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Gift from Clarkson University Alumni Couple Creates New Physics Professorship

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A generous gift from a Clarkson University alumni couple has enabled the University to create the Karel K. Czanderna ’77 and W. Dan Shirkey ’80 Professorship in Physics.

Karel K. Czanderna and W. Dan ShirkeyKarel K. Czanderna and W. Dan Shirkey of Perrysburg, Ohio, have funded the position to help ensure excellence in research, student advising, teaching, and service within the Department of Physics at Clarkson.

The daughter of Alvin Czanderna, a physics faculty member at Clarkson from 1965 to 1978, Karel Czanderna grew up in Potsdam. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in physics at Clarkson in 1977, she received her Ph.D. in materials science and engineering at Cornell University.

Dan Shirkey also has a bachelor’s degree in physics, which he earned at SUNY Brockport. He met Karel when he arrived at Clarkson for his master’s degree, which he completed in 1980. He later earned an MBA at Cornell. Dan and Karel married in 1985 at the top of Mt. Jo, above Heart Lake in the Adirondack Mountains near Lake Placid, surrounded by family, Clarkson friends, faculty mentors and other close friends.

"Our motivation for creating this professorship comes from our experience as students with outstanding professors in the Physics Department,” says Czanderna, vice chair of the Clarkson board of trustees. “For me it was Prof. Herb Helbig. He was always busy with his research and course teaching. Yet, he was very accessible to students. He worked hard, but would always allow students to stop by with questions or when we needed to talk. And of course, my dad was a wonderful faculty role model for me, encouraging students, faculty and staff to maximize their potential.”

Shirkey agrees that his experience at Clarkson with Professor Peter McNulty was a pivotal factor in his decision to invest in current Physics faculty. “Dr. McNulty was a brilliant researcher who also was an unsurpassed thesis advisor. He was approachable for graduate students. He helped open doors and create opportunities for students entering their professional lives,” says Shirkey.

McNulty, who went on to chair the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Clemson University for 13 years, says, “It’s a pleasure to hear of Dan and Karel’s commitment at Clarkson. I enjoyed working with Dan when I was there. He was bright and creative. I believed that helping him with new opportunities would mean the application of physics to benefit the world. I remember Karel, as well, as a remarkable student.”

The Karel K. Czanderna ’77 and W. Dan Shirkey ’80 Professorship in Physics will be awarded to recruit and/or retain a faculty member in the Department of Physics at Clarkson who collaborates with other faculty in the sciences and engineering.

“Karel and Dan have remained connected to Clarkson since they were students,” says Clarkson President Tony Collins. “Their recollection of the impact that faculty members had in their lives demonstrates that investing in the excellence of our faculty ultimately yields benefits that reach far from campus and into the global economy. A strong Physics Department is critical at this technology-based institution. All branches of science and engineering are built on a physics foundation and, as a result, students need to gain a thorough understanding of the discipline. Attracting and retaining top-tier physics faculty is a singular priority at Clarkson.”

Clarkson University launches leaders into the global economy. One in five alumni already leads as a CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. Located just outside the Adirondack Park in Potsdam, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university for undergraduates with select graduate programs in signature areas of academic excellence directed toward the world’s pressing issues. Through 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, sciences and health sciences, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo, and connect discovery and engineering innovation with enterprise.

Photo caption: A generous gift from a Clarkson University alumni couple has enabled the University to create the Karel K. Czanderna ’77 and W. Dan Shirkey ’80 Professorship in Physics. Left to right: Czanderna and Shirkey.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Annie Harrison, Director of Media Relations, at 315-268-6764 or]

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