Beckman Foundation renews support for science mentoring at UChicago

The Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation has renewed its three-year award with the University of Chicago to fund undergraduate STEM research, one of only 12 so honored this year.

The Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation instituted the Beckman Scholars Program to support young investigators, early career professors and post-graduates. Through the program, institutions select a few outstanding undergraduates per year to receive funding to pursue original research with faculty members. With funding of up to $20,000, Beckman Scholars work in a lab over a 15-month period—two summers and an academic year in between. During that time, they work with faculty members to craft and complete original projects.

One of UChicago’s first Beckman Scholars, John Anderson, BS/MS’08, joined the chemistry department last year as a new assistant professor. Anderson studied chemistry at UChicago before earning his PhD at the California Institute of Technology and completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Northwestern University. Currently, he researches the chemistry of oxygen evolution during photosynthesis, new catalysts relevant to biofuel usage and “magnetic sponges.”

“The program is unique in that there is a dedicated group of mentors and advisers,” Anderson said of the Beckman support. “It’s critical for career preparation. The program helps scholars learn that science is not in textbooks.”

Leading the program at UChicago is Sean Crosson, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology. Crosson said he is excited to interact with students who are serious about science.

“I’m looking forward to being able to give perspective and be a second mentor to these students,” he said.

The ideal Beckman Scholar candidate would be strong in the classroom, have laboratory work experience and present an independent research proposal to faculty. Once chosen, scholars will receive an intense research experience on par with graduate work. This year, there are two positions available in the program.  

The selection process for Beckman mentors is rigorous as well; only 15 mentors are chosen. They are selected based on their record of mentoring of undergraduates, including undergraduate publication co-authorship, and sending undergraduates to regional and national meetings to present the results of their work.

The program is selective, but students are encouraged to apply as all applicants will be invited to participate in weekly meetings to review research, interact with researchers and help each other in their work. Administrators and mentors alike hope to make the program another resource for meaningful undergraduate research involvement and collaboration.

Juliana Feder, administrative director of the Beckman Scholars program at UChicago, is overseeing this round of scholars. What is she most excited about? “Being able to continue this!” She stressed that Beckman Scholars are the future leaders of the scientific frontier. “It’s thrilling to see this next generation of brilliant college students.”