The Potamkin family.
A $1 million gift by the Potamkin family -- from left, Ayla, Robert, Alex, Lexie and Alura '22 -- is supporting CU Safely Back, the plan for a healthy return to campus this fall.

Potamkin Family’s Gift Propels Campaign for Healthy Return to Campus Million Dollar Challenge will help pay for PPE, testing, technology and financial assistance.

When Lexie and Robert Potamkin saw a chance to back the work of Chapman University’s Brain Institute, they didn’t hesitate. The Chapman parents have a heart for brain research, as evidenced by the Potamkin Prize, which each year honors the person doing the most worldwide to advance Alzheimer’s research.

Supporting the prize that Robert founded with his father and brother is just one way that the Potamkins advance research and education with their generous philanthropy.

The couple also recognize an impactful moment when they see it.

So when the coronavirus pandemic hit, the Potamkins wanted to help mitigate the financial fallout they knew would have a profound effect on Chapman and its students. They proposed that their $1 million Brain Institute gift be shifted to allow for broader use, addressing the university community’s most immediate needs.

“The Brain Institute is a fabulous program, but when you have an existential crisis, different priorities take over,” Robert Potamkin said.

Now the Potamkins’ gift is at the center of the effort to reopen Chapman’s campuses and resume in-person classes this fall. Their support has created a Million Dollar Challenge, to generate $3 million in total to aid the CU Safely Back plan. The funds will help pay for personal protective equipment, testing/tracing/monitoring and other related measures to protect the health of the Chapman campus community.

Other uses for the funds include technology to enhance learning experiences, given the need to restrict the size of in-person classes, and scholarships/financial support to aid families in crisis, providing help with tuition, housing or other critical needs.

“The graciousness and generosity of the Potamkin family demonstrate the importance of our Chapman Family,” said Sheryl Bourgeois, Ph.D., executive vice president of university advancement. “It is in times like these that we really count on our community, and of course, the Potamkins were there to help when we needed them most. Moreover, while they initially made their commitment to a very promising research endeavor, they provided us flexibility to use the funds for the most pressing of needs – no questions asked. That is true philanthropy.”

Leaders in the Brain Institute at Chapman are on board with the funding shift

“The Brain Institute is not an autonomous institute – it thrives along with the university,” said Professor Amir Raz, Ph.D., director of of the Institute for Interdisciplinary Brain and Behavioral Sciences – the Brain Institute. “We’re grateful for the Potamkins and hope that in the future we’ll be able to continue on this very exciting brain quest.”

Raz is confident that eventually the institute will replace the funding, which was earmarked for acquiring magnetoencephalography (MEG) technology to image brain activity using highly sensitive measurement of magnetic fields.

“The work of the institute continues – nothing will change that trajectory,” Raz said. “I would say that the priorities of the university have changed, and this agility is needed sometimes.”

Lexie Potamkin said that she and her family trust Chapman to decide how best to use their gift

“We have full confidence in this incredible team,” she said.

Robert noted that while he and Lexie enjoy having their daughter, Alura Potamkin ’22, a Chapman communication studies major, at home with them in Colorado, as they have for the past few months, “we’re looking forward to helping her return to campus.”

“There’s nothing like the campus experience,” Lexie added.

Learn More

To learn more about ways the university is supporting students and providing resources they need for a meaningful educational experience, visit the CU Safely Back Fund page.

Dennis Arp