The Southeast Missouri State University Alumni Association will present Dr. Timothy Wencewicz of St. Louis, Missouri, with the Distinguished Young Alumni Award on Friday, Oct. 29 during the Copper Dome Society/Alumni Awards Dinner at the Show Me Center.
The award honors alumni under the age of 37 for their outstanding service to and support of the University.
Wencewicz, a native of Cape Girardeau, received a Missouri Bright Flight Scholarship and Regent’s Scholarship to attend Southeast, from which he graduated in 2006 with a Bachelor of Science in chemistry and applied mathematics.
Wencewicz went on to attend graduate school at the University of Notre Dame, where he earned a doctorate in chemistry in 2011. He then trained as a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard Medical School, before returning to Missouri to teach at Washington University in St. Louis. In 2013, Wencewicz joined the chemistry faculty as an assistant professor, before being promoted to associate professor in 2020.
“I could not pass up on an opportunity to return to Missouri and give back to the people and state that gave me so much,” he said. “I remain committed to community outreach and service to the St. Louis region and of course my home, Cape Girardeau.”
Wencewicz serves on the editorial boards for the Journal of Antibiotics and the Journal of Biological Chemistry. He teaches undergraduate and graduate level courses in organic chemistry, bioorganic chemistry and biochemistry.
“I am lucky to train and work alongside talented colleagues and motivated students that are capable of greatness,” Wencewicz said. “There is no single discovery, publication or idea of my own making that can provide the same feeling of pride and wonder as seeing a young person generate new ideas and manifest a thought into new knowledge, practice and technology. Science is a place to do this.”
His research is focused on antibiotic drug discovery to address the global antibiotic resistance crisis. His research program is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation and the Children’s Discovery Institute at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
Wencewicz said the research environment at Southeast was dynamic and full of energy from eager students and engaged faculty. He recalls being part of a special team of chemistry majors that motivated each other in a way that created an atmosphere of success. Several students, he said, had the opportunity to co-author publications with research mentors, deliver presentations at professional meetings and accrue academic awards.
“The chemistry and mathematics departments at Southeast provided me with a superb education, rigorous training and dedicated professors that sponsored and supported my further education and career development,” he said.
He has received several awards for his independent research including the Oak Ridge Associated Universities Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award in 2014, the ACS Infectious Disease Young Investigator Award in 2016, the NSF CAREER Award in 2017, the Cottrell Scholar Award in 2017, a Sloan Research Fellowship in Chemistry in 2018 and a Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award in 2019.
Wencewicz is married to his high school sweetheart, Rachel Renee Ruopp, and they reside in St. Louis with their four children, Grace Elizabeth, Lucy Ann, Emory Clara and Benjamin Timothy. As a family, they enjoy all that St. Louis has to offer and return to Cape Girardeau regularly to visit with family and friends.
It is the people who matter the most, Wencewicz said, noting his gratitude to family, friends and mentors who invested in him along his journey.
“My greatest reward is the accomplishments of the students that I teach and train in the research lab and classroom. Learning is exponential, an explosion, a chain reaction. Without people, there is no fuel, no propagation,” Wencewicz said. “My greatest accomplishment, I hope, is to generate a legacy of leaders to solve the next set of problems and foster the next generation of leaders – to propagate the chemical reaction of learning.”