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Convocation 2021: Chancellor Collins outlines vision for new era at UMass Chan

Four faculty honored with Chancellor’s Medals, including the late Robert Finberg for distinguished service

  • Pang-Yen Fan, MD, and Chancellor Michael F. Collins
  • Anastasia Khvorova, PhD, and Chancellor Collins
  • Janice Lalikos, MD
  • Joyce Fingeroth, MD, holds the hat of her late husband, Robert Finberg
  • Dr Fingeroth accepts the medallion for her late husband, Robert Finberg, MD, from Chancellor Collins.
  • Jennifer Reidy, MS, MD, and Provost Terence R. Flotte
  • From left, Al Holman of the Pillar Group; Erik J. Sontheimer, PhD; and Chancellor Collins
  • Ann Aghababian, Gregory Volturo, MD, and Chancellor Collins
  • Margery and Neil Blacklow, Chancellor Collins and Douglas Golenbock, MD
  • Provost Flotte and Dr. Khvorova
  • Provost Flotte, David McManus, MD, and Chancellor Collins
  • George F. Booth II, Brian Lewis, PhD, and Chancellor Collins
  • Provost Flotte, Kimberly Yonkers, MD, and Chancellor Collins
  • Imoigele Aisuku, MD, Milagros Rosal,PhD, and Chancellor Collins

Days after announcing a $175 million gift from The Morningside Foundation and renaming the schools in honor of the Chan family and its Morningside Group private equity and investment firm, Chancellor Michael F. Collins gave his annual Convocation address on Thursday, Sept. 9, in the Albert Sherman Center Auditorium, focusing on the “transformational moment” for the institution. He called for collective efforts to shape the Medical School’s future.

Also at the ceremony, four faculty members were honored with Chancellor’s Medals, including a posthumous Chancellor’s Medal for Distinguished Service to the late Robert W. Finberg, MD, chair emeritus and distinguished professor of medicine, who died unexpectedly on Aug. 30. Dr. Finberg’s colleague and wife of 50 years, Joyce D. Fingeroth, MD, professor of medicine, accepted the medal on his behalf.

The centerpiece of Chancellor Collins’ address was a vision of a bold new era.

“How wonderful it is, as we begin the second 50 years of our journey that we are afforded this opportunity, by virtue of the gift from The Morningside Foundation, to transform our institution and to take our rightful place amongst the finest institutions in the world that are committed to health care education, research and service to others,” Collins said. “Through the generosity of others, we shall now be poised to attract, educate and mentor outstanding students; recruit and retain committed faculty; develop innovative and cutting-edge programs; and to encourage all our students, faculty and staff to redouble our commitment, in the legacy of the Chan family, to serve others.”

Collins recalled being inspired in 2016 by Gerald Chan’s speech, “The Research University in Today’s Society,” which Chan had presented earlier that year at University College, London. Chan made the case that great universities become so when they can benefit from a public-private partnership.

The unrestricted gift from The Morningside Foundation nearly doubles the Medical School’s endowment. Collins said he would ask Provost Terence R. Flotte to convene leaders from across the medical school “to define a future aligned with our IMPACT 2025 strategic plan and characterized by bold ideas, intrepid undertakings and gallant ambitions.”

A highlight of the event was the awarding of Chancellor’s Medals to four distinguished faculty members for their exemplary teaching, scholarship, clinical excellence and service at UMass Chan Medical School.

“Each year, one individual in our community is recognized for a career-long dedication to our institution and their profession,” said Collins, introducing the Chancellor’s Medal for Distinguished Service. “The medal for distinguished service recalls extraordinary commitment; it relates sincere appreciation for outstanding contributions; and it respects one among us who is singular in their dedication to our medical school.”

Collins continued: “An outstanding educator, an accomplished investigator and a committed clinician defines the essence of a distinguished career in academic medicine. Throughout our history and recently, challenged by the pandemic, we have needed the best of medicine to serve the needs of our learners, to investigate novel therapeutics and to care for those inflicted with this novel virus. This year’s medal for distinguished service recognizes one who has taught, discovered and treated, but most importantly, appreciates one who helped us through the most challenging of times through a career of dedicated service.”

“It is with utmost humility and profound sadness that I present this medal, posthumously, to Dr. Robert Finberg,” Collins said.

The audience responded with a heartfelt standing ovation.

Collins recounted Finberg’s distinguished career as a virologist and his 20 years leading the Department of Medicine with distinction.

