Chevy's Legacy

A sister ensures that a much admired chemistry professor is remembered for her scholarship and humanity

  Dina Perry with her parents, Joseph and Erika Axelrad
Dina Perry with her parents, Joseph and Erika Axelrad, in New York. “I think Chevy was good at everything,” she says, reflecting on growing up with her sister.

Chemistry Professor Elisheva “Chevy” Goldstein left an indelible mark on Cal Poly Pomona.

She was a brilliant thinker who studied organic reactions through computer modeling. She encouraged and empowered her students to join her in research, treating them not as subordinates but as colleagues. Faculty members admired her intelligence and wit, and her tenacity to remain in the classroom despite a long battle with a brain tumor inspired all who knew her. Her passing in 2007 was deeply felt on campus.

Chevy Goldstein was the consummate teacher-scholar. She was also the consummate sister, and for both reasons Dina Perry is honoring her legacy.

“We were very close,” Dina Perry says, recalling their coming of age in New York City after emigrating from Israel with their parents, Joseph and Erika Axelrad, in 1960.

Education was important in the Axelrad family. Joseph was an accountant, and Erika taught French in the public schools before becoming a librarian for an insurance company. Dina gravitated toward economics, but Chevy was different.

“I think Chevy was good at everything,” Dina Perry says. “She liked every topic. Every subject was great, every course was terrific. … We really appreciated what this country gave us, and one of the things was a public education. The truth is, without that we wouldn’t have been able to go to college. Our parents couldn’t afford to pay.”

Both attended the City University system in New York, Dina at Queens College and Chevy at City College of New York. Their lives soon diverged, marriage followed, and Chevy Goldstein found herself working on her master’s degree at Cal Poly Pomona. A Ph.D. at the University of Southern California followed. She began teaching at Cal Poly Pomona as a lecturer but soon found herself on the tenure track.

“She liked her students,” Dina Perry says, noting that many were the first in their family to attend college and often had to juggle other responsibilities. “She realized that their life wasn’t easy.”

Dina Perry, in collaboration with Goldstein’s husband, Damon, established the Chevy Goldstein Distinguished Lecture Series, which brings eminent scientists to the university to enrich the student experience. Among the speakers was Caltech Professor Douglas C. Rees, who explained the way chemists researching nitrogen helped save the world from famine by increasing crop yields. He also challenged the next generation of chemists to develop a way to harness carbon dioxide and stave off dramatic climate change. This past spring, Professor Robert Cave from Harvey Mudd College discussed electron transfer and high-accuracy calculations. The title of his presentation was “Some Systems I Believe Chevy Would Enjoy” — an affectionate acknowledgment of their joint research several years ago.

Student and faculty research, as well as scholarships, are another focus of Dina Perry’s generosity.

Dina Perry says her sister loved being a teacher. “The students were important to her, so I think giving scholarships is one way to honor her memory. Another is to help the faculty do their work better. Giving them the opportunity to do more research and travel is the right way to spend the money. She would definitely want me to do both things.”

Lisa Alex, chair of the chemistry department, says the endowment established by Chevy Goldstein’s family has been a game-changer.

“It has allowed the department to reward and acknowledge our outstanding research students in a public way that would otherwise not be possible,” she says. “And the distinguished speaker series brings the chemistry and wider scientific community together to share in Chevy’s passion, learning about advances in chemistry from respected scientists, many of whom worked with her.”

Dina Perry, who lives in Washington, D.C., visits the campus annually as a member of the Kellogg/Voorhis Heritage Society, which recognizes benefactors who have created endowments.

She says she likes what she sees — the pastoral beauty, the horses and the sense of history. She is also impressed by those who are pursuing their education.

“I’m struck that many of the students are immigrants or the children of immigrants,” she says. “I think my sister would be pleased that the gift accomplishes two of her main goals: helping students and helping the faculty. That’s what she really cared about.”

The College of Science offers the full spectrum of scientific inquiry in seven fields and has pre-professional programs for students entering medical, dental, veterinary, biotechnology and other health careers.

Ensuring permanent access to premier scholars is the lead campaign goal of the college. This includes support for endowed chairs and a postdoctoral fellowship fund.

Brian Jersky, Dean
(909) 869-3600