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Susan Wessler Named to an Endowed Chair Position at UC Riverside

Susan R. Wessler, a distinguished professor of genetics at the University of California, Riverside and a passionate advocate for spreading the excitement of doing genomics research to undergraduate students, has been named the Neil A. and Rochelle A. Campbell Presidential Chair for Innovation in Science Education in the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences (CNAS) at UC Riverside.

Wessler is the first scholar named to the endowed chair, which was established by a generous gift to the campus by Rochelle A. Campbell, a longtime supporter of science education.  Campbell’s earlier gifts helped create at UCR the Neil A. Campbell Science Learning Laboratory, which Wessler runs.  This innovative laboratory, which opened in 2011, for teaching science gives freshmen the kind of experimental research experience usually reserved for graduate students or undergraduate students in their junior and senior years.

“We’re very grateful for the establishment of the Campbell Presidential Chair,” said Paul D’Anieri, the provost and executive vice chancellor. “It is especially fitting that Dr. Wessler will be the first to hold a chair dedicated to Innovation in Science Education, a field to which Dr. Neil Campbell contributed so much.  Dr. Wessler is one of the finest scientists in her field and has helped define the state of the art both at UCR and nationally in science education.  Her work exemplifies the synergy of great research and great teaching that defines the research university.”

Rochelle Campbell is the widow of Neil Campbell, who died in 2004.  A UCR alumnus, he was a visiting scholar in UCR’s Department of Botany and Plant Sciences and a recipient of UCR’s Distinguished Alumnus Award.  His book Biology is the most widely used English-language scientific textbook in the world.

“My husband, Neil, was committed to science education through his years of teaching and his textbooks.  He knew how to get students excited about biology,” Campbell said.  “This chair is dedicated to the ongoing research to improve science education for undergraduates.”

Campbell serves on the UCR Foundation Board of Trustees’ Stewardship Committee.  She retired from the San Bernardino Unified School District after working for 30 years as an adult counselor.  In 2005, she established the Neil Allison Campbell Endowed Research Award to fund internships for CNAS undergraduates.  A gift from her in 2013 helped renovate a wet lab and prep room in the Neil A. Campbell Science Learning Laboratory.

“In my mind Dr. Wessler is the perfect choice for the Campbell Presidential Chair for Innovation in Science Education,” Campbell said.  “She is one of those unique individuals able to take her research success and integrates it into the classroom.  The excitement that is created by good science research can be translated into good science teaching and positive learning outcomes for students.”

Wessler began her career at the University of Georgia in 1983 and worked in various capacities at the university-including director of the Center for Plant Cellular and Molecular Biology and University of Georgia Foundation Chair in Biological Sciences-until she joined the faculty of UCR in 2010.

She is a world leader in the study of mobile DNAs, called transposons or transposable elements, that are the major drivers of plant genome evolution.  Her laboratory has pioneered the use of computational and experimental analyses in the identification of actively transposing elements.

“It is a huge honor to be the first recipient of this endowed chair,” Wessler said. “This is a truly unique chair in that the proceeds will be used to expand and enrich the Dynamic Genome course, where first year undergraduates experience the excitement of scientific research.  I am extremely grateful to the donor Rochelle Campbell who also provided most of the support for the state-of-the-art Neil A. Campbell Science Learning Laboratory where all Dynamic Genome sections are taught.”

Wessler is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor. In 2011, she was elected home secretary of the National Academy of Sciences and named the recipient of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology 2012 Excellence in Science Award. In 2013, she was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society.  Last year, she was awarded the McClintock Prize for Plant Genetics and Genome Studies.

Wessler graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology from Stony Brook University, of the State University of New York, in 1974 and earned her doctoral degree from Cornell University in 1980. She is co-author of The Mutants of Maize (Cold Spring Harbor Press) and of more than 120 research articles. She is one of the principal authors of Introduction to Genetic Analysis, a leading textbook used in introductory genetics courses in colleges and universities throughout the world.