Recognizing Excellence

The Thelma and Edward Wohlgemuth Faculty Scholar Fund has provided assistance to one promising young faculty member since its inception. Now, the fund provides twice as much support, with two new faculty recipients in 2016.

One faculty member in Lawrence and one at the University of Kansas Medical Center are the latest awardees: Sandra Billinger, Ph.D., P.T., associate professor in the Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science at KU Medical Center; and Belinda Sturm, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering.

Dorothy Wohlgemuth Lynch established a faculty award to help one KU professor distinguish his or her career. Lynch, of Olathe, created the fund in honor of her parents, Thelma and Edward Wohlgemuth. 

The first award was given in 2006 to Joy Ward, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. She received the $10,000 annual award for two five-year terms. As the fund grew in value, one award turned into two to reflect Lynch’s desire to have a faculty scholar on each campus. 

The fund provides research and salary assistance to faculty members who are recognized as being among KU’s brightest young professors. Ward says she appreciates Lynch’s investment in early-career faculty.

“Receiving the Wohlgemuth Faculty Scholar Award made great contributions to my research and teaching success,” Ward said. “In addition, I was able to build a wonderful friendship with Dorothy Lynch, and this has been an important part of my life.”

Sturm plans to attend a conference with some of the award’s funds and said the recognition at this point in professors’ careers is as valuable as the monetary assistance. 

“To be a successful university, you really need to show appreciation for mid-career faculty,” she said. “What Mrs. Lynch has done here is an important service. Academia is very competitive, and there are very few times that we look at each other and say, ‘You’re doing a great job.’ ”

Sturm’s lab gives students a chance to learn real-world applications for water sustainability and resource recovery. They often get to work directly with municipal utility departments to do research and provide wastewater services. 

Billinger’s research focuses on cardiovascular and pulmonary changes in people with chronic disease, and specifically after a stroke. In 2013, she and her son, now 23, walked across Kansas to raise money and awareness for stroke recovery.

Billinger said any gift geared toward faculty is ultimately a gift that benefits students as well, as it gives educators opportunities to translate the award’s support into better experiences for students. 

“The funds provided to faculty, whether to support teaching or research initiatives, are so valuable, not just to the faculty but the impact they can have for our students who then go on to serve our communities,” she said. 

As one of the original members of
The University of Kansas Hospital Authority Board and as a dedicated KU Endowment Trustee who served on the Development Committee for many years, Lynch has long had a passion for what KU Medical Center faculty do in the academic medical setting.


Sandra Billinger is a physical therapist specializing in cardiopulmonary and neurological rehabilitation. One of her research interests is stroke prevention and treatment through physical activity and exercise.Mark McDonald
Belinda Sturm’s work partners students with municipalities for hands-on experience improving water sustainability and resource recovery.Ann Dean