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Leaving a Legacy: Dr. Richard J. Frisque

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Room 434 in South Frear will forever look a little different as the familiar face that pursuedscientific discovery for more than 35 years moves onto the next chapter of his life. Dr. Frisque, a staple of the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (BMB) department is leaving behind a celebrated career at Penn State University, one that helped shape the minds of hundreds of students and impacted dozens of colleagues.

Dr. Frisque received his Bachelors of Science Degree in Medical Microbiology from the University of Wisconsin in 1974, where he remained to conduct graduate studies under the mentorship of Dr. Duard Walker.  Upon defending his thesis in 1978, he received an appointment for a Postdoctoral Fellowship to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory where he worked under the direction of Drs. Joseph Sambrook and Yakov Gluzman.

After three years at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Dr. Frisque began to look for his first “real” job, searching through scientific journals and publications for universities showing an interest in offering employment. Penn State was one of several universities looking for a virologist, and although Dr. Frisque, was very aware of the Penn State Football Program and its coach, he did not know much about the science being conducted at the university. Nevertheless, he applied for the position, received an interview offer and hoped that the experience, at the least, would be good practice for navigating the job market.

At that time, Bob Bernlohr was the department head and it was the interaction with him and other faculty that made Penn State very attractive to Dr. Frisque. Potential colleagues included several virologists who hailed from impressive locations and degree programs and who were conducting exciting, cutting-edge research. The lab space offered to new faculty members was quite generous, more generous than most other places he had visited. Along with all of this was the attraction of the small town feel of State College, especially important, as Dr. Frisque was the single parent of a three-year old son at the time.

Since arriving at Penn State, Dr. Frisque says there have been many changes to the department, to the university and to the town.  A number of buildings currently on campus were not yet built, and the area directly behind Eisenhower Auditorium was nothing but parking lots and soccer fields. University Park Campus had not yet expanded across Atherton Street and the area surrounding Beaver Stadium, the Bryce Jordan Center, the Multi-sport Indoor Facility, Jeffrey Field and Lubrano Park did not exist. Dr. Frisque recalls that even South Frear looks very different now following the recent renovations performed on his long-time lab home.

Dr. Frisque was one of the founding faculty members of the Summer Symposium in Molecular Biology, an annual event initiated in 1982, the year he joined the department as an Assistant Professor.  Dr. Frisque served as the Director of this Program from 1989 to 1991.  Dr. Frisque received tenure and was promoted to Associate Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology in 1987, and in 1993, he became a Professor of Molecular Virology, a position he held the duration of his career.  He also served five years as Co-Director of the Integrative Biosciences (IBIOS) Graduate Program.  Dr. Frisque was appointed Interim Department Head of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from 2007 – 2009 and was asked to perform these duties a second time in 2014.  He acted as the department’s Ombudsman since 2012.

Dr. Frisque and his past and present lab members
Dr. Frisque with current and past members of his lab.

Over the years, Dr. Frisque earned many honors and recognitions. He was the first recipient of the Graduate Faculty Teaching Award in 1992, received the Daniel R. Tershak Outstanding Teaching Award twice (1995 and 2011) and received the Eberly College of Science C.I. Noll Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1997. In 1993 he developed the course, Ethics in Biomedical Science, one of the core courses taken by incoming BMMB graduate students, and a course that fulfills Penn State’s requirement for ethics training by all graduate programs across campus. He was named a Fellow of Penn State’s Rock Ethic Institute in 2011, was awarded the Dean’s Climate and Diversity Special Recognition of Service Award in 2012, was recognized as one of the most highly rated professors in Eberly College of Science (2012 and 2013) and was awarded life time membership to the American Society for Virology in 2015.

When asked what honors and achievements he is most proud of, Dr. Frisque simply stated that it was “seeing his students achieve their goals.” To Dr. Frisque, success was watching his graduate students earn their advanced degrees, and then moving on to contribute to the scientific community.

“Most graduate students come to a lab very green,” Dr. Frisque said “and then you would see them begin to transition toward independence.  The timing of this event was different in each case, but it was the transition from a student having to be told what to do, to a student telling you what they think should be done that was so rewarding. There are few things in one’s career more satisfying than knowing you had an impact on your students’ lives.”

Now that’s not to say that Dr. Frisque did not have his share of struggles. When serving as Interim Department Head, Dr. Frisque faced new challenges in navigating colleague relationships and time management.  Dr. Frisque never wanted to serve in a supervisory capacity as the “boss”, especially after working alongside his colleagues for 25 years as a faculty member.  He now needed to make decisions for the betterment of the department that might not always be popular.  In addition, Dr. Frisque struggled with the time commitment required of a Department Head, a commitment that he found impacted 95% of his day. “Learning how to balance my role as P.I. and mentor in the laboratory and my role as department head was difficult” Dr. Frisque said.

