A new honor society has been established to promote STEM research within the Ivy League by providing sources of funding for researchers affiliated with the eight schools.
This past December, Elise Mochizuki, an investment analyst at Akemi Capital, founded the honor society Epsilon Alpha Mu, which will provide financial support to students and researchers pursuing STEM projects. Epsilon Alpha Mu’s first initiative will be holding the first annual Ivy League Science and Technology Awards for Research Competition this coming April, where winners will receive cash prizes.
“Several friends of mine and I, who are all affiliated with the Ivy League — whether we went there or worked there as physicians and scientists — and all retired, wanted to give away our money to the next generation of young people in STEM,” said Kenji Mochizuki, who is the chairman of the organization’s board and has served on the faculties of the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University. “So, we spent the past couple of years visiting universities and speaking to the undergraduate students, graduate students, staff and faculty — just trying to figure out where we could help out and make an impact.”
Elise and Kenji Mochizuki founded Epsilon Alpha Mu after learning that research grant applications have, in general, become more restrictive and time-consuming and that STEM donations have decreased considerably in recent years. Donors often give money to institutions to have new buildings named after them, but these donations do not pay for researchers’ lab equipment and personnel, Kenji Mochizuki noted.
Students will be able to apply for grants directly from the organization. The society is aimed specifically at Ivy League students in order to encourage a network of STEM partnerships among these institutions and to appeal to alumni from the eight schools, Kenji Mochizuki said.
While visiting Yale, the group spoke with chemistry and molecular biophysics and biochemistry professor Thomas Steitz about how the donations should be distributed. Rather than give money to the institutions, they decided to award grants directly to researchers, Kenji Mochizuki said.
“Ultimately, we decided to give money directly to the individuals and to fund at all the different levels — from the undergrads to the graduate students and lab technicians to the PIs,” he added. He noted that these grants will range from science competition awards to fellowships to endowments for faculty.
The first Ivy League STAR Competition will be held this April at Columbia University and the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. It will include a traditional poster competition and several unconventional minicompetitions, such as team-based and audience-voting research competitions. Students will also be able to participate in smaller math, robotics and hacking competitions.
Winners of the competition will receive awards ranging from $1,000 to $5,000, in addition to membership in Epsilon Alpha Mu.
Many students at Yale have told Elise Mochizuki that funding for their summer research experiences is often scarce, Kenji Mochizuki said. He emphasized that as a new partner with Yale, this organization aims to support students applying for research grants, especially international students, who face unique challenges such as ineligibility for certain competitions.
“We are just looking for excuses to give away money, so, basically, the competition is our platform,” he said. “It’s our way to get the young scientists onto our radar.”
Kenji Mochizuki explained that the organization hopes to follow aspiring scientists in the long term — not just provide a one-time award through this competition. He added that they plan to increase the size of their grants to students as they progress through their research careers.
The competition, which has an application deadline of March 17, has no application fee and aims to reach as many students as possible, Kenji Mochizuki said. It had received more than 80 applicants from around the Ivy League as of Monday.
Kenji and Elise Mochizuki have been visiting schools in the Ivy League over the past two weeks to give presentations on the new honor society and the upcoming competition. They currently are in discussions with several student groups at Yale, including the Yale African Students Association and the Yale Undergraduate Research Association. Kenji Mochizuki added that the organization hopes to name one of EAM’s awards after a historically significant African-American Yale alum.
YURA Co-president Dan McQuaid ’18 said the Mochizukis’ efforts are important, particularly because unlike in high school, where nationwide science competitions can grant large amounts of award funding, few opportunities exist for undergraduates that fully fund their summer research.
“We’ll definitely advertise the competition,” McQuaid said. “Having this competition, even if it’s only for Ivy League students, will set a precedent that these awards are important for students to have to secure funding for the summer.”
The society’s motto, which is in Greek, translates to “Research reveals the mysteries of the universe.”