Professor’s endowment to create library research prize inspires family tradition of supporting student success

Lana Lang Payne (at left) and Andy Lang (at right), niece and nephew of the late Professor Emerita Norma J. Lang, with the inaugural group of Lang Prize winners in 2017.

Lana Lang Payne (at left) and Andy Lang (at right), niece and nephew of the late Professor Emerita Norma J. Lang, with the inaugural group of Lang Prize winners in 2017.

The late UC Davis Professor Emerita Norma Lang’s nephew honors her passion for student education and research with a $50,000 addition to the Lang Prize

Andy Lang, nephew of the late UC Davis Professor Emerita Norma J. Lang, Ph.D., recently added $50,000 to the endowment that supports his aunt’s legacy through the UC Davis Library’s Norma J. Lang Prize for Undergraduate Information Research.

Photograph of Norma J. LangThe late UC Davis Professor Emerita of Botany Norma J. Lang

In its sixth year, the prize was made possible by a portion of Professor Lang’s generous bequest of nearly $1 million dollars to the library. The other portion of Lang’s bequest established the library’s Archives and Institutional Assets program, which preserves university records and faculty research, including both print and digital assets.

In 2015, together with library staff, Andy helped establish the prize in honor of his aunt’s passion for academic research and teaching. An award-winning botanist and distinguished for her leading work in phycology (the study of algae), Norma Lang taught at UC Davis for three decades.

In addition to her bequest to UC Davis, Professor Lang also left $50,000 to Andy, who serves as trustee of her estate. Inspired by his aunt’s many conversations with him about giving back, Andy decided to give the library the same amount of money that his aunt originally left him. He is also working with other family members and other gift recipients to encourage them to make a gift to the endowment as well. Andy chose the library for his gift because of “how wisely and creatively” the library has used his aunt’s bequest under the leadership of University Librarian and Vice Provost of Digital Scholarship MacKenzie Smith.

“What MacKenzie’s team has done in promoting the vision of the Library as a research tool pays great respect to the gift Aunt Norma left behind,” he said.

The Lang Prize enables a wide-ranging legacy in academic research

Since 2017, more than 30 undergraduate students in arts, humanities and social sciences and in science, engineering and math have been awarded the prize for research projects that best leverage the UC Davis Library’s vast resources, services or expertise. Besides a cash award, prize recipients are supported in advancing their understanding of the academic research process.

Prize recipients have used the library’s resources to conduct research in subjects ranging from nanoparticle-based cancer drug delivery to the evolutionary function of zebra stripes; from the architecture of SFMOMA to the influence of evangelical Christianity on health practices in the antebellum South.

“The prize encourages students to use the library for research, whatever their topic is. That is what would give Aunt Norma the greatest happiness,” Andy said.

Standing in for Norma Lang, Andy has attended every one of the award ceremonies over the years — including those held virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic — to recognize the prize winners’ achievements and share his aunt’s legacy with them. The 2022 winners will be honored at a reception on May 25, 2022, at the Peter J. Shields Library on the UC Davis campus.

Subject matter experts ready to help students

The UC Davis Library offers numerous resources that students may be unaware of — from special collections to interlibrary loan — which the Lang Prize helps to highlight. Among the services that students may overlook is the opportunity to consult with librarians who have expertise in conducting information research in fields from the social, health and physical sciences to government, engineering, and the arts and humanities.

Librarian support was what helped Funke Aderonmu, one of the inaugural Lang Prize winners in 2017, complete her project studying the negative effects on recipient countries when donor countries mandate the recipients spend donated funds on goods or services produced in the donor country.

“He was really helpful in helping me find new resources I could look for when I hit a wall in trying to find data on my own,” Aderonmu said of now-retired librarian Juri Stratford, whose expertise included how to access and work with government documents and databases.

Library experts also helped 2021 first-place winner Natasong Yuan with her research on the history and aesthetics of botanical art and illustration. Initially, she had found it difficult searching for relevant sources online.

“After the discovery of the UC Davis Library’s online search [tools], I was led to archives of hundreds of paintings and drawings since the 18th century that were all public domain,” Yuan said.

Understanding how to utilize library databases was also critical for 2020 first-place winner Jessica Macaluso, whose project investigated the “Biological Basis for Alzheimer’s Disease.”

“Despite being intimidated at first…I was able to explore and read rich academic scholarship in a way I never had before,” she said.

The library’s databases and subject guides helped her hone in on 20 sources for her research in top scientific journals.

Through prize, students are “giving back” to Lang

Professor Lang didn’t just talk about giving. She lived it — by volunteering at her local library and investing herself deeply in educating her students, whom she loved teaching. According to Andy, those students who participate in the Lang Prize are giving back to his aunt by carrying on her legacy in academic research.

“The topics and winning papers, they’re phenomenal,” Andy said. “That part would please her as well. If she could see how this money is being used to incentivize and encourage students to use tools to enhance their learning, she would be blown away.”

By Sarah Colwell for the UC Davis Library