While serving in his interim role, he set to improve the climate of the department by expanding the number of staff, promoting transparency in financial matters, actively lobbying for bridge funding for labs with funding difficulties and fostering ethics training. In 2010, Dr. Frisque created an ethics workshop for faculty in the Eberly College of Science, and he himself taught these workshops until 2017.

During stressful times, Dr. Frisque turned to his wife, Dee, as a confidant and sounding board.

Dr. Frisque met Dee, a staff employee in the Microbiology Department, when he arrived at Penn State; she was responsible for preparing his papers, grants, lectures and exams.  Over a two-year period of working together a friendship developed, and after several attempts, Dr. Frisque finally convinced Dee to go to lunch with him; the rest is history.  Four years later Dee and Dr. Frisque married, are currently approaching 29 years of marriage and have raised three sons together. Their oldest son, Dan, works in Washington D.C. at the FBI, their middle son, Andy, lives near Austin Texas and works for the United States Youth Soccer League and their youngest son, Duane, is currently the Associate Athletic Director for Harvard University. Dee continued her education while raising three sons and received her Ph.D. in Workforce Education in 2005.

In 2006, Dee and Dr. Frisque installed a pond in their backyard, which became an oasis during the challenging times of being interim department head. After a long day, Dr. Frisque would come home from work, and he and Dee would go out to the pond with a glass of wine and talk about the day. “Dee was uncanny in her ability to distill a problem down to its essence; she always gave me sage advice. My biggest help in the most trying of times has always been my wife.”

When it came to his lab, Dr. Frisque considered those who worked for and with him as a family. He never wanted his students or staff to feel intimidated, anxious or stressed, and he would often talk with them about how he believed family came first and the lab second. Many in his group lived considerable distances from their families, and he would work with them to assure that they were able to stay connected to their homes. Dr. Frisque worked tirelessly to develop a team-driven environment that included rafting trips down the Youghiogheny River and camping trips along Pine Creek to allow everyone to get to know one another.

Each time the lab surpassed a milestone or a member of the lab passed a comprehensive exam, or earned their M.S. or Ph.D., that moment was celebrated. To celebrate, the lab would crack open a bottle of champagne (“all lab folk were 21 or older”) aim the cork at the ceiling tiles in Dr. Frisque’s office and then let the cork fly. They would then pull down the ceiling tile and everyone would sign their names around the dent the cork had made. This tradition went on for 30 years and Dr. Frisque recalls how every single tile in his office was filled.  Past students would drop-in to say hello and would reflect on the tiles.  “That’s what made this career great, having the chance to conduct important science with the people I cared deeply about, and then have them return years later as friends and colleagues,” Dr. Frisque stated.

Over his 35 year career, Dr. Frisque published 70 manuscripts, taught 10 different courses at Penn State, served as Guest Lecturer for an additional 18 courses at Penn State, supervised 23 graduate students in his lab and trained 9 Postdoctoral Fellows. His lab has been recognized as one of the top JC Virus Labs in the country, and he is regarded by his students and looked to by his colleagues. Colleague Dr. Moriah Szpara actually sat in one of Dr. Frisque’s classes as an undergraduate at Penn State and reflected back on why she remembered his class to this day and why he was the excellent teacher he was, saying “It’s how he teaches. He integrates into his classes and did and I’m sure throughout his research and mentorship the process of science, the mechanics of how you do molecular virology and the ethics involved.”

So what’s next for Dr. Frisque? He certainly is not worried about this next step. “I’m not concerned at all.  I’m ready to move into this next phase of my life.  I’ve loved the work that came with being a professor, but now I have time to do other things for which I also have a passion.” Dr. Frisque is a collector of stamps, coins, old fishing and hunting equipment, postcards, antiques and wildlife art. In addition, he enjoys photography, but admits, “I’m not that great at it, but I do want to get better.” He and his wife Dee, took up fly fishing 3 years ago, love to travel, and are now debating on whether to tackle golf together.

Thank you Dr. Frisque for the time, talent and dedication you have given to Penn State University for the last 35 years and especially to the many student lives you touched and shaped. Enjoy your retirement sir, you’ve earned it!

The Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Department assists in the collection of relief materials for victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma & Maria.

