Wedding anniversary gifts often focus exclusively on the couple and tend toward the transitory.
Not so for Nahrain Kamber ’01 and her husband Ralph Griffith. In August 2015, to celebrate the first anniversary of their 2014 marriage, the couple established the “Nahrain Kamber ’01 and Ralph Griffith Endowed Student Research Fellowship” at Kalamazoo College, a gift that not only expresses their love for each other, but also honors Nahrain’s gratitude to her alma mater and will benefit women science students at K in perpetuity.
The idea for the rather nontraditional first-year anniversary gift was Ralph’s. “I thought about the things that were most important to Nahrain,” he said. Each year, interest from the endowed principal will help students at K who are majoring in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) to conduct research in those areas, hopefully as early as possible in their undergraduate experience.
“My summer internships at K helped shape the trajectory of my career,” says Nahrain, a senior scientist and group leader in Dow Chemical Company’s Coating Materials Technical Service and Development Group. “I want to be a resource to any K student, but especially to the science majors and recipients of this endowment. I can provide career guidance as they navigate through STEM careers, where women tend to be underrepresented.”
At K Nahrain majored in chemistry. She originally planned a career in patent law. However, she worked the summer after her first year in the laboratory of her advisor and mentor, Professor of Chemistry Tom Smith.
“It was my first practical experience with chemistry beyond the classroom, and I loved it,” says Nahrain. And it changed the course of her undergraduate study and eventual career path.
During her time at K she developed her lab skills through internships, a summer undergraduate research residency (IBM Almaden Research Center, San Jose, Calif.) and a Senior Individualized Project in bioinorganic chemistry (Tom Smith was her supervisor).
At Stanford University, where she earned her Ph.D., she studied “the catalytic reactivity of organic molecules as enablers of controlled routes to produce new polymers (another name for plastics).” In 2005 she received an IBM Scholars Fellowship which she used to return to the Almaden Research Center in San Jose.
“Full circle,” she smiles. “Together, these academic and lab research experiences opened the door to my eventual career in polymer science, which is centered on the use of synthetic chemistry to produce and enable innovative new product research and development.”
Nahrain started work at Dow in 2007. She has developed several patents, written many papers and speaks frequently about her work at scientific conferences in the U.S. and abroad.
“What Nahrain and Ralph have done is inspirational,” says Executive Director of Development Andy Miller ’99. “It honors the value Nahrain attributes to her K education and supports her mission of encouraging young women to go into STEM disciplines.”
Adds Nahrain: “We’d love to see more alumni give back to K on behalf of purposes they find powerful or that were formative in their development at K and their success after K.” Endowed funds are a way to do just that, forever.
Nahrain certainly considers her and her husband’s gift a way of paying back, and forward. She always has felt grateful to the F.W. and Elsie L. Heyl Scholarship that she was awarded to attend K. She also believes in the importance of young women having opportunities in STEM subjects early in their schooling.
“For me,” says Nahrain, “Kalamazoo College was the most influential experience in my life. Without K, Stanford would have been unlikely. Without K, I doubt I’d be in my present career, which I love.”