Jonathan Withey

Top 40 Under 40 2011

Photography 3Ten/Aaron Pedersen

Age: 33

Job Title: Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Grant MacEwan University

Why He’s Top 40: He has grown Grant MacEwan University’s chemistry program so students now have the opportunity to do research on projects that could improve the health of the environment and the community.

Key To Success: “If you can inspire students or feel you have the capacity to go the extra mile, and maybe try to make some kind of difference, well then, it’s a waste not to.”

By the time Jonathan Withey finished his doctoral studies in chemistry at England’s University of Oxford in 2004, he “wanted to do anything but chemistry.”

A little disenchanted, he followed his Canadian wife to Edmonton and took a position as a casual instructor at Grant MacEwan University while he waited for her to finish a journalism internship.

Now, seven years later, he has advanced the chemistry program by developing a student-focused research program. He was also a key player in shaping the science degree program by helping design new lab spaces.

Withey has also increased the university’s research potential through significant collaborations with several organizations like Highmark Renewables and the BioWaste to Energy for Canada Integration Initiative, which commercializes renewable-energy technologies.

He credits his students’ enthusiasm for reinvigorating his love of chemistry. “I think the expression about seeing the light bulb turn on in someone’s head is something I find quite satisfying,” he says.

His goal with the research program was to extend what students learned in the classroom with projects that were trying to solve significant problems in areas like agriculture and the environment.

The program started off in 2006 with one student and a small $1,500 grant. Today it takes on a half-dozen students a year, and has $100,000 in research funding.

The program is a formidable time commitment. There are industry connections to make, students to mentor, grant proposals to write and countless other tasks that have to be done to ensure the program runs smoothly.

“We have four or five students downstairs now working through the summer on research and really, really enjoying it,” he says.

He adds, “To be able to give that to a student early on in their first year or second year of undergraduate study is quite special, and something I am really proud of.”

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