Generous gift will promote student research and public service in Africa
Dr. Elizabeth Woldemussie. (Photo courtesy of the Woldemussie family.)

Generous gift will promote student research and public service in Africa

The newly established Dr. Elizabeth Woldemussie Centennial Global Health Fund at the UCLA African Studies Center will support UCLA students to travel to Africa to conduct health-centered research or an original intervention with a local community development agency.

UCLA International Institute, February 12 2021 — A generous gift to the UCLA African Studies Center (ASC) from the estate of Elizabeth Woldemussie, Ph.D., an Ethiopian American pharmacologist who devoted her life to research on ophthalmological diseases — has created a fund that will enable UCLA students to pursue academic study, cultural immersion and public service centered on health and community development in Africa, prioritizing work in Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The $250,000 gift, with additional funding from the Chancellor’s Centennial Scholars Match Initiative, has created the Dr. Elizabeth Woldemussie Centennial Global Health Fund with a total investment of $375,000. The endowed fellowship will enable UCLA undergraduate and graduate students to study in an existing program, conduct original research under the guidance of a UCLA faculty member, or implement an original project in partnership with a local health-based or community development agency in the region.

“We are deeply grateful for this generous gift, which will greatly expand opportunities for our students to experience Africa in person through study and public service,” said Andrew Apter, director of the African Studies Center and professor of history and anthropology at UCLA.

The endowed fellowship will provide up to $4,000 for each student and support four to five students annually for travel and other approved expenses, with a requirement that Woldemussie Fellows spend a minimum of 45 days in-country. Students studying or working in Ethiopia and Eritrea on health-related research and service will be given priority; however, applications focused on other African countries will also be considered.

All applicants will be required to demonstrate a commitment to and engagement in public service, whether in an established program or as demonstrated in an original project that addresses community needs. The African Studies Center will announce application procedures and timelines for the fellowship in the coming months.

Honoring a scientist and a UCLA family legacy

Elizabeth Woldemussie was born in Ethiopia and received the Haile Selassie Prize for young talented scholars upon graduation from high school. She earned a B.S. in pharmacy at Addis Ababa University, a Ph.D. in pharmacology at Emory University in Georgia and completed fellowships at Michigan State University and the U.S. National Institute of Health.

Elizabeth Woldemussie (right) receiving the Haile Selassie Prize from Emperor Selassie (left).
Photo courtesy of the Woldemussie family.

With a focus on pharmacology, ophthalmology (glaucoma, retinal protection, diabetic retinopathy, dry eye), neuroscience and inflammation, Woldemussie spent her career as a scientist at Pfizer Biopharmaceutical Company and Allergan Pharmaceuticals. Upon retirement, she created Woldemussie Consulting to continue sharing her expertise in ophthalmology research. Throughout her career and life, she was a dedicated mentor to students in both the U.S. and Ethiopia.

Elizabeth had several family ties to the UCLA community. She was sister-in-law to Teshome Gabriel (1939–2010), who earned his M.A. and Ph.D. at UCLA, became a renowned scholar of post-colonial cinema in the developing world and a beloved UCLA professor for over 30 years.

Elizabeth’s sister and Teshome’s widow, Maaza, recently retired from a long and distinguished career at UCLA, last serving as a UCLA General Accounting manager. Her nephew, Tsegaye Teshome, currently works as a senior fund manager in the department of medicine, and her brother-in-law, Abraham Adhamon, Ph.D., currently teaches Amharic at UCLA. Early in 2020, Abraham, Maaza and Tsegaye, on behalf of their family, contacted the African Studies Center about establishing a fellowship fund for students in honor of Elizabeth’s legacy.

Dr. Woldemussie at her computer. (Photo courtesy of the Woldemussie family.) The African Studies Center has connected UCLA students and their counterparts in Africa with opportunities for academic and professional enrichment for over 60 years. The endowment Elizabeth’s family has created is, however, the first and only one to focus on global health in Ethiopia and Eritrea. It is also the largest gift in support of students that ASC has received to date. As an endowed fund, the gift will provide opportunities to UCLA students in perpetuity.

“The African Studies Center is deeply grateful to Elizabeth’s family for choosing our center as a repository for perpetuating her legacy,” said Director Apter. “We are touched to steward a fellowship that both honors the legacy of this talented, devoted scientist and that of the Gabriel family at UCLA, who have made considerable scholarly and professional contributions to UCLA.”

The African Studies Center and International Institute extend their heartfelt thanks to Elizabeth’s family (Asmeret Woldemussie, Maaza Woldemusie, Mehret Woldemussie, Assabetch Gebrehiwot, Ariam Issak, Eden Issak, Solomon Yohannes, Daniel Yohannes, Mediget Teshome and Tsegaye Teshome) for their generous gift in support of UCLA students at this challenging moment of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Published: Friday, February 12, 2021