Surprise for Fondren Library: $2 million endowment to fund experiential research

Gift from John “Terry” Maltsberger III will expand successful Fondren Fellows program

A piece of the legendary Maltsberger family now lives on at Rice University’s Fondren Library, which has received a $2 million endowment from the estate of John “Terry” Maltsberger III. The gift is being used to fund the expansion of the library’s innovative Fondren Fellows program, a student experiential research program that has generated significant results since its creation in 2016.

A page from the 1953 Campanile shows a young Maltsberger during his time at Rice. (Courtesy Fondren Library)

A page from the 1953 Campanile shows a young Maltsberger at far right during his time at Rice. (Courtesy Fondren Library)

Maltsberger’s grandfather was famed cattle rancher George W. Maltsberger, one of the wealthiest and most successful stockmen in southwestern Texas. The Maltsberger family moved to Cotulla, a tiny town north of Laredo, in 1920; Maltsberger III was born there in 1933. He attended Rice for two years before ultimately graduating from Princeton University in 1955. Although he would later continue on to Harvard Medical School and make his home in Massachusetts, Maltsberger apparently never forgot his time at Rice.

“The gift was a surprise — a very nice one,” said Vice Provost and University Librarian Sara Lowman, who first learned of the endowment in June of 2017.

Christina Regelski, a graduate student in history, discussed her project, “Mapping Civil War Narratives" in April 2017. (Photo by Jeff Fitlow)

Christina Regelski, a graduate student in history, discussed her project, “Mapping Civil War Narratives” in April 2017. (Photo by Jeff Fitlow)

Since the program was established in 2016, Fondren Fellows have made important contributions to the library while simultaneously developing their skills and professional prospects. These students have worked on a range of projects, from conducting research on how Fondren can improve its data services to creating a digital map of Civil War letters and journals held by the Woodson Research Center.

One student even helped save the library $50,000 – no small feat.

“The Fellow worked with her mentor on getting in touch with engineering faculty to seek their input into what journals could be canceled — the library doesn’t want to just cancel willy-nilly without consulting faculty,” said Fondren Executive Director of Digital Scholarship Services Lisa Spiro, who pioneered the Fellows program with colleagues and worked with Lowman on the proposal to secure funding.

Based on the input collected, the library was able to cancel subscriptions that were no longer of use while reinvesting the saved money to pick up new journals in emerging fields.

“Students can see problem and solutions that librarians don’t necessarily see and lend their own expertise to these projects,” Spiro said.

One project that typified this approach, she said, began with two different points of view on how best to solicit feedback on how faculty regard publisher agreements. The legalese contained within some of the agreements can require professors to sign away such basic rights to their own work, they technically can’t even share their own articles with a class of students.

Rice anthropology graduate student Marcel LaFlamme gave an overview of his project, “Know Your (Author) Rights” in April 2017. (Photo by Jeff Fitlow)

Rice anthropology graduate student Marcel LaFlamme gave an overview of his project, “Know Your (Author) Rights” in April 2017. (Photo by Jeff Fitlow)

Fellow Marcel LaFlamme, an anthropology graduate student, worked with mentor Shannon Kipphut-Smith to gauge faculty understand of these often-onerous agreements. “Shannon’s initial idea to was create a LibGuide — an online guide, essentially — on the issue of authors’ rights,” Spiro said, “but Marcel came in and said, ‘Hey, I’ve got another idea.’” The pair decided to take LaFlamme’s ethnographic approach to interviewing faculty; the interviews were such a success they co-published an article on their techniques and findings in College and Research Library News.

Maltsberger’s gift will enable an even broader audience to benefit from the Fondren Fellows program, as it plans to expand the number of Fellows in addition to the range of applicants. Faculty, staff and community partners will all be encouraged to apply.

“For example,” Spiro said, “a faculty member could sponsor a project to develop a digital project or a local community archive could involve students in organizing and describing a collection.”

Fondren will also offer seed funding to projects to cover costs such as equipment and training as well as an investment fund to scale up selected projects. And while the program has primarily focused on research projects, it will now offer opportunities for students to help develop and teach short courses. Money will even be set aside to sponsor one group project a  year that will be overseen by a trained graduate student, and travel funds for students to present their work at conferences outside of Houston.

Maltsberger’s $2 million endowment has helped solidify the future success of a program that has already shown great promise and has delivered more than exceptional research and scholarship.

“Fellows credit the program with expanding their career possibilities,” Spiro said. “One even said that her fellowship helped her land a scholarship to graduate school.”

Applications are now open for the next cohort of Fondren Fellows. Fellows will receive $15 per hour, with a cap of $3,000 per fellowship, while creating a meaningful research project in collaboration with professionals. The deadline to apply is Nov. 12. For more information, visit

About Katharine Shilcutt

Katharine Shilcutt is a media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.