Learning Legacy

Professor Emeritus John C. Wheeler Is Committed to Learning—Now and in the Future

John C. Wheeler

John C. Wheeler

John C. Wheeler arrived at UC San Diego in 1969. As a young assistant professor wrapping up a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard, John had a dozen job offers from universities across the country. What attracted him to UC San Diego was the opportunity to focus first on teaching graduate-level courses rather than immediately teaching large undergraduate courses. As his career developed, he taught the full range of courses, from introductory chemistry through junior-level physical chemistry to graduate courses.

At UC San Diego, John was able to launch his research into thermodynamics and statistical mechanics of phase transitions and critical phenomena, research supported by the National Science Foundation as well as grants from the industry. This led to a two-year research fellowship from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in 1972 and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1983.

In between teaching and research, John also found time for fun. A runner for most of his life, he ran in the first Heart of San Diego marathon, numerous half-marathons—including one in France—and countless 10Ks. He still loves to walk several miles multiple times a week. He and his wife, a UC San Diego librarian manager, met through their mutual love of dancing. Now, more than 30 years later, the couple enjoys dancing, traveling, and volunteering through their church.

Today, John is still committed to learning—and teaching. He can frequently be found at the Faculty Club sitting at the Euclid table with the mathematics faculty asking questions and engaging in lively discussion, or mentoring first-generation college students through the UC San Diego Emeriti Mentoring Program and tutoring at-risk high school students who aspire to become first-generation college graduates at Reality Changers.

This year, in recognition of his ongoing dedication to teaching, research, and community service, John received the Edward A. Dickson Award. The Dickson Award, named for UC Regent Edward A. Dickson, who established the endowed trust that funds the award, honors emeriti faculty members from each of the University of California campuses for their engagement and involvement in their communities and universities. The award carries the title Edward A. Dickson Professor Emeritus.

UC San Diego has been a constant for John. He considers himself lucky to have spent his entire career at one institution, especially one of the caliber of UC San Diego. Although it was his focus on graduate work and research that brought him to UC San Diego, John enjoys UC San Diego's unique collaborative environment. A large research university is the place to be if you have questions, and John is always seeking the "aha!" moment, whether for himself or a student.

"I like helping people get it, not just memorizing the rules, but understanding how you get the rule," he says. "I want my students to know how to think and be able to explain how they do what they do."

John's passionate curiosity informs his relationship with both UC San Diego and his larger community. His expansive philanthropic commitments span a number of causes—many of which are linked to providing people with more opportunities—and aren't limited to one type of gift. He likes being able to see what his giving can do, and considers himself lucky to be able to give back now, but he has also included planned gifts in his estate.

John sees philanthropy as a holistic effort. He says, "I encourage everyone to think of ways to give back, in terms of money, time, and service."

John's story is just one example of how you can give back to UC San Diego to benefit future Tritons. If you're ready to make a gift like John did, please contact the Office of Gift Planning at (858) 534-2249 or giftplanning@ucsd.edu to get started.