Late WVU genetics professor honored by former student

A long-time West Virginia University genetics and developmental biology professor who had a profound impact on his students has been honored through the establishment of a graduate fellowship and the naming of a conference room in the new Agricultural Sciences Building.

The Dr. Valentin Ulrich Genetics & Developmental Biology Fellowship and the Dr. Valentin Ulrich Conference Room will be dedicated at 4 p.m. June 23 in Room 3402 of the Agricultural Sciences Building during a reception to honor the late professor. Ulrich died in 2009, but his legacy will remain a part of the college through the fellowship and conference room naming.

“His home and table were always available for his graduate students, with many coming from foreign countries to study,” said his wife, Nancy Ulrich. “He was a professor, a mentor, and a friend who left an indelible legacy in the lives of many of his students and field of genetics.”

A former student, who wished to remain anonymous, and his wife made a gift to establish the Dr. Valentin Ulrich Genetics & Developmental Biology Fellowship and the Dr. Valentin Ulrich Conference Room.

“Dr. Ulrich had a profound impact on my life and the success I have had in my career,” the donor stated. “I wanted to ensure that his legacy remained a part of the college, its history and its future.”

Thanks to the generous donation, the Davis College Division of Plant and Soil Sciences will be able to award the fellowship starting in fall 2018.

“We are so grateful to have one of our long-time professors honored in this manner and to have the capacity to provide a fellowship to a deserving graduate student,” said Matthew Jenks, division director and professor of horticulture. “These types of gifts provide the margin of excellence that propel our students on a path to success.”

Ulrich taught at WVU from 1957 to 1993.  Born to immigrant parents, he spent his early years living in Nazi-occupied Hamburg, Germany, and New York tenements before settling with his family in Hanover, New Jersey. At the age of 17, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corp and served in the Pacific Theater during World War II. After the war, he finished high school at night, worked during the day, and enrolled at Rutgers University under the G.I. Bill.

With the outbreak of the Korean War, he was recalled to active duty in the Marine Corp and fought in multiple battles before being wounded at the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir, now North Korea. Honorably discharged at the rank of sergeant, he received multiple military commendations including two Purple Hearts and the Distinguished Service Medal.   

After returning from Korea, Ulrich finished an undergraduate degree at Rutgers University and went on to complete a doctorate of philosophy with a specialization in genetics. In 1957, he joined the faculty at WVU and helped found its genetics program.

During his tenure, he taught graduate and undergraduate courses, held administrative positions, and authored numerous scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals. As a consultant for the Environmental Protection Agency, he used his knowledge of genetics to study water pollution, and testified before the United States Congress about this research.

“We are honored and pleased to have a legacy of this magnitude created for such an outstanding professor,” said Dean Daniel J. Robison. “Gifts such as these allow us to attract the best and brightest students and continue a tremendously strong program in genetics and developmental biology. The donors who have established this fellowship were inspired and motivated by Dr. Ulrich and wish to have future generations similarly inspired.”

This gift was made in conjunction with A State Minds: The Campaign for West Virginia’s University. The comprehensive campaign being conducted by the WVU Foundation on behalf of the University runs through December 2017.

For more information on how to make a gift to support the Dr. Valentin Ulrich Genetics & Developmental Biology Fellowship, or any fund within the WVU Davis College, please contact Julie Cryser at 304.293.2400 or

May 25, 2017