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Hurricane Harvey, Irma & Maria relief: Cleaning Kit Buckets (Flood Buckets) Collection


The scenes in Texas (the Houston area and the surrounding towns) from Hurricane Harvey, those from the Caribbean and Florida due to Hurricane Irma and again in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean due to Hurricane Maria are devastating to see and hear and the impact from the historic flooding and shear devastation will be felt for many, many years. While you may not be able to travel to Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico or the Caribbean to volunteer, please consider helping our fellow Americans and those in the Caribbean by building UMCOR Cleaning Kit Buckets (Flood buckets). Buckets and items collected will sent to one of UMCOR’s main depots, Mission Central, in Mechanicsburg to then be forwarded on to those in need. It is important to note that UMCOR channels 100% of all donations, whether monetary or items, received to relief efforts.  This is made possible due to the United Methodist Church covering all administrative costs independently.   Below is a list of needed items for each Cleaning Kit Bucket:


***Be sure to read carefully the size limitations for each item as they are specified in order to be able to all fit into a 5 gallon bucket***

  • Liquid laundry detergent - two 25 oz. or one 50 oz. bottles only
  • Liquid household cleaner - 12‐16 oz. liquid cleaner that can be mixed with water; no spray cleaners
  • Dish soap - 16‐28 oz bottle any brand
  • 1 can air freshener - aerosol or pump
  • 1 insect repellant spray - 6‐14 oz. aerosol or spray pump with protective cover
  • 1 scrub brush -plastic or wooden handle
  • 18 cleaning wipes - Handi wipes or reusable wipes (no terry cleaning towels)
  • 5 scouring pads – no stainless steel, Brillo pads or SOS pads (nothing with soap built in)
  • 50 clothespins
  • Clothesline - two 50 ft. lines or one 100 ft. (cotton or plastic)
  • 24 roll heavy duty trash bags – 33 to 45 gallon sizes
  • 5 dust masks
  • 2 pair kitchen dishwashing gloves -should be durable enough for multiple uses
  • 1 pair work gloves - cotton with leather palm or all leather


Important Notes

  • All items must be new
  • Be sure to read carefully the size limitations for each item as they are specified in order to be able to all fit into a 5 gallon bucket
  • All cleaning agents must be liquid and in plastic containers. No powders please.
  • If you cannot find the requested size of a liquid item, use a smaller size. Including larger sizes of any item will prevent the lid from sealing.


If you can donate a full kit that is great!  If you are unable to do a full kit that is fine as well and you can only donate some of the above items (not a complete kit).  We will gladly accept any and all donations!  If you would like to make a monetary donation in lieu of collecting items, we will use that money to buy additional supplies to complete kits (see Dave Blehi in 107F Althouse Lab).  Seeing and hearing the news reports from Texas (Houston and surrounding areas), Florida and the Caribbean are troubling to say the least and this is one way that we can help those who in a matter of hours literally lost everything.

If you are interested in helping, you can just bring any items you wish to donate to 107 Althouse Lab.  We will have boxes in the reception area that you can place any donations towards the project you may have.  All donations will be packaged in buckets and sent to help.  If you have any questions you can email me and I will gladly discuss the project with you.  Thank you for taking the time to read this and if you have any questions feel free to ask me. Thank you!


In Leadership, Fellowship and Service,


Dave Blehi

107F Althouse Lab

The Center for Eukaryotic Gene Regulation well represented at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Mechanisms of Eukaryotic Transcription

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The Center for Eukaryotic Gene Regulation was well represented at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Mechanisms of Eukaryotic Transcription, held August 20 - September 2 of 2017. Drs. Bai, Gilmour, Pugh and Reese delivered talks.  Postdocs Will Lai and Chitin Mittal and graduate student Mandy Du presented posters. This is one of the premiere meetings in the transcription field and it is quite an accomplishment for young investigators such as Dr. Bai, to be invited to give a talk. Congratulations Dr. Bai!

Leaving a Legacy: Dr. Andrea M. Mastro

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It all began nearly 60 years ago, in a high school in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania when the future Dr. Andrea Mastro decided to pursue a life of science, resulting in a 42 year legacy at Penn State University.

Dr. Mastro grew up in the small town of Coraopolis Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh, and there her interest in science was first sparked.  While in attendance at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, an all-female Catholic high school, her biology teacher Sister Pulcheria led her down the path to what would result in an extraordinary career.

At that time, the science center of Pittsburgh was the Buhl Planetarium and as the fifth largest planetarium in the United States it served as the leader in local science outreach and hosted many large youth science fairs. Although the fairs were thought to be only for large school participation, Sister Pulcheria was passionate about her students, including Dr. Mastro, encouraging students to get involved. That passion led to student success as Dr. Mastro and her fellow classmates won many of the awards and prizes. The way that Sister Pulcheria approached and engaged her students made a young Andrea Mastro feel confident that women could participate in science fairs and that women could most definitely pursue a career in science.

