Major gift to establish science scholarships, endowed chair in Biology and Ornithology | Earlham College Skip to Content

Major gift to establish science scholarships, endowed chair in Biology and Ornithology

June 07, 2017

A major gift to Earlham College will establish endowed funds that benefit students and faculty in the natural sciences.

The Martha Sykes Hansen Endowed Chair in Biology and Ornithology is the result of last winter’s $2.7 million sale of a historic Indiana farm that was bequeathed to Martha Hansen ’59 and her brother, Edward Sykes. Additional proceeds from the sale will create an endowed scholarship to support students pursuing degrees in the natural sciences.

“Endowed chairs are critical for retaining the highest-quality faculty and attracting the best and brightest students to campus,” Vice President of Academic Affairs and Academic Dean Greg Mahler says. “This gift can also have a transformative effect on our students’ experiences as they prepare for what’s next.”

This endowed chair will immediately support Associate Professor of Biology Wendy Tori’s position on the faculty and support her research interests in bird ecology, behavior, genetics and evolution. Earlham already has endowed chairs in Astronomy and Physics, Mathematics, the Humanities, Peace Studies, and English.

Ornithology is popular among Earlhamites — both as a field of academic study and as a hobby for those who have other professional and academic interests. For example, Tori’s recent research with students has taken her to the Amazon Rainforest, Midwestern United States, and in the molecular genetics lab, specifically studying different species of birds and turtles. Additionally, Birding Big Day is an annual fundraiser for the College during which alumni from around the world go birding, record the number of species they see, and make donations to the College based on their counts. Many intrepid alumni even begin their celebration of Homecoming with an early morning bird walk led by Earlham faculty.

The generosity from the Sykes and Hansen families further enhances Earlham’s reputation as one of the nation’s top liberal arts institutions for producing strong candidates who are prepared for the rigors of graduate school and advanced research. In fact, the College is ranked 10th nationally for the percentage of graduates who earn advance degrees in the life sciences, including the Ph.D., according to the Higher Education Data Sharing consortium’s most recent report.

At Earlham, Hansen studied environmental biology and spent her career as a naturalist at the National Audubon Society in Connecticut. She met her husband, Russ Hansen, through their shared love of birds, and they were married in March of 1979. She remained an avid supporter of the College over the years and frequently returned to campus for visits. She died in October 2015.

The estate gift is the second gift of farmland that Earlham has received in as many years. In November 2015, a bequest from Ivan Druley ’29 and Pauline Kniese Druley ’31 resulted in a nearly $2 million gift that funded renovations to the Athletics and Wellness Center.

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Earlham College, a national liberal arts college located in Richmond, Indiana, is a "College That Changes Lives." We expect our students to be fully present: to think rigorously, value directness and genuineness, and actively seek insights from differing perspectives. The values we practice at Earlham are rooted in centuries of Quaker tradition, but they also constitute the ideal toolkit for contemporary success. 

Brian Zimmerman is director of media relations at Earlham College. He can be reached at 765-983-1256 and

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