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Devin D. Thorpe

Devin Thorpe

Student Chemists Pay It Forward

When Alec Follmer heard that University of the Pacific’s chemistry department had been awarded a $500,000 challenge grant from the John Stauffer Charitable Trust, he rallied his fraternity brothers and sisters to seize the moment.

“This was the great opportunity we had been waiting for,” said Follmer, a senior from Newbury Park, CA, who is majoring in biochemistry.

He and fellow members of Alpha Chi Sigma, a national chemistry fraternity, jumped at the chance to turn $10,000 from their chapter’s fundraising coffers into a $20,000 gift to the University.

The Stauffer challenge grant, announced in January, has a goal of matching gifts like Alpha Chi Sigma’s, dollar for dollar, up to a potential total of $1 million. The funds will support the John Stauffer Undergraduate Summer Research Endowment in Chemistry and Biochemistry.

When fully funded, the endowment will provide approximately 10 grants every year to undergraduate students at Pacific allowing them to pursue their research, outside of the rigorous school year. Summer research opportunities provide invaluable experience for undergraduate students, often propelling them into additional scholarly research and prestigious graduate programs. Follmer has seen the impact of undergraduate research first-hand; since his sophomore year, he has worked with chemistry Professor Jianhua Ren on her research using sophisticated computational studies of the gas-phase acidity and basicity of organic molecules.

Such projects are invaluable to students’ futures, according to Ren.

“The Stauffer Challenge Grant will undoubtedly be a great support for students interested in chemistry and conducting meaningful research in chemistry,” Ren said. “As a faculty member and a research advisor, working with talented young researchers has been an incredibly rewarding experience.”

Follmer credits his hands-on undergraduate research experiences with helping him win acceptance to UC Irvine’s highly competitive doctoral program in biochemistry. After completing a biochemistry degree in only three years at Pacific, he will receive his diploma in May and head straight into the Ph.D. program.

The Alpha Chi Sigma gift came as a complete surprise to the University.

“The donation came out of the blue to us,” said Andreas Franz, professor and co-chair of the Department of Chemistry. “We are extremely grateful to the students of Alpha Chi Sigma for their generosity. They are not only supporting the short-term objective of helping the university match the Stauffer Challenge grant, but they do so much more: They are effectively investing in a commitment that the chemistry faculty and the University are making into the future education of students in chemistry and biochemistry.”

The students of Alpha Chi Sigma had long been raising funds to support the chapter’s mission of helping its members achieve their goals and ambitions as chemists through such activities as hosting benefit nights at local restaurants, peddling donuts outside of the University Center, or selling lab books to fellow students.

“One of the great things about Pacific is that people are so willing to give, and the students especially are so willing to give,” Follmer said. “Students here give their time, they donate to your cause, they are willing to support you in any way that they can.”

Before he leaves for UC Irvine, Follmer wanted to work with his fellow students to ensure that Pacific’s strong tradition of undergraduate research would continue for future chemists.

“I want another kid who, like me, really loves chemistry, to come here and be provided with the same environment and the same tools and opportunities for success that I had, and for that student to be even more successful than I had ever hoped to be,” Follmer said.

About The John Stauffer Charitable Trust

The John Stauffer Charitable Trust, a private foundation based in Pasadena, was established in 1974 under the Will of the late John Stauffer, a principal officer, director, and shareholder of the former Stauffer Chemical Co., founded in San Francisco in the 1880s. Following the wishes of Mr. Stauffer, the Trust primarily supports California hospitals, universities, and colleges. In recent years, the Trustees have emphasized grants to fund undergraduate student research in chemistry and biochemistry at such colleges and universities as University of the Pacific, California Lutheran, Caltech, Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd, Occidental, Pepperdine, Pomona, Redlands, Scripps, UC Berkeley and Westmont.

About University of the Pacific

Established in 1851 as the first university in California, University of the Pacific prepares students for professional and personal success through rigorous academics, small classes, and a supportive and engaging culture. Widely recognized as one of the most beautiful private university campuses in the West, the Stockton campus offers more than 80 undergraduate majors in arts and sciences, music, business, education, engineering and computer science, and pharmacy and health sciences. The university’s distinctive Northern California footprint also includes the acclaimed Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry in San Francisco and the McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento. For more information, visit

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