Bridgeville-based II-VI Foundation pumps millions into local scholarships, camps, research

| Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, 5:24 p.m.

A little-known foundation, funded by the man who earned his fortune by starting a Sharpsburg optics and material-science company, is boosting students who wish to pursue science and research careers that are becoming significant in the 21st century.

The II-VI Foundation in Bridgeville, started in 2007 by Carl Johnson and his wife, Margot, is spending millions of dollars on scholarships, camps and research projects in the region to promote scientific pursuits. Johnson, who avoids the limelight, founded II-VI Inc., based in Saxonburg. The company, which has three other locations, manufactures laser-optic materials, optics components, electro-optical products and radiation-detection devices.

Among II-VI Foundation's awards have been $10,000 scholarships given to each of 56 college undergraduates.

This year, the foundation will spend between $3 million and $3.5 million on college scholarships for science and engineering students, science camps for middle school students and research projects like one being conducted by Wolfgang Choyke, a professor of physics at the University of Pittsburgh.

He is assisted by seven students in his experiments on the capacity for silicon carbide to transmit high-voltage electrical currents. The research taps into the need to find ways to store and transmit alternative energy forms in the new millennium.

"The whole way energy is stored will change in the 21st century. Now we get power from one plant. More wind, nuclear and solar power means we will have to build all kinds of new power distribution systems," Choyke said.

"We are looking for people like Professor Choyke, who are really good with students," said Rick Pernell, director of the II-VI Foundation. "We also want to help younger kids see what it might be like to be an engineer."

Besides the $10,000 scholarships, II-VI Foundation last year helped to fund early education initiatives for 1,536 students; funded undergraduate research programs for 24 students; and gave grants to 42 graduate students for research.

The foundation sponsors Camp Invention, a weeklong science day camp for children in grades one through six. They are in locations where II-VI has offices and plants: Saxonburg; Garland, Texas; Starkville, Miss.; and Temecula, Calif.

The foundation's Summer Science Splash camps are sleepover camps for students in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades held at Juniata College, Huntingdon County, and at Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, Fla. About 180 children attend each summer. The foundation also sponsors Calcu-Solve - daylong math competitions held at Duquesne University and at Grove City College.

Perhaps the most enticing of the foundation's projects are the $10,000 scholarships. They can be awarded each year, based on students' grades, and require students to do a three-month internship each year.

Sometimes, internships lead to good jobs, as they did for Mike Houser, 21, of Peters who studies mechanical engineering at Penn State University. His annual scholarships cut his tuition by more than half each year.

"I'm lucky. It's very hard to find scholarship money," he said.

Houser interned last summer at Boeing in Everett, Wash., where he helped troubleshoot airplanes with mechanical problems.

"It was a new challenge every day. It was almost never the same problem," said Houser, who will start working at Boeing full time after he graduates in May.

Paul Kletzli, 21, of Penn Township, a mechanical engineering student at York University of Pennsylvania in York, is an intern at II-VI Inc. in Saxonburg. Kletzli is doing absorption testing on the company's optical products.

Kletzli said the internship "forces you to go out and get hands-on experience."

Maryellen Overbaugh, 20, of Franklin Park, a sophomore studying mechanical engineering at Penn State, has for the past two summers interned at Ritter Technologies LLC in Zelienople, a fluid power product and services distribution company.

"It was an awesome experience, a little nerve-wracking," she said. "It's nothing like college. The focus in college is getting everything right on paper. In the real world, nothing ever works the way you want it to," Overbaugh said.

Shane Mills first heard about the foundation when he was a student at Knoch High School. The Grove City College graduate is now a math teacher at Freeport Area High School.

"I'm teaching higher levels of math. I have lots of kids who want to be engineers, and the experience I had with internships can useful in interesting them in things and telling them about the practical application of math, which is theoretical," Mills said.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at

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