Montana State University

Spring 2012

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Mountains and Minds

Excellence supporting excellence April 30, 2012 by Phillip Luebke  • Published 04/30/12

David Lehwalder helps MSU continue to attract scholars
Almost 70 years have passed since David Lehwalder graduated with honors from what was then Montana State College with a degree in chemistry, but a few things have not changed. Montana State University still attracts top scholars, and its graduates continue to hold their own against graduates of other larger, more well-known schools.

Lehwalder is doing his part to make sure that this continues. Last spring he and his wife, Lois, pledged $145,000 to support the Presidential Scholars program and the MSU Library.

The sixth of 10 children, Lehwalder grew up in Butte. His father, who was born and raised in Germany, ran a tailor shop. His mother was born to a pioneering Montana family on one of the first homesteads outside of what is now Kalispell. Although neither of his parents attended college, Lehwalder said they made a conscious decision not to buy an automobile so that they could help put all of their children through college, which they did. Lehwalder chose Montana State on the strength of its chemistry program.

It was not easy to be a chemistry student at Montana State then, Lehwalder said, but something O.E. Sheppard, then head of the chemistry department, told him when he was a student stuck with him.

"He told me 'Now this is a small school-- not very well known­--but I want to be sure that you can really compete with those from the famous schools,' so he really poured it into us," Lehwalder said.

The effort paid off. Lehwalder was recruited by Shell Development Company and spent the next 38 years of his life with the oil company, where he became an expert on oil separation and purification processes. During World War II, his division supported the nation's war efforts by providing new fuels, weaponry and penicillin. He spent the last 13 years of his career at Shell's head office.

"Shell Development hired outstanding students from all over the country--places like MIT, Caltech, Stanford, you name it," Lehwalder said. "I felt that the science background I got at Montana State was as good as--and in many cases, better than--my fellow hirees."

The endowments that the Lehwalders have established are helping MSU graduates remain competitive well into the future, according to Ilse-Mari Lee, director of the University Honors Program at MSU, which administers the Presidential Scholarship program.

Presidential Scholarship recipients receive annual tuition waivers, a generous merit grant and other incentives each of their four years. Lee said that gifts such as the Lehwalders' have helped MSU maintain 20 Presidential Scholarships, even though tuition and other costs have increased.

"Past Presidential Scholars have received the Rhodes, Truman, Mitchell, Marshall and Goldwater scholarships, and have gained admission to the nation's top graduate and professional schools," Lee said. The Lehwalders' generous support of the program will help us continue to attract top scholars to study here at Montana State University."

Patrick Tate, a junior in chemical engineering, biological engineering and Hispanic studies from Vancouver, Wash., and Emma Murter, a sophomore nursing major from Hardin, are the inaugural Lehwalder Presidential Scholars.

Last fall, David and Lois Lehwalder, who live in Montana's Ruby River Valley, met the scholars their gift supports. It was great to see the impact that their gift is making, David said. Lehwalder said Tate and Murter reminded him of qualities he had as a student.

"I was very impressed with them," Lehwalder said. "They are very serious and dedicated students who intend to continue their education beyond their bachelor's degree."

Tate had an affinity for Montana and a vague familiarity with Bozeman, but he might have ended up attending college somewhere else if not for the Presidential Scholars program at MSU and some well-timed visits by an MSU recruiter.

"A fellow named Mike Ouert, who works in the admissions office, came to my high school two years in a row," Tate said. "He told me about the Presidential Scholarship. He looked at my numbers and said, 'You should consider applying for this.'"

When Tate visited campus to interview for the Presidential Scholarship, he knew it was a good match.

"When I came here, I could really see myself going to school here," he said. "I could really visualize it, which is how I've decided on a lot of things in my life. As soon as I was awarded the (Presidential) Scholarship...that sealed the deal."

"To not be stressed about how I am going to pay for my education means I can take all that enery and focus on school and extracurricular activities." - Patrick Tate

Tate, whom Lee calls "an outstanding Presidential Scholar, a leader among his peers and a person of great integrity," has made the most of his time at MSU. A junior triple-majoring in chemical engineering, biological engineering and Hispanic studies, he made the President's List (4.0 GPA) all five semesters that he has been at MSU. He is active in the Montana Beta chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and is a member of the MSU Spanish Club. As a freshman, Tate worked in the Biochemical Engineering Lab and studied in San Jose, Costa Rica, as part of MSU's study abroad program.

When he's not in school or studying, Tate likes to visit Yellowstone and the area's hot springs, explore ghost towns, snowshoe and dirt bike. But academics always comes first.

"Probably the biggest thing that my parents have instilled in me is that academics is number one," Tate said. "When I'm here, that's priority."

Last fall, Tate had an opportunity to thank the donors who have helped make his education at MSU possible, when he met David and Lois Lehwalder for breakfast a couple of days after David Lehwalder's 91st birthday.

"One of my proudest moments, honestly, is getting to meet the Lehwalders," Tate said. "That was pretty neat. They're such a huge part of my education."

Tate explained that a Presidential Scholarship means he doesn't have to work while going to school, which is "a huge weight off (his) shoulders."

"To not be that stressed about how I am going to pay for my education means I can take all that energy and focus it on school and extracurricular activities."

Despite the 70 years that separates them, there are similarities between Tate and Lehwalder. Tate graduated number one in his class from Columbia River High School with a 4.0 grade point average. Lehwalder was third in his class and president of the National Honor Society at Butte High School. Tate interned last summer at the BP Cherry Point Oil Refinery in Birch Bay, Wash. Lehwalder studied chemistry and went to work for Shell Oil for 38 years as a chemical engineer.

Following his graduation, Tate would like to get his MBA and start his own business.

"My dad was a small business owner pretty much my entire life," Tate said. "It's something I've always admired and always wanted to do myself."