John and Carol Fox to establish endowed professorship in sustainable energy studies at L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science
John Fox, a 1992 graduate of Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences, carries with him an important value that his mother instilled in him-to put things back the way he found them.
It is a value that forms the foundation of the work that Fox does today. As president and CEO of Innovation Fuels, a leading U.S. biodiesel manufacturer and a regional company with a global reach, Fox is among those leading the charge to make the Earth a more sustainable place. With a recent gift to SU’s L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science (LCS), Fox has made a commitment to educating generations to come about the need for sustainability and developing new innovations, and ways to make that happen.
Fox and his wife, Carol, of New York City, have made a seven-figure commitment of up to $3.5 million dollars to LCS to establish an endowed professorship in sustainable energy studies.
Counted in The Campaign for Syracuse University total, the gift is among the first that will be bolstered through Faculty Today, a new gift challenge program created to encourage donors to endow faculty chairs and professorships. Designed to accelerate the University’s ability to recruit and retain world-class faculty, Faculty Today will supplement the earnings from the professorship in sustainable energy studies endowed fund for five years. Additionally, LCS will provide an equivalent contribution multiplying the buying power of the gift and enabling the college to soon hire and retain an outstanding faculty member. The program was developed by the SU Board of Trustees, which allocated $30 million from the University’s endowment in support of the new initiative. To learn more about Faculty Today, visit http://facultytoday.syr.edu.
“We are immensely grateful to John and Carol Fox for their foresight and leadership in endowing this professorship in Sustainable Energy Studies,” says LCS Dean Laura Steinberg. “This is an excellent example of Scholarship in Action . It will enable the college to recruit and retain a new breed of faculty member, who will prepare the next generation of engineers and conduct groundbreaking research at the interface of many engineering disciplines.”
In addition to allowing the hiring of a new faculty member, it is expected that the professorship will foster a strong collaborative relationship between the faculty in sustainable energy studies and the Syracuse Center of Excellence in Environmental and Energy Systems, a federation of universities, corporations and government partners based at SU, as well as the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. This professorship will facilitate an interdisciplinary approach to sustainable energy studies, drawing on the strengths of multiple schools and colleges at the University. The College of Arts and Sciences, the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and the Martin J. Whitman School of Management, among others, have been identified as potential collaborating schools and colleges.
“The sustainable energy studies professorship will provide a focal point for Syracuse University’s efforts to develop new technologies to address the growing gap between the world’s energy needs and its energy supplies,” says Steinberg. “While the emphasis of the professor will be on developing processes for the extraction and utilization of energy, she/he will work closely with other faculty in such areas as public communication, innovation management, energy policy studies and fundamental science. This broad collaboration is necessary to investigate and exploit the full range of opportunities and options potentially available for meeting the world’s energy needs.”
Fox says that at its core, the gift that he and his wife have made to LCS will advance three ideals they strongly believe in: preservation and promotion of the natural world, education and a focus on renewable energy. Urgent problems such as global warming, the world’s heavy dependence on fossil fuels and environmental pollution require creative, out-of the box solutions developed by today’s students and future generations to come, he says.
“I am a big believer in human ingenuity,” Fox says. “We need to build up technology, ethics and mindfulness of what we want a sustainable world to look like in many aspects. We are still operating under the original energy infrastructure, and we have a significant opportunity to move to version two.”
Fox says he is especially impressed with the platform in sustainability that has been created at SU under the leadership of Chancellor and President Nancy Cantor. “There is so much cross-pollenization that happens at the University,” he says in regards to the numerous collaborations on sustainability issues currently under way at the University. “That kind of approach exponentially raises the ability to succeed at what we are setting out to do.”
Becoming an entrepreneur was not at the forefront of Fox’s plans when he first set foot on the SU campus in 1988. He majored in political science and German, and was active in student organizations, including the Student Government Association and his fraternity, Phi Delta Theta. He also studied abroad in France. Fox says his undergraduate experience at SU left him with a broader perspective of the world. “I left SU with the ability to see things on a macro level,” he says.
After a short stint in politics, Fox began working on building businesses and product offerings. He earned an M.B.A. at Columbia Business School and led the business development of a biogas technology company, the financing of an independent oil and gas company, and the product development of a Lucent Technologies company before starting a renewable energy project development company, Homeland Energy Resources Development Inc., in 2001. He started Homeland’s biodiesel division in 2005, which has since merged into Innovation Fuels.
Based in Albany, N.Y., Innovation Fuels supplies biodiesel to regional customers and a network of international partners through a large processing plant in New Jersey and other U.S. locations, including a new location in Fulton, N.Y. The company is also expanding internationally to locations in Antwerp, Belgium, and Singapore, and has a combined planned production capacity of more than 5 million barrels by 2010. The company currently employs 30 people.
Fox has to assume a range of roles in running his company and promoting sustainability-from entrepreneur to researcher, marketing professional to educator. “We are selling to customers who have never bought biodiesel before and don’t really have that larger view of the positive impact that sustainable and renewable energy sources have on society,” he says. “There is a lot of education that we have to do. We as an industry are tasked with building a level of knowledge and passing it on to the next generation.”
Innovation Fuels is also at the forefront of working to develop new sources for the creation of biofuels. The product is currently made from a variety of plant oils as well as used vegetable oil. Fox and his company are working with experimental studies on the use of pennycress, a weed with a high oil content that has great potential for use in the production of biodiesel. The process of intentionally growing weeds comes with its own challenges, Fox says. “There is plenty of research on how to eradicate weeds but very little on how to cultivate them,” he says.
Fox is looking forward to working with LCS and the University in advancing sustainability from a concept to common practice. He says he is very impressed with Steinberg, the new dean of LCS, and her vision for the college regarding sustainable energy studies. “She has an amazing perspective on the benefits that these new faculty members will provide the University,” he says. “She wants to successfully develop this new program, and her enthusiasm has made me even more excited about it.
“I see this gift as a start,” Fox says. “Carol and I are proud to be able to seed the faculty and development of a sustainable program, but I see an opportunity to bring even more resources in.” Fox says he will be a champion for the program among his colleagues in the sustainable energy field. “We are going to get behind this program, promote it and grow it,” he says.
With a goal of $1 billion, The Campaign for Syracuse University is the most ambitious fundraising effort in SU’s history. By supporting faculty excellence, student access, interdisciplinary programs, capital projects and other institutional priorities, the campaign is continuing to drive Scholarship in Action, the University’s vision to provide students, faculty and communities with the insights needed to incite positive and lasting change in the world. More information is available online at http://campaign.syr.edu.