They Believe in Science

By Regan Houser
April 4, 2014
Appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of
IUP Magazine

A $1.25-million gift from an alumni couple offers a powerful start for a new science building.

Alumni Advisors Formulate Brighter Future

Tim Cejka ’73 serves on a recently formed alumni advisory board for the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

“This is an exciting time for natural sciences and mathematics at IUP. The board members have invigorated our planning process, and, with their counsel, we are expanding our programs and student opportunities—and planning our new building,” said Deanne Snavely, dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. Snavely said the college is grateful for the support of the Cejkas and all of the alumni providing their expertise on the advisory board.

“We are creating an educational environment for students to explore, create, and innovate through team-based learning, interdisciplinary scientific research, and opportunities for students to interact with scientists around the nation and the world. With the board’s help, we’ll continue to change students’ lives through science and math, and our graduates will change the world as educators, scientists, and leaders.”

Other members of the science community who are advising IUP on the future of science are as follows:

  • Bonnie Harbison Anderson ’80, cofounder and CEO of Veracyte, a molecular diagnostics company that targets early cancer diagnosis
  • John Gilly ’79, director of the Vaccine Clinical Materials Program, SAIC-Frederick, Inc.
  • Esther Massung Kepplinger ’71, a biochemist who is a patent expert, currently serving as chief patent counselor for a Washington, D.C. law firm
  • John Kopchick ’72, M’75, Goll-Ohio Eminent Scholar and professor of molecular and cellular biology at Ohio University. He is the inventor of and holds the patent to Somavert, a drug that treats acromegaly.
  • William Madia ’69, M’71, vice president for the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford University and president of Madia & Associates, an energy consulting firm
  • Sue McMurdy ’78, former executive vice president and chief information officer of First Commonwealth Financial Corporation and the Pittsburgh Technology Council’s 2011 CIO of the Year
  • William Rusnack ’66, former president and chief executive officer of Premcor, Inc., one of the largest independent oil refiners in the US before its acquisition by Valero Energy Corporation in 2005
  • Elizabeth Latorre Travis ’65, Mattie Allen Fair Professor in Cancer Research and associate vice president for Women Faculty Programs at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

Tim and Deb Cejka referred to it as the “perfect storm,” but they meant it in a most positive way.

Tim Cejka, with his wife, Deb Phillips Cejka, at a party celebrating his retirement from ExxonMobil Exploration Company

Tim Cejka, with his wife, Deb Phillips Cejka, at a party celebrating his retirement from ExxonMobil Exploration Company

The Cejkas have provided a powerful start for a new science building at IUP by making a $1.25-million gift from their foundation.

“We’re both believers in the power of education,” said Tim Cejka, retired president of ExxonMobil Exploration Company.

Members of the Class of 1973 who split their time between Houston, Texas, and Latrobe, Westmoreland County, the Cejkas also share a firm respect for the power of science.

“Science is what funded my ability to go through the ranks and ultimately give this gift,” he said.

“One of our daughters is an engineer. The other is an elementary teacher who concentrates in science. You can say it runs in the family,” said Deb Cejka, who was known as Deb Phillips during her years as an English education major at IUP.

While the Cejkas have philanthropically supported IUP through the years, they said conditions seemed right to support the new building and to be the first ones in on a worthy project. Tim Cejka serves as a member of the university’s Natural Sciences and Mathematics Advisory Board, a group of some of the nation’s best science minds—who also just happen to be IUP alumni. Among the board’s tasks is providing guidance on what a modern science program needs to produce eventual leaders in the field. 

The couple started out making a commitment of $250,000 to the new facility, but after Cejka’s initial meeting with the board and representatives from the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, he and his wife chose to commit a million more.

Cejka discussed US energy policy in a Weyandt Hall classroom in 2012.

Cejka discussed US energy policy in a Weyandt Hall classroom in 2012. [Keith Boyer]

“The dean [Deanne Snavely] has an excellent vision. I agree with her when she says the future is about melding together interdisciplinary work to find solutions. Industry and the working world require it, and the new building will support that kind of learning,” he said.

“Look at coal mining, for example. Originally, geology and engineering were the science behind coal mining, but that’s not the case now—or hasn’t been for a while. Biology, chemistry, and safety all play a part in the industry. This is a complex world. You need to bring disciplines together to solve problems.”

He cited other reasons behind their inspiration, such as the fact that the United States has fallen behind other countries in science and math aptitude. And, he learned from previous experience with other charities, “you have to have gifts in hand before asking others for support.”

IUP is in the planning stages of a comprehensive campaign that will include seeking funds for, among other initiatives, the new science and math complex to replace some or all of Weyandt Hall—which Cejka noted looks much as it did when he graduated 41 years ago.

“During my meeting with the advisory board, I met with faculty members and the dean and some students,” he said. “I had dinner with a student named Dan [O’Hara]. He told me about all that he’d done so far, and it turns out to be more in one year than I did in four years. With a better facility, we’ll get more Dans to sign up.”

More from the Spring 2014 Issue of IUP Magazine

Living the Vision

Living the Vision

In need of a shared vision to guide its future, the university turned to the Journalism Department for help

Mission to Protect

Mission to Protect

Alumnus John Gilly is on a quest for vaccines to prevent some of the world’s most threatening diseases

Message from the President

IUP offers an excellent return on investment—for the students it serves and for the alumni who generously support the university.

Namedroppers | Achievements | Mentors

Photo Gallery | Letters to the Editor

Members for Life

Lasting bonds have been forged in IUP student groups and programs

Twice as Nice

Twenty-five years have passed since the gymnastics team’s mad dash to the podium marking its second straight national title

They Believe in Science

A $1.25-million gift from an alumni couple offers a powerful start for a new science building

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