Soka University Awarded $1 Million Challenge Grant to Boost Science Research Opportunities

May 02, 2021
Curie Hall science lab exterior

The John Stauffer Charitable Trust has awarded Soka University of America a $1 million challenge grant to establish an endowment to support student summer research in chemistry and biochemistry. The John Stauffer Endowment for Summer Research in Chemistry and Biochemistry will be a one-to-one matching fund that will create a $2 million fund by December 2026, which will enable SUA to offer a summer research program in chemistry and biochemistry.

The fund will be used to award research fellowships for current and future chemistry and biochemistry students, benefiting a diverse population of students early in their academic careers, helping to shape career choices and retention in STEM fields. The award comes during the first year of SUA’s new interdisciplinary Life Sciences concentration and the opening of SUA’s new 91,000 square foot science building, Marie and Pierre Curie Hall.

“SUA and the members of the SUA faculty are highly committed to a viable undergraduate research program that will have a lasting impact on the future of each participating SUA student,” the Stauffer award letter stated.

When fully funded, this endowment will enable SUA to support a cohort of 10 to 12 Stauffer Fellows, students who will conduct advanced research with SUA faculty during the summer. Donations may be made on Soka‘s online giving site.

“We are incredibly grateful for this award and the support that the John Stauffer Trust has provided to us at SUA,” said Bryan Penprase, SUA vice president of sponsored research and external academic relations, who led the grant writing effort. “By enabling students to conduct advanced research early in their careers, it will help them gain deeper understanding of current issues in life sciences, and help them advance in their careers.”

The John Stauffer Charitable Trust is a private foundation established in 1974 and located in Pasadena, California. John Stauffer was a prominent industrialist and founder of the Stauffer Chemical Company. Through the leadership of the established trust and trustees, John Stauffer’s organizations, programs, and projects continue to be supported in Southern California. The trust has provided similar awards to other leading university and college science programs in Southern California, including California Institute of Technology, Occidental College, University of Redlands, Harvey Mudd College, and Pepperdine University.

The award recognizes the quality of SUA’s new Life Sciences program, and the capabilities of its science faculty, who worked with Dr. Penprase on preparing the grant. Those faculty include Zahra Afrasiabi (chemistry) Susan Walsh and Robert Hamersley (biology), Phat Vu (physics), and Robert Levenson and Nidanie Henderson-Stull (chemistry and biochemistry). Shuna McMichael, SUA’s director of sponsored research, also played a key role in helping the team complete the grant proposal.

“The Stauffer foundation recognized the quality of our new Life Sciences program and our excellent interdisciplinary SUA science faculty in making this award, and we are very grateful to have this recognition and support as we move forward with our new summer research program,” Dr. Penprase said. “Since our life sciences curriculum emphasizes cutting-edge problems in the life sciences, summer research is essential for preparing students.”

The Stauffer Fellowships will give undergraduate students the opportunity to conduct research projects in summer and continue during the academic year. The fellowships will improve the depth of research and the quality of students’ senior capstone research projects. Having the ability to provide an opportunity to conduct research on a more full-time basis in the summer will also increase the number of students who are able to present and publish research, which will increase their chances for admission to quality PhD and MS programs after graduation from SUA.

The Life Sciences concentration, officially launched this academic year, includes innovative and interdisciplinary courses that offer students research experiences in their first semester of study. The curriculum features elements such as the Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experience or CURE, an integrated biology and chemistry course, and laboratory research course known as the Project-Based Laboratory.

“As Soka University celebrates the 20th anniversary of our Aliso Viejo campus in 2021, we are honored that the John Stauffer Charitable Trust has recognized the importance of supporting undergraduate research in the sciences,” SUA President Edward Feasel said. “SUA’s mission is to foster a steady stream of global citizens committed to living a contributive life - people who will give back to their communities and make this world a better place. Summer research opportunities like this will give students a wonderful opportunity to strengthen their skills and explore career options.”