Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Illinois

Stories of Giving

Ray and Beverly Mentzer support scholarships, faculty scholar

Thanks to the generosity of Ray and Beverly Mentzer, the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering is able to deliver superior training to the next generation of chemical engineering leaders. The Mentzers provide support for undergraduate scholarships and a faculty scholar position at Illinois.

Ray and Beverly Mentzer, chemical engineers from The Woodlands, Texas, decided several years ago to establish undergraduate scholarships in chemical engineering at universities where their family has roots. Illinois is one of those places. Ray Mentzer received his BS in Chemical Engineering from Illinois in 1974; he later attended graduate school at Purdue University, where he received his master’s and doctoral degrees in chemical engineering. He created the Dr. Ray A. Mentzer Scholarship Fund at Illinois in 2010.

mentzer-headshot
Dr. Ray A. Mentzer, retired ExxonMobil leader, now a chemical engineering educator

“We’ve been very fortunate and feel it appropriate to share for the benefit of others,” Ray Mentzer said. “With the rising cost of a college education and the continued shrinking of state support for higher education nationwide, there is clearly a growing gap and burden placed on students and their families to fund a college education. Funding undergraduate education enables us to assist in helping well deserving students pursue their dreams and keep America strong,” he said.

Throughout his 28-year career at ExxonMobil, Mentzer held numerous assignments, working in oil and gas facility design and operation, research, financial management, safety, health and environment, and public affairs. Before retiring in 2008, he was Global Safety, Health, Environment and Security manager. It was at ExxonMobil where he met his future wife, Beverly Mentzer, also a Chemical Engineer. Their work took them across the globe from Texas to New Orleans, London, Norway, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Qatar and many other countries. Beverly Mentzer spent 33 years at ExxonMobil in domestic and international engineering and managerial positions. Prior to retiring in 2012, she was the Gas & Facilities Technology Manager for ExxonMobil Upstream Research, during which she led the start-up of ExxonMobil Research Qatar.

Upon retirement from ExxonMobil, Ray Mentzer joined academia. First as a senior lecturer in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Texas A&M University. In addition to teaching senior-level courses such as Chemical Process Safety and Oil & Gas Processing, he led a series of graduate students engaged in process safety research projects, such as risk assessment and mitigation, liquefied natural gas (LNG) fire-related experiments and modeling, et al. During summers he occasionally taught chemical engineering at Tianjin University in China as part of a study abroad program, which he called “very enriching, enabling me to go beyond being a tourist in another culture.”

More recently, Ray was a visiting professor in the School of Chemical Engineering at Purdue University in the fall of 2016. He split his time between teaching a class of 170 seniors the required Chemical Process Safety course and overseeing the relatively new Purdue Process Safety and Assurance Center. The center is focused on fundamental, science based process safety related research addressing issues in a variety of industries. Industrial sponsors support several graduate students on such topics as optimal gas detector placement, synthesis of zeolite catalysts to minimize the production of undesired and unsafe byproducts.

Mentzer, who on his days off enjoys playing golf, said he believes a sound engineering education has been fundamental to his and Beverly’s careers. As a teacher, he encourages students to go beyond the classroom, seek leadership positions on campus, and pursue internships or co-ops to understand how classes are applied in industry, and to assess the work and cultures of various companies.

“I encourage students to be open-minded with their careers,” he said. “Today, business is very international, so consider having a study abroad opportunity while an undergraduate, and perhaps an overseas assignment during one’s career, as part of career development. This can lead to a very rewarding and fulfilling career.”

“While students need our support, it is also critical that we grow and retain top faculty.  Dwindling or uncertain state support can impact the retention of top quality faculty, which are sought after by other top schools,” he said. “Thinking back, I’m astounded at the number of existing or future National Academy of Engineering scholars that taught me chemical engineering at the U of I. Big names in the field! And, that heritage needs to continue. Thus we also felt it appropriate to create a faculty scholar position to help support key faculty.”

In 2015, Associate Professor Charles Schroeder was named the Ray and Beverly Mentzer Faculty Scholar.

Dr. Charles M. Schroeder, Associate Professor and Ray and Beverly Mentzer Faculty Scholar
Dr. Charles M. Schroeder, Associate Professor and Ray and Beverly Mentzer Faculty Scholar

Since joining the department as an assistant professor in 2008, Dr. Schroeder has established a successful research program at Illinois, focused on the study of physical, chemical, and biological phenomena at the single molecule level, an area known as molecular engineering. His research focuses on the dynamics of soft materials, including polymers with complex architectures and macromolecular self-assembly, in order to bridge the gap between molecular phenomena and bulk-scale behavior in complex fluids. His work also focuses on biophysics and single molecule fluorescence imaging to unravel the function of proteins and biomolecules at the molecular level. He received his BS from Carnegie Mellon and his PhD from Stanford University.