Alumni gifts aid research efforts

[The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette] Alumni gifts aid research efforts

With donations from Arkansas State University alumni Buddy and Charlotte Beck, Arkansas State University announced a pair of endowed professorships focused on research Tuesday.

Through their Beck Foundation, Buddy and Charlotte Beck -- both alumni of the university -- have provided $500,000, divided equally between the two professorships, one in chemistry and the other in mechanical engineering, according to ASU. These are ASU's first two endowed professorships in each of these disciplines, and interest from the endowments will help support the scholarly work of the two designated recipients.

The funds will be "very helpful" in cultivating and fostering "innovative ideas," said Mohammad Abrar Alam, associate professor of chemistry at ASU and recipient of the inaugural Beck Professorship in Chemistry. Grant funds are generally restricted to the parameters of the given grant, but this will provide the "flexibility to explore new ideas."

Alam was recommended by William Burns, chairperson of the Department of Chemistry and Physics, with support from Jennifer Bouldin, interim dean of the College of Sciences and Mathematics, according to the university. He leads a large, active research group that includes undergraduate and graduate students, and he's deeply involved in mentoring them.

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

The Beck Professorship in Mechanical Engineering will help attract a new professor for advance manufacturing, said Abhijit Bhattacharyya, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science. Advance 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 on strong relationships in these sectors.

Both professorships have five-year terms, during which time recipients will submit annual reports listing research accomplishments, with emphasis on undergraduate student participation and research productivity like presentations, publications, and Honors theses, according to ASU. New recipients will be named after five years.

"Through the award of these professorships, the Foundation is pleased to support the school's vision [of] producing scholars that impact the well-being of society," Buddy Beck, board chairman of the Beck Foundation, said in a statement from the university.

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

The Beck Center for Veterans serves prior or current military and their families within the ASU and external communities with various supports, and it's a main reason ASU is considered an especially military-friendly institution, Shields said. Buddy Beck, an Army veteran who founded the center on ASU's campus in 2007, is committed to combatting the scourge of suicide among veterans, and ASU is "fortunate to have supporters" like he and his wife.

"This is personal to me," as Shields' father served in Vietnam, and his grandfather served in World War II, he said. Both struggled readjusting to civilian life, and they didn't have a Beck Center, which is "precious and special for our veterans."

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

Buddy and Charlotte's lifetime giving to Arkansas State exceeds $2 million, and passionate alumni like them are crucial to ASU's success, Shields said. Buddy Beck has been particularly devoted to supporting research through his previous fellowships and the Chancellor's Medal for Research and Creative Endeavors, and these new endowed professorships continue that emphasis.