Former student honors mentor with $1M gift for grad students

Student in chemistry lab

UO chemistry professor John Keana clearly had a bigger impact on Dennis Beetham than he remembered.

Save for bumping into each other casually a couple of times, Keana had lost touch with Beetham, one of his former students, after Beetham graduated with his master’s in chemistry back in 1967.

Janet and Dennis BeethamThey recently got reacquainted in a big way.

In a remarkable display of gratitude toward his former mentor, Beetham and his wife, Janet, donated $1 million to the University of Oregon to launch the John Keana Graduate Student Fellowship Fund. The gift will supplement stipends for graduate students in chemistry starting in fall 2018.

“I feel really honored by that recognition, and that he felt that I made some contribution to his early career,” Keana said. “It’s not every day that a professor’s past student makes such a donation.”

Beetham was one of the first students Keana accepted into his lab, and he was a key contributor from the start. After graduating, Beetham went on to a long and fruitful career in chemistry and chemical engineering.

Throughout the years he never forgot Keana’s act of faith by taking a young grad student on board, as well as the wealth of knowledge his mentor imparted to him. He felt the best way to show his thanks was to contribute to students’ financial support, a cause that resonates with him and his wife and for which there is a tremendous need in today’s competitive environment for high-level graduate students.

“Janet and I had to work to pay for our education, and we strongly believe in helping deserving and committed students along their educational career paths,” Dennis Beetham said. “We hope this gift gives future generations access to the education they might not otherwise have had.”

A natural problem-solver, Beetham founded North Bend-based DB Western and began manufacturing glues and resins for the wood products industry. He soon expanded into other chemical compounds, and DB Western quickly grew into an entity with a global footprint widely recognized for its innovative technology.

The company is a family affair, with Janet Beetham serving as the company’s manager of human resources and many of their children and grandchildren also working for the company, having earned science and advanced degrees themselves.

The Beethams’ gift will have far-reaching benefits as the UO works to increase the number and caliber of its graduate students; however, a challenging economic and recruitment environment is making this increasingly difficult. Today’s master’s and doctoral students base their admissions decisions not only on a program’s reputation but also on the availability of financial support. Graduate fellowships such as the Beethams’ allow the university to recruit and retain these top graduate students.

“For our lab scientists, having the best graduate students to work with is key to productivity,” said Hal Sadofsky, the divisional dean for the natural sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences. “A scientist with a top student can produce an extraordinary amount of great work.”

The Beethams’ gift comes as universities around the country are ratcheting up the competition for these high-achieving graduate students. This donation will allow the UO to offer incentives to bring those that are most sought after to Eugene.

“Graduate students play a critical role in the success of the university,” President Michael H. Schill said. “They are key contributors to groundbreaking research conducted by our faculty and are tremendously important to the success of our undergraduates as well. This generous gift will ensure that we continue to get the future Dennis Beethams that are out there today to our campus.”

The stipends will go a long way toward achieving that, said David Tyler, head of the chemistry department.

“Good students want to go where other good students are,” Tyler said. “This will enable us to compete for those top-notch students.”

As for Keana, he remains in awe that a grad student of his from 50 years ago would make such a generous gift in his name, and he is appreciative of the effect it will have.

“I’m grateful to him and his family. This is something that’s going to have an impact for a long time.”

By Jim Murez, University Communications.