A new fund carries on a professor’s mission
In the last 11 months of his life, Wes Bonds put 41,000 miles on his car traveling nationwide to share the low-cost methods he developed for teaching complex biotechnology concepts – including DNA sequencing – to undergraduate and high school students. That was how Bonds, who died Sept. 14, spent his retirement from the chemistry faculty at WCU. “He saw the leveling effect of globalization, and he was passionate about kindling a love for science in the next generation of American students,” said his son Trip Bonds.
To carry on their father’s mission, sons Trip and Charles established the Wesley D. Bonds Jr. Science Education Scholarship to be awarded to enthusiastic, aspiring high school or junior high science teachers in their junior year at WCU. “We are seeking supporters for the fund who share our father’s vision and values, and who are willing to invest in WCU’s capability to develop world-class teachers,” said Trip Bonds. “WCU is uniquely positioned to develop great science teachers because of its solid foundation in science and teaching programs.”
Even before Wes Bonds became a teacher, the Alabama native wanted to get kids excited about science. While a research chemist for Dow Chemical Co., he challenged his son’s fifth-grade teacher to a salad-making race as part of a class demonstration. The teacher starting chopping vegetables with a knife. Wes Bonds froze the ingredients in a bowl with liquid nitrogen and dropped them on a board. “They shattered, and he was done in two or three seconds,” said Trip Bonds. “It was like a ‘Mr. Wizard’ experiment.”
Later, Wes Bonds began reading about the human genome project. He enrolled in medical school classes and went on to accept a job assisting a Yale School of Medicine laboratory focused on the genome project. While there, he volunteered on days off to help Sister Mary Jane Paolella find a way to teach DNA sequencing to students at an all-girls Catholic high school in Hamden, Conn. The effort attracted the attention of PBS, which produced a segment featuring him conducting a DNA sequencing workshop at the school to follow an episode of “NOVA.”
Inspired, he returned to school to become a teacher and in 2001 came to WCU, where he taught chemistry and guided students in genetic research of the red oak. “I was Wes Bonds’ graduate student, and I don’t believe I would have achieved the same level of success had it not been for him,” said Jesse Walsh ’05 MS ’08, now a DNA research specialist at a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill facility.
Meanwhile off campus, Wes Bonds hosted workshops across the region to teach DNA sequencing to high school teachers and students – an initiative he expanded with the support of a National Science Foundation grant after retiring from WCU. “Our dad’s greatest passion was teaching younger students advanced scientific principles and methods,” said Trip Bonds.
Support the Bonds scholarship at give.wcu.edu or by calling the WCU Office of Development at 828.227.7124.