Alumnae leaders support Pacific students with scholarships 

Alumna create scholarships to support students

University of the Pacific alumnae LaNor Smith, Francesca DeMello and Karen Nakamura have a lot in common. 

They served together on the Pacific Alumni Association board of directors. They are Alpha Chi Omega sorority sisters and Pacific Loyal donors. They each made a career at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, contributing a combined 107 years of service. 

And each recently endowed a scholarship for Pacific students following in her footsteps.

“I want students to know that we support them wholeheartedly in getting a degree, in whatever they feel will best suit their path,” Smith said. “I want them to know there are people who will help them.” 

Scott Biedermann ’05, ’20, vice president for development and alumni relations, said the support provides immeasurable benefits.

“I hope our students can see themselves in successful people like LaNor, Francesca and Karen, and that this gives them hope—for what’s possible in their own lives, and for the impact that they, too, can make one day.” 

Karen Nakamura (center), Francesca DeMello (second from right) and LaNor Smith (far right) at the naming of the Alpha Chi Omega Study Room during Homecoming and Family Weekend in 2022.

Karen Nakamura (center), Francesca DeMello (second from right) and LaNor Smith (far right) at the naming of the Alpha Chi Omega Study Room during Homecoming and Family Weekend in 2022. 

LaNor (Miller) Smith ’86, ’87

As a student, Smith struggled in school and faced academic probation her first semester. Had her scholarship been cancelled as a result, she says, she wouldn’t have been able to continue at Pacific. Fortunately, caring faculty counseled her into a new major where she thrived.

Smith went on to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communication from Pacific. She recently retired after 34 years at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where she held various administrative roles that allowed her to be a bridge between scientists and administrators.

Smith also served on the alumni association board from 2014 to 2023, which motivated her to support Pacific financially. In 2022, she and her husband Scott Smith ’87 established the Scott and LaNor Smith Endowed History Scholarship to benefit students in his major.

Scott and LaNor Smith created a scholarship for history students

Scott and LaNor Smith created an endowed scholarship to support history majors. 

Knowing other students might share her struggles in school, she did not want the Smith Scholarship to carry a GPA requirement.

“Mine’s a success story because I was still able to finish in four years after picking the right major with help from my advisor and the College of the Pacific dean,” she said. “It all worked out for me, and I want someone else to have that experience.”

The first Smith Scholar will be identified in Fall 2024.

“We’re excited to see who we can help, and how it might change their direction or support them in what they’ve decided is their path,” Smith said. “We want to help anyone—it doesn’t matter where they come from, what they believe, who they love. What’s most important is they pick a path that works for them, and that we support them.” 

Francesca (Muzio) DeMello ’85

When Francesca DeMello heard about the Smiths’ scholarship, she was inspired to follow suit.

DeMello, a Stockton native, was the first in her immediate family to attend college. She entered Pacific as a mechanical engineering student but changed her major when she discovered a passion and aptitude for computer science. She has worked at Lawrence Livermore, where she is currently a software developer, since 1986.

DeMello has actively supported Pacific students pursuing careers at the lab. She has facilitated lab tours, coordinated presentations at Pacific and hosted site visits for alumni and faculty.

“I knew as soon as I went to orientation that Pacific was the right place for me,” DeMello said. “I had a great faculty advisor and a student advisor. My friends who went to other colleges didn’t have that. I was fortunate, and I want to be able to share that.”

DeMello wanted to support Pacific students who share her background. In Spring 2023 she established the Francesca Muzio DeMello Endowed Scholarship to support female students in the School of Engineering and Computer Science, with a preference for graduates of Linden High School in Linden, California.

“I’m hoping the scholarship will help keep a student enrolled and allow them to finish their degree,” DeMello said. “It makes me sad if someone has to drop out because they can’t afford it, and this is going to help them. I also hope that at some point, they’ll be able to pay it forward as well.” 

Karen (Hiraga) Nakamura ’77

DeMello’s inspiration for working at the lab was Karen Nakamura, who planted the seed during an Alpha Chi Omega networking event. Nakamura grew up on a farm in Lathrop. Her father passed away when she was 17, and though she was prepared to go straight to work, her mother insisted she pursue a college education.

Nakamura majored in business and worked for the State of California and at Pacific before beginning her 35-year career at Lawrence Livermore. At one time, she was the lab’s highest-ranking Asian woman in a technical program. She retired in 2019.

“I really believe that Pacific helped me lay the foundation for the technical knowledge I needed in the business world, both here and at the lab,” Nakamura said. “It really is a good, nurturing place to go to school.”

At Pacific, Nakamura received the Robert C. and Lucy Savage Colhart Scholarship, which benefits any Pacific student with unmet financial need. She used the Colhart Scholarship as inspiration for her own: The Jerry and Karen Hiraga-Nakamura Endowed Scholarship, established in Fall 2023, supports undergraduate students with financial need who maintain a 3.0 GPA.

“I wanted to make sure my scholarship went to students with the greatest need, like how I was when I went to school,” she said. “It’s important to me that Pacific is supported. That’s why I give back. It’s important for our community.”

Anyone interested in donating to scholarships can contact Molly Byrne, senior associate vice president for development, at 209.946.2780 or