Surpassing Expectations

Marjorie Winkler.

Biotechnology pioneer Marjorie Winkler creates opportunities for others studying and teaching chemistry at UB.

Marjorie “Marge” Winkler  has spent a lifetime surpassing expectations—in her education, her career, even her hobbies. Fortunately for the University at Buffalo, she also goes “above and beyond” in her generous philanthropy toward the university, its students and faculty.

Winkler, along with her husband, Paul F. Hohenschuh, has supported the sciences at UB through gifts to the Department of Chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences. Her philanthropy includes student scholarships, an endowment for assistant professors and the Dr. Marjorie E. Winkler Distinguished Professorship for Chemistry. She has also given to other campus units over the years. She describes her gifts—which total nearly $7 million to UB over the past two decades—as “paying it for-ward” in appreciation for the opportunities she received both as an undergraduate and as a doctoral student.

The reasoning behind her philanthropy is simple. “I feel like higher education can be Transformational”—and she wants others to have the same opportunities she did while studying at UB. 

Winkler recalls how receiving a Woodburn Fellowship during her doctoral studies allowed her to pursue research full time, which, in turn, led to a long and highly successful career at biotechnology pioneer Genentech Inc. “Science plays a big role in people’s lives,” she says. “We need good scientists, and I’m so impressed with the quality of students UB is turning out and the work they are doing.”

Her own quality as a student was recognized by an early mentor, chemistry professor Robert Bereman, who invited her to take a graduate course with him as a second-semester freshman. She went on to do research in his lab beginning in her sophomore year. Although it was fairly uncommon to see women in STEM fields in the 1970s, Bereman encouraged her interest in research, and she returned to his lab as she pursued her doctorate in chemistry.

Continuing to defy expectations, Winkler joined Genentech after completing an NIH-funded postgraduate fellowship at MIT, instead of becoming a professor as first planned. She also was one of the few women at the company. Winkler knew going into industry instead of teaching “was very much the right choice for me. I wanted to be there because I wanted to make a difference.”

And make a difference she did. Among the many projects she worked on at Genentech were groundbreaking drugs to treat cancer, heart attacks, stroke and cystic fibrosis, including Nutropin, Activase TPA, Herceptin, Avastin and Pulmozyme. She retired in 2013 as Genentech’s vice president for U.S. biologics technical development.

Prior to retirement, Winkler strengthened her ties to the university, despite living across the country in California, and began her philanthropic efforts. “I met with the chemistry department, because they had been so generous to me, to ask what they needed most.”  She then established several scholarships to augment fellowships and retain students. She has also been a long-serving member of the UB Foundation Board and its Gift Stewardship Committee.   

“I thought if UB could bring in really good people early in their careers, they might stay for life.”  

Marge Winkler

“Lots of women have received the scholarships and that’s been neat,” Winkler says. “They are all really enthusiastic about what they’re doing.” She tries to meet with recipients each time she visits campus and notes that many don’t realize they have the option to have a meaningful job in industry. And so she’s pleased to share her personal experience with them. 

After the scholarships were established, Winkler turned her attention to faculty development, using her industry career experience as a guide. “I thought if UB could bring in really good people early in their careers, they might stay for life,” she says. And so she endowed an assistant professorship, which allows newer faculty members to travel, network and present research to establish their standing in the field as they pursue tenure.

Her most recent gift is the endowment of a distinguished chemistry professorship. This will allow the department to build on her investment in early career faculty, while furthering the work of established researchers who will then elevate UB’s prominence. 

Winkler continues to surpass expectations. She and her husband love to travel and have visited every continent except Antarctica—and a trip there is planned for this year. Indeed, traveling helps with their other favorite hobby, geocaching, in which people hunt for objects hidden all over the world using GPS coordinates. How many objects have they found? “Almost 35,000,” she says, with her customary modesty.  

Story by Cathy Wilde
Photograph by HEAVY Content Studios 

Published March 21, 2023