Thomas (‘77, Zoology) and his wife, Sara Ferguson, were able to get their higher education degrees when it was much less expensive to attend college and benefited from scholarships and grants. To return the favor and help more students in need, they established Cal Poly Humboldt’s Ferguson Family Research Fund with a $52,000 gift to support annual graduate research opportunities, including mentorship and supervision by graduate students to undergraduate students in the Department of Biological Sciences.
“We were looking at different ways to give back, and with increased tuition, we know there’s a need for students who want to get their degrees but may not be able to afford it. When I was a student at Humboldt, I received good support, so we thought, what better institution to give back to than the one that helped me start my career,” Thomas says.
The Ferguson Family Research Fund provides stipends to undergraduate students while working on projects developed by graduate students and their faculty advisers. It also provides a limited amount of research supplies for the project.
Thomas began his medical career in the Department of Zoology at Humboldt. He assisted with research as an undergraduate and received support from genetics Professor James Welsh and Chemistry Professor Thomas Clark, who brought his Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (NMR) equipment to teach students how to use and understand it better. Thomas gained invaluable experience through this mentorship. They offered suggestions and recommendations, encouraging him to consider graduate school or explore other options for higher education.
“I was able to assist with research in viral genetics and work with many other professors in labs during my time at Humboldt,” Thomas says. “I don't think I would have pursued my career path without the help and guidance of the faculty at Cal Poly Humboldt.”
After Humboldt, Thomas received his master’s degree and doctorate in Public Health from UCLA’s School of Public Health before attending UC Davis School of Medicine for his MD. He then began his career as a physician at UC Davis Medical Center, specializing in internal medicine, occupational and environmental medicine, and medical toxicology.
The Ferguson Family Research Fund aims to enable undergraduate students to participate in a research environment, like Thomas did, gaining valuable experience that can help them develop into practicing scientists. The hope is that a wide range of undergraduate students will participate in the program, and first-generation students are especially encouraged to apply.
“We want to provide a simple way for everyone, especially students from diverse backgrounds, to succeed and receive the boost they need,” Sara says.
During their recent visit to campus, Thomas and Sara met with Erik Jules, the Chair of the Biological Sciences, and a group of undergrad and graduate students whose research is being supported by the Ferguson Family Fund. The students shared their work on microbiology, fisheries, and environmental bacteria and their experiences at the University.
The Fergusons hope the students can learn more about themselves and their interests in science and whether or not they want to continue pursuing a higher degree from their experiences with research during their undergraduate years.
“We appreciate their interest in the sciences and desire to learn more. They’re conducting research and receiving training in collaboration and teaching in this mentorship, which I see as an excellent experience to see if they want to be researchers or faculty someday,” Thomas says.
Join donors like Thomas and Sara Ferguson in expanding hands-on learning and enhancing the academic experience at Cal Poly Humboldt through the Boldly Rising campaign. Contact the Cal Poly Humboldt Foundation at email@example.com or (707) 826-5200.
Photo (from left to right): Rebecca Colyar (undergrad), Robyn Norman (graduate student), Rose Harman (graduate student), Oh Byung Kwon (OB) (graduate student), Tom Ferguson, Emmery Parker (graduate student), Seaname Adams (undergrad), Biankeh Jung (undergrad).