Donor Story


Driven by Curiosity and Empathy, Two-Time UNM Alumnus Achieves Multifaceted Success

By Katie Williams and Michelle G. McRuiz

Posted April 4, 2018

Editor’s note: A version of this article originally appeared on the UNM Communication and Marketing Department’s website.

Alexander Schauss poses at the Chenzhou train station in Hunan Province, China, following a presentation he made at a symposium by invitation of the Ministry of Land and Resources in 2015. Photos this article: Courtesy Alexander Schauss, PhD

Google Alexander Schauss (BA ’70, MA ’72), and the diversity of the results will prompt you to wonder just how many people with this name exist. Drug addiction treatment innovator, discoverer of the açai berry’s antioxidant properties, life scientist . . . these all refer to the same man. A relentlessly inquisitive person, Schauss is driven by a desire to help others—particularly those whom society misunderstands and dismisses—through intellectual rigor and science.

That drive “didn’t come from within,” Schauss said, “but from the kindness shown to me by so many people I encountered who believed in me.”

Schauss’ parents wanted him to escape war-ravaged Europe, so the family immigrated to New York in 1953. Schauss loved to read and was curious about everything, and was never afraid to challenge others, even his teachers. As a third grader he questioned celebrating Columbus Day given the trauma and pain that “discovering” North America caused the native population.

Schauss was painfully aware that he lived less than a block away from New York’s largest gang, and that his junior high school was close to the highest concentration of heroin addicts in the country. Refusing to succumb to drugs or violence, he volunteered helping other youth at the West Side YMCA. Leaving New York for UNM, the city’s problems stayed on his mind, so as a student he decided to do something about it.

A focus on the family

Schauss arrived at UNM in 1966. While earning his bachelor’s degree and running for the Lobo’s heralded track team, he traveled often to New York to study the causes of crime and delinquency. At the same time, Bernalillo County was rife with research opportunities as well. It had the highest felony crime rate in the country. Rather than accept a corporate job in New York after graduation, he became a juvenile probation/ parole officer for New Mexico’s district court and a Bernalillo County deputy sheriff.

“Immediately it became obvious that a different approach toward rehabilitation was needed,” said Schauss. “This inspired the idea to focus on the family, not just the offender. “Punishing offenders with incarceration was not a panacea. Rather it often provoked anger against society.”

Schauss proposed to the juvenile court that it establish a sentencing option requiring the juvenile and parents/ caregivers to attend an eight-week group counseling program. This launched the First Offender Program in 1970, which within two years resulted in the lowest recidivism rate of juvenile offenders in the United States. It eventually caught the attention of the U.S. Department of Justice and national judicial and criminal justice organizations. “It was also the reason I continued my education at UNM, earning my master’s degree in guidance and counseling,” he said.

The satisfaction of making a difference in Albuquerque encouraged Schauss to develop similar programs in South Dakota and Washington that also received national recognition.

The diet-behavior controversy

After earning his master’s degree, Schauss worked as a criminal justice planner and administrator. He eventually sought new challenges, which led him to specialize in the treatment of eating disorders and the study of the effect of nutrients on brain function.

Alexander Schauss poses beside a rare mutation of the crested saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) taken at Saguaro National Park in southeastern Arizona.

Schauss went on to earn a PhD in psychology from California Coast University, studying the effect of zinc deficiency on perceptual dysfunction, which resulted in a breakthrough treatment for bulimic and anorexic patients.

In 1995, Schauss’s research garnered him one of his most noteworthy career accomplishments—the discovery of the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of a palm fruit in the Amazon rainforest now known as açai.

Out of his many professional accomplishments, Schauss ranks his diet-behavior research near the top; it includes more than 250 publications and 23 books in the field of nutrition and botanical medicine. He has testified before the U.S. Senate, served on National Institutes of Health advisory committees, represented the United States on the World Health Organization’s Study Group on Health Promotion, and even gave an invited presentation on nutrition before a joint session of the British Parliament.

From superfoods to functional foods

Schauss currently holds two research appointments at the University of Arizona and is the founder and CEO of AIBMR Life Sciences Inc., a scientific and regulatory consulting company. In collaboration with scientists, academicians and government agencies, AIBMR provides services for companies and institutions worldwide that develop and market natural products to ensure that health claims are truthful, safe and not misleading.

Where Schauss sees he can make a change in the world, he acts—and he does it all with a sense of enjoyment and gratitude. “I love this planet,” he said. “What an honor it is to be alive and aware of Earth’s biodiversity and the recognition of our potential to demonstrate our humanity.”

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