UC Davis alumni couple give to support growth of multidisciplinary learning at DataLab, Arboretum and Public Garden

Paul and Barbara Schneeman at the UC Davis Arboretum

Paul and Barbara Schneeman at the UC Davis Arboretum

A former Food and Drug Administration director and the son of an acclaimed science-fiction illustrator have made significant gifts to advance multidisciplinary learning opportunities at both the UC Davis DataLab, which is based in the UC Davis Library, and the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden.

Black and white illustration of a man and woman walking between rows of giant robots, titled “To Follow Knowledge.” This Charles Schneeman illustration, which is part of the UC Davis Library’s Charles Schneeman collection, was featured alongside a story by Frank Belknap Long, Jr., which appeared in a December 1942 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. (UC Davis Library/Archives and Special Collections)

Barbara ’70, Ph.D. and Paul, M.S. ’86 Schneeman created endowed funds at the Library and Arboretum because the alumni couple view both central campus units as gems of the university that play an integral role in advancing learning across disciplines.

“We like how supporting multidisciplinary work is a part of the library’s future plans,” said Barbara. “Multidisciplinary learning can be hard because people have to learn how to communicate across disciplines; but the library, because it serves all aspects of the campus, can be a central point and facilitator of those kinds of connections.”

“We are grateful to the Schneemans for their support of the DataLab’s work to advance multidisciplinary research and learning at UC Davis,” said University Librarian and Vice Provost of Digital Scholarship MacKenzie Smith. “Their gift is a good example of how philanthropic partnerships can support innovative programs that benefit the entire UC Davis campus and inspire next-generation scholars.”

Advancing experiential and multidisciplinary learning

The Schneemans’ gift to the Library will be directed to support work at the UC Davis DataLab: Data Science and Informatics.

The Schneemans are pleased the gift will support the DataLab’s mission of “using data in a way that helps solve problems and helps people understand where they are going with their research,” Paul said.

Housed within the Library, the DataLab is an interdisciplinary data science research service that partners with researchers across the university to promote and facilitate data science. Within the DataLab, the Schneemans’ donation may support various initiatives, such as graduate student stipends for teaching workshops on the basics of data science; GIS and computational research; experiential learning opportunities; speakers and visiting scientists; technology and equipment purchases; and student prizes or fellowships.

“The advent of widely available ‘big data’ ushered in by the age of information brought with it both untold opportunity for discovery and innovation. It also brought a new and complex set of interdisciplinary challenges presented by such vast, multi-dimensional, and heterogeneous data,” said Carl Stahmer, Executive Director of the UC Davis DataLab. “This is why the Schneemans’ gift is so important. It will advance our efforts to help domain-focused students and researchers grapple with these new challenges by providing unprecedented opportunities for theoretical and applied research and education.”

More than 50 years at UC Davis

The Schneemans’ passion for multidisciplinary learning, the Library and the Arboretum grew out of their 60 years of combined time spent at UC Davis.

“From our experience at Davis, it has been clear that multidisciplinary approaches to solving problems and challenges has been critical and engages our interests,” Barbara said. “At Davis, we keep discovering these ways that disciplines build on and connect with each other and, to me, that’s the future of science and research.”

Barbara attended UC Davis as an undergraduate where she studied food science and worked at the UC Davis Library as a student. After obtaining her doctoral degree from UC Berkeley, Barbara became a faculty member at UC Davis in 1976 where she shared her expertise in building connections between food science and nutrition. She served as chair of the department of nutrition for several years before becoming Dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences in 1993 — making her the first female dean of a college of agricultural studies in the U.S. at the time and providing another opportunity to experience the importance of interactions among disciplines.

In 2004 (on a leave of absence) Barbara became the director of the Office of Nutrition, Labeling, and Dietary Supplements at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and retired from UC Davis in 2007. In that position, she oversaw the development of policy and regulations for dietary supplements, labeling, food standards, infant formula, and medical foods. She also worked as USAID Higher Education Coordinator and served on committees for the State of California, USDA, Food and Agricultural Organization, and the World Health Organization, and most recently chaired the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee for USDA and HHS.

Paul received his master’s degree in agronomy at UC Davis — one of the few programs of its kind in the world. He then went on to have a productive career at the UC Davis Computer Center where he played an influential role in bringing Statistical Analysis Software (SAS) and other programs to the UC Davis campus. This allowed faculty and staff members to access, process, share and conduct research with large datasets across campus. He sees strong parallels between his work and that of the UC Davis DataLab.

“It was a marvelous breakthrough,” Paul said of his efforts to bring SAS to UC Davis, first on a central VAX/VMS system, and later on workstations and personal computers. “We ended up distributing, for all the UC campuses, the personal computer version of SAS. We were able to run that out of the computer center on the Davis campus, which is amazing when you consider that we were doing it all on floppy disks.”

Barbara, who was a faculty member at the time, concurred about the impact of statistical services available through the computer center.

“It meant researchers like me in the nutrition department had a way to do data analysis in a more rational way,” she said. “It meant that any faculty member who needed data analysis had a tool they could use. It was valuable.”

The Charles Schneeman Collection

black and white illustration of sci-fi galactic battle sceneGalactic battle scene illustration by Charles Schneeman, which was published alongside the story “Bridle and Saddle” by science fiction writer Isaac Asimov in the June 1942 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. (UC Davis Library/Archives and Special Collections)

In addition to the couple’s most recent donation, the Schneemans have made other in-kind donations to the UC Davis Library’s Archives and Special Collections. Specifically, a collection of drawings from Paul’s father, Charles Schneeman — a science fiction artist whose work has been recognized widely for its quality and importance, according to Paul.

Charles created drawings for several science fiction stories between 1927 and 1952 that would have a significant impact on the genre. For example, Charles illustrated several of the novellas that were the beginning of the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov, which was the genesis for The Foundation Series that is an Apple TV+ streaming television series airing September 24, 2021.

“Interestingly, the galactic empire’s library plays a central role in the series by Asimov,” Paul said. “My father and Asimov later developed a concept for a comic strip, but sadly the original strip has disappeared. However, some of their correspondence is in the collection at the UC Davis Library.”

A gift to honor and promote growth

The Schneemans’ affiliation with the Arboretum is both professional and personal. During the time Barbara was dean of the college, she oversaw the UC Davis Arboretum and was excited to see how the programs have grown and developed and that the Arboretum and Public Gardens are now integrated into all aspects of the campus. Paul volunteered at the Friends of the Arboretum for many years and eventually served as president of the organization.

The Schneemans’ donation to the Arboretum and Public Garden will support Learning by Leading student internships in honor of director and assistant vice chancellor of the Arboretum and Public Garden, Kathleen Socolofsky.

“It delights me that the Arboretum has become something the campus, as a whole, is proud of, and hope our gift encourages other to support these programs.” Barbara said. “In both cases, with the library and the arboretum, we feel like we are planting a seed in very good soil.”

By Sarah Colwell