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Philanthropist establishes scholarship for promising young researchers

UC Irvine biological chemistry graduate student Rolando Ruiz-Vega is the first recipient of the Stanley Behrens Fellow in Medicine.
UC Irvine Health Advancement
UC Irvine graduate student Rolando Ruiz-Vega, who is searching for an "off switch" for melanoma, meets the founder and namesake of his graduate research fellowship, Stanley Behrens.

School of Medicine's first privately-funded basic science fellowship

As a newsprint salesman and sole U.S. agent for Swedish paper company Svensha Cellulosa AKB (SCA), Stanley Behrens traveled the world, making sure the headlines of the day could be published for people with a thirst for information.

Behrens also established Youth Education Systems, a company that designed, published and marketed workbooks nationally to support education in grades 7 through 12.

Now retired, he continues to promote knowledge and understanding through his philanthropic foundation, the Stanley Behrens Family Foundation, funding education scholarships for promising young adults.

This spring, Behrens became the first individual to fund a basic research graduate fellowship in the UC Irvine School of Medicine.

A boost for graduate research

"Research is one of the strong points of America," Behrens said. "And it’s happening right here at UCI. I felt it was important to contribute to that cutting edge research."

Rolando Ruiz-Vega, a graduate student in biological chemistry, was selected from a field of 17 applicants as the first Stanley Behrens Fellow in Medicine.

Ruiz-Vega is investigating the role of the RhoJ protein as a possible drug target in treating human melanoma.

"Sequencing experiments produce large amounts of data — in the gigabyte range," said Ruiz-Vega. "This award will allow me to learn how to code to analyze data that would otherwise be impossible to interpret. Without this funding I would not be able to learn additional techniques.”

Supporting undergraduates 

Over the years, Behrens estimates he has helped as many as 70 UC Irvine undergraduates pursue their dreams. Each one has demonstrated the qualities Behrens seeks to recognize and encourage: intelligence, a passion for learning, an interest in doing better and a desire to give back.

"I worked with UCI undergraduates for many years and thrived on the experience," he said. "Each time we awarded scholarships, I found myself wishing we could do more. In particular, I wondered how we could help PhD candidates. I thought about it for many years and finally came up with this program to help them just before they go out into the field."

Behrens fellows are being held to similarly high standards as the undergraduate scholars. Ruiz-Vega exemplifies that standard. He was recently awarded the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and The National Academies FORD Foundation Pre-doctoral Fellowship. He also serves as a program coordinator for UC Irvine’s CRI Youth Science Fellowship Program, judges Orange County Science and Engineering Fair entries and mentors Horatio Alger Scholars.

As the Behrens fellow, Ruiz-Vega will receive $20,000 to support his research and professional development.

Research that can 'change lives'

"It was an honor and so inspiring to meet and learn about all of the finalists’ projects," said Behrens' daughter Sandy Lyons Kuenzi, a UC Irvine alumnus and Portland attorney. "Rolando’s research is cutting edge and has a high probability of impacting millions and changing lives." Lyons Kuenzi and Dr. Lorna Carlin, a retired psychiatrist, are involved in the selection process as members of the family's foundation.

Behrens enjoys working with the university to define the award criteria, then participate on the selection committee and in the interviews, along with Lyons Kuenzi and Carlin. To him, the program is a way to make society a little better. He hopes to inspire others to support young researchers at UC Irvine as well.

"Having had the opportunity to get to know Stanley Behrens, I find his interest in graduate education quite inspired,” said Klemens Hertel, PhD, associate dean for the Office of Graduate Studies and professor in the medical school's Department of Microbiology & Molecular Genetics.

"We would benefit from more non-scientists valuing the next generation of researchers, and thereby motivating deeper discovery," Hertel said. "Mr. Behrens genuinely connects with the ideas and promise that young scientists possess, and this attribute fuels his generosity — both in terms of the gift he has made and the time spent with his fellows."

Betting on a passion for discovery

In the years ahead, Behrens hopes these young researchers will follow their passions in ways that make a difference in the world and, perhaps, bring them recognition for their scientific contributions.

"I am looking forward to a Behrens Fellow winning the Nobel Prize in the future,” he said.

Giving

Want to donate to graduate student scholarships? Please call 714-509-2105, email taylorkr@uci.edu or give online at http://www.uadv.uci.edu/egiving/. On the drop-down menu, choose "School of Medicine," then select "SOM graduate studies discretionary funds."

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