In 2009, Sandra Perry Sigman visited the University of Illinois campus with her husband David and son, Ryan. As an alumna of the School of Labor & Employment Relations graduate program, she was visiting then to be the commencement speaker for the program’s commencement ceremony.
While visiting, her son’s interest in genetics led them to take a tour of the IGB. They walked away impressed with the institute’s interdisciplinary nature, which inspired them to become donors to the IGB.
“It just seemed like something in the science arena that could be very innovative and could really lead to some unusual approaches to cracking into something,” Sigman said. “You didn’t know what it would be, but this just seemed very interesting.”
Sigman and her late husband David, who was also an alumnus of Illinois, were employees of ExxonMobil for over 30 years. She worked in human resources, while David worked as a lawyer. As employees of a corporation with a science focus, they both had a strong interest in science.
“(David) really was interested in good science, because in the environmental arena . . . you want to work on a problem that really is the problem,” Sigman said. “When their approach is not innovative and thought provoking, sometimes people just don’t have the same opportunities for really coming at something and making innovative decisions.”
They both saw an opportunity for breakthrough at the IGB, particularly because of its interdisciplinary nature while still being in a university setting.
“Sometimes universities get very parochial in the way they approach things,” Sigman said. “People have long term affiliations, people kind of have their walls: ‘we do this here, you do that there.’ They don’t see the need for collaboration.”
But in the IGB, they saw an organization that invited researchers with varied interests to work together. At ExxonMobil, they were used to being a part of an institution that depended on collaboration, and they saw the IGB’s structure as a unique way of approaching this teamwork.
“Some of the ways they went about wanting to be a very vibrant and interesting place to work, with collaborations of people across disciplines . . . we were very impressed,” Sigman said.
In addition to the IGB, Sigman and her husband are donors to several other programs at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“We believe in good science and I think the opportunity for good science in that arena was very high,” Sigman said of the IGB. “I continue to be impressed with what they’re doing.”