Kirk Nass and Michael Gillespie Establish New Scholarship

by | Dec 30, 2017

In high school in Aurora, IL, Kirk Nass loved math, science and knowing how things worked. When he saw a flyer about majoring in chemical engineering at University of Illinois he remembers thinking, “Wow! I can do math, science and chemistry all in one.”

Growing up in a working class family, college was not necessarily in the cards for Nass. Until the moment with the flyer, he had not had any concrete plans regarding college.

“I knew I liked math and science … and I just assumed something would happen, but seeing the brochure from U of I was the first time I realized specifically what I could do.”

The flyer brought him to Illinois, where he became the first in his immediate family to earn a college degree. It was up to Nass to pay for his education, however, so the co-op program was a real lifeline.

“My parents didn’t know about saving for college, so I worked in high school and I worked in the co-op program [at Borg Warner Corporation] and I got some financial aid. I got a really good education within my means.”

Nass graduated in 1983 without debt.

Working for Borg Warner (Des Plaines, IL), a manufacturer of automotive components and parts, Nass researched materials for clutch pads in cars (frictional properties) as well as polymer synthesis.  Those experiences helped him realize that 1) he liked applied research and 2) he needed a PhD to keep doing what he liked. In graduate school at the University of Washington – Seattle, he focused on polymeric composites.

After that he went to Chevron, (just outside San Francisco) which had a plastics division at the time. Nass often worked with chemists to figure out how to scale up the results they got in the lab. As much as he enjoyed his graduate education, Nass credits Illinois, and the concepts he learned there — like mass transfer, heat transfer, fluid flow and a solid grounding in chemistry — with his success and enjoyment of his work.

“I pull out my undergraduate textbooks much more often than my graduate ones,” he says.

In Seattle, Nass also met his future husband, attorney Michael Gillespie.  They have been together 33 years and married since 2008.  Nass has two adult stepchildren and a grandson. They continue to live in San Francisco.

Nass, who realized he was gay in college, is an advocate for LGBT issues and has been a board member of the Chevron Lesbian and Gay Employee Association, now known as Chevron PRIDE. He helped the company develop official diversity networks and grow PRIDE into an official global organization.  Nass said, “ Working for a supportive company is very important to me.  I can focus on my work, knowing that I’m being treated the same as every other employee.”

Nass credits U of I, and specifically chemical engineering, with where he is today.  But Nass never imagined he could help others through financial support. When he realized he did have the means to create a scholarship, he was thrilled. Nass and Gillespie hope the scholarship will go to a student who identifies as LGBT, but above all the scholarship is awarded based on academic merit.

Nass said he was stunned when he discovered how affordable it was to create a scholarship. “You don’t have to be a millionaire to make a difference.  Chevron matches my donations and we chose to fund the scholarship over four years, which works it out to be like making a small monthly car payment.  When (development officer) Braden Shain told me how much it cost, I was like, ‘Whoa, that was easy!’”

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