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Faculty working on various projects

Promise and Potential

Hellman Fellows Fund supports early-career faculty with competitive fellowships

The ecology of video games. Elastic wave propagation. Feeding competition in primates. Engendering protest across the globe. Musical mourning in the German Democratic Republic. Such are some of the diverse lines of inquiry now being pursued by some UC Santa Barbara junior faculty members, courtesy of the Hellman Fellows Fund. 

Aiming to boost the research endeavors of promising earlycareer faculty, the fund has supported fellowships for assistant professors at UC Santa Barbara since 2008. The Hellman Fellows Fund’s latest three-year pledge brings to $2.8 million the total amount that the fund has invested in these emerging experts across the disciplines. 

Since launching the Hellman Fellows Program on campus, UC Santa Barbara has awarded funds to 106 junior faculty, 64 of whom have now attained tenure. Individual awards can be as much as $50,000; annually there is $225,000 available for the program at UCSB. Eight assistant professors, from 25 who applied, were awarded Hellman Fellowships for the 2017-18 year. 

“These awards are intended for faculty to further develop their research careers at a time when they don’t yet have tenure, but their setup money is beginning to dwindle and they haven’t secured that first big grant,” said Alison Butler, UC Santa Barbara’s associate vice chancellor for academic personnel and a professor of chemistry and biochemistry, who leads the Hellman Fellows selection committee. “I know from experience, it’s very stressful when you’re starting off and don’t have your first major grants funded but you’re trying to grow a research program. So this is huge. That it is competitive and they’re winning it is huge. It’s really quite significant.” 

Established by Chris and Warren Hellman and their children in 1995, the purpose of the Hellman Fellows Program is to support the research of promising assistant professors who show capacity for great distinction in their chosen fields. 

“The Hellman Fellows Program had its start at UC Berkeley and UC San Diego in 1995, and over time the program grew to support all ten campuses in the University of California System,” said Frances Hellman, president of the Hellman Fellows Fund and dean of Math & Physical Science in the College of Letters & Science at UC Berkeley. “My family knew we wanted to lend support to junior faculty at a critical juncture in their research careers and now 24 years later, we are pleased to report that over 1,650 Hellman Fellowships have been made to do just that.”

Count Martha Sprigge among them. The assistant professor of musicology and 2017 Hellman Fellow said the award has enabled her to travel and conduct research abroad as she works to complete her first book as a UC Santa Barbara faculty member. 

“With the support of the Hellman fund, I’ve spent most of the past two summers in Dresden and Berlin, conducting the remaining research for this project,” said Sprigge, who is investigating how composers, performers and audiences in Germany and Eastern Europe used music to voice expressions of mourning, grief and loss after 1945. “Without the Hellman funding, a lot of the materials I need to write this book would be difficult — even impossible — to access: many of the musical works I’m writing about aren’t published and are only available in German archives. Because the Hellman funds allowed me to take longer research trips than I would have with my own resources, I’ve also been able to follow up on research threads more thoroughly. 

“Perhaps most excitingly, though, is that these longer research trips to Germany have allowed me to lay the groundwork for future research projects,” Sprigge added. “I’m grateful that the Hellman Fellows Fund has given me the opportunity to continue my research momentum as I think ahead to the future.”