Through a significant major gift, Michael McGrath ’71 and his wife, Kathryn, have funded the McGrath Professorship in Biology at Monmouth College. During the commencement ceremony in May, it was announced that the first holder of the endowed position is James Godde.
“It’s an honor,” said Godde, who was not present for the announcement, having departed earlier that day to lead a group of students on a biological research trip to Puerto Rico.
Criteria for selection of the holder of the McGrath Professorship includes excellence in teaching, excellence in research and scholarship – particularly research that includes students – and excellence in service, with a focus on improvements in student learning and engagement.
Godde certainly qualifies. The off-campus study in Puerto Rico was one of three such trips that the well-traveled professor scheduled for the summer. He also was part of the Off-Campus Learning Experience Program (OCLEP) in Cuba and, later this month, will lead four students to Borneo to research biodiversity. The first endowed professor in the biology department, Godde joined Monmouth’s faculty in 2001.
That was 30 years after McGrath completed his biology degree at Monmouth, studying under such professors as Ben Cooksey, John Ketterer and David Allison.
McGrath recalled spending the summer after his junior year conducting fieldwork at the college’s Mississippi River Field Station, under Ketterer’s direction. He said the experience was “very influential” in leading him to earn a master’s degree in limnology/ecology from Drake University.
McGrath chose Monmouth, in large part, for two reasons – it was not a large state university where he would be in classes with more than 100 students, and its Presbyterian affiliation.
“Coming out of high school, I was intelligent, but semi-motivated,” he said. “It took me a year or two to really find my way, but Monmouth’s biology professors helped me to understand that I had to work hard, to study hard and to learn all I could. I believe the liberal arts education I received at Monmouth helped me to understand the world better and have more depth.”
Another highlight of McGrath’s time at Monmouth was being on the ground floor of starting the college’s Zeta Beta Tau chapter. A “local” fraternity at first, the chapter sought a national affiliation, eventually whittling their choices to “three or four. Then we chose ZBT, and they chose us. … My involvement with ZBT was an important part of my character development.”
After putting his master’s degree to work with a job involving the certification of power plants to meet freshwater environmental regulations, McGrath switched courses, working in information technology. He was a systems analyst and consultant in Chicago – along the way earning an MBA with a concentration in finance – before moving to Pennsylvania in 2003.
The gift toward the professorship is not the first time that McGrath has contributed to his alma mater. He supports two students annually through the Michael J. McGrath ’71 Scholarship Fund, and was pleased to meet one of the recipients, May graduate Lindsey Zagar, on a recent visit to campus.
“Monmouth College made me who I am,” he replied, when asked about his willingness to support the college at such a high level. “I have the ability to pay back, and it’s time to pay back. I couldn’t have afforded Monmouth without the scholarship help I received. I’m happy that the scholarships have supported students who want to go there and who are qualified, but who need a little help.”
His most recent gift is even broader, helping not only biology students, but the entire campus community. Because they are not funded by the operating budget like other faculty positions, endowed professorships free up funding for other uses.
The gift fulfills part of a $12 million initiative to enhance active learning in the college’s current $75 million capital campaign. As of June 30, the campaign had booked $64.6 million in gifts and pledges.