When it came time for Dr. Mastro to continue her education and apply for college acceptance, it was again Sister Pulcheria who played a vital role. Utilizing her connections, Sister Pulcheria reached out to the Head of Biology at Carlow University in Pittsburgh. Through that contact, Dr. Mastro was invited to work in the lab as a work study student and later went on to receive her Bachelors of Science Degree from Carlow University. Following her undergraduate work, Dr. Mastro began applying for Graduate school and during that process first experienced gender bias and stereotypes that existed for women in the field of science.  During an interview with a male professor from the University of Pittsburgh for a position that, based upon her work, she was a shoe-in for, she was informed of the expectations of her as a woman in science- get her graduate degree, get married, have kids and never do any science again.

Due to that narrow-minded viewpoint, Dr. Mastro decided to look elsewhere for employment including positions at Cornell, but eventually came to Penn State due to on-going research by a Penn State professor in the field of cellular biology.  When Dr. Mastro arrived on campus to work with Dr. Wesley Hymer he did not mention anything about her being a woman.  He simply showed her the lab, her desk and treated her like anyone else, as a part of the team.  She was funded by the National Defense Educational Act or a National Science Foundation Fellowship for her entire graduate career.

Upon earning her Ph.D. in biology at Penn State she secured a Damon Runyon Postdoctoral Fellowship with the University of Wisconsin at the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research under the direction of Dr. G. C. Mueller from 1971 – 1973.  From 1973 – 1975 Dr. Mastro served as a Research Fellow at The Imperial Cancer Research Fund Laboratory in London, England and in 1974 she served as Visiting Scientist and Lecturer, at the Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, Institut fur Experimentelle Pathologie in Heidelberg Germany.

In 1975 Dr. Mastro came back to Penn State this time as a Research Associate in the Biophysics Department.  Her husband, Dr. William D. Taylor, was a professor at Penn State in the Biophysics Department and Penn State’s policy was to not have married tenured faculty working in the same department.  Eventually the Biochemistry, BioPhysics and Microbiology Departments would all be merge into the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Department.

In 1979 Dr. Mastro became an Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Cell Biology and in 1983 she became an Associate Professor of Microbiology and Cell Biology.  Dr. Mastro recalls starting at Penn State when the department was much more “male.” One vivid memory was a meeting with her male colleagues who assumed that she was Dr. Christine Pootjes, the only other woman in the Microbiology department.  When she corrected them they said, “Oh, you’re the other one.”

In 1987 Dr. Mastro accepted the role of Associate Director of the Center for Cell Research, one of NASA’s Centers for the Commercial Development of Space.  Dr. Wesley Hymer was the Director, and throughout its duration the program specifically focused on the study of the physiological effects of space travel.  Highlights of the Center's projects include several industry-funded space experiments, including projects carried out on space shuttle and sounding rocket missions.  In 1988 Dr. Mastro was made a Full Professor in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Department and from 2001 – 2010 was the Director of the Immunomodulation Core, a General Clinical Research Center funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Throughout her career, Dr. Mastro recalled the many people and institutions that helped her along the way: Dr. Carol Gay, Dr. Danny Welch, Hershey (which eventually became the Hershey Cancer Institute) and Women in Cancer Research.  When Dr. Mastro began her career she did not have experience in bone research but with the assistance of Dr. Carol Gay, her knowledge grew which in turn allowed her research to flourish. In addition, the Hershey based Dr. Danny Welch gathered a group of individuals with an interest in bone metastasis. Over the years, that group continued to grow and Dr. Mastro credits the group with being extremely influential on her career.

The formation of Women in Cancer Research is another landmark memory for Dr. Mastro. At an American Association for Cancer Research National Meeting, a woman scientist from Fox Chase, Lila Diamond, pulled together young female researchers to discuss the absence of female speakers when half of the participants at the meeting were women. Not long after, Women in Cancer Research formed assuring that female members of the science community get the opportunity to speak at conferences and meetings. As a founding member of Women in Cancer Research, Dr. Mastro served as Vice President and President of the National Organization in 1989 and 1990 respectively. The organization’s growth and positive impact in the field of cancer research caught the attention of the American Association of Cancer Research who officially added it as a constituency group. From now on, when you sign up to be a member of the American Association of Cancer Research you can also sign up to be a member of Women in Cancer Research.

Dr. Andrea Mastro has to date 149 published papers, 212 published abstracts and letters, mentored 24 graduate students, 8 postdoctoral fellows, 19 research assistants and 134 undergraduate independent research students. In addition, she has received many honors and awards such as being recognized by her undergraduate college Carlow University, receiving the Daniel R. Tershak Memorial Teaching Award and the Research Career Development Award from the National Institutes of Health and being elected as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Although Dr. Mastro has made an immense mark on the field of Cancer Research she will tell you that her greatest achievements and her greatest impact comes from the students she has trained who now have exciting and impactful careers influencing next generations of scientists. When she was a Postdoctoral Fellow, she was told that she would have to teach no matter where she worked, to which she would reply “yeah, but that won’t be so bad.” 42 years later Dr. Mastro states that “teaching was an incredibly impactful part of my career.”