“But, throughout this past year, we needed him more than ever,” he said. “When coronavirus entered our midst, he entered our everyday lives, helping us to understand this virus, its clinical manifestations and the therapeutic options that might work and those that wouldn’t. Week in and week out he became the face of our medical school, speaking to the public about the disease and its progression and prevention.”

Collins added, “Throughout his distinguished career he was known as principled and practical; honest and hatted; respected and revered; collaborative and collegial. In other words, he represented the best of the best, and for that, we are most grateful for his legacy of leadership.”

Traditionally, the recipient of the distinguished service award is asked to carry the mace at university functions throughout the year. Collins invited Dr. Fingeroth to carry the mace in Finberg’s stead.

Pang-Yen Fan, MD, professor of medicine, received the Chancellor’s Medal for Distinguished Teaching. As recipient of this medal, Dr. Fan is invited to present the 2022 Last Lecture, a celebration of teaching, and will receive the Manning Prize, a $10,000 prize established by Donna and UMass Board Chair, Robert Manning.

“Dr. Fan, for nearly 20 years, you have played integral roles in the education of our learners. Medical students, residents and fellows have all benefited from your intellect and commitment to their education,” Collins said.

He commended Fan for being “amongst the first learning community mentors; you have repeatedly received outstanding medical educator awards; and always, you have been known as a team player and ‘mentor to mentors.’ You possess ‘skills of astute observation, clarity of thought, an outstanding level of knowledge, time management skills and dedication to our profession.’ You bring a ‘sense of honor and professionalism’ to all that you do and all that you are.”

Anastasia Khvorova, PhD, the Remondi Family Chair in Biomedical Research and professor of RNA therapeutics, was awarded the Chancellor’s Medal for Distinguished Scholarship. As recipient of the award, Dr. Khvorova will present the plenary lecture at the upcoming research retreat.

Khvorova was lauded for “having pioneered the delivery of RNA therapeutics to the central nervous system” and “groundbreaking research into novel delivery methods for small interfering RNAs,” which is “transforming the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.”

Collins described Khvorova as a “prolific inventor” with more than 300 patents attributed to her discoveries, as well as a “driving force in the field of oligonucleotide therapeutics . . . . ”, and a “brilliant scientist . . . who can bridge chemistry and biology to develop fundamental new designs and applications for oligonucleotides, taking concepts from synthesis to in vivo efficacy.”

Janice F. Lalikos, MD, professor of surgery, received the Chancellor’s Medal for Distinguished Clinical Excellence. Dr. Lalikos is invited to present the talk at the 2022 White Coat Ceremony.

“Dr. Lalikos, throughout a distinguished career as a plastic surgeon, you have cared for patients with a kind and skilled touch,” said Collins.

“When you came into medicine, you thought it might be as a medical illustrator. Yet, in becoming a plastic surgeon, you decided that you would use the beauty of each patient as your motivation and would craft a ‘purpose and mission on this planet to serve, appreciate, honor and respect those in front of us and those who have made us what we are.’”

Additionally, the following named professors were invested:

Douglas Golenbock, MD, professor of medicine, was honored as the inaugural Neil and Margery Blacklow Chair in Infectious Diseases and Immunology.

Anastasia Khvorova, PhD, professor of RNA therapeutics and the inaugural incumbent of the Remondi Family Chair in Biomedical Research, is a pioneer and leading expert in understanding the biochemistry of RNA therapeutics.

Brian Lewis, PhD, professor of molecular, cell & cancer biology, was endowed as the second George F. Booth Chair in the Basic Sciences.

David McManus, MD, chair and professor of medicine, assumed the Richard M. Haidack Professor in Medicine.

Jennifer Reidy, MS, MD, associate professor of family medicine & community health and chief of the Division of Palliative Medicine, was named the Joy McCann Professor for Women in Medicine for her commitment of time and talent to the advancement of women in medicine.

Milagros Rosal, PhD, professor of population & quantitative health sciences, is the inaugural incumbent of the newly endowed Imoigele P. Aisiku, MD’97 Chair in Health Equity and Diversity.

Erik Sontheimer, PhD, professor of RNA therapeutics, is the newest holder of the Pillar Chair in Biomedical Research, in recognition of his role as a pioneering leader in the field of CRISPR gene editing.

Gregory A. Volturo, MD, chair and professor of emergency medicine, is the inaugural incumbent of the Richard V. Aghababian, MD’74 Chair in Emergency Medicine.

Kimberly Yonkers, MD, chair and professor of psychiatry, is the first Katz Family Chair in Psychiatry, newly endowed to support the department chair’s medical education, patient care and research initiatives.

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