Niagara University alumnus Michael Kakos, ’60, and his wife, Aimee, have pledged a $2,500,000 gift to establish the Michael J., '60 and Aimee Rusinko Kakos Endowed Chair of Chemistry and to support the compensation and research of Dr. Mary McCourt, professor of chemistry, who will hold that position.
“The extraordinary generosity of Michael and Aimee Kakos will have a tremendous impact on our students and on the groundbreaking research being performed on our campus and in our lab in the Buffalo-Niagara Medical Corridor,” said the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., Niagara University president. “Dr. Mary McCourt’s expertise in computational chemistry and molecular modeling, cancer-targeted drug design, and structural biology will provide unparalleled opportunities for students to work on solutions to real-world health issues, increase their competitiveness for admission to graduate program in the healthcare professions, and create career pathways for employment immediately after graduation.”
Dr. McCourt joined Niagara’s chemistry, biochemistry, and physics department in 1999. Her areas of research include the development of CholestosomeTM technology and urine-based biomarker analysis for diagnostic screens focused on breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. She holds 14 patents for the CholestosomeTM technology, which was developed at Niagara University and is moving toward commercialization. Her recent work with CholestosomeTM has focused on developing therapies for treatment of coronaviruses, in particular COVID-19. This pioneering work was recognized by the Western New York section of the American Chemical Society with its 2020 Jacob F. Schoellkopf Medal.
“Niagara’s commitment to transitioning the chemistry department from an undergraduate institution that conducts research into a research institution that utilizes undergraduates to problem solve and innovate, places it at the forefront of what science-based higher education facilities will need to become in the near future,” said Dr. Kyle Mack, founder and CEO of Vivante Advisors and a member of Niagara University’s Class of 2005. “I’ve spent my professional career as an attorney/scientist representing global pharmaceutical companies on a variety of science-based legal and regulatory matters. Recently, I transitioned into guiding and investing in small pharmaceutical startup companies that are looking to improve people’s lives through the development of novel medications for the treatment of mental health disorders. From my experience, I can attest to you that the research being conducted here, at Niagara University, by Dr. McCourt and her students, is on par with any institution or pharmaceutical company I have been involved with.”
"The faculty and the Vincentian priests played a critical role in my education at Niagara University,” said Michael Kakos. “We are proud to establish the endowed chair of chemistry at Niagara University, which will ensure the continued growth and development of science education at Niagara. It will also ensure that students will have support from the faculty as they establish their goals for careers in the sciences."
Kakos started his career as a lab technician, first in the metals division at Union Carbide in Niagara Falls after graduation, then in ceramic tile research for a New Jersey industry laboratory. In 1963, he joined the plastics division at Celanese Corp. in New Jersey. He was named managing director of the company’s European operations and moved to London. After a decade in that position, he launched his own United Kingdom-based company, Resin Express Ltd., a plastic and rubber raw materials distributor. In 1997, he sold the international company, retiring two years later.
“Their generous support is the cornerstone of progress, igniting a scientific legacy at Niagara University that propels curious minds and paves the way for a brighter, more enlightened future,” said Jaclyn Drozd, vice president for institutional advancement. “Their support will drive forward the scientific pursuits and achievements at Niagara University.”
The Kakoses have generously supported Niagara University with a previous gift of $250,000 to establish a laboratory that bears their name in the university’s B. Thomas Golisano Center for Integrated Sciences. They also established an endowed scholarship for Niagara students who participate in the university’s study-abroad program.
The Kakos' gift is part of Niagara University’s Powering Transformation campaign, which now stands at more than $119,700,000 toward a goal of $125,000,000. This endowed chair position is one of seven created from the campaign.