Foundation Program History

Carl and Margot Johnson had a dream of encouraging and enabling students to enter the fields of science, engineering and mathematics thereby increasing and improving the pool of engineers and scientists seeking to tackle the tough and ever more complicated technical problems facing our nation and the world.

Dr. Carl Johnson and Richard W. Purnell met at Andora Restaurant in Sewickley, PA to bring this dream to life.

History Timeline

May 1, 2007
















May 1, 2007

The Foundation commenced operations with Rick Purnell as Executive Director. Duncan Morrison and Marc Pelaez, along with Carl Johnson formed the first Board of Directors and appointed Robert German as Board Secretary and legal counsel.

As the first initiative of the II-VI Foundation, seven $5,000 college scholarships were awarded. To be eligible students were required:

*to be entering the fields of science, engineering or mathematics

*have a 3.0 cumulative GPA

*have no disciplinary action taken against them

*fulfill the unique requirement of 360 hours or nine weeks of related engineering or science experience in an industrial setting (This requirement forces the candidates to have hands-on, real-world experience outside of an academic setting, therefore creating a different perspective from which to view his or her career decisions.)


The second initiative began with seven Block-Gifts totaling $689,000 granted to universities across the country for research on scientific topics of interest and importance. The research is to be conducted by graduate students under the watchful eye of a principal investigator.

The II-VI Foundation contracted two project managers in August of 2008. Dr. Richard Hopkins became the Block-Gift Program Manager and Dr. Eric Kofmehl became the Early Education Initiatives Manager. Both represent focus areas of the Foundation.

The impact of the II-VI Foundation Scholarship program continued to grow. Fourteen scholarships were awarded in 2008. The award grew from $5,000 to $10,000.


After two years of operating from Rick’s home, the II-VI Foundation established a formal location for its operations in Bridgeville, PA and also launched its first website, and hired its second employee. Rebecca Closson was hired as part-time administrative assistant.

The Early Education Initiative began with four programs:

Camp Invention

St. Joseph’s High School


Science in Motion Summer Camp at Juniata College (later renamed Summer Science Splash Camp).

The II-VI Foundation Early Education programs were designed to target students in elementary through middle school grades. It is during these years that many favorable impressions are made and career alternatives come into consideration. To make a coherent and intriguing case for science, mathematics and engineering careers would mean our nation will be more likely to produce a larger number of students pursuing these disciplines.

Don Barrett joined the Block-Gift team in 2009. Don was assigned the task of Conference Coordinator and began planning the first II-VI Foundation Block-Gift Mini-Conference.

Adjustments were made to the scholarship application process to coordinate with a special Practicum Program offered to high school students at II-VI Incorporated plants. Students involved in the Practicum Program can apply for the II-VI Foundation scholarship during a separate application period in April. Rick traveled to II-VI plants across the country to explain our scholarship program.

The scholarship program continued to grow with nineteen scholarships awarded in 2009 totaling $190,000.


The fourth initiative was launched. The Undergraduate Research Program (URP)provided research experience in an undergraduate setting and an opportunity for undergraduate students to meet with II-VI Foundation engineering/science personnel to review results. In 2010 Juniata College in PA and Letourneau University in TX became our first URP recipients.

As the scholarship program continued to grow, the II-VI Foundation recognized the need and desire to support the best and the brightest. The required GPA was increased to 3.1 in 2010 and thirty-seven undergraduate scholarships were awarded. Shane Mills became the first scholarship recipient to receive II-VI Foundation scholarships all four years of college.

Sue Zuk was hired as part-time administrative assistant.

The first two mini-conferences were held in 2010 providing opportunities for sharing information, technology and expertise among sponsored Block-Gift institutions. The II-VI Foundation holds mini-conferences at different times throughout the year for our Block-Gift recipients. These mini-conferences provide an environment for the purpose of sharing information, technology and expertise. Lively discussion can provide opportunities for students and professors to exchange new ideas and perspectives. In the best case they find common ground for new research topics. The mini-conference attendees are grouped around common topics of interest. They are held in various locations around the country that allows for local technical participation.

