Jump the navigation

A Gift to Whitman’s Chemistry Program Allows For Academic Growth

By Pam Moore

Mark Juhasz speaking with student.

At home in Seattle during his first year at Whitman, Jon Na ’23 told his parents, Limei Fan and Jay Na, that he was considering majoring in Chemistry. Fan was less than thrilled. “I really tried to pull him back. I told him, ‘Chemistry is really difficult,’ to which Jon said, ‘Chemistry is a difficult subject, but if it were easy, everyone would be a Chem major.’”

While Fan thought of Jon as a bright kid and a natural leader, she had watched his older sister struggle with organic chemistry in college and didn’t relish the prospect of a repeat experience. “As a parent, it’s hard to see them want to take on something that is clearly challenging,” she says

Now, three years later, Jon is a newly minted Whitman alum with a degree in Chemistry—and his parents have established the Fan-Na Family Chemistry Endowment. By investing in the Chemistry Department, the family aims to elevate Whitman’s status as a top-notch liberal arts college that boasts a stellar STEM program and to equip future graduates to solve the world’s most pressing problems in the process.

Joining the Whitman Community

Having moved from Boston to the Evergreen State in 1997, Fan and her husband were familiar with Whitman long before any of their three children were looking at colleges. “I heard of its reputation as a nice little liberal arts college in a remote village of a town,” says Fan.

When Jon narrowed his potential colleges down to about half a dozen, Fan was pleased to see Whitman on the list, if a bit disappointed that she’d failed to convince him to apply to any East Coast schools. “I guess I fed him too well. He doesn’t want to be too far from my cooking!” she jokes.

Every college he applied to offered him admission—but ever since Jon decided to become a Whittie, neither he nor his parents have ever looked back. From their first campus tour, Fan says their family has remained impressed with Whitman’s small class sizes, its status as a first-rate liberal arts college and Walla Walla’s appeal as a safe location easily reached from Seattle.

Stepping Up To Serve

Fan, the Senior Program Operations Director of the Infectious Disease Sciences Program at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, started volunteering on Whitman’s Parent Leadership Committee when Jon enrolled in 2019. More recently, she was invited to serve on the President’s Advisory Board, beginning a three-year term in 2022.

It was Jon’s Whitman experience that provided inspiration for funding a mentoring-focused endowment for Chemistry—particularly to support more long-term research efforts in the department.

“Those multiyear projects are how you grow and sustain a program,” she says. Given that only a handful of Jon’s classmates were fellow Chemistry majors, his parents hoped that increasing faculty-student research options would attract more students to the program and created the endowment to expand these valuable learning opportunities.

Elevating STEM

Fan and Na see their gift as not only supporting the Chemistry Department in achieving the goal of giving students the liberal arts education Whitman is known for but also providing the specific knowledge, skills and confidence to excel in STEM careers.

“We need to grow the lab programs to hopefully create a chain reaction where we can then offer more research options and also give students access to opportunities like internships and hands-on experiences in the lab,” says Fan. “We also need to support the professors so they have more time to mentor students as they work on real-world, multi-year research projects.”

Fan is confident that once momentum starts to build, Whitman will attract more students interested in chemistry, and over time, the school will further enhance its reputation for standout science curriculum.

We need to grow the lab programs to hopefully create a chain reaction where we can then offer more research options and also give students access to opportunities like internships and hands-on experiences in the lab.—Limei Fan

Why Chemistry

As an English major who went on to earn a master’s degree in History and an MBA, Fan did not understand Jon’s attraction to Chemistry. “Why chemistry?” she asked him. His answer stuck with her: “It helps to explain how everything works.” Not only is chemistry foundational to a STEM education, Fan feels a richer chemistry education will open up opportunities for students who can choose to pursue either medical school or Ph.D. programs.

Plus, we need people who can understand the details of films like “Oppenheimer.” After seeing the movie with her husband and son, Fan says, “I would have needed to watch the movie several more times to understand some of the technical concepts. But Jon was there to help, because physics, math and chemistry are so intertwined.”

Creating a Better Tomorrow

With the essentials of a solid liberal arts education, Fan feels Whitman students will be uniquely prepared to engage the needs of the world. “A liberal arts education is fundamentally about teaching people to be service minded, to be deeper thinkers, and to think about addressing climate change and building more peaceful communities.” Enhance that with a solid STEM education, and the sky is the limit, says Fan.

Unlikely to limit themselves to book learning or lab work for months on end, Fan foresees Whitman Chemistry students making innovations that will literally save the world. “I’m talking about having profound thoughts and making connections between now and the future, between me and other, between us and them,” she explains. “This is why I couldn’t help myself by getting more and more involved with Whitman. Call me Pollyanna, but that’s my impression of Whitman and I see the school moving quickly toward building an even stronger Chemistry program and distinguishing itself as a leader among its peers.”

Published on Nov 1, 2023
beaker duck hiker icon-a-to-z icon-arrow-circle-down icon-arrow-circle-up icon-arrow-down icon-arrow-left icon-arrow-right icon-arrow-up icon-calendar-no-circle icon-calendar icon-camera icon-clock icon-cv icon-dot icon-down-triangle icon-email-circle icon-email icon-external-link icon-facebook icon-flickr icon-generic-blog icon-google-plus icon-home icon-instagram icon-library icon-link-circle icon-link-inverted icon-linkedin icon-lock icon-magazine icon-map-pin icon-map2 icon-menu-hamburger icon-menu-mobile-a icon-menu-mobile-b icon-menu-x icon-mywhitman-cog icon-news icon-phone icon-pinterest icon-play icon-quote icon-search-a icon-search-b icon-search-mobile-a icon-search-mobile-b icon-share icon-snail-mail icon-tumblr icon-twitter icon-vimeo icon-youtube logo-whitman-nc-flat logo-whitman-nc-stacked logo-whitman-no-clocktower slider-category-arrow-2px slider-category-arrow-no-line slider-category-arrow-solid slider-category-arrow slider-category-line-2px slider-category-line-solid slider-category-line tc_icon-filmstrip-fl tc_icon-filmstrip-ln tc_icon-play-fl-closed tc_icon-play-fl-open tc_icon-play-ln-closed tc_icon-play-ln-open wifi