Reading and listening to lectures in science classes didn’t do a lot to stimulate a young Jeffry Mann. But once he put on a lab coat and started running trials with test tubes, he tapped into what has become a longstanding passion for chemistry.
As a high school student in Sacramento, Mann ’85 (Chemistry) wasn’t sure he wanted to attend college. But he started at Sac State as a biology major. A chemistry lab class with now-emeritus professor Dave Forkey set the wheels in motion for Mann’s career.
“For one reason or another, he invited me to join a research program that he and (professor) John Russell had going,” Mann says. “It turned out to be a life-altering experience for me. It really gave me direction. I struggled with chemistry initially, but once I got into a lab environment everything clicked. It inspired me to study harder and work harder.”
That inspiration continues to this day, which is a big reason Mann established the Russell-Forkey Research Award through the Sac State chemistry department to honor his two mentors. Between two and four awards, ranging from $2,000 to $4,000 each, are offered for undergraduates who conduct summer research projects with a faculty member. It’s an inspiring experience for students, filled with learning and discovery, according to Linda Roberts, chair of the chemistry department.
“It’s a tremendous learning process to be involved in your own research project that you have responsibility for as a student,” Roberts says. “You learn about experimental design and it’s a much more real-world environment. And we see that it really enhances their post-graduate success.”
Mann’s lab experience helped propel his academic and professional careers to prolific heights. He earned his doctorate in synthetic organic chemistry from the University of Oregon and was a faculty member at UC San Francisco for several years before embarking on a new career path.
He met a patent attorney at UCSF who was working with chemistry professors and Mann was intrigued at the thought of a career in law. In 1997, Mann earned his law degree from Golden Gate University.
“I’d never thought of going to school after getting my Ph.D.,” Mann says.
He is now head of Morgan Lewis’ San Francisco Intellectual Property Practice. Using his extensive background in chemistry, Mann specializes in patent strategies, prosecution, licensing and due diligence in a range of fields, including chemistry, pharmaceuticals, diagnostics and medical devices.
Mann’s contribution to his alma mater is designed to help more students realize the benefits of lab experience. Both Forkey and Russell taught at Sac State for more than 30 years and Roberts says they were instrumental in building the department’s identity.
“They were integral in establishing a strong research culture that involves students,” Roberts says. “We still have that culture and it’s embedded in our tenure process. We hire people that want to have research programs that are active and involve undergraduates.”
The Russell-Forkey Research Award is also a way that Mann can give back to Sac State.
“The fact that Sac State hires faculty who are really kind of working off the clock on projects—that speaks really highly for the Sac State community,” Mann says. “I think it’s a struggle right now for talented faculty to keep the ship afloat. Money is scarce and the atmosphere has the potential to become demoralizing. For them to know that what they do is valued and respected, that is important.”
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