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Biology Alumnus, Faculty Mentor Team Up to Support Science Students

It Takes a Titan: Scholarship Funds Research in Comparative Physiology
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Fifty years ago, when alumnus Stanley Hillman was an undergraduate studying biology at Cal State Fullerton, he took a course in comparative animal physiology with Lon McClanahan, professor emeritus of biological science.

His fascination with the discipline — the comparative study of physiological systems in animals and plants to better understand their evolution — combined with the mentorship from McClanahan, who later became his graduate thesis adviser, changed the course of his higher education journey.

“Cal State Fullerton faculty conveyed to students the excitement of discovery. That led to a core of graduate students in every lab doing what they loved,” Hillman recalled.

Hillman earned a bachelor’s degree in 1970, and two years later, a master’s degree, both in biology, from CSUF. His graduate thesis focused on the water and salt management in the arboreal salamander Aneides.

McClanahan witnessed Hillman’s passion for the field of comparative physiology and nudged him to pursue a doctorate in biology, which he earned at UCLA in 1977.

“Stan was persistent; he asked questions. I saw an unwavering commitment on his part to understand and learn,” McClanahan relayed about his former student and friend.

Hillman spent 35 years teaching various aspects of comparative animal and human physiology and anatomy at Portland State University.

Appreciative to the Biological Science Department and his former professor’s mentorship, Hillman was motivated to give back to his alma mater. He established a scholarship for students entering the field of physiological ecology — how plants and animals survive in their environments.

“The rigor of the curriculum and the laboratory experiences at CSUF set me up to succeed in doing research, which opened up opportunities I did not know existed,” said Hillman, professor emeritus of biological science at Portland State University. “It was an unforgettable experience I carried throughout my career — and I am proud to help give the next generation of exceptional students a similar opportunity.”

Hillman, who retired in 2012, spent more than three decades researching the physiology of body fluid regulation in frogs and toads, known as amphibians. His work focused on understanding why terrestrial adapted amphibians can withstand huge water losses and survive, while other vertebrate organisms, including humans, can withstand only a fraction of those water losses before death. For his research contributions to the field, Hillman was named the 2018 August Krogh Distinguished Lectureship by the American Physiological Society’s Comparative and Evolutionary Physiology section.

Hillman shared that when he received his first scholarship as a graduate student, it was a validating experience that inspired him to pursue a lifelong teaching and research career. He added that establishing the scholarship also allowed him to honor McClanahan.

The giving didn’t end there. McClanahan joined forces with Hillman, and in 2006, together they created the Hillman and McClanahan Scholarship in Plant or Animal Physiological Ecology.

Each spring, the $1,000 scholarship is awarded. Biology graduate students Evelyn Bond, studying the reproductive physiology of surfperch, and Ariel Heyman, whose research focuses on the impacts of sea level rise on the seaweed Pelvetiopsis californica, are the 2019 recipients.

“Stan and I have contributed as needed to keep the scholarship going and will do so as long as we can,” McClanahan said.