Anand Iyer, a Graduate Student of Dr. Mastro who received his Ph. D. in 1984 and is the Founder/Managing Director of APRUS Bio-Medical Innovations, said “She was calm, considerate and really a collegiate mentor who mentored me through some of the most difficult times of my life.”

Dr. Mastro and her past and present students at her retirement ceremony

Dr Mastro with many of her past and present students at her retirement ceremony

Deborah Grove, a Postdoctoral Fellow in Mastro’s lab from 1984-1996 and the retired Director of the Genomics Core Facility at Penn State recalled a tough time at the beginning of her career that caused her to consider leaving science. It was Dr. Mastro’s mentoring that made all the difference in her career- “She treated me with respect and she treated me as a colleague and I regained my self-esteem.  I learned how to do science better: how to set up an experiment and how to analyze the results.”

Karen Bussard, a Graduate Student of Dr. Mastro who received her Ph. D. in 2008, commented that “Without her and her guidance, I would absolutely not be where I am today in my scientific career. Dr. Mastro saw the potential in me, and helped shape me into the thoughtful, insightful, patient and compassionate investigator I am today.” When recently speaking with Dr. Mastro about mentoring strategies, Dr. Mastro explained to Bussard that “your successes are my successes” further demonstrating the commitment to her students to prepare them for the future.

In addition to her academic and research career, Dr. Mastro is a loving wife to her husband Dr. William D. Taylor and a mother to three children Maria, Daniel and Tim.  The youngest of her children is now 24 years old. Two are Penn State Alumni and one is a senior at Southern Oregon University.

When asked about her plans after retirement she said she would like to visit her relatives in Italy who she has never met.  She also thinks that she should probably clean out her house after all that has accumulated over the last 40 years. Whatever is next for Dr. Mastro, the Penn State Community wishes her all the best.

Thank you Dr. Mastro for the impact your research has made as well as your dedication to, and the impact you have had on, Penn State and the many students whose lives you have influenced!

Leaving a Legacy: Dr. Ronald D. Porter

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July 26, 2017 - What began as tinkering and experimenting in a basement in Horseheads, New York became the basis for an extraordinary career in science, encompassing nearly four decades and leaving behind a profound footprint at Penn State University. Dr. Ronald Porter shared forty years of research and learning during his time with Penn State and we now take a look at those accomplishments and benchmarks that defined his career.

Dr. Porter’s journey to Penn State had many stops along the way. First, he graduated in 1967 with a Bachelor’s of Science Degree from Cornell University. Next, he attended Duke University earning his Master’s Degree in Biochemistry in 1969.  From 1969 to 1971, Dr. Porter served aboard the U.S.S. Columbus as the Assistant Missile Battery and Nuclear Weapons Officer and later as the Officer-in-Charge at a Naval Drug Screening Laboratory in San Diego.

Returning to Duke University, Dr. Porter received his Ph. D. in Biochemistry and Genetics in 1976 and went on to receive an appointment as a Postdoctoral Associate at Yale University working with Dr. K. Brooks Low.  During the second-year of his three-year appointment at Yale, Dr. Porter received a phone call from the Head of the Microbiology Department at Penn State.  A search for young faculty interested in the field of microbial genetics was underway, and while Dr. Porter had not begun to look for a position following his Postdoctoral Fellowship he approached his mentor, Dr. Low for insight. Acting on the advice to use the opportunity to gain interview experience, one week after interviewing Dr. Porter accepted the position of Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics.

The Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (BMB) Department, as it is recognized today, was structured very differently when Dr. Porter came to Penn State in 1978. Upon his arrival, there were two departments; Microbiology and Cell Biology and Biochemistry and BioPhysics. In a short period of time, Dr. Porter experienced several large, departmental changes made by the leadership of Eberly College of Science and in the mid 80’s, BMB as we know it was formed.

Dr. Porter’s career at Penn State further progressed when he became an Associate Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics in 1984, a position he held until his retirement. In addition, Dr. Porter served as the Chairman of the Microbiology Program from 1988 – 1990 and then served as the Director of Graduate Studies from 1992-2013.

Dr. Porter continued his involvement with Graduate Studies, serving as chairman or co-chairman 29 times for the following committees- Graduate Admissions, Graduate Council, Graduate Affairs, Graduate Fellowship and Awards and the Graduate Fellowship Committee. During his time as chairman of the Graduate Council, he drafted the new guidelines for the Graduate School Fellowships. Dr. Porter was also chairman to the following departmental committees- Peer Teaching Evaluation, the Marker Lecture Selection, the Curriculum Committee and The Natural Sciences Consultative Committee of the Faculty Senate General Education Subcommittee.

