Edgar (Terry) Walters, Ph.D., professor of integrative biology and pharmacology, has been named the first holder of the Ray A. and Robert L. Kroc Faculty Fellowship.
Holders of the three-year fellowship must achieve excellence in research and graduate education in the areas of neuroscience and/or endocrinology and be a faculty member of any of the UT Health Science Center schools with an appointment as a regular faculty member of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS).
Dr. Walters, who has been on faculty at the Medical School since 1982, is past director and current co-director of the Graduate School’s Program in Cell and Regulatory Biology and just finished serving as president of the Graduate School faculty. Some of his research in neuronal injury, pain, and memory involves the marine snail Aplysia, whose large and accessible neurons enable single-cell experimental manipulations.
Dr. Walters was nominated by George Stancel, Ph.D., dean of the GSBS, and a committee who evaluated all of the nominees. He says that his first reaction to finding out he was the recipient of the fellowship was surprise.
I think it would be great if this award, and perhaps others like it, could help to encourage scientifically active faculty to devote a little more time to the equally important mission of graduate education.
– Dr. Edgar Walters
“I had never heard of the Kroc fellowship (since it was new), I did not know that the GSBS had fellowships for faculty members, and, although my research has been continuously funded for nearly 25 years, I don’t have the kind of huge laboratory or extremely prolific publication record that typically attracts unsolicited awards,” he says. “I like to think that my research is notable more for the novelty and significance of our hypotheses about relationships between injury and memory than for the quantity of our papers.”
The endowment was originally set up as the Ray A. and Robert L. Kroc Lectureship in 1985 by the Kroc Foundation, which was established in 1969 with the purpose of awarding gifts to institutions to support research in the areas of diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and other endocrine or neurological diseases. The gift, which established the endowment, was the foundation’s last gift – the foundation was then dissolved.
In 2007, Dean Stancel determined that the lectureship was not useful to the GSBS and the endowment was changed to the Ray A. and Robert L. Kroc Faculty Fellowship. The purpose of the fellowship is the same as for the lectureship – to further research in diabetes and other endocrine diseases as well as research in multiple sclerosis and other neurological diseases.
“My second response, of course, was gratitude to the Kroc Foundation and to the Graduate School – gratitude for the honor and gratitude for the funding that comes with the fellowship. Those of us who have spent considerable time working with GSBS students and faculty do it because we love education and because we value the accomplishments and efforts of the Graduate School. None of us receive any salary from the Graduate School, and none of us expect any rewards other than the satisfaction that comes from mentoring and teaching enthusiastic students as they begin their scientific careers. I think it would be great if this award, and perhaps others like it, could help to encourage scientifically active faculty to devote a little more time to the equally important mission of graduate education,” he says.
Dr. Walters received his Ph.D. in physiology from Columbia University and completed postdoctorate training in neurophysiology at Columbia and the University of Pittsburgh.
He says the award could not have come at a better time.
“At the same time that my Medical School department, Integrative Biology and Pharmacology, is entering an exciting growth phase under the dynamic leadership of our new chair, Dr. John Hancock, my research is expanding from studies of injury- and memory-related plasticity in very simple nervous systems to investigating related phenomena associated with spinal cord injury in mammals,” he says. “I am immediately putting these funds to use in helping to recruit an outstanding trainee to my laboratory. Knowing that I had just received the Kroc Faculty Fellowship made the difference in my decision a couple of weeks ago to offer a postdoctoral position to a terrific young scientist who will extend investigations begun by a Ph.D. student in my lab who just successfully defended his dissertation.
“A potential third use of the Kroc Faculty Fellowship is to support scholarly efforts. Because of recent funding cutbacks at the NIH and the consequent pressure to spend more time collecting and publishing primary data (not to mention writing grant proposals), less and less time is available for thinking about the broader context of our research, for systematically developing and generating hypotheses, and for exploring and communicating the intellectual background and ramifications of our scientific ideas. The Kroc Faculty Fellowship can help to support stimulating scholarly activities, for example, by permitting the fellow to attend meetings with scientists in potentially overlapping fields,” he says.
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