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Ross and Michele Annable
August 15, 2022

Pioneering plastic recycling research inspires $5 million gift to College of Engineering

Written By: Jason Daley

An innovative College of Engineering sustainability research program and a key scholarship fund will be generously supported with a recent $5 million gift commitment from University of Wisconsin-Madison alumni Ross (BSECE ’67) and Michele (BS ’68 Biochemistry) Annable. The gift is the largest single contribution yet to the Strategic Targeted Achievers Recognition (STAR) Scholarship Fund, which helps recruit and retain the nation’s best and brightest undergraduates, and a significant step forward for a new plastic recycling technology.

In fact, it was a 2020 article about the pioneering recycling method, dubbed “solvent targeted recovery and precipitation (STRAP) processing” that inspired the Annables to make a $1 million gift to support the research.

“We are passionate about solving the world’s plastic waste problem, and George Huber’s research is leading the way,” Ross Annable says.

Huber, the Richard L. Antoine Professor in chemical and biological engineering and director of the National Science Foundation-supported Center on Chemical Upcycling of Waste Plastics (CUWP), and his team will use the gift to more aggressively pursue and commercialize this technology by supporting new graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and purchasing specialized laboratory equipment. STRAP allows the recycling of mono and multilayer flexible films which cannot currently be recycled today.

“We are incredibly grateful for the Annable’s confidence in our work and the ability to more quickly pursue solutions that can benefit the world,” Huber says. The $44 billion plastics industry employs more than 43,000 people in Wisconsin.

In addition, a $4 million gift will support the STAR Scholars program, enabling the College of Engineering to focus its growth on attracting the nation’s best and brightest students, while enhancing the diversity of the student body. Thanks to a generous commitment from The Grainger Foundation, this $4 million investment will be matched, creating an $8 million STAR Scholars fund.

Annable’s success following his electrical engineering degree helped enable the generous contribution back to the college. Following a stint in the U.S. Navy, where he was part of the nuclear submarine program, he joined the financial sector, working as the treasurer of a steel corporation and as a commercial banker before joining the First Union Corporation. Over 18 years, he held various positions, including president of First Union Securities and executive vice president of First Union Corporation. He also earned an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Since retiring in 2000, Annable has remained an active investor in startup and early-stage companies and has served as interim executive director of the Ben Craig Center, a business incubator affiliated with the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. He has also served on advisory and governance boards for various companies and charities.

“We are proud of the many accomplishments of our alumni, and incredibly honored when they are motivated to give back,” says Grainger Dean of the College of Engineering Ian Robertson. “This gift will make a significant impact in our ability to both continue groundbreaking plastic recycling research as well as educating the next generation of engineers.”

Top photo caption: UW-Madison alumni Ross and Michele Annable.