The Early Education Initiative proceeded with Calcu-Solve, Camp Invention, Science in Motion at Juniata College and funding the Carnegie Science Center Science “On the Road” outreach program.


Nineteen Block-Gift Projects were funded in 2011. Several universities expressed a need for equipment purchases not covered by our Block-Gift program. Therefore, in 2011 the II-VI Foundation spent $109,000 to provide eight schools with a one-time only Special Equipment purchase.

In light of the growth and great success of the Block-Gift program, it was determined that we needed to continually evaluate the program to ensure successful outcomes for the students supported by the program. Don Barrett began to develop the Block-Gift Quality Control Evaluation Project in 2011.

Pittsburgh, PA and the University of Texas at Dallas were the sites of the 2011 Block-Gift Mini-Conferences.

42 students were supported with Undergraduate Scholarships in 2011.

The Calcu-Solve competitions continued to grow. Camp Invention was supported in Singapore (the Foundation’s first overseas program initiative), Dallas, TX, Saxonburg, PA and Temecula, CA., and we began the replication process of our Summer Science Splash Camp. Juniata College held another successful camp.

Three Undergraduate Research Programs were held at Juniata College in PA, Letourneau University in TX and Grove City College in PA.

The II-VI Foundation celebrated its first five years with a celebratory dinner on Thursday, November 3, 2011 at Restaurant Echo in Cranberry Township.

2011 brought the passing of our valued and beloved board member, Duncan Morrison.

Peter Sognefest joined the Board of Directors in 2011.


The Block-Gift Program grew to 21 supported programs and mini-conferences were held in New Jersey and Arizona. John Spitznagel joined the Block-Gift Technical Team.

Fifty-six undergraduate scholarships were awarded to exemplary students. We began to track students graduating from our program. II-VI Foundation launched its Facebook page in response to student suggestions. Facebook provided another format to keep in touch with our supported students and make others aware of the valuable work of the Foundation.

Five undergraduate research programs were funded.

The Early Education program continued to grow. Calcu-Solve added grades 9 and 10 to the Pittsburgh competition. A NW Pennsylvania competition began for 5-6 grade students at Grove City College. The Foundation supported Camp Invention in six locations throughout the country.

Our first replication of the Summer Science Splash Camp began at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL.


An unexpected but exciting outcome of the II-VI Foundation Mini-Conference was the birth of the idea to group three university participants together as they researched different aspects of the same research topic. Beginning with the 2013 Block-Gift cycle, the Collaborative Research Initiative (CRI) was formed. Because the topic was of common interest, the three schools were tasked to share all of their research with the other schools each month. The group would succeed or fail together. The students were encouraged to interact with their peers and the professors at other schools. The result was a widening of the experience and knowledge pool. The students and professors benefited. The three universities involved in our CRI were Auburn, Rutgers and Purdue. The outcomes of collaborative research are endless and it was a very exciting new component to the mission of the II-VI Foundation.

There were twenty-one Block-Gift Programs in 2013, including the three involved in the CRI. Mini-conferences were held at the University of North Texas and the University of Illinois.

Undergraduate Research was supported at seven schools: Austin College in TX, Coastal Carolina University in SC, Grove City College in PA, Juniata College in PA, Susquehanna University in PA, Eckerd College in FL and University of LaVerne in CA.

Bringing his experience and support, J. D. Brookhart joined the II-VI Foundation team.

The good word about the II-VI Foundation Undergraduate Scholarships grew and we received 96 applications. Looking for the best and the brightest, we raised the required GPA to 3.2, unweighted, and the minimum SAT score to 1700. In the end, 56 scholarships were awarded.

Meanwhile, the Calcu-Solve Competition in Pittsburgh added grades 11 and 12. The NW program continued and a Super Bowl competition was added providing competition between the winners of the other events. Four Camp Inventions were funded and middle school students continued to enjoy Summer Science Splash Camps at Eckerd and Juniata Colleges.

