Barry McNamara  |   Published February 08, 2016

Chemistry gift

Kenneth and Judith Knox Chemistry Program Fund to benefit department
Kenneth Knox of Gurnee, Ill., a 1962 graduate of Monmouth College, and his wife, Judith, have established a new departmental fund at his alma mater.

The Kenneth and Judith Knox Chemistry Program Fund will support Monmouth students with an interest in chemistry through summer research, educational trips and retreats. Through the fund, the department plans to take an additional student to the national meeting of the American Chemical Society and provide additional support for a summer research student. Field trips to explore industrial job opportunities at such companies as Sigma-Aldrich, Monsanto and Grain Processing Corp. can now be extended to two days.

“After touring the new science building, meeting some of the professors and learning of the varied types of independent research being done, we wanted to lend support to this very proactive department,” said Knox. “That visit to Monmouth is how this fund originated. It is our hope that this will enrich the education of any students benefiting from this program. Perhaps, in the future, they will have the means and the desire to do something similar for other students.”

While studying chemistry at Monmouth under such legendary professors as Garrett Thiessen and Ben Shawver, Knox wasn’t sure if he wanted to take the path into industry or go into teaching. He covered his bases by minoring in mathematics, physics and education, while also benefitting from the courses he took in the humanities, especially a course in logic.

“Those courses outside of science were as helpful to me in business as the degree I received in chemistry,” said Knox, who also was a wrestler and a member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. “Obviously, I highly value the degree as well as the experience I received at Monmouth College. I not only got a degree in chemistry, but I was well-rounded in Monmouth’s liberal arts program, which formed an excellent base for my MBA from Loyola University.”

Knox fully appreciates what Monmouth is doing today with its intentional integration of science and business, noting, “No matter how good the science is, you’ve still got to sell ideas and relate your science to the business world. For some scientists, ‘selling’ is almost a repulsive term, but we all have to sell ourselves to get the money for the research we need to do. So I think one of the biggest things that students who are going into the sciences need to know is that you need to be pretty well-rounded. Being more diverse is a big advantage. You have to be able to get two very different kinds of people talking to each other.”

Knox said his daughter, who studied architecture, had a similar experience.

“The point her adviser made was that architecture is not just the ability to draw pretty pictures. He told her, ‘We’ll teach you those techniques.’ But what the adviser stressed is the value of being able to sell architectural ideas to a customer. You’ve got to be able to talk his language, and I found that is true in the sciences, too. You need to be more than a scientist.”

That was the case during Knox’s four decades at Abbott Laboratories, where one of his career highlights came as the design manager for the Hospital Products Division. Starting in the 1980s, he was able to lead a team that changed the way intravenous (IV) feeding and solution containers were made.

“The base design is still what’s being used today,” he said, noting that Pfizer now owns the design after purchasing a company that spun off of Abbott. “It makes me feel good to go into hospitals and look at the IV dispensing systems we created 30 years ago and see that they’re still functional.”

Being able to point to a concrete accomplishment such as the IV containers is the main reason why Knox ventured into an engineering career, rather than pure science.

“It just suited my particular personality more to be able to have deadlines to build something, and to get it done,” said Knox, who earned his MBA in project management several years after graduating from Monmouth. “I gravitated toward that. Working in pure science, you might complete an experiment, but six different questions arise that need to be dealt with. You never get done.”

Concluded Knox, “The diverse education I received at Monmouth College was a huge advantage in my career, and Judith and I hope the new endowment fund will stimulate a little more depth for the chemistry department.”
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