Edna Bennett Pierce pledged the gift through both personal funds and the C. Eugene Bennett Family Foundation, which is in memory of her late husband, C. Eugene Bennett, the WVU alumnus for whom the chemistry department is named.
“When Gene was a student at WVU, he lived in what was then the attic of the chemistry building. He was particularly fond of that building, so it seemed meaningful to donate the money to its renovation,” Pierce said. “I hope this gift allows the department to continue to be as great as I understand it is.”
R. Gregory Dunaway, dean of the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, said the support of the Bennett Family Foundation over the years has created endless opportunities for the WVU community.
“For more than two decades, the C. Eugene Bennett Family Foundation has made an invaluable impact on the education of West Virginia University’s students through its generous support of the C. Eugene Bennett Department of Chemistry. As dean of the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, I am extremely grateful for this most recent gift from the Bennett family,” Dunaway said.
“This new gift will provide support for much needed renovation and enhancement to our chemistry teaching laboratories which will allow for even greater learning opportunities for our students. The Eberly College of Arts and Sciences is very appreciative of the long-lasting and generous support from the C. Eugene Bennett Family Foundation, and particularly thankful to the entire Bennett family.”
Though final plans have not yet been made, use of the funds could entail possibilities such as the installation of new ventilation hood systems, an updated AV system that will allow instructors to display experimental and safety procedures, and new instruments that will enhance the hands-on experience for students.
“Each semester more than 2,000 students across many disciplines on the Morgantown campus take our general chemistry courses. The renovation project will have a positive and direct impact on the laboratory learning experience for these students,” Kung Wang, professor and chair of the chemistry department, said. “It will also greatly help with recruitment and retention of students and faculty at WVU.”
Before his untimely death in 1996, Gene Bennett had served several years on the Eberly College’s Visiting Committee. He was born in Rutherford, West Virginia in 1929, and graduated from WVU with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1949 and a master’s degree in 1951. After beginning his doctorate work at the Pennsylvania State University, he went on to earn a Ph.D. in analytic chemistry at the University of Michigan in 1954.
Bennett brought to the Eberly College’s Visiting Committee a varied perspective for its work since he had had a distinguished career as a research scientist with the Aeronautical Research Laboratories and then with E.I. duPont de Nemours & Co. In 1959, Bennett and two colleagues formed F&M Scientific Corp., which eventually merged with and became a division of Hewlett Packard Co. He left Hewlett Packard in 1968 to pursue various business ventures in the Wilmington, Delaware area.
While at Penn State, Bennett met Edna, a member of the “Famous 500,” the first class of women admitted to Penn State following World War II. Born in Rochester, Pennsylvania in 1932, she graduated from Beaver High School in 1949 and from Penn State in 1953 with a major in child development. The two married June 12, 1953, and have six children.
In 2012, Edna Bennett-Pierce was inducted into WVU’s Order of Vandalia, the highest honor given to those who have demonstrated their commitment to the mission of the University through their service and leadership. She currently resides in Wilmington, Delaware.
The Pierce and C. Bennett Family Foundation gift was made in conjunction with A State of Minds: The Campaign for West Virginia’s University. The $1 billion fundraising effort by the WVU Foundation on behalf of the University runs through December 2017.