A Strategic Directions Meeting was held at the Foundation office on May 29, 2013. Staff, program coordinators and consultants met to discuss the future of the II-VI Foundation programs.


2014 was a relatively quiet year for the II-VI Foundation. Our valued support grew as our strong programs continued to be fine-tuned.

Twenty-one Block-Gift Programs were funded at twenty different institutions which spanned the country from California to Florida to Rhode Island and everywhere in between. Rutgers University and the University of California at Irvine hosted our mini-conferences.

2014 was the last year for Undergraduate Research Program with seven schools supported.

For the first time, scholarships were awarded to foreign students with eight scholarships given to students in Vietnam for a total of 57 scholarships. The maximum scholarship amount for domestic students was adjusted to $9,000.

The first Summer Science Splash Camp conference was held in Pittsburgh. Austin College held their first SSSC. Four Camp Invention locations were funded and Calcu-Solve continued to be a big success with almost 1200 students involved this year.


In order to keep our budget in line with current assets, several changes and program cuts were made in 2015. The II-VI Foundation continued to make an impact on students throughout the world while maintaining fiscal responsibility to ensure the longevity of the Foundation.

The Block Gift program reduced some of its projects to one student or half of our normal funding. In 2015 we supported eleven two-student programs (full funding), including the three CRI schools, and six one-student programs (half funding). Only one conference was held this year, in Pittsburgh, PA.

The Scholarship program awarded a total of fifty students, with 35 across the United States, three in China and twelve in Vietnam.

The Early Education Initiatives were limited to a Pittsburgh area Calcu-Solve competition and three Summer Science Splash Camps at Juniata, Eckerd and Millsaps College in Mississippi. Rick and Eric began a concerted effort to find co-funders for our Summer Science Splash Camps. Recognizing the value of these camps and wanting to continue replication across the country, we became aware of the need to pursue a co-funding strategy.

May 20, 2015 brought great sadness to the II-VI Foundation with the passing of our co-founder and ardent supporter, Margot A. Johnson.

September 6, 2015 the Foundation was saddened to lose their Board Secretary and legal counsel upon the untimely death of Rob German.

Holly McCann became our new Board Secretary and primary legal counsel.


The Margot A. Johnson Post-Doctoral Fellowship was established in 2016 by the II-VI Foundation to honor our recently deceased co-founder. Margot delighted in talking with students supported by the Foundation and watching their growth and continuing education. This fellowship was developed to add another level to the educational support offered through the II-VI Foundation. The Margot A. Johnson Post-Doctoral Fellowship supports a post-doctoral student performing research deemed valuable by the II-VI Foundation Chairman and conducted at a university or college under the direction of a Principal Investigator. The first recipient of this fellowship was Purdue University.

In 2016 ,the II-VI Foundation supported fifteen Block-Gift Programs including four one-student programs. The University of Tennessee at Knoxville hosted our 2015 Mini-conference with great success.

In response to a study on the success of our scholarship students, the Board lowered the maximum scholarship available to freshmen students to $5,000. In 2016, we awarded 33 domestic scholarships, five in China and four in Vietnam, for a total of 42 scholarships.

The search for co-funders for our Summer Science Splash Camps continued as successful camps were held at Juniata, Eckerd and Millsaps Colleges with the addition of the University of Texas at Dallas.

May 24, 2016 the second Strategic Directions Meeting was held in Pittsburgh for members of the II-VI Foundation staff, program coordinators and consultants. Current programs were reviewed and evaluated. Future goals and strategies were discussed and embraced.

The II-VI Foundation experienced the passing of another of its strong supporters with the death of Board of Directors member, Peter Sognefest.

Elgin Eissler joined the Foundation Board of Directors.


The II-VI Foundation celebrates ten years of support for students entering the fields of science, engineering and mathematics and most importantly, doing so with excellence. Feedback from professors, students, industry and parents alike reiterates the value and importance of the work conducted by the Foundation.

