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September 9, 2015

Chancellor Collins: ‘We are the commonwealth’s medical school’


  • Medical School
Convocation 2015 recognizes Chancellor’s Medal recipients; faculty invested as named chairs.

With the addition of 25 students to future School of Medicine classes, a joint regional campus with Baystate Health planned for Springfield and a new affiliation inked with Cape Cod Healthcare, UMass Medical School is expanding its impact across the state and beyond, said Chancellor Michael F. Collins in his annual Convocation address on Sept. 9 to the UMMS community. 

“Our medical school’s reach now extends from the Cape to the Berkshires and with the emphasis on basic science, research and clinical care in Worcester, truly we are the commonwealth’s medical school,” Chancellor Collins said, speaking in the Albert Sherman Center auditorium.

Echoing the call by new UMass President Martin Meehan for more extensive support, Collins said it is important for Massachusetts to recognize the vast accomplishments of UMMS and support its work in science and medicine.

“The medical school exerts a major impact on the health and the economy of the state. Yet we receive only a modest amount of our total funding from the university’s state appropriation,” he said. “Greater investment in the medical school is proper and sound policy.

“Throughout this year, we shall make the case for greater state and university investment in the medical school and work to attract additional stakeholders and philanthropists to join us in the important work that we undertake.”

See the full Convocation speech here. 

In recognition of faculty, Collins awarded four Chancellor’s Medals:

Julie Jonassen, PhD, professor of microbiology & physiological systems, received the Chancellor’s Medal for Distinguished Teaching. “Dr. Jonassen, you have been described as ‘one of the most influential and dedicated teaching faculty’ at our institution,” Collins said. “The influence of your teaching spans three decades, embraces students in all of our schools and ‘seamlessly integrates’ the basic and clinical sciences.  Your commitment exudes a ‘remarkable consistency, an exceptional quality and an enduring impact.’”

Phillip D. Zamore, PhD, the Gretchen Stone Cook Chair in the Biomedical Sciences, professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and co-director of the RNA Therapeutics Institute, received the Chancellor’s Medal for Distinguished Scholarship. “Dr. Zamore, you are ‘a pioneer in the study of RNA silencing in eukaryotes,’” Collins said. “Those who know well the many contributions that you have made to the exploration of gene regulation by small RNAs have commented that you ‘literally invented the study of the molecular mechanisms of RNA interference’ when you and your colleagues developed, in 1999, the first cell-free system that recapitulated RNAi in a test tube. This breakthrough inaugurated the biochemical study of RNAi and other RNA silencing pathways.”

John K. Zawacki, MD, professor of medicine, received the Chancellor’s Medal for Distinguished Clinical Excellence. “Your devotion to your patients; your genuine compassion and generous human nature, when blended with superior clinical acumen, have been the hallmark of your successful clinical career and the greatest of gifts to those for whom you have had the privilege to care,” Collins said, presenting the medal to Dr. Zawacki.

Thoru Pederson, PhD, the Vitold Arnett Professor of Cell Biology and professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology,received the Chancellor’s Medal for Distinguished Service. “For more than three decades, you have served this institution with grace and aplomb, all the while recognizing that selfless dedication and outstanding service can define one’s passion,” Collins said. “Through your many years of contributions as president of the Worcester Foundation for Biomedical Research and as a vibrant devotee and enthusiast of the Hudson Hoagland Society, you have been an articulate advocate for the richness of the scientific colloquy that exists in our environs.”

Chancellor Collins also paused to celebrate the life of the late Chancellor Emeritus Aaron Lazare, who died in July at age 79.

“Dr. Lazare served this institution mightily, for more than 17 years, as its leader,” he said. “Throughout a distinguished career in psychiatry and then through his nearly two decades of service as chancellor and dean, Dr. Lazare was an educator, mentor, steward, colleague, author, confidante and friend.”

Following Convocation, four distinguished faculty members were invested as named chairs and the generous donors who created the endowments were recognized.

Gyongyi Szabo, MD, PhD, professor of medicine, vice chair for research in the Department of Medicine, associate dean for clinical and translational science and director of the MD/PhD Program, was invested as the Worcester Foundation for Biomedical Research Chair. The endowment celebrates the scientific legacy of the Worcester Foundation’s founders, Hudson Hoagland and Gregory Pincus, as well as the legacy of hundreds of forward-thinking leaders in the Worcester area who endowed and supported the foundation, Collins said. Dr. Szabo is an internationally recognized leader in the field of liver disease. She was inducted into the Hungarian Academy of Sciences last year.

“From Budapest, Hungary, to Worcester, Massachusetts, and beyond, you serve as a model physician-scientist,” Collins told Szabo. Assisting Collins in the investment of Szabo was Dr. Pederson, who was scientific director of the Worcester Foundation for Biomedical Research when it merged with UMass Medical School in 1997.

Douglas T. Golenbock, MD, professor of medicine and microbiology & physiological systems and chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Medicine, was invested as the inaugural Pillar Chair in Biomedical Research by Collins and Youssef El Zein and Sudhir Agrawal, who were representing the Pillar Group. The investment firm is committed to partnering with world-class researchers and clinicians to support pioneering biomedical research in the fields of innate immunity and gene therapy.  Dr. Golenbock is one the nation’s top physician investigators in infectious diseases.

“For nearly three decades, you have played a fundamental role in developing research in the field of innate immunity—a living organism’s first line of defense against infection. Your discoveries have paved the way for scientists around the globe to develop startling new insights,” Collins told Golenbock.

Katherine F. Ruiz de Luzuriaga, MD, professor of molecular medicine, pediatrics and medicine; vice provost for clinical and translational science and global health; and director of the UMass Center for Clinical and Translational Science, was invested as the inaugural UMass Memorial Health Care Chair in Biomedical Research. The endowment was established last year to support biomedical research and the collaboration between UMMS and UMass Memorial Health Care and their shared mission and special partnership, Collins said, recognizing UMass Memorial Health Care President and CEO Eric Dickson. Dr. Luzuriaga is one of the nation’s leading physician investigators in academic medicine. Her research has provided key insights into viral and host factors that result in persistent viral infections in children. As the founding director of the UMMS Office of Global Health, Luzuriaga has taken a leadership role in several global health initiatives, including the medical school's Liberian Ebola relief project.

“As your research accomplishments have gathered you global attention and worldwide influence, your contributions on this campus have garnered you the respect and esteem of our academic community,” Collins told Luzuriaga.

Mary M. Lee, MD, professor and chair of pediatrics, professor of cell & developmental biology and physician-in-chief of the UMass Memorial Children’s Medical Center, was invested as the inaugural Stoddard Chair of Pediatrics by Collins and by Warner Fletcher, trustee of The Stoddard Charitable Trust. The Stoddard Charitable Trust, created in 1939 by businessman and entrepreneur Harry Stoddard, is a Worcester-based philanthropic foundation. Its interest in supporting an endowed position for the chair of pediatrics at UMass Medical School stemmed from the strong desire of its trustees to ensure the long-term health and well-being of children in central Massachusetts, Collins said. Dr. Lee oversees the Department of Pediatrics, maintains a pediatric endocrine practice and researches environmental health and the mechanisms contributing to juvenile diabetes and other pediatric endocrine disorders.

“Your patient-centered approach defines you as a caregiver. Your commitment to conducting research empowers you as a physician,” Collins said to Lee.

The new chairs bring to 41 the total of named professorships and chairs endowed at UMass Medical School.