Gift from Sandra Murawski (PhD, ’87) celebrates inspirational teachers and mentors

Sandra Murawski (PhD, '87)

For Sandy Murawski, a 33-year career as a chemist at Procter & Gamble went by quickly.

“And I think it’s because I loved it,” said Murawski, who started her career at P&G after completing her PhD in Chemistry at Illinois in 1987.

Now retired and spending time volunteering and consulting, Murawski decided she wanted to give back to the educational institutions that prepared her for the career she enjoyed so much. And it was important to Murawski for her gift to support the teaching and mentoring of other Illinois chemistry graduate students.

She said she benefited from some great teachers and mentors throughout high school, college, graduate school and at P&G and believes that the importance of mentoring and teaching cannot be overestimated.

"So, I am happy to be able to play a role in celebrating and supporting mentoring and teaching, because I think it really makes a difference no matter where your career takes you,” Murawski said. “Whether it’s academia or industry or a government lab; whatever you decide to do, celebrating our teachers and mentors is a great thing to keep in mind.”

Her gift to Illinois chemistry supports the Dr. Sandra Murawski Award for Teaching Excellence and the Dr. Sandra Murawski Award for Mentoring Excellence. Both were awarded for the first time in the 2022-23 academic year.

Graduate student Amanda East, a 2022-23 Murawski mentoring award recipient, has guided the development of multiple researchers in Prof. Jefferson Chan’s chemistry lab. East said she loves facilitating learning opportunities for younger students.

Head shot of Amanda East in her graduation cap and gown.
Amanda East (PhD, '23) at the May 2023 chemistry Convocation ceremony.

“My previous research experiences were instrumental in my career development, and I’m happy to be able to provide such opportunities for others,” East said.

And graduate student Rachel Schaaf, a 2022-23 Murawski teaching award recipient who taught Elementary Organic II, said teaching allows her to share her love of chemistry with others.

“When a student finally understands a concept, the look on their face is so rewarding. Sharing chemistry with others is a privilege I am glad to have,” Schaaf said.

Murawski grew up in Milwaukee, Wisc., where her interest in chemistry began in high school when a teacher “lit the flame” by introducing her to applied chemistry.

“I was always interested in applied chemistry and how it could be used to solve problems,” said Murawski, who went on to Marquette University in Milwaukee where she majored in chemistry and had an advisor, who was another important mentor, whom she relied on for advice in choosing a graduate school. It was recommended she consider one of the Big 10 schools for graduate work.

Outdoor portrait of Rachel Schaaf standing in front of a bright pink flowering bush.
Rachel Schaaf, a graduate student in the Hergenrother group.

Murawski said she ultimately chose Illinois, partly because it was closer to home and had a number of professors doing “applied research, or research where you could see the practical application.”

She was also interested in instrumentation, which led her to join a research group in analytical chemistry and later joined the Rinehart group, where the multidisciplinary research approach proved to be a good experience.

“My graduate work at Illinois was great preparation. It’s at the seams of different disciplines that some really exciting discoveries take place. And I found that to be true at P&G as well, working with engineers and statisticians and life scientists was a lot of fun,” said Murawski, who spent most of her career supporting P&G’s beauty side of the business with her analytical chemistry knowledge.

“I've benefited from great teachers and mentors over the years, so I am happy to support excellence in teaching and mentoring at Illinois,” Murawski said.