemistry as a major. We think it will give better choices for the students.”
The donation from Sigma-Aldrich will help fill the labs with the additional equipment needed to support these students as they pursue a degree.
“As we move into the new building and we’re really expecting 40-50 new majors wanting to be in this new degree–we don’t have the equipment for those extra people, especially when the new degree requires them to take biophysical chemistry and biochemistry that will both be taught in this room,” said Dixon. “The main thing that this money is going to go towards is the new pieces of instrumentation and equipment that is the result of this increase of enrollment that we’re going to see.”