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Eberly Impact: The Eberly Family Chairs

10 March 2021
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As part of the Eberly Family Charitable Trust’s $10 million gift to the college in 1986, a named faculty chair was established in each of the college’s then eight departments—the first time in the history of higher education philanthropy that an academic college received, in a single gift, an endowed chair for each of its departments. This historic and unique gift has enabled the college to recruit, recognize, and retain faculty members of international renown, who in turn generate high levels of funding for cutting-edge research and attract top graduate and undergraduate students.

“The generous gift from the Eberly family has allowed the college to recognize outstanding researchers,” said Tracy Langkilde, Verne M. Willaman Dean of the Eberly College of Science. “In doing so, we are able to elevate the reputation of the Eberly College of Science and each of its departments. This gift has facilitated new, important, and interdisciplinary research.” 

In addition to attracting noteworthy scientists, including eminent statistician and inaugural Holder of the Eberly Family Chair in Statistics C.R. Rao (see Celebrating the 100th Birthday of Professor Emeritus and Eminent Statistician C.R. Rao), the named chairs have provided a way for the college to recognize its most productive researchers. Emeritus Holder of Eberly Family Chair in Astronomy and Astrophysics Peter I. Mészáros acknowledged the “prestige it confers upon the recipient.” Alberto Bressan, Holder of the Eberly Family Chair in Mathematics, adds that holding an Eberly Chair brings a scientist in a University position an “important element of satisfaction to see that his or her position matches the recognition achieved at an international level.”

Holders of the Eberly Family Chairs also value the support for their research efforts, especially in terms of the flexibility they provide. Because the funds are not restricted to one particular use or research project, holders have used them to pursue new research directions, foster international collaborations, and support postdoctoral researchers and graduate students.

“Flexibility associated with the Eberly funds has been vital for my research since I assumed the chair some 25 years ago,” said Abhay Ashtekar, Holder of the Eberly Family Chair in Physics. “While grants I have had from the National Science Foundation and also some private foundations were awarded for specific research projects, Eberly funds, on the other hand, could be used to explore new ideas for future research, to rapidly build collaborations as unforeseen intellectual opportunities arose, and to hire students and postdocs to explore new directions."

Over the last 30 years, the college’s more than 14 Holders of the Eberly Family Chairs have left a profound and lasting impact on the college, their departments, and their colleagues and students. 

“The Eberly Chairs within the Department of Chemistry have been role models for excellence within the department,” said Phil Bevilacqua, head of the Department of Chemistry. “They have helped elevate the profile of the department through their outstanding research as well as helping us hire and retain the very best faculty. We are grateful to the Eberly family for their generous gifts.”

Péter Mészáros_Einstein Professorship

“I am extremely grateful for the generous support of the Eberly Family Foundation, whose flexibility leverages and enhances the funding provided by federal agencies. This makes it possible for me and my group to carry out an interdisciplinary research effort of international reach and impact, and to train a new generation of high-quality scientists.”

Peter I. Mészáros, Emeritus Holder of Eberly Family Chair in Astronomy and Astrophysics

Alberto Bressan Elected to the Royal Norwegian Society of Sciences and Letters

“Research in mathematics does not require expensive labs. Beyond pencil and paper, a laptop usually suffices. Holding an Eberly Chair makes a difference in my ability to connect with other researchers around the world. I have also allocated funds to reduce the teaching load of my graduate students, allowing them more time to focus on research, and to hire a few carefully chosen postdocs.”

Alberto Bressan, Holder of the Eberly Family Chair in Mathematics

Squire J. Booker

“I have been using funds from the Eberly Family Chair endowment to support undergraduate research and training in my laboratory as well as to participate in scientific meetings. This honor means a great deal to me, to the Eberly College of Science, and to Penn State.”

Squire Booker, Holder of the Eberly Family Distinguished Chair in Science 

Stephen Benkovic Awarded the 2011 National Academy of Sciences Award in Chemical Sciences

“Funds from the Chair endowment have continued to seed various research projects in my lab for approximately three decades. This work would not have been funded by traditional agencies because of its speculative and risky nature.”

Stephen Benkovic, Evan Pugh Professor and Holder of the Eberly Family Chair in Chemistry