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Endowed Research Fund

A University of Dayton alumnus who is considered a pioneer in the field of sea turtle research has committed $100,000 to launch an endowed fund to assist biology and environmental science students with their research projects.

The gift from James R. Spotila '66 establishes the Dittrich-Spotila Research Award. The fund is named for Spotila and his late wife, Loretta "Laurie" Dittrich, who also was a 1966 University graduate. It will support undergraduate and graduate student research in biology, environmental biology, and environmental science and sustainability.

Spotila holds the Betz Chair of Environmental Science at Drexel University in Philadelphia, where he is also director of the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation. He attended the University of Dayton on a full scholarship and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology.

"That provided a springboard to my success as a professor for the last 44 years," Spotila said in a letter about his intent to establish the fund. "Not only did I learn about science, but I became a person imbued with Christian goals and values."

Spotila, who received the University of Dayton’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 1995, has made key contributions to the understanding of sea turtle physiology and behavior, and also brought awareness to the threats they face.

According to his Drexel faculty profile, Spotila was part of the team that attached a transmitter to a sea turtle for the first time; was first to recognize the impending disappearance of leatherback sea turtles from the Pacific Ocean; and the first to document the connection between sex determination and nest temperature.

In 2005, Spotila published the award-winning illustrated book, Sea Turtles: A Complete Guide to Their Biology, Behavior and Conservation. He donated all proceeds from sales to the Leatherback Trust, a nonprofit organization he co-founded that protects leatherbacks and other sea turtle species from extinction.

Dittrich, a molecular researcher at Drexel University and Thomas Jefferson University, died in January 2015. She graduated from the University of Dayton with a bachelor's degree in nutrition. She earned a master's degree at Ohio State University and a doctorate in molecular biology from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Spotila also holds a doctorate degree in vertebrate zoology and physiological ecology from the University of Arkansas.

The couple married in 1967 and made their home in Haddonfield, New Jersey.

"We shared the responsibility of raising our two children and I believe we had a positive impact in science and the real world, as well," Spotila said in his letter. "We were both grateful for what we learned at UD."

Research award applicants will be required to submit a short proposal about their research and its relevance to society. The research will support a master's or doctorate thesis, or an undergraduate research project. The selection will be made annually by a faculty committee assembled by the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

"We are thankful for Dr. Spotila's generous gift to the University," said Jason Pierce, the College's dean. "The endowed research fund will allow current and future students to pursue disciplinary research projects that will help prepare them for lifelong careers in the natural sciences. It will be a lasting legacy of the distinguished research careers of both Dr. Spotila and his late wife, Dr. Dittrich."

During the 2015-16 academic year, the University of Dayton gave more than $5.4 million in donor-funded scholarship awards.

- Dave Larsen, communication coordinator, College of Arts and Sciences

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