From educator to entrepreneur and philanthropist
The near-decade that Christopher Philips spent as a chemistry professor at the University of Detroit (1969-1978) continues to have an effect on students at UDM even though he no longer teaches. Philips has achieved this by making generous financial gifts to provide scholarships for science students at UDM and in Rhode Island where he currently resides.
“The years at the University, interacting both with undergraduate and graduate students, kept me young and laughing. I enjoyed the combination of research and teaching,” he says. “It was very rewarding to balance both.
“I came from a large school (having earned an undergraduate degree from Penn State and a graduate degree from Ohio State) and found the smaller campus to be a very different atmosphere. Professors and the students knew each other very well and there was a lot of mentoring. I know the current Chemistry department and University still focus on that.”
Philips left the University to work at Pfizer on the east coast, living in Connecticut and later in Rhode Island. In 1996, after 18 years at Pfizer, he began a consulting firm that focused on product life cycle management, involving intellectual property and security issues. That company evolved into Centerbrook Science, which includes diagnostics as well as product life cycle management. Philips’ career has spanned a broad spectrum of science: as a student, professor, basic and applied researcher, consultant, corporate executive and entrepreneur.
“From the time I was a teenager, chemistry has always interested me, and there are many different ways to apply it as a central science,” he says.
In order for science students to succeed in a career, Philips recommends that they learn to think clearly and write well. “These two skills go hand in hand; being able to express complex ideas clearly and succinctly helps in any field of science or business,” he says.
Philips started at U of D as a basic researcher, and he credits former Chemistry department Chair Harry Szmant with encouraging his interest in applied chemistry. When the opportunity arose at Pfizer, Philips was confident in his ability to succeed in the industrial sector. “I’m indebted to Harry for that,” he says.
Philips is also active as the founder and president of an education foundation in Rhode Island that provides scholarships to college students and educational project grants in the local regional school system.
The emphasis on mentoring continues at UDM today. Education is a major investment, and donors increasingly realize how their support makes a difference in the life of a UDM student. Through scholarships, they can help students who otherwise would have difficulty paying tuition. Students who receive scholarships give back to society by applying their knowledge base to problems and creating new solutions. “I am very pleased to have started the Kerstin DeLong Philips Endowment at the University and to have had a hand in the formation of the John A. McLean and H. Harry Szmant endowments as well.
“As a country, we are going to be short of scientific and engineering personnel—especially when competing against the Chinese and Japanese. There will always be jobs in the hard sciences and engineering,” Philips says. “To be competitive in a global economy, we need American students who are well trained in the hard sciences and engineering. Then they can pursue a variety of careers that match their skills and interests, addressing the broad challenges of the 21st Century,” he notes.