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Russ O’Dell Gives Back

Russ O'Dell
Russ O’Dell

Russ O’Dell (B.S. ’75, Ph.D. ’78) is a champion of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. He earned both B.S. and Ph.D. degrees in chemical engineering at NC State and has served the CBE Department in numerous capacities, including in his current role as Director of Alumni Relations. 

Russ grew up in Matthews, North Carolina. After graduating from East Mecklenburg High School in 1971, he came to NC State as an engineering major and ultimately decided to go into chemical engineering. His first course within the major was ChE 205 – material and energy balances. “I really liked the course. It was very interesting to learn how to analyze material and energy flows in a chemical process. I particularly liked the professor I had: Ron Rousseau,” says Russ.

Dr. Rousseau, who co-authored Elementary Principles of Chemical Processes with Dr. Richard Felder, ended up playing an integral role in Russ’s life. As an undergraduate, Russ performed research with Dr. Rousseau and ultimately decided to pursue his Ph.D. under his supervision. Russ graduated with his Ph.D. in December 1978. 

Throughout his entire time at NC State, Russ was incredibly involved in sports. He was on the NC State swimming team his freshman year, attended every single home football and basketball game throughout his time at NC State, and took 21 semesters of physical education! Back then, four semesters of physical education were required to graduate, but Russ made sure he took advantage of the opportunity, and from skiing to scuba diving, and everything in between, Russ did it all. 

After graduating, Russ started his career with Fiber Industries in Charlotte as an R&D Engineer. He later worked for Celanese, Hoechst Celanese, Hoechst North America, and KoSa. “During my career in the 1990s with Hoechst Celanese, I became the Global Manager of Technology. I traveled the world looking for technology that would help our businesses, and I met with brilliant scientists and engineers. My educational background from NC State served me well as I was able to connect with some of the world’s top scientists.” 

While he was at Celanese, Russ also became an NC State recruiter, and during that time, he was constantly meeting with students and professors. Because of this, he was asked to join the initial CBE Alumni Advisory Board in 1993. To this day, almost 30 years later, he is still an active board member. 

In 2002, after retiring from his industrial career, Russ returned to NC State to pursue a different opportunity: working with the NC State Engineering Foundation as the Director of Development for Chemical Engineering. 

After serving for 12 years in this position, Russ retired for a second time in 2014, only to return a few months later in a part-time capacity as the Director of Alumni Relations for CBE. 

In these positions, Russ has made a huge impact on CBE development and alumni relations. In addition to establishing funds and scholarships for the department, he also spends considerable time connecting with alumni to help them “find the most meaningful way to give back.” 

When Russ began working with the Engineering Foundation in 2002, there were only 12 scholarships in the department. Now – there are over 100 scholarships available!  Moreover, when he first started,  the department’s endowment fund amounted to $4 million. It has now grown to over $19 million, largely as a result of Russ’ tireless efforts. “I’ve been heavily involved in getting every single one of the department’s scholarships, professorships, and enhancement funds set up,” says Russ.

Russ has personally donated and established two scholarship funds: the Russ O’Dell Chemical Engineering Scholarship and the Russ O’Dell Outstanding Senior Chemical Engineering Scholarship. With both of these scholarships, Russ wanted to recognize and facilitate the outstanding achievement of CBE students. To date, 46 students have benefitted from his philanthropy. 

“I have been able to stay in touch with several of these scholarship winners. I’ve seen so many of them go on to get their MBAs, their Ph.D.s, get promotions, and give back to the department, and it’s inspiring,” says Russ. 

From his days as a student and industrial practitioner to his current role in development, Russ has been instrumental in the growth and development of the CBE Department and the University as a whole. He continues his efforts to give back personally and encourages others to do so, especially in light of the CBE Centennial coming up in 2024.

As Department Head Prof. Sindee Simon notes, “Our vision is to be one of the very best chemical and biomolecular engineering departments in the nation and the world. Russ’s work on our scholarships and endowments is instrumental for not only recruiting and retaining the very best students, staff, and faculty but also helping them succeed and making the department the best that it can be.”