Carol A. Fierke, provost, executive vice president, and professor of chemistry, biochemistry and biophysics at Texas A&M University, is the recipient of the 2018 Sigma Xi Monie A. Ferst Award from the Georgia Institute of Technology.
The award, consisting of a medal and $10,000, recognizes Fierke for “notable contributions to the motivation and encouragement of research through education” as a teacher of science and engineering. Fierke received the award at a daylong symposium on Nov. 6 that also focused on the achievements of students and fellows she has mentored.
“When I was in graduate school in the 1990s, Carol [Fierke] blazed a path so brightly, and made it so obvious that women are as valuable as anyone in science, that I never paused to think otherwise,” Jane Jackman, co-organizer of the symposium and professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Ohio State University, said. “To this day, I remain impressed with the way she nurtured a lab that was more than half full of female scientists in her first academic position at Duke University.”
While producing an impressive body of scientific knowledge that has significantly advanced her field, Fierke has trained more than 130 scientists, including many underrepresented STEM students, who have since established successful careers in academia, industry, government and law, according to her nomination letter.
“Carol approached the role of being a mentor and adviser to other researchers with the same scientific rigor with which she attacked experimental enzymology,” Sharon Crary, co-organizer of the symposium and professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Depauw University, said. “From the beginning, Carol demonstrated a clear and strong commitment to diversifying the STEM fields, with impressive and field-leading numbers of trainees in her lab at all stages who have been women or members of underrepresented racial and ethnic minority groups.”
Fierke’s interdisciplinary research team, comprised of graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and fellow faculty, focuses on understanding the function of biomolecules, RNA and proteins, which carry out medically important processes in human metabolism, and ways drugs can be used to alter these functions to treat disease.
Her research has been continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health, and supported by a number of other agencies and foundations, including the National Science Foundation, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, Office of Naval Research and Keck Foundation.
Fierke is the second faculty member from Texas A&M to receive this award. F. Albert Cotton, former holder of the W.T. Doherty-Welch Foundation Chair in Chemistry and recipient of the National Medal of Science, received the award in 2005.
“This is a very special award that recognizes science and engineering teachers who have inspired their students to significant research achievements,” Fierke said. “I am very proud of the accomplishments of my mentees who are my most important legacy.”
Prior to joining Texas A&M, Fierke earned her doctorate in biochemistry from Brandeis University and her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Carleton College. She completed post-doctoral training at Pennsylvania State University and served on the faculty at Duke University before joining the University of Michigan in 1999.
Fierke served as department chair for chemistry (2005-2015), vice provost for academic affairs–graduate studies (2015-2017), and dean of the Rackham Graduate School (2015-2017) at the University of Michigan. During her Michigan tenure, she was named the Jerome and Isabella Karle Distinguished University Professor for her research accomplishments, her teaching and curricular innovations, and improvements made to the campus environment for faculty and students, especially women in science. She was active in the University of Michigan ADVANCE program for highlighting diversity and excellence.
She has won numerous other awards and honors, including the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) National Award for Encouraging Women into Careers in the Chemical Sciences, the ACS’s Repligen Award in Chemistry of Biological Processes, the Protein Society’s Emil Thomas Kaiser Award and the Gordon Hammes ACS Biochemistry Lectureship for her contributions in the application of chemistry to the study of enzymes.
Fierke was nominated by her former students for the Monie A. Ferst Award. She was selected by a committee comprised of the Sigma Xi Southeast Regional Director, a Ferst family member, the current president and immediate-past president of the Georgia Tech Chapter, and several members-at-large, including previous Ferst Award recipients selected on the basis of their expertise.
The award is named for an engineer and businessman, Monie A. Ferst, who, with two other influential Georgians, established the Georgia Tech Research Institute in 1933 to make it possible for faculty members to conduct research while teaching. Ferst believed that professors need to conduct scientific research in order to stay abreast of their fields and generate enthusiasm in their classrooms.
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