Dr. Chris Gould enjoys nuclear physics because it allows him to grapple with very big, and often very old, questions about the universe.
But physics is not only about exploring how long stars burn, whether the speed of light has always been the same or the role of U-235 in long-ago nuclear reactions. The NC State professor also loves that the discipline offers his students practical applications to sink their teeth into — from medicine to national security.
“Physics is curiosity driven,” Gould said, “and I’ve always been curious about the world.”
Curious, with wide-ranging interests. For three decades, he has channeled those passions into financial support of the university.
Gould joined the NC State faculty in 1971. A native of England, he graduated from Imperial College in London, and came to the United States for postgraduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania and Duke. Now in phased retirement, the Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Professor has served in roles including head of the Department of Physics and associate dean in the College of Sciences.
He started giving back to NC State financially in the early 1980s, beginning with small payroll-deduction gifts toward scholarships for physics students.
Gould’s gifts broadened over the years to include general, unrestricted support for the physics program and College of Sciences, graduate fellowships, the Gregg Museum of Art and Design, JC Raulston Arboretum, the biological sciences, the Science House and more. He and his wife, Odile, a longtime elementary school teacher, established an endowment for the collections of NCSU Libraries. Supporting efforts to keep knowledge and culture accessible — creatively, in a digital age — meshes the philanthropic focuses of both Gould and his wife.
“I’m a great believer in public education,” he said. “I attended public schools, my wife attended public schools, and one of our daughters went to State and the other to (North) Carolina. Public education has served us well.”
At the same time, Gould clearly recognizes the importance of private funding in boosting public education. He cites new facilities such as SAS Hall and the growth in the Caldwell, Park and Goodnight scholarship programs as academic game-changers for NC State.
His own primary interest has become undergraduate scholarship support.
“I know that I can’t write checks for $20 million, but I have seen how scholarship support has helped kids survive here,” Gould noted. “People may think, well, $1,000 a year, $1,500 a year, isn’t that much. But it can make a really big difference for some students. I have one student right now who works at a restaurant many nights and weekends.
“A small scholarship would make a big difference for him, in terms of the focus he can give to academics.”
In 1998 Gould and his wife initiated the Chris and Odile Gould Scholarship Endowment to benefit NC State physics students; several currently receive stipends. A pledge of support, as well as a bequest, will create a new endowment that will be part of the College of Sciences’ expanding Solomon Scholars program. It’s important, Gould said, to continue supporting top students beyond their freshman year.
Gould expanded his giving in 2010 by starting the Reynolds Music Performance Scholarship Endowment. This fund benefits NC State students pursuing a minor in music through playing a stringed instrument, with first preference for recipients with majors within the College of Sciences. Named in honor of physics colleague Dr. Stephen Reynolds, an exemplary violinist, the scholarship was inspired by regular faculty conversations about the synergy between scientific disciplines and music — and about the importance of encouraging a well-rounded university experience.
Gould himself is a pianist who, a few years ago, donated a gently-used grand piano to NC State’s music program.
Most recently, the Goulds established a scholarship endowment in the College of Design, in honor of Dr. Meredith Davis’ retirement. In addition to being a nationally known figure in graphic design, Davis was an outstanding educator and mentor to a generation of NC State students. That group includes the Goulds’ daughter, Annabelle, now an associate professor of design at the University of Washington.
For Gould, there is always another frontier. He is excited to be participating in discussions about increasing collaboration between physics and the biological sciences, a convergence that he thinks offers the university tremendous potential for growth and impact.
“I feel like every year, NC State gets better and stronger,” Gould said. “Students come here to work, knowing nobody is going to hand them anything. And I love the diverse mix — from international students, to first-generation college students from rural North Carolina and kids taking physics for the very first time. The faculty is really committed to education; just here in the physics department, we have five Board of Governors [Award for Excellence in Teaching] winners.
“It’s compelling to reach the students who never thought of going to college — to help them get in the door and have a chance to see how they can perform. There’s so much opportunity here.”
Opportunity that continues to expand because of Gould’s philanthropy.