GCD department head update - winter 2023

Dear Friends and Alumni,

2022 was filled with exciting new happenings in the Department of Genetics, Cell Biology and Development (GCD)!  Our amazing faculty, students, and staff continue to receive recognition for their many accomplishments. Despite the tumultuous past three years, the state of GCD research and teaching is strong. New grants and renewals accounted for more than $14.2 million in awards and an expansion of collaborative research efforts. Our faculty excelled in the classroom, introducing innovative curricular changes to challenge our talented students while meeting an uptick in student needs. 

One of our most exciting achievements this past year was the successful conclusion of two tenure-track faculty searches. We are thrilled to welcome four impressive new colleagues to GCD. Assistant Professors PingHsun Hsieh (Univ. of Washington) and Arslan Zaidi (Univ. of Penn) joined the department at the end of 2022. Both are computational genomicists studying the connection between genomic variation and disease. Drs. Adam Isabella (Fred Hutchinson Institute) and Lexy von Diezmann (Univ. of Utah) will expand our expertise in cell and developmental biology, and are arriving this month and summer, respectively. We are also in the final stages of recruiting a President’s Postdoctoral Fellow, Stephanie Santarriaga (Harvard), who is developing an iPS (induced pluripotent stem) cell model for studying the molecular mechanisms contributing to Schizophrenia. 

On the education front, we made some significant strides as well. Our resident Molecular, Cellular, Developmental Biology & Genetics Ph.D. graduate program navigated the recruitment and placement of 22 students, the largest entering class in several years. The post-pandemic return to campus began with a ramping up of student research in the labs and a return of weekly student research talks. 

In the Genetic Counseling (GC) program, the master’s program sailed through its re-accreditation review with flying colors and is good to go for another eight years. Also worth mentioning, Heather Zierhut, director of the GC program, was elected and served as president for the National Association of Genetic Counselors this past year. 

In medical education, the accreditation of the Medical School by the Liaison Committee of Medical Education (LCME) was approved and fostered a major revision of the medical curriculum to be launched this fall. Last, but not least, we have more than 230 undergraduates majoring in GCD and graduated more than 90 seniors in 2022, the next generation of problem solvers. 

Several GCD faculty assumed new leadership roles this past year. With the departure of Dean Valery Forbes, David Greenstein, a developmental geneticist and CBS associate dean of research, transitioned to serve as the interim dean in August. Meg Titus, a cell biologist known for her passion for graduate training, stepped up to serve as CBS associate dean of graduate education. Within the department, Deanna Koepp stepped into the role of associate head, taking over from Mary Porter. Many thanks to all for their service. 

Entering 2023, the landscape continues to change, with the University announcing MPACT 25 Healthcare Innovation, a vision to advance the leadership of the University and Medical School in developing research and partnerships that will strengthen Minnesota’s health care and health care professions. We are excited and hopeful about the impact of this vision on the missions of GCD. 

I am grateful to the faculty, students, and staff for your efforts this past year and encourage all to support one another as we continue adapting to our changing world, working together as a community to do our best work. We remain committed to creating a better and more welcoming environment in which everyone can work and learn.

To our alumni, many thanks for your continued interest and support in GCD’s growth, success, and future. Your support is critical to our goals. Our newsletter captures a sample of the research and student highlights this past year; I hope you enjoy.