In 2017, we supported fourteen Block-Gift projects at thirteen different institutions across the world at a cost of $1.3 million. Each year more and more requests pour in as our work becomes better known. Our Block-Gift support included our 1st international school, Southampton University in the United Kingdom. The University of North Carolina at Charlotte hosted our 2017 mini-conference.

Thirty-eight undergraduate scholarships were awarded with seven in China and two in Vietnam. The 2017 awardees were another exemplary group of students: 48% of our domestic recipients had a 3.9 GPA or above and 90% had a 3.5 or above. The II-VI Foundation Scholarship competition is stiff competition and much sought after. Maximum scholarship amounts were raised to $10,000 for sophomores, juniors and seniors.

2017 brought success in our search for co-funders for the Summer Science Splash Program. The Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation co-sponsored a successful first-time camp at Westminster College in PA. Juniata and Eckerd Colleges again hosted highly successful camps with waiting lists for enrollment. Students love these camps! Work continues in our search for co-funders for other existing and future camps.

The Pittsburgh Calcu-Solve competition is again scheduled with record numbers of participants enrolled with a waiting list for the 5th-6th grade competition.


In 2018, fifteen Block-Gift programs were supported. Our mini-conference was held at the University of South Florida and titled, “Material Solutions Key to Advanced Device and Component Applications”.

In May Chuck Brandt joined our technical team.

In 2018, forty-seven undergraduate scholarships were awarded: four from Vietnam, nine from China and thirty-four domestic students were awarded up to $10,000.

Our Early Education initiatives continued successfully. Three Summer Science Splash Camps were held, impacting 419 students. Calcu-Solve competitions impacted 1089 students.


2019 offered another successful year of following our mission to encourage and enable students through over $2 million in program support.

Dr. Tom Anderson joined our technical team offering wonderful experience and a wide base of knowledge to our team.

Our Block-Gift program supported graduate level and doctoral candidates with fourteen research projects, including an additional international program at Kyoto University in Japan. The first Executive Director Discretionary Project was funded at the University of Pittsburgh.

Thirty-eight attendees heard presentations by five universities on “Engineering Materials Chemistry and Structures for Advanced Optical and Electronic Application” at our mini-conference. The conference was held at II-VI Incorporated World Headquarters in Saxonburg, PA on November 13, 2019 and included a tour of the plant.

The undergraduate scholarship program continues to attract the brightest and best students. Each year the competition for these scholarships continues to grow with amazing credentials and experience evident in our applicants. Forty-one scholarships were awarded, twelve from China and 29 domestic students from twenty-one academic institutions and a median GPA of 3.8.


2020 offered many challenges and adaptations because of the world-wide Pandemic. The II-VI Foundation continued pursuing our important mission through these many challenges.

Twelve Block-Gift programs were supported, along with one Executive Director Discretionary Fund program. However, because of the Pandemic the university visitations were done virtually for the first time.

Our first virtual mini-conference was hosted by The Ohio State University on October 28th using Zoom technology for nine university students to present their research progress on ““Emerging Technologies for Photonics and Advanced Communications”. While meeting remotely lacked some of the personal contact, it made it possible for attendance by a larger number of attendees from locations around the world.

Because of the pandemic, all Summer Science Splash Camps were cancelled. The Board of Directors made the decision to end all of our Early Education program support at the close of 2020.

Forty undergraduate scholarships were awarded with twelve in China and twenty-eight domestically. Students struggled to find work experience in light of the elimination of many internships and opportunities due to the global shut-downs.

During the Pandemic lock-down, the II-VI Foundation staff worked from home meeting the many challenges this produced. As things began to open, the staff returned to the office one day a week.

Discussion began with II-VI Incorporated about providing funding to continue and grow the Foundation’s mission.

Due to time constraints due to his job, Chuck Brandt resigned from the Tech Team.

Dr. Elgin Eissler was added to the Board of Directors.


Mr. JD Brookhart joined the II-VI Foundation Board of Directors.

II-VI Incorporated began financial support of the II-VI Foundation with a generous donation in support of our important work.

