The story of Amber Sprague ’06 is one of strong mentors: a mother who encouraged her to bring home rocks and shells and wounded animals, an AP chemistry teacher who helped her apply to UC Santa Barbara, and a professor under whose guidance she published a milestone first author paper. Amber’s belief in mentorship inspired her family’s support of undergraduate research.
Amber’s childhood roaming the backwoods of Alaska stoked her love of the natural world. Her fascination with biology started young. At UC Santa Barbara, she joined the College of Creative Studies, where she received three summer undergraduate research fellowships to study evolutionary genetics with Dr. William Rice and ecological parasitology with Dr. Armand Kuris.
In Dr. Kuris’s lab during her second summer, Amber was sifting through fish for small digested blobs of trematode parasites. The discovery would reveal a component of the food chain: whether parasites could be a food source, and how an infective process could fit into nutrition. But night after night, Amber found nothing, pushed close to tears. The evidence hid in the very last three fish.
“It was a good lesson, because much to science is persistence combined with a systematic approach,” said Amber. Further drawn to infection, this time in humans, Amber then earned a Ph.D. in immunology from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Her family’s gift to the College of Creative Studies summer undergraduate research fellowship promises these life-altering academic experiences to students in all eight CCS majors.
“So many fortuitous things happened to a kid like me,” said Amber. “That’s blended with Ben’s family’s longtime support of education.”
Amber met her husband, television executive Ben Sprague, while she was a senior. Ben worked with Michael Goodchild in the Center for Spatially Integrated Social Sciences and helped edit a book that they published. He listened in the audience when Amber spoke at her CCS graduation. UC Santa Barbara has been woven into his life since childhood. His late father, Norman F. Sprague III ’69, was a UC Santa Barbara Foundation trustee and an alumnus who fell in love with Santa Barbara and eventually moved his family there.
The Sprague family’s gift to CCS summer undergraduate research fellowships tells students that their creative and scientific contributions are valued.
“One thing that was echoed continuously at UC Santa Barbara was being a good participant in the scientific community. You don’t have to wait for tenure to become a mentor,” Amber said. As soon as you learn something in science, you can turn around and teach someone else.”