As a promising young scholar interested in the association between social stressors and health among African American women, Amani Allen was struggling to fund her pilot data project. Then Allen, a professor of community health and epidemiology, received a Hellman Fellowship, closing a critical resource gap that enabled her to fill an important void in the public health record for women of color.
With the fellowship, Allen joins a prestigious group of junior faculty who show distinction in their early promise and long-term potential. Possessing big ideas and boundless energy, they are eager to move their research forward, but outside funding is highly competitive and hard to come by.
Established as a bridge to tenure by the late F. Warren ’55 and Chris Hellman in 1995, the Hellman Fellows Program has helped early- career faculty from all disciplines not only shine in the academic universe but also become permanent fixtures in the faculty firmament. Since its inception, it has provided $45 million in support to more than 1,400 budding faculty across all 10 UC campuses. And today, 94 percent of the nearly 400 Berkeley fellows have earned tenure.
“The Hellman award was really the jumpstart to my independence as a scholar,” says Allen, who was able to quantify how stressors such as racial discrimination and neighborhood poverty impacted health.
To honor their parents’ legacy, Frances Hellman, dean of the Division of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at Berkeley, and her three siblings — Patricia Hellman Gibbs, Marco ’83, and Judith ’84 — awarded Berkeley a $20 million matching grant to fund The Society of Hellman Fellows. Representing the largest single gift from the Hellman Fellows Fund, the challenge grant provides Berkeley with a major boost in endowed funds to support the program in perpetuity. Once fully endowed, the society will double the number of fellowships awarded annually to 32. Designed for assistant professors who have exhausted start-up funds (generally after year two), the fellowships range from $30,000 to $60,000, depending on proposed research costs.
“The impact of the Hellman family’s generosity cannot be overstated,” says Chancellor Carol T. Christ. “Faculty they supported two decades ago are today changing the world with their discoveries.”
Ehud Isacoff, director of Berkeley’s Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, was among the first cohort to receive a fellowship in 1995. Today, he is considered a world leader in the burgeoning field of neurotechnology.
“Breaking into funding was very hard at the start,” says Isacoff, who was recently elected a fellow of the National Academy of Sciences. “The Hellman Fellowship enabled me to survive long enough to make it.”
Warren, a beloved Cal alumnus and former UC Berkeley Foundation trustee, was a successful venture capitalist who was well-known for launching and subsidizing San Francisco’s popular free music festival, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass — now in its 18th year. He and his wife, Chris — a former ballet dancer who became San Francisco Ballet’s first honorary chair — were devoted philanthropists, particularly to Cal.
“The Hellman Fellows Program was truly one of my parents’ greatest joys,” says Frances. “They appreciated the intelligence, rigor, creativity, and enthusiasm each fellow brought to their area of study.”