Carson Appointed Dean Of Natural Sciences At Rice University

July 18, 2008

Dan Carson, currently the Trustees Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Delaware, has been appointed dean of Rice University’s Wiess School of Natural Sciences.

He will succeed Kathleen Matthews when she relinquishes the position Dec. 31 after serving as dean for 10 years. Matthews will continue to do research as Rice’s Stewart Memorial Professor of Biochemistry and Cell Biology.

“I am thrilled to welcome a gifted scientist like Dan Carson to Rice’s leadership team,” President David Leebron said. “Following in Kathy Matthews’ footsteps is a daunting task, but Dan has the combination of research, teaching and management skills that will help Rice take another giant step forward in the natural sciences arena. We look to Dan to continue to drive the research that has made Rice a leader across a broad range of endeavors and that will make a difference for our students, our university, our city and the world.”

At the University of Delaware in Newark, Del., Carson manages a department with 40 faculty members, 1,000 undergraduate majors, 80 graduate students, 24 support staff and external grant support of $10 million. The Scientist magazine recently voted the University of Delaware as one of the top places to work in life sciences.

“We have developed a culture of mutual respect here,” Carson said. “The faculty and staff feel that they can express their views, that they will be heard and that things will happen.”

Since becoming department chair in 1998, Carson has recruited 17 faculty members and developed a robust research program, with external research funding increasing from $1.5 million to $10 million. His comprehensive revision of the graduate program resulted in four times as many graduate students as the department enrolled 10 years ago. He has also built bridges with other biomedical research institutions in the region as well as collaborations with the university’s College of Engineering and other disciplines.

“A large part of my role is to support the activities of the faculty,” Carson said. “A university has two main roles: We educate and we discover. Being a researcher and an educator myself, I have to wear those hats as well. If I’m not doing one or the other of those two things, I’m supporting them.”

Carson, who will also be a professor of biochemistry and cell biology at Rice, is a reproductive biologist. His research interests focus on the molecular basis by which mammalian embryos implant into the uterine wall. He received a prestigious National Institutes of Health MERIT (Method to Extend Research in Time) award in 2002 for this work.

“The mammalian embryo is extremely invasive,” he said. “Invasive cancer cells mimic this early natural stage of life, and some of the same players appear to be involved in both processes. We hope a better understanding of the molecules that control the invasiveness of the embryo and how this process is controlled by various polypeptide and steroid hormones will lead to better drugs for preventing and treating cancer as well as improving fertility.”

Carson has already pursued research along this line of thinking with colleagues in the Texas Medical Center. He spent 15 years conducting research as a professor in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Department at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

“Dan Carson is no stranger to Houston,” said Provost Eugene Levy. “He is keenly aware of the potential for Rice scientists to strengthen education and research across the full range of science disciplines and to build fruitful interdisciplinary collaborations. Dan also has a keen grasp of the promising opportunities in working with biomedical scientists through our Collaborative Research Center and otherwise, and he understands the value a great university derives from its relationship with the surrounding world.”

As dean, Carson will oversee the six academic departments comprised by the Wiess School of Natural Sciences – Biochemistry and Cell Biology, Chemistry, Earth Science, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Mathematics, and Physics and Astronomy — along with multidisciplinary collaborations involving the university’s institutes and centers, the George R. Brown School of Engineering and other schools, and external institutions.

In addition to leading the faculty in advancing the School of Natural Sciences’ teaching and scholarship, Carson will play a key role in advancing the school’s graduate and undergraduate education and research and in developing and expanding financial resources for the school, Levy said. The school has approximately 120 faculty positions, 60 administrative and 80 research/technical staff, 700 undergraduate majors and 400 graduate students.

“As I develop my vision for the future of the school, one of the first things I plan to do is meet with all faculty members to understand at the grassroots level what they think is working well and what needs some tweaking,” Carson said. “A great many aspects of the school are already working remarkably well. Rice’s interdisciplinary programs are way ahead of the curve.”

Carson began his college education in his hometown of Philadelphia, where he earned a B.S. in biology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1975 and a Ph.D. in microbiology from Temple University in 1979. From 1978 to 1983 he was a postdoctoral fellow in biochemistry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

In 1983 Carson joined the faculty at the U.T. M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, where he developed his interest in reproductive biology research. His research expertise merited the interest of the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development, which invited him to serve on its Reproductive Biology Study Section. He also served on the steering committee for the Texas Forum on Female Reproduction and chaired the Serono Symposium on Embryo Implantation: Cellular, Molecular and Clinical Aspects. His reputation as a respected researcher was matched by his popularity in the classroom – he made the Dean’s Teaching Excellence List 10 years in a row.

The University of Delaware lured Carson away from Houston in 1998. Among his many accomplishments at Delaware are the coordination of a $25 million renovation of the building that houses the Department of Biological Sciences, creation of the Center for Translational Cancer Research Core Facility, comprehensive revision of the undergraduate curriculum and organization of the undergraduate research program, which has become one of the premier, extramurally funded programs of its type in the U.S.

Carson also established the Human Health Initiative in the state of Delaware – a collaboration among the University of Delaware, Nemours Research Institute, Christiana Hospital System/Graham Cancer Center, Delaware Technical College, Delaware State University and Thomas Jefferson University.

Carson’s wife, Mary C. Farach-Carson, is a professor of biological sciences and materials sciences at the University of Delaware. She has been appointed associate vice provost for research at Rice. The Carsons have four children, the youngest of whom will finish high school next year.

Carson said that when he and his wife worked at M.D. Anderson, they often visited the Rice campus to meet with faculty, use the library, play tennis and just enjoy the “paradise in the middle of a big city.”

“This campus is special in so many ways. We sometimes said to each other, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to work here?’ This job is like a dream come true,” said Carson.

The selection of Carson as dean resulted after an extensive international search. James Kinsey, the D.R. Bullard-Welch Foundation Professor of Science in the Department of Chemistry, chaired the search committee.

InstantNewsWestu Staff

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