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A Professor Gives Back to Chemistry

Chemistry Professor Emeritus and scholarship donor Carl Bumgardner with family and friends
Carl Bumgardner, center with red tie, was joined by friends and family at a 2017 celebration of his new scholarship for chemistry students.

If you had a chemistry class with Carl Bumgardner, you were invited to his house during the holidays. It didn’t matter if your class had 15 students or 250 students. This was a big chemistry family; everybody was invited.

The first year Bumgardner taught one of those big classes, he wondered aloud to his wife, Ann, whether it would be practical to invite so many people to their Raleigh home.

“Those people in the big class,” Ann replied. “They really need it more than those people in the small class.”

It was that generous spirit that prompted Bumgardner, now a professor emeritus of chemistry at NC State, to establish a scholarship endowment to benefit students in the Department of Chemistry. The Ann Bumgardner and Myrtle Bumgardner Scholarship supports juniors or seniors pursuing a chemistry degree, with first preference given to students from Gaston County near Charlotte, where Bumgardner grew up.

The scholarship honors Ann, Bumgardner’s late wife of 58 years, and his sister, Myrtle, who raised him from a young age and instilled in him an appreciation of education and a thirst for learning.

“I think it indicates that you believe in the future and that you’re optimistic about it,” Bumgardner said of the scholarship.

Bumgardner grew up in Belmont, NC, and eventually went into the U.S. Navy where he served as a Japanese translator and interpreter. He received his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Toronto in 1952 and his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from MIT in 1956.

He came to NC State in 1964 to help launch the university’s new graduate program in chemistry. He quickly established himself as a star on the faculty, becoming the Department of Chemistry’s first recipient of a National Science Foundation grant for chemical research. In 1973, he began a nine-year tenure as department head. He was also elected to NC State’s Academy of Outstanding Teachers and was one of two faculty from the department recognized by the NC State Alumni Association as having an enduring impact on an alumnus.

He was a favorite of students. In a 2005 story in The Bulletin, NC State’s faculty and staff newsletter, a student reviewing the class was quoted as writing, “You made the class fun, interesting, and reduced the horror of organic chemistry considerably.” Bumgardner was 80 years old at the time, and earlier that year he celebrated his 80th semester of teaching at NC State.

Now, Bumgardner’s scholarship is helping to train the next generation of groundbreaking chemists. At last year’s College of Sciences Donor Recognition Dinner, Bumgardner met the scholarship holder, Matthew Peskzo, who went on to graduate school at Harvard University.

“Future generations may not know the names on the scholarship,” Bumgardner said. “But they’ll know they received some help, maybe at a crucial time.”

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