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The University of Texas at San Antonio Online Magazine

Welch Chair

Welch Chair Signals Success

The search for a world-class researcher, holder of the first-ever Robert A. Welch Chair in Chemistry at UTSA, is well underway. Interviews to attract a distinguished chemist whose research and leadership will further advance the university’s ongoing drive to Tier One research status began this spring and is expected to culminate in an appointment next year.

Awarded last fall, the $1.5 million gift from the Houston-based Welch Foundation, along with the university and Texas Research Incentive Program (TRIP) funding, will create a $4.1 million endowment.

Having such a highly distinguished researcher join the faculty will raise the university’s profile and attract other top-level researchers, said Doug Frantz, assistant professor of chemistry, who is on the search committee.

“That person will not only turn heads toward San Antonio to find what we are trying to build here, but that person will also be a huge magnet who will attract younger faculty and even senior faculty as they see the commitment from UTSA and the [Welch Foundation] to attract the best and the brightest,” Frantz said. “If you hire a great quarterback to lead a football team, that person ends up being a poster child for that team. We look at this person as the quarterback.”

The award signals recognition of the department’s progress, said Waldemar Gorski, chair of the chemistry department.

Three Tier One universities in Texas each have at least three Welch chair professors, and the endowment represents the academic firepower and potential of their departments, said Gorski. Those Welch chairs have brought name recognition that makes hiring exceptional faculty easier because they elevate their respective fields within chemistry and craft highly respected research and educational programs, he added.

“Each one of those individuals has built a program around their expertise,” Frantz agreed. “Each one of these

people has transformed their department and has built a program of excellence in that area of chemistry.”

Gorski said he hopes having a Welch chair will lead to additional grants, which in turn will raise the level of research funding university-wide. That will help the department reach its goals of conducting high-level research and training the next generation of chemists for academic and industrial careers.

“If you hire a great quarterback to lead a football team, that person ends up being a poster child for that team. We look at this person as the quarterback. ”

Doug Frantz, assistant professor of chemistry

“The research funding helps bring students into our laboratories and train them through research, which is important for building a science-conscious society,” he said. “We hope that the Welch chair will have a positive synergistic effect on the quality of our research, collaborations and community outreach” which will lead to the department being one of the best in the state.

The hiring timeframe is open-ended to ensure a strong choice, but Franz said he hopes to have a selection made by the end of 2013. The search committee is particularly interested in candidates with research interests at the interface of chemistry and biology, an area of study that would foster a natural collaboration between UTSA, the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and Southwest Research Institute.

“We want to get the best person we can to get our department to the next level,” said George Perry, dean of the College of Sciences.

The endowed chair is currently the largest in the university.

“It is an incredibly exciting thing for us,” Perry said. “It will further transform the department to a Tier One chemistry program.”

Frantz hopes his own research in medicinal chemistry, drug discovery and regenerative medicine will benefit from having such a high-level researcher on the faculty.

“This person will be a mentor to me to allow my research to catapult to the next level,” he said.

The Welch Foundation primarily supports chemistry researchers. UTSA’s relationship with the organization began in 1993. Over time, foundation funding has grown to more than $5.8 million, supporting both individual researchers and the chemistry department, which has a total of 350 students enrolled in its bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs.

“Receiving a Welch chair is a sign of hard work and rising quality,” said Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs John Frederick. “We really look forward to someone of national and international stature to add to the department through this Welch endowed chair.”

Striving for Tier One means enhancing the quality of educational opportunities that the university can provide its students, Frederick said.

“The opportunities you provide for students are terrifically enhanced when you have strong, nationally prominent faculty here that they can learn from,” he said. “So the Welch chair really puts us in a position to greatly accelerate that process by bringing in a very strong international scholar.”

Frederick, a chemist, recalled the first-hand impact on his college experience made by the Welch Foundation.

“When I was a student in college, I came back to San Antonio and I ended up working during the summers in a chemistry research lab at UTSA and the professor that I worked for had a Welch grant,” he said. “And so my very first research experience was basically paid for by a Welch grant. I have some personal satisfaction in seeing that UTSA now has joined other universities in Texas by having a Welch chair.”

–Kate Hunger

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