Through his experience with the Graduate School, Dr. Porter learned a valuable lesson when it comes to running effective meetings. Dr. Rodney Erickson, Dean at that time, instituted what would become known as the “Rodney Rule.”  The “Rodney Rule” stated that no meeting would last longer than 90 minutes and any agenda topics that could not be covered in that amount of time would not be discussed. Dr. Porter liked the “Rodney Rule” so much that he brought it back to the BMB Department and used it to guide his approach to committees and meetings.

When asked what acknowledgments mean the most to him, Dr. Porter recalled receiving the Daniel R. Tershak Memorial Teaching Award but also said “it is really the little things that matter in retrospect.” Some of those “little things” were being named “the most valuable professor” by the 2017 Lady Lions Softball Team and the thank you notes from past students letting Dr. Porter know that the notes they took in his class, helped them succeed in other courses.

At the end of the day, Dr. Porter is a teacher and a mentor and credits the interaction with his students as what he enjoyed the most throughout his career. A favorite memory of his was when a graduate student completed a small side project, as an add-on to an existing project, without consulting Dr. Porter. “The student thought up the experiment, conducted the research and presented the data.  It was a great compliment to the student’s main project and to see the student develop the ability to work semi-independently and turn out something very nice was a “wow that was great” moment.” According to Dr. Porter, “Making a difference in the lives of students is really front and center.”

Over his 39-year career at Penn State, Dr. Porter published 43 papers, presented 50 papers at various meetings, taught 11 different courses, supervised 8 graduate students, served on 43 graduate student committees and supervised 35 undergraduate student researchers.  He is the recipient of the Daniel R. Tershak Memorial Teaching Award and served on 3 National Science Foundation review panels.

Outside of the lab, Dr. Porter is the proud husband of Sara, the father of three sons and the grandfather of five granddaughters, all who live locally. In his retirement, Dr. Porter plans on catching-up on recreational reading and completing projects around the house that have been on “to-do” lists for a while.  Dr. Porter also plans to do some “puttering in the shop” and to get his guitar out and start playing it again.  He “plans on going one day at a time.”

Thank you, Dr. Porter, for your impact on, and dedication to, Penn State University as well as to the many students whose lives you have influenced in ways that you are most likely not aware of.  Stephanie Yancey, one of the 8 graduate students Dr. Porter supervised, said it best. “Thank you Ron for setting us all on our respective paths, whether we ended up in academia, in industry or in clinical research.  None of us would be here, where we are today, without you”.

Penn State biochemistry and molecular biology alumnus named a Top Young Scientist and awarded prestigious fellowship

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July 25, 2017 - Dr. J. Brooks Crickard, was named to the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation’s Top Young Scientist List in a report from the Foundation on July 14, 2017.  The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on supporting innovative early career researchers, named Crickard as one of the 18 new Damon Runyon Fellows at its spring Fellowship Award Committee review. The recipients of this prestigious, four-year award are outstanding postdoctoral scientists conducting basic and translational cancer research in the laboratories of leading senior investigators across the country. The Fellowship encourages the nation's most promising young scientists to pursue careers in cancer research by providing them with independent funding ($231,000 each) to work on innovative projects that have the potential to impact cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.


Crickard is an alumnus of Penn State’s Biochemistry, Microbiology and Molecular Biology Graduate Program and worked in the laboratory of Dr. Joseph Reese, from 2011 – 2016.  Crickard is currently pursuing his postdoctoral fellowship at Columbia University in New York focusing his research in the area of biochemistry.


Along with his sponsor at Columbia University, Dr. Eric C. Greene, Crickard is using high-throughput single molecule imaging to rebuild and visualize the process of homologous recombination (HR) in real time. DNA is subjected to many insults that lead to damage. This DNA damage leads to a loss of genomic integrity, resulting in the formation and metastasis of many types of cancer. To guard against DNA damage, cells have developed several complex regulatory networks devoted to the repair of damaged DNA, including HR which involves the searching and pairing of one damaged piece of DNA to similar or identical DNA sequences to promote repair of the damaged piece, thus maintaining genomic integrity. He seeks to understand, at the most basic biochemical level, how two of the key protein components in HR, Rad51 and Rad54, function to find and repair damaged DNA. His findings will give new insights into how cells fix damaged DNA, which may be key to the development of novel treatments and therapeutic options for all types of cancer.

Dr.'s Giebink and Szpara honored with prestigious teaching awards

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The Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (BMB) is pleased to announce the BMB teaching award recipients for the 2016-17 academic year.


The Peer Teaching Evaluation Committee, chaired by Dr. Tracy Nixon, selected Dr. Heather Giebink to receive the Paul M. Althouse Outstanding Teaching Award for her consistent excellence and devotion as she teaches at many levels in large and small classes.  The committee selected Dr. Moriah Szpara to receive the Daniel R. Tershak Memorial Teaching Award for her outstanding performance in teaching general virology.