Dr. Al Burk joined Block-Gift Tech Team in January.

Fourteen Block-Gifts and one Executive Director Discretionary Program were supported by the Foundation providing valuable research and important student support.

Rick Purnell moved to Charlottesville, VA and the staff we began working from home full-time.

Two mini-conferences were held virtually:

  • On May 13, 2021 a Mini-Conference was sponsored by the II-VI Foundation and Hosted Virtually by The Ohio State University on the topic, “Materials, Processing and Fabrication of Advanced Wide Bandgap Power Devices”.
  • On October 19, 2021 a Mini-Conference titled, “Engineering Advanced Device Structures for Photonic Applications”, was sponsored by the II-VI Foundation and hosted virtually by Wyant College of Optical Sciences at the University of Arizona.

The undergraduate scholarship program awarded 54 scholarships in 2021, 20 in China and 34 domestically. The average GPA of these exceptional students was a 3.77.

After twelve impressive and valuable years of contribution to the Foundation Don Barrett retired in December.


In 2022, sixteen Block-Gifts and one Executive Director Discretionary Project were awarded supporting important research and valuable student education.

Two Block-Gift schools, Montana State University and the University of Arizona, were united to work on an important collaboration.

Sixty-four scholarships were awarded in our Undergraduate Scholarship Program, 20 internationally and 44 domestically. 16% of the recipients carried a 4.0 GPA while the average GPA of all of the students was 3.78, all while working at least 360 hours in an industrial setting and gaining immeasurable experience and knowledge.

In January of 2022, Dr. Alan Hedges joined our impressive Technical Team.

Two mini-conferences were held in 2022 with the return of an in-person mini-conference:

  • The 19th Mini-Conference was held June 21, 2022. It was a virtual mini-conference sponsored by the University of Virginia titled, “Forming Novel Material Structures By Additive Manufacturing Processes”.
  • Our first in-person mini-conference in many years was held on October 12, 2022 in Cranberry Township, PA. The 20th Mini-Conference was titled, “Advancements in Quantum Photonics and Electronics Structures for Communication, Computation and Sensing Systems.”

A $1 million gift was made to the Foundation by II-VI Incorporated, now Coherent Corporation.

The Margot A. Johnson Post-Doctoral Fellowship awarded to Purdue University continues to be administrated by the Foundation.

The Fifteenth Anniversary of the II-VI Foundation was celebrated on October 11th in Cranberry Township, PA with testimonials given by students, professors and others impacted by the work of the foundation. In those fifteen years over 17,000 students have been supported by the II-VI Foundation. Dr. Carl Johnson, founder, announced that the name of the foundation would be changed to Coherent / II-VI Foundation and a new logo was revealed.

Coherent / II-VI Foundation News and Updates


Optics, Lasers and Photonics University of Buffalo, Professor Jonathan Bird, Plasmonic Transistors for Terahertz-Band Communication University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne, Professor John Dallesasse, Long-Wavelength 1550nm VCSELs for Optical Communication University of Rochester, Professor Jannick Rolland and Professor Nick Vamivakas, Establishing and Verifying the Fundamental Optical and Material Capabilities and Limitations of Metasurfaces Quantum University of...

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Engineering Nano-Scale Structures for Advanced Battery, Electronic and Optical Applications

A Mini-Conference Sponsored by The Coherent/II-VI Foundation Hosted Virtually by The University of Michigan May 10, 2024 8:45 am        Welcome and Introduction: Rick Purnell, Executive Director Coherent / II-VI Foundation 8:50 am        Opening Remarks:  Rear Admiral Marc Pelaez, US Navy Retired, Chairman Coherent / II-VI Foundation Additive Manufacturing Session (Moderated by Alan Hedges) 9:00...

