MSU alumnus establishes new endowment for Lyman Briggs College: the Claybourne Petrey STEM Scholarship

July 3, 2019

Lyman Briggs College recently received a planned gift from Attorney R. Claybourne Petrey, Jr. to establish the Claybourne Petrey STEM Scholarship. This scholarship—made via charitable bequest—will support students who promote the importance of the work of women in STEM.

Claybourne PetreyClay Petrey grew up surrounded by engineers and scientists in an industrial city, Kingsport, Tennessee. His father was a chemical engineer and ran the chemical division of Eastman Kodak. He remembers being captivated by the atmosphere at the chemical plant, and expected to have a career in science. “I never questioned that I would follow a career in STEM. I was a science fiction nerd and loved the space program in that era, and it seemed that I was good at math.”

His interests in science and engineering led him to attend Michigan State University, enrolling in Lyman Briggs College. He was particularly drawn to its curriculum of “bridging the two cultures,” or examining math and science in their historical, philosophical and societal contexts. He writes, “Despite my enthusiasm for science, by the end of high school I had a growing sense of social responsibility and activism, so the humanistic bent to Lyman Briggs was very appealing.”

Petrey ended up earning his bachelor of science degree elsewhere in the university, but his experience in Briggs left a lasting impression. After college, he held professional roles as a computer systems analyst and a research associate at the National Science Foundation. A number of years later, he earned his law degree from the University of Michigan and pursued a legal career.

Petrey’s family has had a profound influence on his life, not just in the academics he studied, but also in his philanthropy. He says he began to appreciate the meaning of scholarship endowments when his father established a scholarship for students at East Tennessee State University. In his role as the director of a private family foundation awarding nearly one million dollars in scholarships annually, he realized just how impactful scholarships can be to students. That work inspired the establishment of this endowment.

For Petrey, choosing Lyman Briggs College to administer his scholarship came from a desire to positively impact the culture of women in STEM. LBC enrolls twice the national average of women in STEM disciplines. He says, “There are enough cultural obstacles for women in STEM. I would consider my efforts a complete success if the scholarship provided just one student an opportunity in STEM that would not have been available without the scholarship money.”

LBC Dean Michele Jackson writes, “Science always takes place in a context. Unfortunately, that context is not always inviting and supportive of women. This gift recognizes and supports LBC’s strong record for engaging and retaining women in science. We are grateful to Mr. Petrey for supporting our goal of making science accessible to all. His generosity will have an important positive impact by increasing diversity among future scientists.”

Although Petrey did not graduate from Lyman Briggs, he says he found the community aspect of LBC compelling and worthy of support. “LBC is an amazing environment of very bright students living and working together under one roof, while having ready access to fantastic resources. LBC was a great experience for me and I am glad to help support its future.”


Have you remembered Lyman Briggs College in your estate plans? Sharing your intentions with MSU will ensure your philanthropic goals are documented and organized. Contact Jackie Richardson, director of development and engagement at richa921@msu.edu or (517) 353-4869 today to discuss your opportunity to make a lasting impact and benefit Briggsies in the future.