Donor’s gifts make big impact on chemical engineering students and researchers

Dorothy Szymaszek

Donor Dorothy Szymaszek on a visit to BioZone, June 23, 2015. (Photo: Deirdre Gomes)

Dorothy Szymaszek never attended the University of Toronto but her husband, J. Walter Szymaszek (ChemE 4T3), had an affection for his alma mater that was contagious.

“He always had a soft spot for the University,” Dorothy said. “Our first date was to the University. He took me around campus and showed me the Little Red School House and Hart House. I became interested in U of T, too.”

Since Walter’s passing in 2009, Dorothy’s interest in U of T blossomed into three generous gifts for the Department of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry.

In 2010, she pledged a gift to name the Jan Walter Szymaszek Conference Room in BioZone; she pioneered the Dorothy Meldrum Szymaszek Student Exchange Fund with a gift in 2014 to support chemical engineering students pursuing studies or research at an accredited Scottish university; and she established the Jan Walter Szymaszek Chemical Engineering Award — a gift matched through the University’s Boundless campaign — in 2015 to support undergraduate chemical engineering students in financial need.

“Dorothy has really been a friend to Chemical Engineering here at the University of Toronto,” said Grant Allen, professor and department chair. “The entire department is grateful to her for her investment in our future chemical engineers.”

Dorothy showed tremendous leadership in supporting the construction of the BioZone research hub very early on in the project. Her appreciation of the centre’s importance and potential impact on environmentally focused chemical engineering continues to animate BioZone team.

Her love of her homeland, Scotland, also informs her giving. As a result of Dorothy’s exchange fund, Madhushan Perera (Year 4 ChemE + PEY), the second-ever recipient of the Dorothy Meldrum Szymaszek Student Exchange Fund, was able to spend this summer at the University of Strathclyde, in Glasgow, UK. He worked in the chemical and process engineering department, testing the ability of a porous compound to absorb carbon dioxide.

“I always wanted to visit Scotland, and the University of Strathclyde is known for its research in engineering,” he said. “I got to learn and experience a new culture, see how another University operates, and get first-hand research experience with a reputable institution. I would definitely recommend this experience to other students.”

Perera emphasized that without the Dorothy’s scholarship, he would never have been able to participate in the exchange.

Dorothy first arrived in Canada from Perth, Scotland in 1956 to work as a medical lab technologist at the Greater Niagara General Hospital in Niagara Falls, Ont. She initially planned to live in Canada for a couple of years but met her husband and decided to stay in North America. She currently lives in Colonie, N.Y.

After graduating from U of T Engineering, Walter worked at Norton Co. The Chippawa, Ont.-based abrasives plant provided significant research as part of the Manhattan Project, the initiative that created the first nuclear weapons during the Second World War. Walter was lauded for his contributions to the project. He went on to work for a number of years at Union Carbide in Niagara Falls, N.Y. before accepting a position in 1960 in the ceramic and metallurgy department of the GE Research and Development Center.

Walter had been a donor to the Faculty during his life, and in 2001, registered a bequest intent of close to $800,000 in support of Chemical Engineering and ChemE students.

“My husband had to work while he was putting himself through school,” Dorothy said. “It wasn’t easy for him, but we have been fortunate and I feel that it’s important to help those in need.”

— Jamie Hunter with files from Tyler Irving