Scholars & Stewards: Bayer Group Is Generous Funder of STEM Education Initiatives at Pitt

Issue Date: 
March 19, 2012
From left, Haitao Liu, an assistant professor in Pitt’s Department of Chemistry, and Hyo Jeong Kim, a Bayer Graduate Fellow.From left, Haitao Liu, an assistant professor in Pitt’s Department of Chemistry, and Hyo Jeong Kim, a Bayer Graduate Fellow.

The Bayer Group is generously supporting the University of Pittsburgh’s programs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.

Among the many contributions that Bayer—a global health care, nutrition, and high-tech materials company—has made to Pitt’s STEM programs is a recent $276,520 grant from the Bayer USA Foundation to fund the Bayer Graduate Fellowship, which directly supports graduate students in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Chemistry. The fellowships are part of a larger commitment that Bayer has made to provide 50 internships for students from various universities in STEM-related fields in 2012.

Bayer, which defines its mission as “Science for a Better Life,” sponsors a number of programs nationwide to improve science education. Its Making Science Make Sense program—created 15 years ago to advance science literacy through hands-on, inquiry-based learning, employee volunteerism, and public education—includes several partnerships with schools in Southwestern Pennsylvania. In 2010, Bayer became one of 100 companies that signed on to Change the Equation, an effort championed by the Obama Administration to help improve STEM education.

Karl Haider, a research fellow with the New Technologies group at Bayer, says, “We are fortunate to be headquartered in Pittsburgh, where there are so many great university programs in polymer and materials science—including Pitt’s chemistry and engineering departments.”

While all 200 doctoral candidates in Pitt’s graduate program in chemistry receive stipends as teaching or research assistants, being selected a Bayer Graduate Fellow benefits both the student and the department. Bayer fellows receive financial support for as many as six semesters, enabling them to concentrate on their research studies. Also, funds targeted by their research advisor to support these Bayer Fellowship recipients can be redirected to other aspects of their programs.

“The Bayer Fellowship helps us recruit highly qualified applicants to the program,” said Jay Auses, assistant chair in Pitt’s Department of Chemistry. “It also allows us to provide the recipients with a secure funding source, and that helps faculty researchers who otherwise must pay for graduate research assistants from their own funding,” he added.

During the fall and spring terms, Pitt’s chemistry department teaches more than 4,000 undergraduates in the Dietrich School, the School of Nursing, and the Swanson School of Engineering. Bayer Graduate Fellow Hyo Jeong Kim was required to teach—like all first-year graduate students—during her first term, in the fall of 2011. As the recipient of a Bayer Graduate Fellowship, Kim will not be required to teach in the spring term, so she can devote more time to research. She plans to work with Haitao Liu, an assistant professor whose research group focuses on the physical and synthetic chemistries of nanomaterials.

Haider said that corporate research and development operations rely more heavily now upon their collaborations with top University research programs than before.

“You need both,” Haider said, because the new concepts often stem from university labs, but corporate scientists must translate the idea or technology into a commercial application.

Bayer also values the networking opportunities provided by its association with its university partners. “We need to support STEM programs in order to help develop the future workforce,” said Haider.

Bayer offers internship opportunities to fellows. In addition, the company funds endowed professorships in Pitt’s chemistry department and the Swanson School’s Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. Bayer has sponsored the Bayer Lecture Series in the chemical and petroleum engineering departments as well as the chemistry department at Pitt. The chemistry department’s lecture series has hosted prominent chemists, including seven winners of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.