A legacy of generosity

For years, Cory English’s journey to William & Mary was purely professional. It wasn’t until the tragic loss of his beloved wife that he returned on a personal mission.

“After my wife lost her 10-year battle with cancer, I wanted to do something positive,” said English of Alexandria, Virginia. “I wanted to mark her presence, her courage, her sense of humor and all her other wonderful qualities that made her my hero in so many ways.”

For English, giving back was a rewarding way to honor the memory of his late wife, Katchen Stonehouse.  

“I felt powerless to help my wife directly and making something good out of my loss seemed like the most obvious thing to do,” said English, the retired CEO of SST Planners, a specialized laboratory consulting and design firm. English’s firm designed the first two phases of the Integrated Science Center (ISC) on William & Mary’s campus while his wife was battling cancer.  

“I got to know several of the professors in the chemistry, biology and psychology departments and my appreciation and respect for the faculty grew from the knowledge one gains working closely with a group making important decisions for the future of their departments,” said English. “I developed a deep admiration for the faculty who freely gave their time by making selfless contributions to the ISC project. I was in a raw state and their dedication truly touched me. It was inspiring to me.”

As a tribute to Katchen, English established the English-Stonehouse Fellowship, which enables faculty from biology, chemistry, computer science, geology, mathematics, physics, and biological fields in kinesiology and psychology, to be considered for a stipend of $5,000 per year for two years. The fellowship also provides $3,000 a year for two years for two English-Stonehouse student fellows and $1,000 per year for the team's research-related expenses.  

“Even though Katchen did not have a direct connection to William & Mary, I think she would have been honored that her legacy will live on through the students benefiting from the fellowship,” said English. “Ever since I started the fellowship, it has been one rewarding experience after another. I love it. It might be a small thing but I can see the effect on the students and faculty.”

Katherine Lang ’18 certainly doesn’t see English’s generosity as a small thing. The student fellow stipend allowed the geology major to spend last summer completing her thesis research. Her work focuses on creating a geologic map of the historic Blue Ridge Tunnel near Afton, Virginia, which opened in 1858.

“The 160-year-old tunnel has never been studied geologically,” said Lang who is part of a collaborative research team led by Professor Chuck Bailey. “We are working on a 3D representation to detail how the rocks have moved or changed over time.”

In addition to enhancing the area’s geologic knowledge, the team is working with the Blue Ridge Tunnel Foundation to create a guide plaque for the outside of the tunnel to educate people hiking through it about the tunnel’s features and significance. The team presented their findings at the Virginia Geological Field Conference in October.

“I am incredibly thankful to Mr. English because undergraduate research is such a wonderful benefit to students that is not valued everywhere,” said Lang. “It is a great experience that I get to do my own research, which will definitely help me later in my academics and future career.”    

William & Mary’s focus on collaborative undergraduate research is one of the things that endeared English to the university.

“Over more than 20 years, my company worked on hundreds of projects at universities all over the United States and Europe and I saw a wide spectrum of different academic cultures,” said English whose firm has built more than a million square feet of high-quality scientific research space worldwide. “For a small school like William & Mary to do the level of research it does, especially at an undergraduate level, is unusual.”

English also reflects on his own research experience as a pre-veterinarian undergraduate student and the importance of student involvement with research planning and strategic thinking.

“Many other schools are formulaic in their approach to research,” said English. “William & Mary exposes young researchers to chance and risk, which is what happens in real life. Learning to spread their wings and go with the flow gives these students the tools and experience to tackle the next step in life and springboard to great things.”

For 1693 Scholar Lydia Boike ’18, William & Mary’s collaborative research focus was an important preparation for earning a Ph.D. Boike works with Professor Lisa Landino’s team to study the effect of reactive oxygen species on key brain proteins that have been linked to Alzheimer's disease. Boike focuses on how lactate dehydrogenase, an enzyme involved in energy metabolism, functions in disease states and responds to inhibitors like bleach and oxidized phenolic antioxidants.

“I started researching as a freshman and was able to conduct research all four years and two summers at William & Mary. Being able to be paid to do research over the summer is so important, and I am very grateful to Mr. English,” said Boike who also used part of the English-Stonehouse Fellowship stipend to purchase supplies and present her findings at an American Chemical Society conference in North Carolina. “I’ve learned to set up a study and work through problems but perhaps most importantly, I’ve gained the experience and confidence as a researcher to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry.”

As part of the fellowship award, English makes an annual trip to William & Mary to hear each year’s recipients present their research experience.

“The times I come to visit are wonderful. I look forward to it every year,” said English. “I am amazed by how masterful and self-assured the students present their findings. I am in awe that the program has had such a beneficial influence on their young lives. I see great things happening. It is real. I don’t think other schools give the same hands-on experience to donors. William & Mary is definitely a special place.”

English is proud of the program’s success. Several of the students have contributed to research publications while at William & Mary and have gone on to top graduate schools to conduct research. Because of this, English has decided to include funds in his estate for the program to continue.

“I know that this fellowship has a good track record, that it can grow and is scalable. I am confident that it will remain successful,” said English. “Now that we have the machine up and running, I am so happy that it will run after I am gone. Knowing that my support will continue to benefit this program and honor my wife means a great deal.”

Both Lang and Boike hope more people will consider gifts to support research.

“William & Mary is such a collaborative place and research only fosters that,” said Lang. “More fellowships like the one Mr. English established will allow others to participate in an undergraduate research team and gain the same benefits I’ve had.”

English agrees, “I feel honored by this opportunity to be associated with William & Mary and to make a contribution to one of its most treasured core competencies, undergraduate research. I hope my story will inspire others to consider how their gift might make a difference now and in the future.”