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UC San Diego Receives $12 Million Endowment from the Hellman Foundation

Hellman Fellows Program and University of California announce historic commitment to junior faculty research


  • Judy Piercey

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  • Judy Piercey

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UC San Diego student conducting an experiment

A $12 million grant to UC San Diego will secure the continuation of the Hellman Fellows Program to support junior faculty. Photo by Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications.

The Hellman Fellows Program and the University of California announced June 23 a plan to permanently support the Hellman Fellows Program on all 10 campuses in the UC system. With the establishment of this endowment, the Hellman Fellows Program will have committed a total of $125 million to support research for outstanding early-career faculty at all 10 UC campuses. The endowment will provide protected streams of funding in perpetuity through the creation of the Society of Hellman Fellows.

The program made its first awards in 1995 to a handful of faculty at UC San Diego and UC Berkeley. The program grew organically over the years to include all 10 UC campuses and four private institutions.

The gift will fund endowments at each campus, with the universities each administering the program. Fellowships are open to a broad range of academic disciplines across all fields, including the arts and humanities, social sciences and STEM. Fellowships can range from $10,000 to $65,000, and many former fellows have gone on to become department chairs, award-winning researchers, and MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipients.

At UC San Diego, the Hellman Fellows program has funded over 320 fellows since 1995, including several current faculty members. Among them are composer Lei Liang, winner of the 2020 Grawemeyer Award, the top classical music honor often referred to as “the Nobel Prize for music.” Other former fellows include Marta Serra-Garcia, an assistant professor in UC San Diego’s Rady School of Management focused on the growing field of behavioral economics; and sociologist Danielle Raudenbush, author of “Healthcare Off the Books: Poverty, Illness and Strategies for Survival in an American City.”

A $12 million grant to the UC San Diego Foundation will secure the continuation of the Hellman Fellows Program through the establishment of the Hellman Fellows Endowed Fund and the creation of the UC San Diego Society of Hellman Fellows. UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla has committed to providing $6 million as an institutional match for the endowment.

Hellman Family Siblings

The Hellman siblings are carrying on their family’s legacy by ensuring that the Hellman Fellows Program can exist in perpetuity throughout the UC system. Photo courtesy of the Hellman Foundation.

“The Hellman family’s generosity and confidence in over 320 of our young faculty members has profoundly benefitted their scholarship and contributions to many fields of study,” said Khosla. “The research they are able to do as Hellman Fellows has a lasting impact on their academic careers. We are grateful for the grant from the Hellman Foundation so that UC San Diego will be able to permanently support the Hellman Fellows Program in perpetuity.”

By creating endowments at each UC location, the Hellman Fellows Program gives flexibility to each campus in how the awards are directed and managed, building on the program’s tradition of local control while honoring the intent of the founders. Many campuses have already sought additional or matching gifts that will allow them to expand and reach more early-career faculty members over time.

“My parents, Warren and Chris Hellman, used to say that creating the Hellman Fellows Program was one of the best things our family ever did,” said Frances Hellman, president of the Hellman Fellows Fund. “Having had the opportunity to support over 1,900 faculty over the years, I enthusiastically agree. Their discoveries, commitment to their work, and great potential continues to inspire us year after year. We are thrilled to be carrying on our father’s legacy by ensuring that the Hellman Fellows Program can exist in perpetuity throughout the University of California system.”

Since its founding in 1995, the Hellman Fellows Program has provided $125 million to fund research fellowships to early-career faculty across the UC system. With this generous new gift, the program will be able to continue in perpetuity across all campuses of the world-renowned public research institution.

“With dwindling federal funding and a critical need for UC research, especially during the coronavirus era, this generous gift could not come at a better time,” said UC President Janet Napolitano. “The incredible public spirit of the Hellman Fellows Program will support yet another generation of outstanding scholars and scientists whose careers, achievements and breakthrough research will benefit California and the world. We will be forever grateful to the Hellman family for this enduring, impactful program.”

Federal funding for academic research has been flat or declining for the past decade, and for the fourth straight year the Trump administration has proposed deep cuts to science research. Funding for academic research is especially critical now to address the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and related economic and social concerns.

In addition to their impactful research in a wide range of fields, it is noteworthy that at least 125 former Hellman fellows are currently involved in groundbreaking COVID-19 related research. Former award recipients include engineers working to convert sleep apnea machines into ventilators, epidemiologists studying the origins and spread of the disease, statisticians designing optimal surveillance approaches to help curtail the spread of the virus, and scientists examining societal changes in violence due to the progression of the coronavirus.

The Hellman Fellows Fund was established by the Hellman family in 1995 to fund the research of promising assistant professors who showed capacity for great distinction in their chosen fields but needed support to begin to reach those goals. The impetus for the program came when

Frances Hellman, a junior faculty member herself at UC San Diego, experienced first-hand the challenges that faculty can experience early in their careers before their research can attract external support.

“I am sincerely grateful for the Hellman Fellowship. I received the fellowship three years ago, and it played a key role in my supporting my research on charitable giving,” said UC San Diego Assistant Professor Marta Serra-Garcia. “With the fellowship, I was able to conduct experiments on the intertemporal aspects of charitable giving. As a tenure-track faculty member, receiving support to conduct research and, in my case, experiments with actual donation decisions, was crucially important. The fellowship has allowed me to bring my research one step further, and investigate questions such as, how and why does a delay between a giving decision and a giving transaction affect charitable giving?”

This grant from the Hellman Foundation contributes to the Campaign for UC San Diego, a university-wide comprehensive fundraising effort concluding in 2022. UC San Diego, together with our supporters, is continuing our nontraditional path toward revolutionary ideas, unexpected answers, lifesaving discoveries and planet-changing impact. To learn more about the Campaign for UC San Diego visit

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