NatSci Profiles

The challenges facing society in the 21st century are complex.

In true Spartan fashion, the extraordinary individuals and groups that comprise the MSU College of Natural Science (NatSci) family – faculty members, staff members, students and alumni – are hard at work every day, making a difference in their classrooms, labs, businesses, communities and the world around them. In an effort to tell their stories, we've created this collection of profiles to feature people in our NatSci family and how they are contributing to the common good in ways both big and small. SPARTANS WILL.


David Taft: "Good Chemistry" in life and career
David Taft: "Good Chemistry" in life and career

Completing his Ph.D. in chemistry at MSU in 1963, David Taft embarked on distinguished career in the specialty chemical industry that spanned nearly five decades.  In appreciation for the indepth graduate education he received at MSU, Taft and his wife, Sara, funded an endowment to support graduate fellowships in organic chemistry.

Thomas Taylor: Giving students a broader view of geosciences
Thomas Taylor: Giving students a broader view of geosciences

Thomas Taylor (M.S., geology, 79; Ph.D., geology, ’82) remembers how much he benefitted from visiting professors when he was in graduate school. So Taylor and his wife, Margo Sackheim, decided to establish the Thomas R. Taylor and Margo Sackheim Geological Sciences Lecture Endowment to give current students that same chance to exchange ideas with experts.

Laurie and Joe Thorp:  The pull of the Earth--A father's gift paid forward
Laurie and Joe Thorp: The pull of the Earth--A father's gift paid forward

Laurie Thorp credits her father with instilling in her a passion for gardening and a deep love of the land and nature, and has combined this love with her commitment to undergraduate education at MSU and the importance of experiential learning for student development. Her husband, Joe, also firmly believes in the value of the land grant mission and its transformative impact on students and the world. This commitment and belief has compelled the couple to make a gift in support of undergraduate education.

Chris and Michelle (Tombro) Tracy: Proud to support some of the world's great minds
Chris and Michelle (Tombro) Tracy: Proud to support some of the world's great minds

Living on the shores of Gull Lake in Richland, Mich., Chris Tracy (B.A., James Madison College/political theory, ’90) and his family can look across the water and practically see how their contributions to Michigan State University are making a difference. The Tracy family lives across the lake from the Kellogg Biological Station, which they support with both money and time.

Dan Van Haften: $1 million alumnus gift creates deductive literacy professorship
Dan Van Haften: $1 million alumnus gift creates deductive literacy professorship

Just one day into retirement, Daniel (Dan) Van Haften found himself knee-deep in research at his local library on an unusual topic. He wanted to decode how an ancient Greek mathematical text had influenced Abraham Lincoln.

Four published books and 10 years later, what Van Haften undertook that day became a second career. Now, it is shaping an endowed professorship in deductive literacy at MSU, which Van Haften recently established with a $1 million gift to the MSU College of Natural Science’s Department of Mathematics.

Roger Wolthuis: The kismet of cold calls
Roger Wolthuis: The kismet of cold calls

Roger Wolthuis (M.S., physiology, ’65; Ph.D., physiology, ’68) knew he wanted to be in a medical profession but just wasn’t sure what would be the best fit for him -- medical school or a related discipline. A cold call from a MSU physiology professor who studied cardiovascular physiology and was looking for a grad student to help him sounded interesting, so he enrolled at MSU to do his master’s degree. The decision proved to be a winner.

John Woollam: Giving back to help others build careers
John Woollam: Giving back to help others build careers

About 50 years ago, MSU Professor Peter A. Schroeder had a profound impact on a particular graduate student. Now, he wants to pay it forward to students who are following in his footsteps. John Woollam (M.S., physics, '63; Ph.D., solid state physics, '67), a George Holmes Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, established the Peter A. Schroeder Physics Fellowship Fund to honor Schroeder and to help students build their careers.

Phil Zecher: Giving the university the flexibility to stay current
Phil Zecher: Giving the university the flexibility to stay current

Phil Zecher (Ph.D., nuclear physics, ’96) and his wife, Clare, a former hedge fund CFO, have been donating to MSU since 2005. They are President’s Club members and he is also a College of Natural Science Capital Campaign volunteer. “I don’t think I would have done the things I’ve done without my MSU education,” Phil said. “Contributions give the university the flexibility to stay current and do new things.”