Faculty awarded endowed chairs, professorship at Investiture

Chancellor Collins urged ‘leap of faith’ and awarded endowed chairs and professorship and medals of distinction to outstanding faculty at UMass Medical School’s 2014 Convocation and Investiture on Sept. 18. Investiture 2014

(posted Sept 2014) 

In the face of deep cuts to the federal funding that supports the UMass Worcester research enterprise, Chancellor Michael F. Collins called on the campus community to take a “leap of faith” by pressing forward and continuing to excel in the academic health sciences. On Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014, in his annual Convocation address, Chancellor Collins pointed to the overwhelming success of the “Ice Bucket Challenge” social media campaign for ALS research as evidence of what can be accomplished when people work together.

“In the labs and clinics that exist throughout our medical school and its affiliates, we are studying the diseases and caring for the sickest of patients and we do so with constrained dollars,” said Collins, referring to the steady decline of the National Institutes of Health budget. “We have come to the point that we are looking everywhere we can to find resources so that we can advance our mission areas; and we do so at a pace that will allow us to change the course of history of disease in our lifetimes.

“At times, we don’t know from where the next dollar will come and as yet, we cannot fully realize how new modes of communication and technology could radically disrupt the science, care and modes of funding we have come to know.

“As we start this academic year, I ask that you take a leap of faith with me.”

Following a presentation of faculty awards, three distinguished faculty members were inducted as named professors:

  • Tiffany A. Moore Simas, MD, MPH, MEd, associate professor of obstetrics & gynecology and pediatrics, was invested as the Joy McCann Professor for Women in Medicine;
  • Vivian Budnik, PhD, interim chair and professor of neurobiology, was invested as the inaugural Worcester Foundation for Biomedical Research Chair; and,
  • John F. Keaney Jr., MD, professor of medicine, chief of the division of cardiovascular medicine and director of the Heart and Vascular Center of Excellence, was invested as the Mary C. DeFeudis Chair in Biomedical Research.

Dr. Simas was invested as the Joy McCann Professor for Women in Medicine. Established at UMass Medical School in 2005 by an endowment from the Joy McCann Foundation, this professorship identifies female faculty leadership in medical education, research, patient care and community service.

“Yours is an outstanding example to emulate; your research in reproductive health issues, including studying health problems such as weight gain, preeclampsia and post-partum depression helps improve the lives of women and their children,” Collins said. “Your willingness to work with new techniques, such as storytelling to increase rates of prenatal care; and to work at the very forefront of basic science research, such as your collaboration with colleagues studying the molecular basis for gestational diabetes, demonstrate your commitment to academic medicine and life-long learning.”

Dr. Budnik was invested as the inaugural Worcester Foundation for Biomedical Research Chair. Collins said Budnik is a, “researcher of the highest renown, a collaborator held in the highest regard and a mentor who has earned the highest respect.”

“The new Worcester Foundation for Biomedical Research Chair celebrates the scientific legacy of its founders, Hudson Hoagland and Gregory Pincus, as well as the legacy of hundreds of influential and forward-thinking leaders in this region, who endowed and supported the WFBR and who encouraged imagination, vision and above all, that fire of discovery,” he said.

“Dr. Budnik, your achievements in the field of RNA transport have graced the cover of the journal Cell; your discoveries have done what all scientists hope, but only a few can claim—they have influenced the direction of an entire research field,” Collins said. “Your recent discoveries are born from both patient scientific method and brash challenges to scientific orthodoxy, as well as underpinned by a reservoir of knowledge and careful experimental design.”

Budnik was invested by Mel Cutler, longtime WFBR trustee and benefactor, who in 2012 established the Melvin S. and Sandra L. Cutler Chair in Biomedical Research, currently held by Catarina I. Kiefe, MD, PhD, chair of the Department of Quantitative Health Sciences.

Dr. Keaney was invested as the Mary C. DeFeudis Chair in Biomedical Research. A “prodigious scholar, compassionate caregiver and esteemed colleague,” Keaney is “a product of the state’s renowned academic medicine community, and, now, a clinical and academic leader at the state’s public medical school,” Collins said.

“A physician-scientist in the truest sense of the term, you exhibit the greatest ideals of both professions. You are intellectually curious but scientifically rigorous; clinically objective but emotionally invested; a life-long learner and a born teacher; a mentor and a mentee; a doer and a leader. These characteristics allow you to move seamlessly between the lab bench and exam room, where discoveries and diagnoses in one can lead to breakthroughs in the other.”

Dr. Keaney was invested by DeFeudis, longtime benefactor of UMass Medical School and UMass Memorial Health Care.

“A world-class medical school is sustained by world-class supporters,” Collins told DeFeudis. “Well, Mary, we think the world of you and feel privileged to have a world-class friend right here in Worcester.”

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