DALLAS (SMU) — A $3.6 million gift to SMU from Caren Prothro and the Perkins-Prothro Foundation will establish the C. Vincent Prothro Biological Sciences Initiative at SMU. The gift will support teaching and research through the appointment of a new endowed faculty chair in the Department of Biological Sciences of SMU’s Dedman College. The gift includes $2 million from Caren Prothro and $1.6 million from the Perkins-Prothro Foundation.

The gift will provide $2 million for a Distinguished Chair of Biological Sciences, whose work will be supported through a $1 million gift for an Endowed Research Fund, $500,000 for a Graduate Fellowship Fund and $100,000 for an Undergraduate Scholarship Fund. The faculty chair and endowed funds are named in memory of the late C. Vin Prothro, long-time SMU supporter. He was the husband of Caren Prothro, who is a Dallas civic leader and member of SMU’s Board of Trustees.

“Vin Prothro’s contributions to the progress of SMU were immeasurable,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “It is fitting that we honor his memory with this Biological Sciences Initiative, which supports one of our highest academic priorities — the strengthening of faculty and associated research activities in the Department of Biological Sciences. We are grateful to Caren Prothro and the Perkins-Prothro Foundation for their generous support of this important program.”

As SMU approaches the centennial of its founding, in 2011, and its opening, in 2015, the University is seeking additional resources to support outstanding students, faculty, academic programs and the campus experience. This gift will provide major support for that effort.

“As new discoveries continue to advance the basic sciences, universities play an increasingly important role in leading-edge research and in the preparation of talented young scientists for careers in science and medicine,” said Paul W. Ludden, SMU provost and vice president for academic affairs. “This gift will enable us to create a center of excellence in the biological sciences by recruiting a distinguished scientist to fill the new faculty chair and by providing funds to support the chairholder’s research, as well as positions for graduate and undergraduate student assistants to work with the chairholder.”

The Department of Biological Sciences attracts the largest number of SMU’s undergraduate majors in the natural sciences, currently totaling 126 biology majors and 21 biochemistry majors. Many of them are preparing for careers in medical fields or scientific research. Qualified students may participate in the Biomedical Researchers in Training Experience (BRITE), offered in collaboration with the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

In addition to the B.S. degree, the department offers research-oriented M.S. and Ph.D. degrees, with a current total of 16 graduate students. Because the graduate program is small, many faculty members engage undergraduates, as well as graduate students, in their research projects, giving the students hands-on research experience. William C. Orr is chair of the Biological Sciences Department, which includes 11 faculty members.

“The Prothro Initiative will add to the stature of Dedman College and the University,” said Caroline Brettell, interim dean of Dedman College. “A distinguished chairholder will energize our programs in biological sciences, bringing additional grant funding and increasing SMU’s contributions to scientific knowledge. The Prothro Initiative also will strengthen SMU’s connections with the larger scientific and medical community in the Dallas area.”

Research in SMU’s Department of Biological Sciences focuses on molecular, cellular and biochemical approaches to investigate fundamental processes that shape life on Earth. Current subjects of faculty research include the capture of energy from the foods we eat, identifying specific molecules that will enhance the effectiveness of cancer therapy, implications of gene expression in the onset of some tumors, development of models for drug discovery, molecular mechanisms of aging, the causative agent of sleeping sickness and the role of penicillin-binding proteins in preventing beta-lactams from inhibiting the action of penicillin.

The currently active research projects in the Department of Biological Sciences have outside funding totaling $4.3 million from agencies including the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Welch Foundation, American Heart Association and the U.S. Air Force.

“Our family is investing in what we consider to be a potential center of excellence at SMU, taking an already outstanding department to the next level of scientific teaching and research,” said Prothro. “My husband understood the importance of educating the next generation of our nation’s scientists. We are pleased to honor Vin in this way.”

Caren Prothro has been a member of the SMU Board of Trustees since 1992. She also serves as a member of the boards of Dedman College, SMU-in-Taos and the Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility, as well as several trustee standing committees. She was vice chair of the Board of Trustees from 1998 to 2000 and one of five co-chairs of The Campaign for SMU, which surpassed its $400 million goal by raising $542 million.

Her current community leadership positions include chair of the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts Foundation’s Development Committee and vice chair of the Performing Arts Foundation’s Board of Directors. She also serves on boards of the Salvation Army of Greater Dallas and The Hoblitzelle Foundation. She was appointed by President Bush to serve on the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. She has been honored for her leadership with the Linz Award, J. Erik Jonsson Award, TACA Silver Cup Award and Annette G. Strauss Humanitarian Award.

Vin Prothro, who died in 2000, was the founder, chairman and CEO of Dallas Semiconductor Corporation. He was a member of the Campaign Executive Committee and co-chair of the Perkins School of Theology Committee of The Campaign for SMU. As part of that campaign, he was personally instrumental in a major renovation of SMU’s Perkins Chapel. He also served SMU on boards of the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies, Cox School of Business, School of Engineering, Meadows School of the Arts and Willis M. Tate Distinguished Lecture Series.

Caren and Vin Prothro continued a long-standing tradition of support from the Perkins-Prothro family of Wichita Falls for SMU and its Perkins School of Theology. That tradition includes Vin’s parents, Charles and Elizabeth Perkins Prothro, and his grandparents, Joe and Lois Perkins, who endowed the SMU theology school in the early 1940s and funded six buildings for the school, including Perkins Chapel. With the new $3.6 million gift from Caren Prothro, the Perkins and Prothro families and their family foundations have contributed nearly $40 million to SMU through the years, primarily for Perkins School of Theology.