New graduate fellowship named for WSU alumnus Gene Zaid

Clay Blair gives $105,000 to honor the Kansas entrepreneur

Gene Zaid
Gene Zaid says he hopes the Gene Zaid Graduate Fellowship in Chemistry will help students acquire the skills and knowledge to build their own successful businesses that will someday provide jobs for others.

The long-distance relationship between Clay Blair and Gene Zaid has always been one of mutual respect, but that didn’t prepare Zaid for the day he learned that Blair wanted to provide a gift of $105,000 to Wichita State in his honor.

   “I was absolutely pleased — elated. I don’t have the words to describe it,” Zaid says. “He said, ‘I know that you went to Wichita State and I want to do something there in your name.’ It was his request that I decide how it should be done.”

   Zaid, who earned his master’s degree in chemistry from WSU in 1977, chose to establish a graduate fellowship in the chemistry department, a fellowship that will be named for him. The first award will be made this fall.

   Blair, a real estate developer in Johnson County and owner of Clay Blair Services Corp., said he had always been impressed by Zaid’s personal story and the business acumen that catapulted him to great success.

   “Wichita and Wichita State have a rich heritage of spawning entrepreneurial success stories,” Blair says. “Gene Zaid is another great example — a proven rags-to-riches success story and a fine gentleman.”

“That's one reason why I want this money to go to a graduate assistant, so they can go to Wichita State and pursue their dreams like I did.”

- Gene Zaid '77

   Born in a Palestinian refugee camp in the disputed West Bank territory, Zaid managed to save enough money to come to the United States at the age of 17 to attend college through a foreign outreach educational program. He earned an undergraduate degree at Kansas Wesleyan, then a master’s degree from Wichita State. He received a doctorate in California.

   In 1982, Zaid started his own company called JACAM Chemical, named after his sons, Jason and Cameron, and based in Sterling, Kan. Today, it employs about 410 people in 10 states and is a multi-million dollar enterprise. JACAM manufactures and distributes oilfield-related specialty chemicals throughout the world. In March 2013, Canadian Energy Services & Technology Corporation purchased JACAM for $240 million. Zaid remains as CEO for the JACAM business unit.

   “I started the company in my garage,” Zaid says. That was in Sterling, the hometown of his wife, Michelle, whom he met in a chemistry lab at WSU. “I made one drum of chemicals at a time, one product at a time. I would contact my customers and ask them if they would like to try this new invention. My approach was, if it works, pay me. If it doesn’t, you will never see my face again. All of them ordered a second time, and again.”

   After graduating from Kansas Wesleyan with a bachelor’s degree, Zaid looked at several Kansas universities from which to get his master’s.

   “I chose Wichita State because they gave me $50 more than KU and K-State for a teaching assistantship,” he says. “That was important to me. That’s one reason why I want this money to go to a graduate assistant, so they can go to Wichita State and pursue their dreams like I did.”

   Zaid and Blair met when Blair chaired the Kansas Bioscience Authority, which selected Zaid’s company to receive a grant to help develop his business and improve Kansas economic development. Blair is a former Kansas Board of Regents chairman.

   “If you have the education, the focus and are willing to work hard, you can accomplish any dream you have,” Zaid says. “I am very grateful for my connections with Wichita

circle arrow If you would like to establish a scholarship or fellowship in the Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to honor a special person and help deserving students, please contact Mike Rishell, WSU Foundation director of development for Fairmount College, at 316-978-3945 or at

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