Interdisciplinary Innovator - Higher Education
Higher Education News and Jobs

Interdisciplinary Innovator

Email


by Ronald Roach


CHEMISTRY

Interdisciplinary Innovator

Sean Decatur
Title
: The Marilyn Dawson Sarles Professor of
Life Sciences and Professor of Chemistry and Associate
Dean of Faculty for Science, Mount Holyoke College
Education: Ph.D., Chemistry, Stanford University;
B.A., Chemistry, Swarthmore College
Age: 38

It’s hard to predict where the career path of Dr. Sean M. Decatur may ultimately lead, considering that the Mount Holyoke College chemist thrives as a research scientist, a classroom professor and as an academic administrator. He’s already proven himself to be a top-notch biophysical chemistry researcher and an innovative teacher at the South Hadley, Mass.-based women’s college. But more recently, the part-time dean has shown that he also has the leadership and organizational skills to excel in higher education administration.

“Sean has that rare combination of scientific talent and superb organizational skills,” says Dr. Jonathan King, a research collaborator with Decatur and a professor of molecular biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

Currently, Decatur holds an endowed professorship while serving as associate dean of faculty for science. He also manages a productive research laboratory and carries a half-time teaching load. An expert in biophysical chemistry, the Cleveland native largely studies how proteins function and develop, and how their malfunctions are linked to diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Mount Holyoke officials describe Decatur’s experiments — which analyze both the physical process of protein folding and its connection to protein function  — as paving “the way for a cure for … diseases.” Decatur relishes the work, which is characterized by its interdisciplinary approach. “It’s exciting to me to work at the interface of chemistry, biology and physics,” he says.

  Governor Looks to Lure Top Researchers to Texas Campuses

The son of a middle school math and science teacher, Decatur says academic achievement was always emphasized in his house. He was drawn to science at an early age, he says. Although he did not grow up with his father, Decatur says his two older brothers were highly influential, and they also gravitated to math and science. As an undergraduate at Swarthmore, Decatur discovered that he liked “studying problems in biology” whose solutions required using the “tools of chemistry and quantitative analysis.” His professors, including mentors from the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship program, encouraged him to consider earning a doctorate in chemistry.

A recipient of a Faculty Early Career Development grant from the National Science Foundation in 2001, Decatur has thrived as a scientist, attracting a steady stream of funding since the 1990s. Unlike some researchers, who covet the infrastructure and the presence of graduate students that go with working at a large research university, Decatur says he deliberately sought the opportunity of going to an undergraduate liberal arts school like Mount Holyoke. He says he wanted to teach and conduct research in the same type of environment that had nurtured him during his college years.

“I had enjoyed my experience a great deal, and I thought I
could help provide similar learning experiences for other students if I went to a place like Swarthmore,” Decatur says.

Upon joining the Mount Holyoke faculty in 1995, Decatur took on the challenging task of building a chemistry laboratory from scratch.

To keep the laboratory staffed and running, he’s recruited senior students, postdoctoral students and recent Mount Holyoke graduates planning to attend graduate school. School officials say Decatur has developed and implemented lecture series and courses that blend the topics of race and science. Other courses he’s credited with developing explore the impact of contemporary scientific research.

  Ebonics IQI. What have we learned ? - use of Ebonics language to teach African American children - Cover Story

Decatur says teaching at Mount Holyoke has been gratifying in part because of the school’s long tradition of educating women who achieve at a high level in the sciences. “It’s a powerful process of which to be a part,” he says. “It’s a place where there’s no one questioning whether women can make it in the sciences. It’s assumed that they will be successful.”

— By Ronald Roach



© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com

RELATED ARTICLES >>
Professor Apologizes for Fiery Response to Muslim Student CINCINNATI — A University of Cincinnati music teacher has apologized for his fiery online responses to a Muslim student who was critical of Donald Trump’s presidency and talked about celebrating freedom and diversity. College-Conservatory of Music...
Pennsylvania Education Leader Going Extra Mile for Diversity  Long bike rides are an annual tradition for Dr. John Sygielski, who spent several weeks biking from New Orleans to Nashville this summer, traveling along the Natchez Trace Parkway and passing through Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee. Along the w...
‘London Professor’ in Interference Case Made Many Russia Trips MOSCOW — The little-known professor suspected of being a link between Russia and the Donald Trump campaign made repeated visits to Russia in recent years, including participating in conferences at a Russian think tank favored by Russian President Vla...
Studies Show Minimal Socialization Boost for Interracial Dorm Roommates When Dr. Russell H. Fazio, a psychology professor at The Ohio State University, examined interracial relationships between Black and White dormitory roommates a while back, he found that the relationships were more likely to dissolve if the White stu...
Semantic Tags:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *