Couple's legacy gift to life sciences


- Sarah Tarnopolsky

Will and Claire Cupples on a recent visit to UVic Finnerty Gardens. UVic Photo Services

Claire and Will Cupples met while completing their undergraduate degrees at UVic in the 1970s, and returned in 2003 to further their academic careers. Now the recently retired couple is giving back to the institution by creating the Life Sciences Innovation Fund. They have pledged $500,000 to seed an endowed fund and will add to it with a gift of $1.5 million in their wills. 

The impetus for this gift grew out of the Cupples’ 60 years of combined professional experience as biomedical researchers in Canada and the United States. The new fund, which will provide one-time grants for researchers to initiate new life science research projects, is intended to bridge a gap they observed as scientists, grant reviewers and administrators in academia. 

“We’re deeply honoured to receive this generous donation from Claire and Will Cupples,” says UVic Dean of Science Peter Loock. “As former researchers and faculty members here at UVic, they truly understand the strengths and opportunities for our life science research. Their gift will benefit generations of both senior researchers and students, and will impact communities through greatly enhanced research capabilities and innovations.”

Bridging a gap in current research funding

When applying for major life science funding, researchers at comprehensive universities like UVic are at a disadvantage compared to universities with a medical school. Throughout their careers, the Cupples saw that far less funding is available to researchers to generate preliminary data in comprehensive universities. Determined to bridge this gap, they came up with the idea for the endowment. The new fund will help researchers to conduct high-risk preliminary research and to acquire the equipment needed for their research. “Research is critically important to teaching science, but I know from my experience as a dean that it can be hard to repurpose money to research,” says Claire, who served as acting dean of science at UVic for 15 months, and then became dean of science at Simon Fraser University from 2010 to 2018. 

Investigators at research comprehensives don’t have access to the levels of funding available to investigators at medical schools. We want to level the playing field a bit.”  

—Will Cupples

The couple have chosen to support two universities in their philanthropic legacy plans (they are making a similar gift to Simon Fraser University). “It was always in our minds that we would do something for universities because we believe in them and we’ve made our careers with them,” says Claire. “We’ve always been fond of UVic because that’s where we met. And we think it gave us an excellent education.”

Cupples focused on life sciences during 60 year careers 

Will and Claire Cupples built their careers in the life sciences—Will is an integrative physiologist and Claire a molecular biologist. Both remember specific UVic professors (John Hayward and Michael Ashwood-Smith) who kindled their passion for science research during their undergraduate degrees. Claire took on increasing leadership roles alongside her research. “One of the nice things about being a university professor is the combination of teaching, research and service. I’ve enjoyed all of them,” she says. 

“The joy of being a scientist was that every day I was dealing with something I didn’t understand and I had to figure out,” says Will. “So I guess the short answer for why we’ve decided to support research is because it’s fun.” The couple decided to endow the fund to ensure it will be available in perpetuity. While the greater portion of the gift will come to UVic through their estate, they started the endowed fund with a gift this year and will add to it over the next five years.

We have a certain amount of money available to give and we wanted to focus on something that we care deeply about and to a place where it would make a difference. If we give some now it can start generating income and be useful right away.” 

—Claire Cupples

The Cupples hope this gift will spark interest from other academics who recognize the same needs and may be thinking about doing something similar. “This is a small start,” says Claire. “But one of the reasons we didn’t put our names on this fund is that we hope other people might contribute at some point and help us grow the amount over time.” 

If you are interested in contributing to the Life Sciences Innovation Fund, setting up a named fund in science or making a legacy gift to the university, please contact Nicole Boulet, Faculty of Science Development Officer, at .


In this story

Keywords: philanthropy, research, alumni, administrative

People: Claire Cupples, Will Cupples, Peter Loock

Publication: The Ring

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