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Honoring Gloria Moy Petersen

A new Hellman Fellows opportunity supports early career faculty at UC Santa Barbara

In fall 2023, select junior faculty will receive transformative support through The Gloria Moy Petersen Fellowship in the UC Santa Barbara Society of Hellman Fellows. Gloria's sister and brother-in-law, Marjorie Moy and Ajit Sabnis, created this fellowship in memory of Gloria, who passed away in January 2023. Gloria was a respected genetic epidemiologist and pancreatic cancer researcher who saved many lives through early detection and treatment.

The Hellman Fellows program provides substantial support for the research of promising assistant professors who have served at least two years as an assistant professor and show capacity for great distinction. UC Santa Barbara has awarded funds to 140 junior faculty, over 70% of whom have achieved tenure. Individual awards can be as much as $50,000; annually, there is $225,000 available for the program at UC Santa Barbara. Ten assistant professors, from 28 applicants, were awarded Hellman Fellowships for the 2023-24 year.

The Hellman Fellows Fund established this program at UC Santa Barbara in 2008 and endowed it in 2020. The Hellmans implemented a matching gift strategy to inspire donors to create their own awards under the Hellman umbrella. The selected Gloria Moy Petersen fellows can be associated with any field, with a preference for bio-medical research.

“We're very grateful that the Hellmans offer this match,” said Ajit. “Gloria’s endowment has immediately doubled, thanks to their generosity.”

“Gloria was just a wonderful person, always upbeat, very capable, very intelligent, and compassionate . She was so inspiring and involved that we just wanted to do something to honor her by establishing a fellowship at UC Santa Barbara,” said Marjorie, one of Gloria’s five sisters.

Born in postwar Japan, Gloria was the fourth of eight children of first-generation Chinese immigrants. Despite the challenges of growing up in a large family on U.S. Army bases around the world, she always managed to excel in school. The UC Santa Barbara alumna received her bachelor’s degree in physical anthropology in 1972. The day following her last final exam, she married her husband, Wes, whom she had met on campus. Marjorie and Ajit made UC Santa Barbara the home of this fellowship to honor its formative role in Gloria’s life.

After UC Santa Barbara, Gloria earned a master's degree in physical anthropology at the University of Oregon and a doctorate in the same field from UCLA, following a stint in Kenya studying the National Geographic-featured Pumphouse Gang of baboons. She completed a postdoctoral medical genetics fellowship at Harbor UCLA Medical Center in 1983. Gloria went on to work for Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Johns Hopkins University, and the Mayo Clinic.

In addition to her regular duties at the Mayo Clinic promoting, pioneering, and overseeing research in pancreatic cancer, Gloria was a professor of epidemiology there, mentoring colleagues, presenting papers, and conducting seminars worldwide. She also served on the advisory board of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and the audit panel of the Radiation Effects Research Foundation in Hiroshima, Japan.

For Gloria’s family, setting up this fellowship to continue her legacy of service felt right. “It's a way for me to express my appreciation and Gloria’s, for the educational opportunities that were afforded to us,” said Marjorie. “Underlying Gloria’s work was this great desire to use her knowledge to help others. If our gift achieved even a little bit of this, we would be thankful.”

“Creating the fund was the best thing our family ever did with our giving,” said Warren Hellman when originally interviewed about his strategy to empower other families to enjoy the meaningful experience of supporting young researchers.

“We are grateful for Marjorie and Ajit Sabnis’ support for the Hellman Fellows Fund,” said Executive Vice Chancellor David Marshall. “Over the past 10 years, as faculty have retired and our enrollment grew, we have engaged in an ambitious faculty recruitment and renewal program. Our departments have hired outstanding early career faculty, and it is crucial that we provide them with the support they need to develop their original research projects. The investment of donors like the Sabnis family will yield dividends as these early career faculty generate new knowledge and discoveries and add to the stature of the campus.”