Skip to Main Content

WM: Investing in Today's Educators

Inspired by the legendary Wabash professors and liberal arts programs, Wabash benefactors were inspired to establish six new endowed professorships and faculty chairs and two academic majors during the historic Giant Steps Campaign.

Early in her academic journey, Laura Wysocki thought an endowed chair would be something bestowed on a faculty member near the end of their career after they had “made a name for themselves” in their research.

When the news came that she would be awarded an endowed professorship after serving 10 years at Wabash, the chemistry professor and department chair was filled with shock and gratitude.

“It’s a real honor,” says Wysocki, who holds the Edwin J. Peck/David A. Phillips Professorship in Chemistry. “You see people who hold endowed chairs and you think of them as the experienced ones, the ones who are leaders. Being named an endowed chair mid-career has built confidence and helped me see myself as this integral part of the College and the community.”

As part of his estate gift to Wabash, the Peck/Phillips Professorship was reestablished by David Phillips H’83, who served the College for 36 years as a professor in chemistry. He was appointed as Wabash’s first inorganic chemist in 1968 and taught until his retirement in 2004.

Although Phillips had retired before Wysocki joined the staff in 2011, she says he was one of the first people she met the day she interviewed for the job. After that, he served as her mentor and the two became good friends.

Before he died on March 4, 2021, Phillips praised Wysocki’s successful research and teaching career at Wabash.

“Laura loves teaching these students, and you can see that it’s reciprocated,” said Phillips. “Her students love her and that’s unusual because organic chemists have a reputation for being frightening—and she is anything but.”

“Just to know that I had his blessing as the inaugural chair is something that’s really important to me,” says Wysocki, “and it makes me proud that he saw in me a professor who he felt was worthy of this kind of honor.”

Funds provided by the endowment have helped Wysocki purchase equipment for both her teaching and her research labs. As a result, her students gain experience with up-to-date instruments while investigating questions related to organic chemistry and fluorescent dyes.

Wysocki says the Giant Steps Campaign has sparked an enthusiasm among her colleagues. Faculty members feel encouraged and supported in their efforts to develop immersion learning courses, design new research projects alongside students, and think differently about incorporating technology and innovation into the classroom.

“These opportunities only exist because of the generosity of so many alumni and friends of the College,” says Wysocki. “These efforts will continue to be vital in future years, with an ever-changing world and evolving student demographics.”

Religion professor Derek Nelson ’99 is the first member of the faculty to hold the Stephen S. Bowen Professorship in the Liberal Arts.

Established in 2017, the professorship honors Stephen Bowen ’68, retired attorney, the fifth-longest-serving chair of Wabash’s Board of Trustees, and co-chair of the Giant Steps Campaign. The endowment was made possible by the Pritzker Pucker Family Foundation.

“It’s a nice honor,” says Nelson, a theologian who teaches in the areas of ethics and the history of Christian thought. “This endowment allows me to do things, like travel and participate in conferences, that I wouldn’t otherwise get to do for research.

“It also makes me more attentive to the liberal arts than I would otherwise be,” he says. “It makes my teaching in my field more connected to broader questions, different disciplines, and pushes me into other conversations.”

When he retired after 42 years of practicing law, Bowen was given the opportunity to teach at Wabash. He taught theological ethics, and in 2018, helped Nelson teach a senior colloquium and a freshman tutorial.

“It was a privilege to get to see Steve in action as a classroom teacher,” Nelson continues. “He is extremely inquisitive and competent in all kinds of different areas. He exemplifies the best of what Wabash can do in a young man’s life and even more so what service back to Wabash and one’s community should look like.”

Nelson says the Giant Steps Campaign has moved him to be better.

“I feel empowered to say, ‘No, we’re not going to do things the default, easy way,’” Nelson explains. “This generosity has sparked a newfound urgency for excellence.”  

Two new academic majors were also established through Giant Steps— philosophy, politics, and economics (PPE) and computer science.

PPE was introduced during the 2019–20 academic year and has already become one of the most popular majors among students. The multidisciplinary course of study was made possible by Trustee Tom Walsh ’73 and his wife, Anne B. Walsh.

“As important as philosophy, politics, and economics are individually,” says Anne, “the integrated study of these disciplines provides a new generation of leaders with a much richer understanding of the interconnectedness of today’s world, and the institutions, systems of government, and theories and policies that shape it.”

“We believe the unified study of the science, theory, and practice of philosophy, politics, and economics is vital to obtaining the knowledge base necessary to bring about global economic and societal harmony,” Tom adds. “We are proud to help Wabash further enrich the academic opportunities to meet this challenge.”

An endowed professorship, the Tom and Anne Walsh Professor of Philosophy, Politics, and Economics, was established as part of the Walshes’ gift to the College.

Economics Professor Nick Snow, who spent the 2016–17 academic year as a visiting professor at Wabash, was appointed to the position four years ago. Since then, he has worked closely alongside professors Jeff Gower (PPE, philosophy) and Lorraine McCrary (political science) to build the program from scratch.

“I come from a PPE background, but I’ve learned so much over these last few years teaching,” says Snow. “I’ve really enjoyed learning from the students in their various projects and helping them develop research papers. They’re thinking about questions and topics I wouldn’t necessarily tackle on my own, which helps me to be a better, broader PPE professor.”

Snow says he’s grateful for the freedom and trust he’s been gifted throughout this journey in crafting the program.

“We need good infrastructure to be successful as an institution, and that includes the faculty and staff who work directly with students every day,” says Snow. “It feels good to be supported—by the Walshes, trustees, and our administration—in what we’re trying to do. If we didn’t have this kind of support and we set up the major and it exploded like it has, we couldn’t offer the kinds of classes that we do now.

“That trust is so important, and I’m thankful to be given so much of it early in my career at Wabash,” he concluded. “To know that they believe in my abilities and will continue to support me as the major grows is massive.”

Computer science professor Qixin Deng—one of several new educators to join the Wabash faculty in July—echoed Snow’s gratitude for the support given to him so early in his professional career.

In his first year of teaching, Deng has been awarded the title of Anne Korb Shane and David N. Shane Professor in the Liberal Arts, a professorship established in 2018 by emeritus trustee David Shane ’70 and his wife, Anne Korb Shane.

“When I first arrived for my on-campus interview, Wabash didn’t feel like any of the other institutions I had visited. I immediately felt like the College really cared,” says Deng, a University of Houston graduate from China. “Every faculty member in our department took the time to get to know me, I gave a teaching demonstration, and got to meet with students. I knew this was the environment I wanted to be a part of.

“Now that I am here and have received this professorship, it’s a great honor,” he continues. “It shows that the College believes I can be successful.”

Deng’s goal is to use funding from the endowment to purchase the most up-to-date equipment and software for his classroom and to sponsor several students interested in conducting computer science research.

“I want to do all I can to support my students,” he says.

“The students are at the center of Giant Steps,” Wysocki concludes. “I feel a lot of gratitude for all who remember our institution, believe in it, and support all of the people here.” Their philanthropy is what makes Wabash so special.”