DALLAS (SMU) — It’s not unusual for dedicated students to honor the mentors who guided their academic development. But a new gift to SMU reverses that pattern — the mentor has provided funding to honor his former student.

A new research endowment fund honoring SMU Anthropology Professor Robert Van Kemper has been established through a bequest from his late mentor and teacher George M. Foster Jr. at the University of California at Berkeley. The Foster Trust provides $250,000 to establish the Robert Van Kemper Endowment Fund for Research in Social and Cultural Anthropology in SMU’s Department of Anthropology. The new endowment will provide funds for training and field research for graduate students in anthropology, primarily for preliminary field experience for doctoral candidates.

Foster, who died in May 2006, was a pioneer in the field of cultural anthropology. He received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from SMU in 1990. Kemper earned his Ph.D. from UC-Berkeley in 1971 as a student of Foster and through the years conducted research with Foster in Mexico. Kemper is continuing the ethnographic and demographic research begun by Foster in 1945 in Tzintzuntzan, Michoacán.

As SMU approaches the centennial of its founding, in 2011, and its opening, in 2015, it is increasing resources for students, faculty, academic programs and the overall campus experience. The Kemper Fund will support that effort.

“George Foster was an anthropologist of great vision,” Kemper said. “He ensured that his students at Berkeley were able to have fieldwork experiences in advance of their dissertation research. My summer in Mexico in 1967 set the course for my career. My colleagues and I hope that Foster’s endowment will enable future generations of SMU anthropology students to have similar experiences.”

SMU President R. Gerald Turner said, “We are deeply grateful for Dr. Foster’s generosity in creating a trust that will bring added resources to SMU’s Department of Anthropology and honor the donor’s long-term relationship with Dr. Kemper. Planned giving through bequests, charitable trusts, gift annuities and other vehicles allows individuals to leave a lasting legacy that benefits future generations.”

Kemper, a cultural anthropologist, joined the SMU faculty in 1972 and currently serves as chair of the Department of Anthropology in Dedman College. He was president of the SMU Faculty Senate in 2005-06 and received the HOPE (Honoring Our Professors’ Excellence) Award in 2006. In addition to his long-term research interests in Mexico, he is engaged in research on Mexican-Americans in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“This new endowment will enable the Department of Anthropology, which offers one of SMU’s strongest doctoral programs, to attract and provide research support for some of the nation’s top graduate students,” said Interim Dedman Dean Caroline Brettell. “This summer two anthropology students are engaged in research in Africa and one in Germany through funds from the National Science Foundation. The Kemper Fund will enable the department to continue providing such research opportunities.”

In addition to Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in anthropology, SMU offers a Ph.D. with concentrations in New World archaeology and cultural anthropology. The cultural anthropology program offers tracks in medical anthropology or globalization and international development, with current faculty research in France, French Polynesia, Mali, Mexico, the Philippines, the U.S. Southwest and Dallas-Fort Worth.