Gift to UMass Amherst Expands Opportunities for Underrepresented and First-Generation Students in Sciences

Bill Lee
Bill Lee

AMHERST, Mass. – A new program created with a gift from University of Massachusetts Amherst alumnus William “Bill” A. Lee, executive vice president of research at Gilead Sciences, will broaden opportunities for underrepresented and first-generation UMass Amherst students who aspire to be scientists. 

The new William Lee Science Impact Program (Lee-SIP) at the College of Natural Sciences gives selected undergraduates the opportunity to work with faculty on a wide range of research projects. Currently, 13.4 percent of the college’s 6,067 undergraduates are from underrepresented groups, and 29 percent are first-generation college students.

Lee-SIP Scholars will be directly mentored by faculty, work within a research team, and participate in professional development workshops. These activities are intended to prepare participants for a wide range of science-based careers. As a result of participating in this program, students will be able to use principles of the scientific method to develop a research proposal, evaluate scientific data in their respective field, formulate conclusions and effectively communicate scientific findings to experts and general audiences. Selected applicants will be awarded fellowships that include stipends, funding for research supplies and an allowance for living expenses.

“Bill’s generosity will provide an unprecedented opportunity for our students, particularly those who are the first in their families to attend college, to engage in an independent research project,” says Tricia Serio, dean of the College of Natural Sciences at UMass Amherst. “This gift has the power to transform students’ success and career opportunities. I am so excited for them and grateful to Bill for supporting this program.”

Lee, who earned a B.S. in chemistry from UMass Amherst in 1977, was the first in his family to graduate from college, where he developed an understanding of the impact research can have on both students and society. “When Dr. Marvin Rausch asked me if I was interested in working in his lab over the summer, I had no idea of what to expect or how it would change my course in life. I thrived on the comradery with grad students and postdocs in the lab and for the first time, science left the text book and became alive.” 

Lee went on to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of California, San Diego, and conducted postdoctoral studies at the Ecole Polytech Federal Lausanne in Switzerland and the University of California, Santa Barbara.

He joined Gilead Sciences in 1991 as director, pharmaceutical product development. In 2015, he was appointed executive vice president, research and has been responsible for the expansion of the company’s research and preclinical activities across a range of therapeutic areas, including HIV, liver diseases, hematology and oncology, inflammation and respiratory diseases and cardiovascular conditions. Prior to joining Gilead, Lee was head of drug delivery at California Biotechnology, Inc. and began his career as a research scientist at Syntex Research in Palo Alto, California. During his career, he led discovery efforts and the advancement of new drugs that changed the course of many chronic diseases, including transplantation, HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.