TAMHSC Regents Professors named

December 3, 2009

(COLLEGE STATION, TX) — The late Dr. K.C. Donnelly of the School of Rural Public Health and Dr. Kathy Svoboda of the Baylor College of Dentistry are the Texas A&M Health Science Center’s latest recipients of the prestigious Regents Professor Award.

Established in 1996, the Regents Professor Award is bestowed annually by the Board of Regents in recognition of awardees’ exemplary contributions to their university or agency and to the people of Texas. Since its adoption, 118 faculty members from universities, agencies and the Texas A&M Health Science Center across the A&M System have been recognized with the award.

Donnelly, Ph.D., and Svoboda, Ph.D., were honored at the Dec. 3 meeting of The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents. In all, 13 A&M System faculty members were designated Regents Professors for 2008-09.

Dr. Donnelly, head and professor of environmental and occupational health at the HSC-School of Rural Public Health since 1999, passed away July 1, 2009, from complications related to cancer.

Born Aug. 27, 1951, Dr. Donnelly received a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology in 1974 and a Ph.D. in Toxicology in 1988 from Texas A&M University. He directed undergraduate and graduate studies and worked to improve the public health work force by implementing continuing education workshops in environmental health for public health professionals.

With more than 30 years of experience in basic and applied research, Dr. Donnelly was the associate director for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences-funded Superfund Basic Research Program at Texas A&M. His research included environmental exposure studies in Azerbaijan; the Czech Republic; Shanxi, China; and numerous U.S. locations, along with animal and human population studies on population exposures and the genotoxicity of complex chemical mixtures.

Additional research efforts by Dr. Donnelly included a collaborative study with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a study on pesticide exposure in children residing in four rural communities and studies on the use of health education as an intervention to reduce childhood exposure to pesticides in Texas colonias (rural, unincorporated border communities).

“K.C. did not slow down, even as his health deteriorated,” said Craig H. Blakely, Ph.D., M.P.H., HSC-School of Rural Public Health dean. “Not surprisingly, he left us a lot of unfinished work. Fortunately, the projects left for us to carry on are things that are central to the public health mission. We are committed to carrying his torch forward. In fact, we will soon have a new degree program at the school that will forever have his stamp on it. It is only fitting that Dr. Donnelly be formally recognized for his lifelong work at Texas A&M.”

Award recipient and accomplished developmental biologist, Dr. Svoboda joined HSC-Baylor College of Dentistry in 1998 and is a professor and graduate program director in biomedical sciences. She teaches general histology and developmental and cell biology among other foundational courses for medical and dental students, as well as graduate-level courses in molecular biology, embryology and craniofacial development. She also dedicates a significant amount of time to mentoring new faculty members and graduate students.

“It is an honor to be recognized by the Board of Regents for mentoring students, postdoctoral fellows and young faculty in addition to my research in developmental cell biology,” Dr. Svoboda said. “This recognition emphasizes the importance of training new researchers to address the critical need for the systematic study of cellular mechanisms that contribute to birth defects and underscores the importance of ongoing developmental research across the Texas A&M System.”

Dr. Svoboda, a native of Nebraska, earned her Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Nebraska and her Master of Science in Human Genetics in 1979 and Ph.D. in Anatomy in 1982 from the University of Nebraska Medical Center. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship and was an instructor in anatomy and cell biology at Harvard Medical School before joining the Boston University School of Medicine, where she became an associate professor in anatomy and neurobiology and co-director of the school’s confocal microscopy facility.

Dr. Svoboda has been continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health and other sources since 1983 and has more than 100 peer-reviewed publications. Her current research focus is understanding how cells communicate with their environment during fetal development. She is especially interested in discovering the way to prevent cleft lip and palate. In another project, she is studying how nicotine decreases oral wound healing with the objective of finding treatments that will counteract the effects of smoking or other insults that may increase periodontal disease.

An elected officer of the American Association of Anatomists for 12 years, Dr. Svoboda served as president from 2005-2007 and was named a Fellow in 2009.

“Dr. Svoboda is certainly worthy of the recognition of Regents Professor as evidenced by her hard work and significant contribution to the areas of research and teaching,” said James S. Cole, D.D.S., HSC-Baylor College of Dentistry dean. “We are fortunate to have her at Baylor College of Dentistry.”

Award recipients are designated as Regents Professors for the duration of their service or employment within the A&M System, provided a $9,000 stipend payable in $3,000 increments over three consecutive years, and receive a special medallion bearing the seal of the A&M System and a certificate signed by the chancellor and the chairman of the Board of Regents.

The designation as Regents Professor places Dr. Donnelly and Dr. Svoboda on a growing list of HSC faculty members to receive this distinction. Second only to Texas A&M University in total recipients, the HSC is now home to 23 Regents Professor Award holders, whose excellence in a variety of fields of expertise has earned them this recognition.

Dr. Arthur Johnson, Ph.D., Wehner-Welch Foundation Chair and distinguished professor of molecular and cellular medicine in the HSC-College of Medicine, and Charles Phillips, Ph.D., M.P.H., professor of health policy and management in the HSC-School of Rural Public Health, were named Regents Professor last year from the HSC.

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