Dennis D. Focht Endowed Fund


CNAS Scholarships:Gifts:Endow D01335


Graduate Student Support

Environmental Microbiology Emeritus Professor Dennis Douglass Focht was born in Reading, Pennsylvania 30 August 1941 and passed away in Riverside, California on 18 July 2022. He grew up in Fairlawn, New Jersey and attended Rutgers, The State University graduating with a Bachelor of Science in 1963. Dennis continued with graduate studies at Iowa State University in Bacteriology where he graduated with a Doctor of Philosophy in 1968. A two-year postdoctoral study with Professor Martin Alexander at Cornell University followed.

The importance of maintaining a sustainable environment as introduced by Rachel Carson in her 1962 publication “Silent Spring” influenced his scientific work, as she documented the environmental harm caused by the use of pesticides. This was reflected in his PhD dissertation on “The Degradation of p-Toluenesulfonate by a Species of Pseudomonas”. This became the start of a leading-edge career on the metabolic potential of microorganisms that still influences research directions at many laboratories world-wide.

In 1970, he accepted a position as Assistant Professor at the University of California - Riverside where he continued his academic career with research in transformational emerging areas. His work on using microbial inoculants to stimulate nitrogen fixation in the rhizosphere for improved growth of crops in desert areas was seminal and remains highly cited. In the 1980’s, he embarked on a highly
successful and collaborative research program on the kinetics, metabolic pathways, and genetics of microbial degradation of aromatic hydrocarbons such as polychlorinated biphenyls and nitroaromatics. The discovery of the polymerase chain reaction and other genetic tools allowed him to pivot his work into a very productive vein of ‘molecular breeding’ and design of biodegrading ‘superbugs’, and well as new genetic detection tools for microorganisms in soils and sediments.
Funded by national agencies and the private sector, his contributions to soil microbiology led to Dennis’ election as the first Professor from UCR as a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology.

Over the years, he mentored and taught many undergraduate, graduate and PhD students, and supported a rich and diverse cohort of postdoctoral scholars, many of whom started successful academic careers at top institutions world-wide. As a mentor and advisor, Dennis made communication and accuracy in scientific writing a near poetic skill in his research group, as is testified in many of his publications. His service to the academic community and the campus were
exemplary, and his legacy in the field of biodegradation widely recognized.

His family established this fund at UCR CNAS in Dennis’ name to support areas he so valued: Environmental sustainability, biodegradation of pollutants, and educational opportunities for underrepresented minorities and first-generation graduate students

Fund Purpose: This Fund shall be used to provide student support in The College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences for a Masters or Ph.D. student, whose research or program area is one that addresses a local environmental issue, such as air or water quality.

Criteria and Selection Process

The College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences¡¦ Scholarship Committee will select graduate student(s) who apply and meet the following criteria:
- Thesis M.S. or Ph.D. student within CNAS.
- Research and/or program study area must address an environmental issue and have local impact. Examples of these areas may include, but are not limited to, remediation of environmental toxins, environmental sustainability, environmental toxicology, biochemical pathways.
- Preference will be given to: underrepresented students in science, first generation college students, and students who attended a high school or community college in the Inland Empire.

In years when there is no candidate who meets the criteria, awards will be held until the following year

Eff: 11/30/2022 converted from 6I0148 to true endowment..