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Shoulders for Others: Summer 2018

John and Char Labay Kopchick

Char Labay Kopchick ’73 started her career as a special education teacher and eventually became assistant dean of students at Ohio University; John Kopchick ’72, M’75 serves the same university as the Goll-Ohio Eminent Scholar and a distinguished professor of molecular biology. He coinvented the drug Somavert, which combats a debilitating and often deadly condition called acromegaly.

Guests who attended the Celebration of Philanthropy at IUP in April were stunned when the Kopchicks announced their decision to commit $23 million to IUP’s Imagine Unlimited campaign. Their gift will benefit the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

“It’s student-centric,” John said that evening. “It’s for undergraduate and graduate student scholarships and awards. Additionally, it will provide funding for faculty and staff research endeavors. Finally, it will help with the new science building.”

To be constructed by 2022, the new science building will provide generations of IUP students many opportunities; however, John expressed some melancholy when he thought of Weyandt Hall, the science building to be demolished.

“I spent seven years of my life in that building—four as an undergraduate and three while getting my master’s degree under Dr. Richard Hartline. I slept there several nights. I basically lived there,” he said, noting that after his father was laid off from his mining job, he took a position as the Chemistry Department storeroom clerk. As a result, John saw his father every day.

Char said their decision to make the monumental gift centers on paying their success forward.

“Who are we? People always ask, ‘What’s your story?’ John and I were the first in our families to go to college,” she said. “We grew up not far from IUP in small coal mining towns. I grew up in Sagamore, and John started in Ernest, then his family moved to Indiana. Our grandfathers and our fathers were coal miners. Both of our mothers worked to help support our families.”

She gave credit to their families for instilling in both of them a strong work ethic, a pride in their heritage, and an appreciation of a good education.

“We got here by standing on the shoulders of others,” Char said. “First, it was our families, who encouraged us and made us recognize our full potential. Then, there was support from friends, university faculty and administrators, and alumni.”

Scholarships, Char said, fueled John’s PhD at the University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at MD Anderson Cancer Center.

“And, when he was offered his position at Ohio University, it was an endowed chair,” she said, noting that were it not for “alumni who paid it forward, we would not be able to do what we are doing for future generations of IUP students.”

“Our prosperity began right here at Indiana University of Pennsylvania,” she said. “We never imagined back in 1968 and 1969 what would be ahead of us. We want IUP students—some of them first generation—to imagine big. We want them to recognize their full potential and have all the possibilities an IUP education can bring. And as they start experiencing their success, we want them to remember where it all started.”

John said, “We don’t want to give back. We want to give forward.”

For more information about John’s research, refer to “Of Mice and Men,” the cover story of the summer 2017 edition of IUP Magazine.