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30 Years of Critical Funding for Junior Faculty

2024-2025 marks 30 years of the Hellman Fellows Program, funding novel research and investing in rising faculty at UC San Diego

Executive Vice Chancellor Elizabeth H. Simmons with the 2024-2025 UC San Diego Hellman Fellows.
Executive Vice Chancellor Elizabeth H. Simmons with the 2024-2025 UC San Diego Hellman Fellows.

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Over three decades, the Hellman family has given over $18 million to support more than 400 UC San Diego junior faculty in their research and progress toward tenure. Husband and wife Warren and Chris Hellman launched the Hellman Fellows Program in 1995, at UC Berkeley and UC San Diego and it has since expanded to all UC institutions. 

The recently announced 2024-2025 cohort marks the 30th anniversary of the Hellman Fellows Program at UC San Diego. This year’s 21-person cohort was awarded a historic total of approximately $928,000.

The Society of Hellman Fellows is an endowed program that provides early career fellowships to promising faculty before they are awarded tenure, and who have served as assistant professors for at least two years. The established endowment provides protected streams of this crucial funding in perpetuity.

Although it addresses a great need that many junior faculty encounter, this type of funding is also rare. It is one of the few research awards that provides unrestricted one-time funding during a pivotal moment for junior faculty – after they have exhausted startup resources and before receiving the ample external support that comes with tenure.

The Hellman Family saw this need first-hand as their daughter, Frances Hellman, a UC San Diego junior faculty member herself at the time, faced the early career challenges before her research could attract external support.

Holly Okonkwo, Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies and Critical Gender Studies, will use her Hellman Fellowship to work on a book focusing on “new visions for feminist science and technology studies” through the lens of African American women and the issues of race, gender, community and marginalization. 

“African American women have been part of a remarkable history in Computer Science and other science fields, but those stories remain largely untold. This book project will not only recognize that history, but also explore a more just future for science education,” Okonkwo said.

This critical funding allows awardees to take risks, gather vital data, or complete research that will elevate their academic careers. The funding also supports future talent as Hellman Fellows often use their awards to hire undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral students to work on their projects.

Haijun Xia, Assistant Professor of Cognitive Science, Design Lab, and Computer Science and Engineering, and Director of the Creativity Lab, is conducting research to develop the next-generation of human-computer interfaces and information systems to support productive human-AI collaboration. Working with him on the project, is a robust team of researchers, including Distinguished Professor Jim Hollan and seven Ph.D. students. “This funding not only supports this research but also the mentorship and training environment of our lab which is a fundamental part of my role at UC San Diego,” said Xia.

“The support provided by the Hellman Fellows Program is an amazing example of strategic investment in junior faculty and their work,” said Executive Vice Chancellor Elizabeth H. Simmons. “It encourages innovative research and endeavors that otherwise simply would not be possible. We are thankful for the program’s commitment to supporting UC San Diego’s culture of inclusive excellence and scholarly creativity across a wide span of disciplines.”

21 UC San Diego junior faculty members were recently selected for the 2024-2025 Hellman Fellowship. The awardees were chosen by a selection committee including previous Hellman Fellows. They represent diverse fields of study across the UC San Diego community, from visual arts to neurobiology and oceanography.

“The support provided by the Hellman Fellows Program is an amazing example of strategic investment in junior faculty and their work.”
Executive Vice Chancellor Elizabeth H. Simmons
The 2024-2025 UC San Diego Hellman Fellows are:

Memo Akten, Visual Arts
Nicholas A. Antipa, Electrical and Computer Engineering
Carol Arcos Herrera, Literature
Elizabeth L. Campbell, Rady School of Management
Ignacio Carvajal, Literature
Fabian Eckert, Economics
José I. Fusté, Ethnic Studies and Critical Gender Studies
Neil Gong, Sociology
Sylvia Herbert, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Zeinab Jahed, Nanoengineering
Mingu Kang, Electrical and Computer Engineering
Kelema Lee Moses, Urban Studies and Planning
Hiruy Meharena, Neurobiology
Abdoulaye Ndao, Electrical and Computer Engineering
Holly Okonkwo, Ethnic Studies
Lamar Perry, Theatre & Dance
Colleen Petrik, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Alexandro Segade, Visual Arts
Tsui-Wei (Lily) Weng, Halıcıoğlu Data Science Institute
Vashan Wright, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Haijun Xia, Cognitive Science

To learn more about the Hellman Fellows Program at UC San Diego click here.

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