For almost two decades, the Hellman Fellows Fund has provided research grants to promising faculty during their early-career period. Given the success of this program, the Hellman Foundation has given a $12 million endowment to support the program in perpetuity.
Renamed the UC San Francisco Society of Hellman Fellows, the fellowship program will continue providing UCSF assistant professors support for outstanding research at the career juncture when startup funding is often exhausted and first grants may not yet have been obtained.
“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, the Hellman Fellows Fund’s president. “The discoveries, commitment, and great potential of UCSF faculty continue to inspire us year after year,” she said. “We are thrilled to be carrying on our father’s legacy by ensuring that Hellman Fellowships can exist in perpetuity throughout the University of California system.”
The discoveries, commitment, and great potential of UCSF faculty continue to inspire us year after year. We are thrilled to be carrying on our father’s legacy by ensuring that Hellman Fellowships can exist in perpetuity throughout the University of California system.
The UCSF Society of Hellman Fellows has been redesigned with its new long-term status in mind. The program will continue its current annual support for approximately eight fellows working in any field of study, with an emphasis on supporting hard-to-fund areas of research. In addition, in alignment with UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood’s priorities in health equity and anti-racism, it will add four to five new annual fellowships that specifically support faculty making contributions to diversity, equity, and inclusion and whose work is aimed at advancing health equity.
Chancellor Hawgood says the new funding opportunities convert UCSF’s organizational priorities into direct action. “As we continue to engage in dialogue and take actions to dismantle the multi-faceted challenges of systemic racism, we dedicate ourselves to achieving these vital changes because we know that diversity, equity, and inclusion are critical to our success,” he said.
UCSF demonstrated its enthusiasm for the gift and the expanded program by adding an additional $3 million, raising the new Hellman Fellows endowment to $15 million. The internal contribution is split between the Office of the Chancellor and the School of Medicine.
Talmadge E. King Jr., MD, dean of the UCSF School of Medicine and vice chancellor for medical affairs, says the fellowship’s financial support and mentorship has ripple effects beyond simply advancing individual careers. “We believe that bolstering the scientific efforts of our early career faculty has a direct correlation to their retention and institutional impact at UCSF as our organization continues to push the boundaries of our present knowledge,” he said.
The endowment is structured to match donations from new donors interested in creating their own named fellowships, further increasing the potential for additional research support.
Paying It Forward
Hellman Fellows often describe the support as a critical turning point. They leverage research successes supported by Hellman funding to build careers that make impacts across UCSF’s patients and faculty, the broader medical profession, and surrounding communities.
For example, UCSF professor of medicine Alicia Fernandez, MD, says she can trace a direct line from her Hellman Fellowship to a career that incorporates increasing health equity and reducing health disparities. Fernandez, an internist at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, used her fellowship to write her first National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant, in health-services research. She now leads the UCSF Center for Vulnerable Populations Latinx and Immigrant Health research program, and she founded the UCSF Latinx Center of Excellence, a federally and UCSF-funded initiative to increase the university’s academic diversity and Latinx-oriented research.
Monica Gandhi, MD, MPH, professor of medicine and director of the UCSF Center for AIDS Research, also attributes her later successes to her Hellman Fellowship support. Her current research includes identifying low-cost ways to measure antiretroviral levels in resource-poor settings and developing prevention and treatment strategies for HIV infection in women.
Gandhi also paid forward the support she received, winning an NIH grant that nurtures early-career HIV researchers and scientists who are underrepresented minorities. Her work resulted in UCSF’s annual “Mentoring the Mentors” workshop, which provides HIV researchers from around the country with effective mentorship techniques.
Collectively, the ever-expanding cohort of fellowship alumni have raised hundreds of millions of dollars in external research funds, with over $400 million alone from the NIH. They are clinical and research leaders in a wide range of fields, including palliative care, hospital medicine, preventive care for vulnerable populations, pediatric stroke and cellular molecular pharmacology, the mechanisms behind many diseases – to name just a few.
They provide leadership on multiple fronts, serving on state and national advisory boards, leading UCSF departments and research efforts, and spearheading mentorship efforts across the University.
“The UCSF Society of Hellman Fellows is a superb example of the way an investment in the career development of a junior faculty member can have far-reaching impact,” says Chancellor Hawgood. “The creativity, commitment and accomplishments of our Hellman Fellows are a window into UCSF’s expertise in tackling the most vexing challenges in science and health care.”