Donors Fund $1M Chemistry Research Grant

Student Patrick Burree conducts summer chemistry research

Student Patrick Burree conducts summer chemistry research

Westmont raised $500,000 of matching funds to complete a challenge grant from the John Stauffer Charitable Trust, endowing the chemistry department’s summer research program. Income from the $1 million endowment will provide a fellowship stipend each year for eight to 10 students to work with chemistry faculty members doing full-time research during the summer. Since 2012, more than 40 individuals and more than a dozen foundations and corporations contributed to match the Stauffer Charitable Trust’s grant and build the endowment.

“In a research environment, students see how science really works: a gradual and incremental process of eliminating false explanations in pursuit of better ones,” says Michael Everest, Westmont professor of chemistry. “It is almost impossible to model this complex process in a typical instructional laboratory exercise during the academic year. If something surprising happens during the summer, the student can do more than merely guess at what might be going on, they can come in the next day and try new experiments to test various hypotheses.

Chris Riba and Han Chung freeze molecules and then move the m around to make a rough surface as reflective as a mirror

Chris Riba and Han Chung freeze molecules and then move them around to make a rough surface as reflective as a mirror

“There are also personal benefits to the students.  Many of them discover for the first time that they really love research, and decide to pursue a career in scientific research.  Others will discover that research isn’t for them.”

“Summer research at Westmont with Allan Nishimura taught me how to be a scientist and ultimately persuaded me to pursue my doctorate in physical chemistry at Stanford,” says Niva Tro ’85, who has been teaching chemistry at Westmont for 26 years. “Because I was included as a coauthor on three of Allan’s publications, I was able to gain admission into the best chemistry graduate program in the country.”

Nishimura, distinguished professor emeritus of chemistry, has taught at Westmont for more than three decades and celebrated his milestone 100th research paper with students in 2013.

Westmont has a long tradition of providing opportunities for students to partner with their professors on cutting-edge research. Some of the college’s current faculty are products of this tradition, including Tro and Kristi Lazar Cantrell ’00, assistant professor of chemistry.

The John Stauffer Charitable Trust, a private foundation based in Pasadena, was established in 1974 under Stauffer’s will.  The trust directs its support primarily to Southern California hospitals, universities and colleges. In recent years, the trust has emphasized grants to fund student research in chemistry and biochemistry at such colleges as Westmont, Occidental, Harvey Mudd and Cal Lutheran University.