If you spend much time with MIKE WILEY ’83, the conversation will inevitably turn to science at some point. “Thanks to Graceland, science has been a vehicle for me to help develop talent in others in a multitude of ways and in a bunch of different avenues,” says the 30-year veteran scientist with over 70 U.S. Patents to his name.
That was not always the case. Wiley started college as a volleyball player at a different school, and after his first chemistry class with over 200 students, he decided he would never take another chem course. Wiley transferred to Graceland at semester. However, a chance encounter with chemistry professor Darrell Strait helped convince him to give chemistry another shot. “That changed everything for me,” Wiley says. Strait’s interest helped him find his way down a path that still influences his interactions to this day.
He spent time studying biochemistry under Betty Mortimer and organic chemistry under Graceland legend Bruce Graybill ’52, whom he considers one of his most significant influences. As a result, Wiley developed an interest in drug discovery.
After Graceland, he received his PhD in organic chemistry from the University of Utah and then did a National Institute of Health postdoctoral fellowship at Columbia University in New York. He spent 30 years at Eli Lilly and Company, including ten years as a research fellow, before retiring in 2020. “My work with Lilly enabled me to collaborate with people all over the world,” he said. Those collaborations took him into a much bigger world where he worked to develop diverse talent across the globe, earning him the LRL President’s Diversity Award in 2016.
He still loves using science as a platform for helping others to lead in his work as a consultant with several clients, where he helps to support scientific staff, and advises on project and leadership strategies.
“I am so grateful to the Graceland faculty I encountered during my time in Lamoni for helping me figure out who I wanted to be,” he says. “I’m not sure my experience would have been the same at a different university. Bruce Graybill, Rod Schaal, Betty Mortimer, Darrell Strait – they invested in me personally, and that’s why I’m so committed to this place. This community helped me find my passion, and I want to help others do that.”
In 2011, Wiley joined the alumni board and saw opportunities to engage current students with alumni. He identified a program at Eli Lilly and Company, which helped create a world-class professional summer research program for current students to join. Wiley and his wife Dana Cochran ’82 Wiley hosted several Graceland students during the summers, mentoring them and providing real-world experience.
Their daughter June graduated from Graceland in 2013 and went on to vet school. During June’s time in Lamoni, Wiley helped launch the GU4U alumni mentoring program, which continues to be an important collaboration between current students and graduates. Then in 2016, he was honored with Graceland’s Distinguished Service Award. As a member of the Alumni Board of Directors, he served on the presidential search committee in 2016 that helped select President Draves, then joined the board of trustees in 2018, continuing to serve Graceland in a new capacity.
“Much of my life’s work sits at the intersection of science and people’s development,” Wiley says. “I found my place at Graceland and I want to help others who, like me, need to discover their passion. That’s why I’m so committed to implementing and magnifying Graceland’s mission.”
Wiley remembers seeing Graceland through his daughter’s eyes: “In many ways, I saw that Graceland was even more effective at providing students with not only valuable life experience, but an extremely high return on educational investment. The education PLUS the immersion in community values is as aligned with our mission as it ever has been.”
In mid-2022, Wiley was elected to serve as Chair of the Graceland Board of Trustees, succeeding Harry Ashenhurst, who held the position for eight years. “I am really excited to continue working with our outstanding team of trustees and University leaders as we work to grow Graceland in alignment with its priorities and mission. A lot has changed culturally, and Graceland is still delivering on its mission at a very high level,” he said.
“Much of my life’s work sits at the intersection of science and people’s development. I found my place at Graceland and I want to help others who, like me, need to discover their passion. That’s why I’m so committed to implementing and magnifying Graceland’s vision.”