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Brian and Gayle Hill

Undergraduate Research Leads Alumni to Success and Gratitude

Many factors can influence a college student’s career path. Whether it’s a special professor or an academic course or degree, we all have touch points that map our path.

One significant touch point on the career path for Brian Hill ’65 was the undergraduate research he performed as a student in the University of Idaho’s College of Science under the mentorship of Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, Jean’ne Shreeve. Shreeve has designed rocket fuels, experimented with most reactive element on Earth and taught hundreds of students during her 58 years with the University of Idaho Department of Chemistry.

“For my undergraduate research thesis project, I combined known compounds with unknown compounds to form new compounds,” Hill said. “These new compounds had the potential to be used in rocket fuels and other high energy needs. Some of this work was supported in part by a National Science Foundation Undergraduate Research grant, and it took several years to complete. By the time I had finished the project, I had the confidence to continue on to graduate school.”

After receiving his Ph.D. at Montana State University, Hill went on to work for 3M Company in its Central Research Laboratory Inorganic and Physics Group.

“Because I wanted to do new and interesting things, I spent the next 20 or so years working on and managing new product development and product commercialization,” he said. In his last role with 3M, Hill had the technical responsibly for Scotch® Tape and Post-it® products, as well as new product development for the commercial office market.

Hill’s experience with U of I undergraduate research not only enabled him to earn a Ph.D. that prepared him for his desired career, but it also influenced the way he gives back.

“As I began to realize how important undergraduate research experience was to the success my wife Gayle and I have had,” Hill said, “we decided that we would start a giving program to support undergraduate research.”

The result was the Brian and Gayle Hill Undergraduate Research Fellowship, which provides financial assistance to students in the College of Science to support their research projects.

“Gayle and I have increased our investment, which has expanded the fellowship from four to eight students,” Hill said. Hill Fellows receive support for 18 months and must choose a professor to work with. Every spring, Hill Fellows present their research findings to the Hills and the university community. “It’s the highlight of our year. Their enthusiasm and plans for further education is inspiring,” Hill said.

The Hills are also active participants in the U of I alumni community. Brian helped establish an active alumni chapter in Portland, Ore. He also started an alumni group in Minnesota, which led to his role on the U of I Alumni Association board of directors as vice president in 2003 and president from 2004 to 2005, where he worked on programs specific to student recruiting.

Gayle studied zoology at U of I for three years before completing her bachelor’s degree at Montana State University. Utilizing her undergraduate research experience and after she had completed her bachelor’s degree, she worked as a laboratory assistant at Montana State University while Brian attended graduate school.

Given their affinity for U of I, it made sense to the Hills to make a gift to the university in their wills, also. By giving back in this way, they will continue to provide financial support to students engaging in undergraduate research long after they are gone. 

“This is our way to continue supporting a very important experience,” Hill said. “It’s my wish that all U of I students will have the option to perform undergraduate research.”

As it did for the Hills, undergraduate research can provide touch points that influence a student’s path to success — whether that’s graduate school or entering the workforce. 

“We believe that the knowledge one learns in class is necessary to do research, but that having the confidence and thrill to apply the knowledge to new situations can only be learned by doing research,” Hill said. “Gayle and I support undergraduate research to give students the opportunity to try new things and to be successful in those endeavors.”

Article by Josh Nishimoto, University Advancement


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