Undergraduate students engaged in summer research will now receive financial support thanks to a one million dollar gift from Distinguished Professor of Genetics and longtime UCR supporter Rochelle Campbell and Campbell Presidential Chair holder Susan Wessler.
The Campbell-Wessler Endowed Undergraduate Research Award will provide $5,000 awards to undergraduate researchers affiliated with the Neil A. Campbell Science Learning Laboratory and the Dynamic Genome Program within the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences (CNAS). The gift will provide opportunities for students who would normally not be able to participate due to financial barriers.
Wessler, an internationally renowned researcher who conducts groundbreaking research on genome evolution, said, “Like many of our students, I was first in my family to attend college, but I was also fortunate that my family was able to financially support me,” Wessler said. “Today, we live in a more competitive environment where college is far more expensive and potential graduate STEM students are expected to have had summer research experience during their undergraduate years. It is my hope that this donation will make it possible for students to pursue their passion for research by providing them with a stipend that helps reduce financial barriers otherwise keeping them from this opportunity.”
Campbell, who founded and funded the creation of the school’s Neil A. Campbell Science Learning Laboratory, and later established the Neil and Rochelle Campbell Presidential Chair for Innovation in Science Education in 2016, is a strong supporter of undergraduate research and Wessler’s teaching mission.
“This gift gives undergraduates an incredible opportunity to work with leading research professors at UC Riverside,” said CNAS Dean Kathryn Uhrich. “The gift also bolsters our efforts to provide students, many of whom are the first in their family to attend college, unparalleled, hands-on learning experiences to launch their careers in science.”
Through their gift, Campbell and Wessler have reinforced the value of early exposure to research. Such exposure allows undergraduate students to better understand the importance of data literacy and published works and to learn a balance between collaborative and individual work.
Undergraduate research also provides one-on-one mentorship with accomplished practitioners, which can catalyze careers. At UCR, undergraduates can work on original research not only in STEM fields, but also in the humanities, arts, and social sciences.
Campbell, who serves on the UCR Foundation Board of Trustees, retired from the San Bernardino Unified School District after working for 30 years as an adult counselor.
Wessler is a global leader in the study of mobile DNAs, called transposons or transposable elements, that are a major driver of plant genome evolution. She worked in various capacities at the University of Georgia—including as director of the Center for Plant Cellular and Molecular Biology and University of Georgia Foundation Chair in Biological Sciences—until she joined the faculty of UCR in 2010.
UCR Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Cynthia Larive noted how undergraduate research plays a critical role in the transition of students to scholars and professionals in their field. “About half of UCR’s undergraduate students report engaging in faculty–mentored research upon graduation,” she shared. “It is through sustained research opportunities, such as those funded by this generous gift, that students apply the material learned in their course work and develop skills in critical thinking, problem solving, communication and team work.”