The BMB community is proud of both Dr. Giebink and Dr. Szpara for their continued dedication to the education and training of their students and would like to congratulate them both on their awards!

Timothy Kunz honored as the recipient of the 2017 Fred Wedler Outstanding Undergraduate Dissertation Award

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July 10, 2017 – Timothy Kunz, a recent graduate of Penn State’s Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Program, was honored as the recipient of the 2017 Fred Wedler Outstanding Undergraduate Dissertation Award.  Kunz received notification on April 26, 2017.

Each year, the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, selects one undergraduate student to receive the award which is given to the student whose dissertation is judged to be the best, based on evaluation criteria given to a group of honors advisors.  The award carries a cash prize and in addition Kunz’s name will be engraved on the Wedler Award plaque.

When asked why he decided to focus on a career in microbiology Kunz said that he enjoyed both chemistry and biology in high school and that he decided to major in biochemistry because it was a mix of the two.  It was the positive experiences Kunz had in his microbiology courses that made him realize that molecular biology would be the path his career would eventually take.  Kunz had the opportunity to join the Schreyer Honors College through the Gateway Program, an opportunity that he credits with providing substantial monetary and academic support.  It was through his involvement with the Schreyer Honors College that he was able to secure funding that allowed him to stay in State College the last two summers prior to his graduation and continue his academic work.

Kunz also secured a position in the Mahony Laboratory while at Penn State.  The Mahony Laboratory is a computational biology laboratory focused on developing machine-learning approaches for understanding gene regulation.  The laboratory’s primary focus is transcription factor binding data, but also investigates other high-throughput sequencing data such as; Hi-C, RNA and DNase.

Kunz’s dissertation focused on Hi-C data.  The focus of his research was to develop a novel approach to chromatin interaction analysis based on the Self-Organizing Map (SOM) Algorithm.  This approach gives a more intuitive visualization of the data and serves as a platform for assessing correlations between various genomic activities and chromatin structure. The SOM algorithm provides a two-dimensional grid on which chromatin interactions indicated in Hi-C data are visualized. The resulting data structure can then be used to assess the relationships between genomic biochemical activities (e.g. transcription, histone modifications, protein-DNA binding, etc.) and the organization of the chromatin. Given a set of genomic coordinates corresponding to a given biochemical activity, the degree to which this activity is segregated or compartmentalized in chromatin interaction space can be intuitively visualized on the SOM grid and quantified using modified Lorenz curve analysis.  Kunz said they were able to demonstrate the utility of the approach for exploratory analysis of genome compartmentalization using human high-resolution Hi-C datasets.

In summary Kunz developed a novel approach to visualizing chromatin interaction data on a 2D grid using the implementation of the Self-Organizing Map algorithm. This approach allows for efficient and intuitive visualizations and quantifications of the distribution and segregation of biochemical activities in chromatin interaction space. The utility of this method has been demonstrated using human Hi-C data and exploring the distribution of ChIP-seq data.  Kunz hopes that this software will be useful in future analyses of chromatin organization and compartmentalization.

Kunz plans to continue his education and pursue his Ph. D. and has accepted a Research Assistant positon in the Melton Lab at Harvard University.  The Melton Lab focuses on Type 1 Diabetes, utilizing stem cells and mouse models.  There Kunz will be working under the direction of Dr. Jose Rivera-Feliciano.

Heather Feaga honored as recipient of the 2017 Fred Wedler Outstanding Dissertation Award

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Heather Feaga honored as recipient of the 2017 Fred Wedler Outstanding Dissertation Award

June 5, 2017 – Heather Feaga, a recent graduate of Penn State’s Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Graduate Program, was honored with the 2017 Fred Wedler Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award.  Feaga received notification on May 8th of this year.

Each year , the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, selects one doctoral student to receive the award.  It is given to the student whose dissertation is judged to be the best, based on evaluation criteria given to the student’s dissertation committee.   Each student defending a doctoral dissertation is automatically considered for the award.

Feaga’s love of and interest in microbiology began during her time as a student at the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC).  At the time, Feaga, was working as a short order cook in a restaurant in Ellicott City Maryland, cleaning houses for extra money and taking evening courses at CCBC.  It was Dr. Karen Dalton’s Introduction to Biology class that gave Feaga a new prospective on life.  “She taught us how all organisms are ruled by the same basic rules of biology” said Feaga.  Feaga became completely hooked on the subject, devouring textbooks and eventually earned enough credits to transfer to the University of Maryland Baltimore County for her undergraduate degree and then to Penn State where she took advantage of the advanced course offering and opportunities available to her for her graduate degree.