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Coherent / II-VI Foundation Board of Directors & Staff


Chairman of the Board

Marc Y. E. Pelaez is a Rear Admiral, United States Navy (retired). Rear Admiral Pelaez is currently a private consultant to defense and commercial companies. He was Vice President of Engineering, and later Vice President of Business and Technology Development, for Newport News Shipbuilding, from 1996 until 2001, when it was acquired by Northrop Grumman Corporation. From 1993 to 1996, Rear Admiral Pelaez served as Chief of Naval Research. He served as the Executive Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research, Development, and Acquisition) from 1990 to 1993. From 1968 to 1990, he held numerous positions, including command assignments, in the United States Navy. He is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy. Rear Admiral Pelaez has a broad background and understanding of technology and technology development, a seasoned knowledge of military procurement practices, and management leadership and consulting skills developed throughout his military and civilian careers.


Chairman Emeritus of the Board

Co-founder of II-VI Incorporated (publicly traded NASDAQ IIVI symbol)

Retired Chairman, CEO and President of II-VI Incorporated

Current Chairman of the II-VI Foundation

Founder of SemiQ in Lake Forest, CA

Founder Clas-SiC Wafer Fab Limited in Kirkcaldy, Scotland


Board Secretary

Holly McCann, Esquire, is a founding member of Block & Associates, LLC, a law firm located in the East End neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Holly is a seasoned corporate and tax lawyer, with 20+ years’ experience focused on assisting businesses in general corporate and partnership matters, including formation and dissolution issues, evaluation of tax matters, regulation of non-profit corporations, unrelated business taxable income, reorganizations and dissolutions of non-profit corporations, along with tax structuring. Holly is a graduate of Edinboro University of Pennsylvania with a B.S. in Accounting, and a graduate of Duquesne University School of Law. Holly is the President of the Pittsburgh Tax Club (2019-2022) and is the former Treasurer of the Pittsburgh Tax Club (2016-2019).


Elgin received his BSEE from Carnegie Mellon University in 1974. Upon graduation, for the next 10 years, he worked at Instrumentation Industries, Inc., a privately held company specializing in respiratory therapy devices, where he served as Vice President. In 1984, he joined II-VI Incorporated, a worldwide manufacturer of high technology materials, solid state lasers and telecommunications devices. During his 38-year tenure at II-VI, Elgin has held a variety of positions including Vice President, Worldwide Materials, Chief Scientist, Laser Solutions, Executive Director of II-VI Beijing Technologies and Chief Technologist, Battery and Materials. Elgin served on the Board of Directors of 5N Plus, a Montreal based company specializing in high purity metals, from 2001 to 2006.


JD Brookhart, a managing director at CJ&M Holdings, holds a finance degree from Colorado State University. He began his career as an award-winning sales executive at Xerox and was recruited to advance his career in medical equipment sales and then engineering software sales. He made a life-changing decision and spent the next 18 years coaching football in the NFL and at the highest collegiate level. He was a coordinator and head coach at a number of prestigious schools. He now directs CJ&M Holdings and their pursuit of supporting start-up companies. He also serves as a Board member for several for-profit and non-profit entities. He lives in Denver, with his wife and 4 sons.


Dr. Young-Kai (Y.K.) Chen is the Deputy Chief Technology Officer at Coherent Corporation. He joined Coherent in 2017, responsible for developing advanced semiconductor electronics, optoelectronics, and sensors for next generation products. He also serves as part-time visiting professor at Princeton University and Cornell University. From 2017 to 2021, he was a Program Manager at DARPA initiating and managing programs in advanced semiconductor electronics, AI/Machine Learning processing and secured communications. Before DARPA, he was a Senior Director at Nokia Bell Labs from 1988 to 2017 supporting advanced research and development in the areas of high-speed electronics and optoelectronics.  From 1980 to 1988, he was a design engineer on mixed-mode and microwave integrated circuits for phase arrays at Electronics Laboratory, General Electric Co.


Dr. Chen received his Ph.D. degree in Electrical Engineering from Cornell University, MSEE on planar phase array from Syracuse University, and BSEE from National Chiao-Tung University in Taiwan. He is a fellow of Bell Labs, IEEE and Optica (OSA), a member of National Academy of Engineering, and recipient of IEEE David Sarnoff Award and Edison Patent Award.