Retired Pen State faculty Robert “Bob” and Peggy Schlegel couldn’t afford to hire a cleaning service and caterer every time a new faculty job candidate came to town. So, each year they did the cleaning and cooking themselves, carefully preparing their home over and over to host large receptions for their honored guests. It was a lot of work, but the couple did it gladly and with high hopes that the prospective scholars would choose Penn State to pursue their careers.
“We would have these amazing candidates,” said Peggy, a retired lecturer in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (BMB). “They would come to State College and love the town and the schools, and then somebody with bigger pockets like Harvard would snatch them away from us. We’d already invested in them financially and emotionally, and it was always disappointing to lose them.”
Not only did losing excellent prospective faculty members feel to the Schlegels like a personal loss, but it also was a loss for the department. As head of BMB for 17 years, Bob knows firsthand how important really good scientists are to a department. That’s why he and Peggy decided to establish the Robert and Peggy Schlegel Early Career Professorship in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Penn State to support young faculty members coming into BMB.
“Penn State is competing with other elite institutions to recruit the best faculty,” said Bob. “Early Career Professorships can help us attract high-caliber researchers and teachers to the University.”
In the Eberly College of Science, Early Career Professorships rotate every three years to a new recipient in the first decade of his or her academic career, providing seed money for innovative research projects and flexible funding for new approaches to teaching. “Before we established our Early Career Professorship, BMB did not have one of these faculty positions,” said Bob. “So with the availability of our endowed fund, the department can let people it is trying to recruit know how important they are and how much they are appreciated.”
The Schlegels said the professorship is their way of giving back to the department that gave them so much enjoyment during their careers. “We always wanted to do something meaningful for BMB,” said Bob, who more than doubled the size of the department and increased its external funding to the highest in the college.
“As department head, Bob Schlegel was an outstanding role model and a passionate sponsor and mentor, working effectively to promote my success and the success of many other early career faculty,” said Wendy Hanna-Rose, professor and head of biochemistry and molecular biology, who was recruited to Penn State by Bob. “I was privileged to play a role in realizing Bob and Peggy’s vision as the department successfully recruited Dr. Marina Feric, who will start in 2023 as the first holder of the Robert and Peggy Schlegel Early Career Professorship in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. I am personally and professionally thankful for Bob and Peggy and am thrilled to see that they will continue to impact the success of BMB through support of early career faculty.”
After more than 40 years at Penn State, the couple retired, Peggy in 2007 and Bob in 2009. In their retirement, they have been busy traveling the world, especially by boat; they are avid fans of boat travel, and their journeys have taken them through the Panama Canal, navigating a canal boat on the Erie Canal, down the Danube River, along the fjords of Norway, and circumventing the British Isles.
Meanwhile, Peggy stays busy as a jewelry maker and as an active volunteer for the American Association of University Women’s (AAUW’s) annual book sale, noting that women’s equality, which is the AAUW’s primary focus, is a cause about which she is passionate.
“Throughout history, women have often been treated unequally at universities,” she said. “For example, one of the first things women faculty members lobbied for at Penn State was bathrooms because not one of the University’s buildings had one for women. Even today, women continue to fight for equal pay and assistance with child care, among other topics.”
While Peggy assists the AAUW, Bob spends time traveling to even more global locales. With a high school friend, Bob took a 100-year-old steamer down the Amazon River and spent five weeks traveling by car overland through India, Bhutan, Nepal, and Tibet and taking a two-day train ride across the Tibet plateau down into China, where they volunteered at a panda preserve. Bob also enjoys riding his bike. Several years ago, at the age of 70, he and a former student, 35 years old, biked 330 miles from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., on the Great Allegheny Passage Rails to Trails and C&O Canal towpath, in five and a half days.
Bob and Peggy are avid Penn State women’s volleyball fans, and a few summers ago Bob took a trip to Brazil with the team when they played a series of matches there. Bob is also a Penn State wrestling fan, and after he retired he was finally able to attend the NCAA Wrestling tournaments every year.
With the record-breaking success of “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” which raised $2.2 billion from 2016 to 2022, philanthropy is helping to sustain the University’s tradition of education, research and service to communities across the Commonwealth and around the globe. Scholarships enable our institution to open doors and welcome students from every background, support for transformative experiences allows our students and faculty to fulfill their vast potential for leadership, and gifts toward discovery and excellence help us to serve and impact the world we share. To learn more about the impact of giving and the continuing need for support, please visit raise.psu.edu.