May 20, 2020

$1.5 million gift creates Sean and Stella Harper Endowed Scholarship Fund

Scholarships will support and encourage talented students in UCR’s College of Natural & Agricultural Sciences

Author: Sarah Nightingale
May 20, 2020

Sean Harper is the first person to admit he wasn’t the most disciplined student when he came to UC Riverside as a biomedical sciences student four decades ago.

“I was still 17 for my first few weeks at UCR,” Harper said. “I knew that I wanted to study medicine but I wasn’t the most organized or prepared student. I had a lot to learn and my time at Riverside was transformative in that regard.”

During his three years at UCR, Harper received an education at the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences that paved the way for success in medical school, postdoctoral studies in biomedical research, and senior positions in industry, including head of research and development at the multinational biopharmaceutical company Amgen.

Sean Harper
UCR graduate Dr. Sean Harper and his wife, Stella Harpoothian, celebrated with the first scholarship recipients in February. Pictured, clockwise from left, are Maryam Arshi Bharucha, Dr. Sean Harper, Stella Harpoothian, Oscar Gumercindo Mercado, Brooke Harpoothian, Dominique Harpoothian, CNAS Dean Kathryn Uhrich, Diana Medina-Yerena, Walker James Woodard, and Alexandra Vacaru.

That experience was part of the reason Harper and his wife, Stella Harpoothian, created an endowed scholarship that will support five undergraduates in UCR’s College of Natural & Agricultural Sciences each year.

“We are extremely appreciative to Sean and his family for this generous gift, which will help talented and motivated students who may be facing significant financial challenges succeed in their educational journey at UCR,” said Kathryn Uhrich, dean of the college.

When Harper attended UCR, in the early 1980s, the campus was home to around 3,000 students, faculty, and staff. Harper said the small campus setting proved beneficial to him, providing a rigorous academic program and the opportunity to conduct hands-on laboratory research early in his undergraduate career. 

In 2016, Harper returned to campus to talk with a group of students about careers in biomedical research. He was surprised by how much the university had grown and impressed by the students he met. More than half of UCR’s 25,000 students are the first in their family to attend a university and UCR enrolls more Pell Grant recipients—students whose families earn $50,000 or less per year—than the entire Ivy League combined. 

“I realized there were a lot of opportunities to help these students attend school and stay in school,” said Harper, who is the co-founder and managing director of the venture capital firm Westlake Village BioPartners. “My hope is to reduce the debt burden and make it possible for students with an interest in going on to graduate school to be able to pursue an advanced education.”

Harper and his family’s support for UCR will provide merit-based scholarships of $10,000 for five students each year.  In February, Harper and his family, including his 16- and 10-year-old daughters, met the first five recipients at a dinner in Riverside. 

Alexandra Vacaru, a second-year student majoring in Applied Mathematics with a concentration in Chemistry, said she valued the chance to meet the Harper family in person and share with them how the scholarship has enabled her to “grow as a person and keep motivated.”

Oscar Mercado, a sophomore in biology who also met the family in February, said the scholarship has helped his family cover the cost of his education.

 “To be recognized for my dedication feels humbling and rewarding. I will always be grateful to Dr. Harper and his family for the opportunity to further my career and succeed,” Mercado said.


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