UCLA has received $7.5 million from the Hellman Fellows Fund to permanently endow the campus’s Hellman Fellows Program, which helps promising assistant professors undertake research and advance their careers.

The latest gifts from the fund, which has committed a total of $125 million across the UC system, establish endowments at all 10 campuses and create the systemwide Society of Hellman Fellows. Under the plan, each campus will administer its own program and distribute the annual awards, with the new endowments providing protected streams of funding in perpetuity.

“With dwindling federal funding and a critical need for UC research, especially during the coronavirus era, this generous gift could not come at a better time,” said UC President Janet Napolitano. “The incredible public spirit of the Hellman Fellows Program will support yet another generation of outstanding scholars and scientists whose careers, achievements and breakthrough research will benefit California and the world. We will be forever grateful to the Hellman family for this enduring, impactful program.”

The Hellman Fellows Program at UCLA launched in 2011 with a $1.25 million gift and benefited from an additional $1.4 million in 2016. Tenure-track faculty members in their second or third year at the UCLA College and most professional schools are eligible for the fellowships, which can range from $10,000 to $65,000 and typically are awarded to 10 to 15 faculty each year. As former fellows attain tenure, they serve on the selection committee.

The support enables UCLA’s early-career faculty to pursue a variety of projects. For example, 2018–19 Hellman fellow Ximin He, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering, led the development of a hydrogel coating that prevents ice from forming, which could improve anti-freezing technology for airplane wings, outdoor pipes and other equipment. She also led the design of a swimming robot that is powered and steered by light, a technology that could inform the future development of oceangoing robots and autonomous ships. Both research projects were supported by Hellman funding.

Among UCLA’s 2019–20 cohort of Hellman fellows:

  • Juliann Anesi (gender studies) is working on a book about disability advocacy in Civil Rights–era Samoa.
  • Avishek Adhikari (psychology) is exploring the neural factors behind panic.
  • Leyla Karimli (social welfare) is studying child poverty in the Kyrgyz Republic.
  • Christine Samuel-Nakamura (nursing) is researching health care accessibility among American Indian and Alaska Native communities in Los Angeles.
  • Daniel Snelson (English) is developing a book integrating poetics and new media.

Since the program’s inception in 1995, former Hellman fellows throughout the UC system have gone on to become department chairs, award-winning researchers and MacArthur Fellowship — or “genius” grant — recipients. Additionally, more than 125 are currently involved in COVID-19–related research, including several at UCLA.

  • Randall Akee, an associate professor of public policy and American Indian studies, has been investigating infection rates on American Indian reservations, which are more than four times higher than the rest of the country. He and his team have made recommendations for government action to protect these communities.
  • Chad Hazlett, an assistant professor of statistics and political science, is applying statistical research methods to assess outcomes for patients receiving treatments like remdesivir and hydroxychloroquine outside of randomized trials.
  • James Lloyd-Smith, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, co-authored a study on how long the virus can remain on various surfaces and in aerosols

The accomplishments of these fellows and former fellows highlight the value of investing in early-career academic researchers and their work, said Frances Hellman, president of the Hellman Fellows Fund, whose own experience as a junior faculty member at UC San Diego inspired the program.

“My parents, Warren and Chris Hellman, used to say that creating the Hellman Fellows Program was one of the best things our family ever did,” she said. “Having had the opportunity to support over 1,900 faculty over the years, I enthusiastically agree. Their discoveries, commitment to their work and great potential continues to inspire us year after year. We are thrilled to be carrying on our father’s legacy by ensuring that the Hellman Fellows Program can exist in perpetuity throughout the University of California system.”