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The Nellie Mae Gilbert Memorial Endowed Presidential Scholarship

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The Nellie Mae Gilbert Memorial Endowed Presidential Scholarship was established by the Board of Regents of The University of Texas System in 1998 to benefit of the College of Natural Sciences. Gift funds were provided by Dr. John C. (Jack) Gilbert and Dr. Lucia A. Gilbert. The endowment honors John’s mother, Mrs. Nellie Mae Gilbert, who went by Nell.

Nell was born in Canada to parents who owned the farm where she was raised. As the oldest child, Nell was looked up to by two younger brothers and two younger sisters. Her first formal education was nearby at the tiny Perry’s Corner School. Going to high school required travel by horse and buggy (and sometimes by horse-drawn sleigh) to the nearest town. Remarkable for the time, she went on to pursue a college degree at Victoria College of the University of Toronto. Nell was the only one of her siblings to attend college, where she later met her husband, Carl, who was pursuing a master’s degree in chemistry.

After he completed his degree, but before she finished hers, they moved to Boulder, Colorado, where Carl studied for a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry at the University of Colorado. As he neared the end of his program, he received an offer to teach at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, so he and Nell moved to the Cowboy State in the mid-1920s. Despite the fact that money was tight, Nell was determined to finish her bachelor’s degree. She returned to Toronto by herself to do so — another remarkable decision for the time.

“It’s hard to imagine the stress that she must have been under as a result of being separated from her spouse in the early days of their marriage and the financial challenges associated with her completing the bachelor’s degree,” says her son, John. “The fact that she completed it with a major in biology is a measure of the fact that my mother was a very strong-willed individual, determined to take in stride even the most challenging barriers she faced during her life.”

John says all three of her sons benefited from Nell’s intelligence, love of learning and the unending support they received from her. They all earned college degrees: a master’s degree in automotive engineering, degrees in both general and agricultural engineering, and master’s and Ph.D. degrees in chemistry, respectively.

Nell was an avid sports fan, attending her sons’ high school games and accompanying Carl to University of Wyoming football and basketball games. She ultimately moved to Austin to live with John and his family and became a huge fan of the Longhorns, particularly the women’s basketball and volleyball teams.

John and Lucia hope this endowment recognizes the academic accomplishments of a female major in the biological sciences, ideally one who is involved in sports at the club level.

Lucia and John were both professors at UT Austin before relocating to Santa Clara University as professors there. He is currently a member of the College of Natural Sciences Advisory Council.

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