Alumni gifts support research efforts

With donations from Arkansas State University alumni Buddy and Charlotte Beck, Arkansas State University on Tuesday announced two endowed chairs focused on research.

Through their Beck Foundation, Buddy and Charlotte Beck — both alumni of the university — have provided $500,000, which ASU says will be split equally between the two professorships, one in chemistry and the other in mechanical engineering. These are ASU’s first two endowed professorships in each of these disciplines, and the endowments’ interest will help support the scholarly work of the two designated recipients.

The funds will be “very helpful” in cultivating and promoting “innovative ideas,” said Mohammad Abrar Alam, associate professor of chemistry at ASU and recipient of the first Beck Professorship in chemistry. Grant funds are generally limited to the parameters of each grant, but this provides the “flexibility to explore new ideas”.

Alam was recommended by William Burns, chair of the chemistry and physics departments, with support from Jennifer Bouldin, interim dean of the College of Sciences and Mathematics, the university said. He leads a large, active research group that includes undergraduate and graduate students, and is deeply involved in their mentoring.

The focus of Alam’s research group is developing new antibiotics to treat drug-resistant bacterial infections, with another project focusing on the development of thiazole and imidazole hybrid molecules, which have been shown to be potent growth inhibitors of melanoma and several other cancer cell lines, according to Bouldin. He has worked with numerous public and private bodies, including a new collaboration with global chemical company BASF.

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The Beck professorship in mechanical engineering will help attract a new professor of advanced manufacturing, said Abhijit Bhattacharyya, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science. Advanced manufacturing is critical in the region and state – Arkansas will be the largest steel producing state in America within the next two years – and the college is building strong relationships in these sectors.

Both professorships have a term of office of five years. During this time, according to ASU, recipients submit annual reports detailing research achievements, with a focus on student participation and research productivity such as presentations, publications, and honors work. New recipients are named after five years.

“By awarding these professorships, the foundation is pleased to support the vision of the school [of] Producing scientists that impact the well-being of society,” said Buddy Beck, chairman of the board of the Beck Foundation, in a statement from the university.

ASU Chancellor Todd Shields announced Tuesday a third Beck-related initiative, another demonstration of Beck’s commitment to veterans.

The Beck Center for Veterans serves former or current military personnel and their families with a variety of support within ASU and outside communities, and this is one of the main reasons ASU is considered a particularly military-friendly institution, Shields said. Buddy Beck, an Army veteran who founded the center on the ASU campus in 2007, is committed to fighting the suicide scourge among veterans, and ASU is “fortunate to have supporters like him and his wife.”

“It’s personal to me,” he said of Shield’s father serving in Vietnam and his grandfather serving in World War II. Both struggled to readjust to civilian life, and they did not have a Beck center, which is “valuable and special to our veterans.”

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Beck is now providing seed funding for a Beck Center research project aimed at finding ways to mitigate suicide and suicidal thoughts among veterans, said Sudeepa Bhattacharyya, associate professor of bioinformatics at ASU. Data for the project will be collected this Friday and Saturday at the Beck Center.

Buddy and Charlotte’s lifetime donation to the state of Arkansas exceeds $2 million, and passionate alumni like them are critical to ASU’s success, Shields said. Buddy Beck has made a strong commitment to supporting research through his previous fellowships and Chancellor’s Medal for research and creative endeavors, and these new endowed chairs continue that focus.

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