While at Penn State Feaga was able to teach undergraduates in both formal and informal settings as both a teaching assistant and as a part of the laboratory of Ken Keiler, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology.   “The greatest opportunity I had while at Penn State was the chance to work with a great advisor in Ken Keiler” Feaga said.  “Ken taught me so much about how to be a good scientist.  He not only emphasized careful methods at the bench, but also helped me to improve my written and oral communication skills.”

The Keiler laboratory conducts research on the topic of trans-translation which is required in many pathogens such as the bacterium that causes tuberculosis.  While a graduate student, Ken Keiler, discovered trans-translation as a method to rescue protein synthesis machinery after it had stalled.  Since that time the Keiler laboratory has discovered small molecules that can be utilized to inhibit trans-translation and therefore kill pathogens that need the process in order to survive.

Feaga’s role in the Keiler laboratory was to identify a pathway that some bacteria use as an alternative to trans-translation.  She showed that this alternative ribosome rescue activity was essential in human cells.  Her research showed that mitochondria and organelles in human cells that arose from bacterial cells had very similar ribosomes to that of bacteria.  Her research revealed that these mitochondrial ribosomes are rescued in a very similar way to that of bacterial ribosomes.

Feaga’s dissertation detailed this rescue method and identified the ribosome rescue factor, called ArfB, in the bacterial species Caulobacter crescentus. ArfB rescues ribosomes from truncated mRNAs that lack a stop codon.  Human cells have an ArfB homolog called ICT1, which gets imported into the mitochondria.  Mitochandria are energy producing organelles that used to be free-living bacterial cells, maintained their own genome and also have their own ribosomes.  Mitochandria share a common ancestry with C. crescentus and so ArfB and ICT1 are very similar proteins.  Feaga revealed that ICT1 and ArfB have the same ribosome rescue activity and that the reason that ICT1 is essential in human cells is because of this rescue activity.

Currently Feaga is a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University under the mentorship of Jonathan Dworkin, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology.  There she is studying how protein synthesis is regulated in cells going into and coming out of dormancy.

Gregory Carter honored with the 2017 Paul M. Althouse Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award

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Gregory Carter Honored Paul M. Althouse Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award

June 6, 2017 – Gregory Carter, a student in the Biochemistry, Microbiology, and Molecular Biology (BMMB) Graduate Program at Penn State, has been honored with the 2017 Paul M. Althouse Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award.

The Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Department presents the award each year to a graduate student for their outstanding teaching abilities in an undergraduate laboratory course. Recipients are selected by the Graduate Affairs Committee based on student evaluations and the evaluation of the teaching assistant’s supervising course instructor.

Carter has always enjoyed the puzzle solving aspect of science and coupled with his desire to help others the decision to pursue microbiology seemed an obvious choice.  He credits his high school AP Biology teacher, Mr. Hodos, as inspiration to make his choice.  Carter went on to obtain his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) and then transitioned to Penn State to pursue his graduate studies.  Along with his role as a teaching assistant, Carter also conducts research in the laboratory of Xin Zhang, Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Penn State.

The Zhang laboratory studies the cellular response to protein-folding stress. Carter works with one protein in particular, a molecular chaperone known as Hsp90. This protein is important for day-to-day functions in human cells, but over the past few decades, researchers have discovered that Hsp90 can also be taken over by cancerous cells, allowing them to stay alive. The Zhang Laboratory seeks to understand the mechanism by which healthy cells control this protein, allowing researchers to understand how cancer cells control it as well. Carter hopes that with the continued collection of data and the publishing of future research papers that the research will one day be used by those who perform clinical trials or develop pharmaceuticals to influence the lives of patients in need.

With the conclusion of the Spring 2017 semester, Carter finished his second semester as teaching assistant for BMB 442: Nucleic Acid and Protein Purification.  When asked about the moments in the classroom that bring him the biggest smile he stated “I love when students get something that they previously struggled with”.  Carter said that some students even get exaggerated looks on their faces when that breakthrough occurs.  He went on to say that it was these moments that he characterizes as “fantastic”, and that really give him a sense of accomplishment and make him feel as though he has made a difference in a student’s life.  Carter’s goal is to have the students feel better off after the class has ended then they did at the start.

Carter went on to say that the overall success of the course was made possible by excellent instruction on the part of its two faculty, Dr. Padala and Dr. Giebink.  “They were both absolutely fantastic and they really helped the course make a lot of sense to the students” said Carter.  Giebink also taught the course that instructs graduate students, such as Carter, to be effective and informative teaching assistants.  Carter said of Giebink, “She did an absolutely excellent job and she really cares about having graduate students that are good teaching assistants”.

Currently Carter is entering his third year of the BMMB Graduate Program and plans to continue gaining experience and sharing his knowledge with students as a teaching assistant.