New endowment in polymer science and polymer engineering to help University of Akron advance research, attract top talent with $3 million from Knight Foundation – Knight Foundation

New endowment in polymer science and polymer engineering to help University of Akron advance research, attract top talent with $3 million from Knight Foundation

Fund named for renowned surgeon W. Gerald Austen will establish the university’s largest endowed chair

AKRON, Ohio – Nov. 1, 2016 – The University of Akron today announced the creation of a $3 million endowment to further strengthen the university’s internationally recognized polymer research and attract world-class faculty. Funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the W. Gerald Austen Endowed Chair in Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering, recognizes the work of renowned cardiac and thoracic surgeon Dr. W. Gerald Austen and his contributions to the Akron community.

The University of Akron’s College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering builds on the legacy of Akron’s rubber and plastics industry. The college’s work focuses on the development, understanding and application of polymers, the molecules from which almost everything we use – from water bottles and tires to electronics and medical devices – are made.

“The impact of this support extends far beyond the campus to the greater Akron community and beyond,” said University of Akron President Matthew J. Wilson. “Ohio is home to the largest polymer industry cluster in America, and many Akron-area businesses are part of this industry. The polymer research made possible at the university by this endowment will benefit the region on many levels.”

Knight Foundation President Alberto Ibargüen joined Dr. Austen, University of Akron President. Wilson and other university officials today in Akron to announce the new support, which will establish the largest endowed chair at the university.

“Supporting the growth of The University of Akron—a center for learning and an anchor for the community—is essential to advancing the success of the city itself,” said Ibargüen. “This new endowment appropriately recognizes the contributions of Dr. W. Gerald Austen. Through it, we hope to honor his commitment to knowledge and his dedication to Akron’s future.”

Dr. Austen served on the Knight Foundation board of trustees for 24 years and as its board chair for 14 years. Both Jack and Jim Knight sought Dr. Austen’s medical guidance and he became their trusted friend.

University of Akron Professor Matthew Becker, Ph.D., has been named the first holder of the W. Gerald Austen Chair. Becker is a professor in the departments of Polymer Science and Biomedical Engineering. His research group focuses on applying polymer science to develop new medical devices and regenerative medicine applications. Becker’s team is supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and multiple industry contracts. It is currently sharing a $6 million grant from the U.S. Army with two other institutions to work on a bone regeneration project expected to lead to ground-breaking limb-salvage techniques.

Akron’s strength in polymers remains a key competitive advantage for The University of Akron and the city of Akron. Funding will allow the university to build on this reputation providing for salary and research in the College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering, a nationally recognized program of excellence.

“By helping the university keep and attract high quality research faculty, the endowment will benefit Akron as a whole—working to raise the profile of the program further so that top students bring their talent to Akron and help contribute to the city’s economic growth and development,” said Kyle Kutuchief, Knight Foundation program director for Akron.

“We’re appreciative that Knight Foundation has reaffirmed the significance of the university’s polymer program and especially the growth of efforts on biomedical materials,” said Eric Amis, Ph.D., dean of the College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering and vice provost for research at The University of Akron. “The selection of Dr. Becker as the first holder of the Austen Chair is an outstanding choice based on his groundbreaking work in these new frontiers of polymer research.”

“I am grateful the Knight Foundation has chosen to continue its support of The University of Akron and the greater Akron community in such a meaningful way,” said Austen, who received an honorary degree from University of Akron in 1980. “It’s a great legacy, and very humbling to have an endowed chair bear my name.”

Support for The University of Akron forms part of Knight Foundation’s efforts in Akron to attract and keep talented people, expand economic opportunity and create a culture of engagement. Since 2008 Knight has invested more than $58 million in Akron.

For more information on The University of Akron visit,

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit

About The University of Akron
The University of Akron is northeast Ohio’s most influential public research university, contributing to the resurgence of the local economy, providing a workforce highly trained in diverse disciplines, and known for an innovative approach to higher education. With more than 23,000 students and more than 300 associate, bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate and law degree programs, UA offers career-focused and experiential learning. From polymers and psychology, to engineering and integrated marketing communications, to education and choreography, UA brings together diverse disciplines in ways that provide students with life-long skills, internships and co-ops, opportunities for academic research, study abroad, on-campus student employment and service projects designed for diverse groups of learners, including full-time, part-time and online students, veterans, and adults returning to the classroom.


Wayne Hill, chief communications officer, The University of Akron, [email protected], 330-972-2148

Anusha Alikhan, Communications Director, Knight Foundation, [email protected], 305-908-2646