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Pepperdine University Honors Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Biology Stephen Davis with Endowment for Undergraduate Research

May 19, 2022  | 2 min read

Stephen Davis speaks at retirement symposiumOn Friday, May 13, 2022, the Pepperdine University community held a research symposium to celebrate the retirement of Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Biology Stephen D. Davis. At the closing of the day-long celebration, Pepperdine provost Jay Brewster announced the Stephen D. Davis Endowment for Undergraduate Research, which has raised more than $900,000.

“Core to his pedagogy is his encouragement of students to ask their own original research questions and his empowering them to pursue projects with tenacity,” said Davis’ son Jerel. He and Brewster hope the endowment will continue Davis’ legacy of championing undergraduate research. 

Throughout the day, more than a dozen scholars from a number of universities across the nation shared how Davis impacted their own scholarship and career trajectories. Notable presenters included R. Brandon Pratt (’98) and Anna L. Jacobsen (’03), esteemed plant biologists from California State University, Bakersfield, who studied under Davis’ mentorship as undergraduates at Pepperdine, and Helen I. Holmlund, assistant professor of biology at Seaver College, who first met Davis as part of the Summer Undergraduate Research in Biology program. 

Other speakers included Frank W. Ewers from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, Dwayne Simmons, Cornelia Marschall Smith Endowed Professor and chair of the biology department at Baylor University, and many more. Each guest shared their own stories of Davis’ unique approach to research, which encouraged students not to be daunted by science and to go out into the field with curiosity. Many of Davis’ former students, including recent recipient of the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program Karagan Smith (’20), spoke of his ability to make the field of science more approachable and inclusive.

Davis has been a beloved faculty member and mentor at Pepperdine for 46 years. Throughout his tenure, he remained one of the most prolific researchers of the chaparral, the native vegetation of the Santa Monica Mountains surrounding Pepperdine. Davis also studied the impact of a warming climate on increased fire frequency and the implications of a changing climate on the fire resilient and adaptive chaparral. Beyond academics, he and his wife Janet, former professor and longtime staff member at Seaver College, regularly hosted students in their home, providing encouragement and friendship in students’ spiritual and personal growth. 

“Tonight has been a celebration. Our hearts are full,” said Brewster at the closing of the event. “Davis’ legacy is a legacy of love, of care, and of spirit that will carry on for many years with this endowment.”