As the author of “The Rise and Fall of American Technology,” UCR alumnus Lynn Gref deeply understood that educational accessibility would be key for the innovation of future generations. “This fact that I see a decline in technology in America is what drives me to try and reverse it and get people interested in [technology],” the first-generation college student said in a 2013 UCR Alumni Association interview.
Gref, B.S. ’63, M.S. ’64, Ph.D. ’66, regularly returned to UCR to talk about his career with students pursuing degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. His work as a manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, technologist, and systems engineer led to development in missile systems, satellite systems, and information systems, even influencing the development of the internet. “He was happy engaging with engineering students and math students, telling them about what he did,” Karen Eliason, Gref’s daughter and an environmental scientist, recalled.
Mathematics major Gref, who passed away in 2013, held strong connections to UCR throughout his life. He was a member of the College of Natural & Agricultural Sciences (CNAS) Board of Advisors, the U.C. Riverside Foundation Board of Trustees, the CNAS Science Circle, and a mentor with the Industrial Mentorship for Professional Advancement and Career Training program in the Marlan and Rosemary Bourns College of Engineering. Gref and his wife Sally, a retired educator who passed away in 2019, established the Gref Family Endowed Fund for the Advancement of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics through charitable gift annuities in 2011. “We wanted to ensure that students in STEM have help in their academic endeavors,” Sally Gref told UCR Magazine in 2017.
The Gref family fund supports STEM units and programs at UCR. “Dr. Gref’s experience as a first-generation college student who received his bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. from UCR in the 1960s is a testament to UCR’s vision and being the No. 1 university for social mobility,” said Kathryn Uhrich, former dean of CNAS and distinguished professor of chemistry. “Dr. Gref and his family created this fund to impact students like him and support professors, scholarships, fellowships, research, equipment, and other STEM-related initiatives.”
Erick Garcia ’17, also a first-generation college student, is one of many beneficiaries of the Gref family fund. He credits the award, and the encouragement he received throughout his time at UCR, with propelling him toward earning master’s and doctorate degrees in mechanical engineering. “It is because of the support that UCR offers their students, including the Gref family fund, that I hold this university in such high regard,” Garcia said. “I credit this support, along with my academic preparation at UCR, to the success I had transitioning to my graduate program.”
Faculty members benefit from the Gref family fund through investments in needed laboratory equipment that expands their research capabilities, leads to publications of findings in top journals, and aids in securing more grant funding. The fund also brings more undergraduate and graduate students into research projects and enables the mentoring of post-doctoral students. These students have gone on to start careers in high-tech industry, academia, and the national laboratory system, according to Jing Shi, distinguished professor of physics at UCR.
Results like these are exactly what Gref hoped to achieve through the establishment of this fund. “He understood that schooling is very important, and that technology is a big part of everything,” Eliason said. “He wanted to continue that learning, that type innovation.”