Endowed Chairs: Stepping Stones to Higher Levels of Research

Eighteen endowed chairs have been created in the past three years

Distinguished Professor Susan Wessler, left, with Rochelle Campbell, who created an endowed chair for science education. Photo by Carrie Rosema

A chair is typically a place to sit. But in academic terms, think of it as a place to launch a professor’s research goals to new heights.

UC Riverside currently has 55 “chairs” endowed by donors for specific purposes, and 18 of those have been created in the past three years.

“An endowed chair is one of the most important and honored spots in higher education, because it fosters academic excellence and recognizes superior faculty,” said UCR Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox. “Our goal by the end of our current fundraising campaign in 2020 is to get to 75 endowed chairs. I am confident we will make it.”

Established with donor gifts to an academic area, the endowed chair provides financial support beyond salary. The professor is free to use that gift in research, teaching or service activities. It gives them the autonomy and the prestige to hear a good idea and to act on it quickly and in a concrete way.

UC Riverside’s first endowed chair came in 1980.

A few of UCR’s endowed chair holders tell us how the gift helped their research, and why these gifts matter.

Juan Felipe Herrera

Juan Felipe Herrera

The Tomás Rivera Endowed Chair in Creative Writing was like opening a door as big as the sky.” — Juan Felipe Herrera, U.S. Poet Laureate, emeritus professor of creative writing, who came to UCR in 2005 in order to accept the chair named for UCR’s former Chancellor Tomás Rivera.

Sharon Walker, professor and John Babbage chair in Environmental Engineering

Sharon Walker, professor and John Babbage chair in Environmental Engineering

“It’s great when a student comes to you and you can say, ‘Great idea, let’s do it.’ That’s the intellectual freedom that the Babbage Chair has given me.” — Sharon Walker, interim dean of the Bourns College of Engineering and the John Babbage Chair in Environmental Engineering.

“We want to interest students in science so they will persist in their major, and also, so we can tell them about all the career opportunities that exist in science — not just medical school. The proceeds will go to science education.” — Distinguished Professor of Genetics Susan Wessler holds the Neil A. and Rochelle A. Campbell Presidential Chair for Innovation in Science Education.

Michael Alexander

Michael S. Alexander holds the Maimonides Endowed Chair in Jewish Studies at UCR.

“In a very concrete sense, the purpose of a university is simply to create opportunities for diverse and knowledgeable people to get to know one another. In that regard, the establishment of this chair is a really great thing. It means that UCR has made a long-term commitment to include Jewry and Judaism as part of the conversation.” — Associate Professor in the UCR Department of Religious Studies Michael Alexander, UCR Maimonides Chair in Jewish Studies.

headshot of Ring Cardé

Ring Cardé

“The flexibility of endowed funds is key.  The A.M. Boyce endowment allows me to send students and postdocs to scientific meetings and to explore speculative areas of research that fall outside of the range of those funded by my current grants.  These pilot projects in turn can jumpstart entirely new areas of research.” — Distinguished Professor of Entomology Ring Cardé  holds the A.M. Boyce chair.

Pashaura Singh

Pashaura Singh

“The Dr. Jasbir Singh Saini Endowed Chair in Sikh and Punjabi Studies chair was the second Sikh studies chair to be established within the University of California system for the purpose of building academic strength and visibility in matters pertaining to Sikh culture and religion. Proceeds from this gift have dramatically increased our capacity for teaching, scholarship and outreach in Sikh Studies.” – Pashaura Singh, UCR professor of religious studies and the Dr. Jasbir Singh Saini Chair in Sikh and Punjabi Studies.

Natasha Raikhel

Natasha Raikhel

“When I came to UCR in 2002 I wanted to set up a chemical biology platform for my own program and UCR’s Center for Plant Cell Biology (CEPCEB), which had just been established. Using the Ernst and Helen Leibacher Chair fund, I purchased the first chemical library of 2,000 compounds and my lab performed the first chemical screen. After that I encouraged other CEPCEB members to use this small library and I purchased a library of 10,000 compounds. The rest is history.” — Natasha V. Raikhel, distinguished professor and the Ernst and Helen Leibacher Endowed Chair in Plant Molecular, Cell Biology & Genetics and the director of UCR’s Center for Plant Cell Biology and the Institute for Integrative Genome Biology.

Cliff Trafzer

Clifford E. Trafzer has written the first book-length history of the Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians.


“It allows me to travel to Native American communities and learn from tribal elders. I was doing that, but on a more limited basis. The Costo funds have allowed us to recruit Native American students at a higher level, not just the bachelor’s degree. Anthony Madrigal, for example, is the first Cahuilla person to earn a Ph.D. in Native American history. I know that Rupert Costo would be so thrilled to know that local Cahuilla people and other Southern California Indians are earning the Ph.D.” – Professor Clifford Trafzer, who holds the Rupert Costo Chair in American Indian Affairs.

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