C. John ’64 and Kathryn O. Umbarger created the C. John and Kathryn Umbarger Physics Fund at Michigan Technological University. The annual fund provides financial support to Michigan Tech’s Department of Physics for undergraduate and graduate student projects and research.
A Giving Tradition Since 1988
Giving directly to the Michigan Tech physics program is nothing new for the Umbargers. They have been doing so since 1988. In fact, supporting education and learning is something near and dear to the Umbargers. John believes, “It doesn’t matter where you start but what you do in life. With learning and an education, you can do just about anything.”
“Thanks to my Michigan Tech education, I was fortunate enough to meet the love of my life, embark on a terrific career, and start and nurture a terrific family,” John said. “Both Kathy and I have been blessed. We have a sound financial footing, and we want to help Michigan Tech students embark on a similar journey. We hope and encourage other Tech graduates to consider doing the same.”
Physics Advocates Create Opportunities
“Kathy and John have been strong advocates of the physics program at Michigan Tech and provided generous support for the undergraduate research fellowships over the past years,” said Dr. Ravindra Pandey, Department Chair and Professor of Physics. “We are excited for the tremendous opportunities our students get to apply their learning in the lab, practice skills and acquire knowledge that will help them on their future journey and career.”
The fund enables projects like Breanna Patz’s “Ultralight Sunflower Starshade Structural Design – NASA challenge” under the guidance of faculty advisor Dr. Jacek Borysow. Breanna is working to develop a sunshade that helps those using ground-based telescopes to get an unobstructed view of exoplanets by blocking out the light of stars. As a result, observers can better see the light reflected by a planet and understand the features (e.g., oceans, land masses, atmosphere) of that planet. NASA’s challenge is to create a deployable sunshade for use in space.
Benj Sloma’s work under the guidance of faculty advisor Claudio Mazzoleni is another example. ”Use of Dynamic Photoacoustic Spectroscopy to Measure Light Absorbance of Aerosols” helps researchers to study particles containing black carbon (BC) produced during incomplete combustion and their interactions with clouds. “We could not offer opportunities like these to students without the generosity of donors like the Umbargers,” said Pandey.
Umbargers Pay It Forward
Paying it forward is a common theme for the Umbargers. “We had teachers and educators that made positive impacts on our lives. It’s important for us to pay it forward and give the next generation the same opportunities we had. Plus it is energizing to talk and work with young people,” he said.
How else has John been paying it forward? He teaches classes each week to 12-13 students in the Benton and Franklin Counties Juvenile Justice Center; a role he started in the late ’90s. He founded the Tri-Cities Crystal Apple Awards program, recognizing local teachers. And John just retired from the Pasco School District Vocational Program Board, which he initiated in 1997. This self-funding program enables students to build homes (23 were built in 25 years) to be sold on the open market, teaching valuable skills to hundreds of students. These and countless other examples of community work earned him recognition as Tri-Citian of the Year in 2010.
John has a bachelor’s degree in physics, a master’s in management, a doctorate in nuclear physics, and served two post-doctoral fellowships. He holds five U.S. patents and was employed at Los Alamos National Laboratory until 1997, spending 26 years with the Department of Energy lab. John and Kathy moved to Washington state in 1997, where John took a job with Fluor Hanford in economic development and community programs. He retired in 2008.