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October 16, 2018

Sarah Spiegel, Ph.D.

Sarah Spiegel, Ph.D.Distinguished Mentor Award

A great mentor is like a pebble dropped into water – the impact creates ripples of activity that extend, with ever widening reach, far beyond the original source. Sarah Spiegel, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, has formally mentored 73 pre- and post-doctoral students and fellows in addition to dozens of faculty in multiple departments – her impact extends far beyond VCU.

Dr. Spiegel came to VCU in 2002 to chair the Department of Biochemistry. In addition, Dr. Spiegel directs the Cancer Cell Biology Program, teaches students and postdoctoral scholars, and maintains an outstanding research portfolio. Her CV lists nearly 60 grant awards, primarily NIH-funded research, in multiple disciplines. She has contributed to over 260 peer-reviewed publications, 227 books, chapters, and reviews, and holds 7 US Patents. With this level of responsibility and productivity, it is especially remarkable that Dr. Spiegel welcomes opportunities to mentor faculty colleagues, as well as students.

Robert F. Diegelmann, PhD, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, comments, “From day one, she focused on each one of us and took a special interest to find out what she could do to help us succeed. Her philosophy is that by supporting and mentoring her faculty and students, the entire department benefits and becomes stronger.

“Another departmental colleague, Paul Dent, PhD, Professor and Universal Chair in Signal Transduction, calls her “the most influential mentor in my career to date. Without her guidance, it is unlikely that any of the soon-to-be 11 clinical trials based on my research would have opened at Massey Cancer Center.”

Dr. Spiegel’s mentees are rippling out and establishing successful research careers of their own. Kazuaki Takabe, M.D., Ph.D., FACS, a NCI K-12 Award recipient, describes his experience as a surgery trainee, “Dr. Spiegel introduced me to the fascinating field of lipid signaling, which revived my long-forgotten passion for science. Now I am Professor and Alfiero Foundation Chair of Breast Oncology at Roswell Park Cancer Institute with a joint appointment as Professor of Surgery at SUNY Buffalo, with 132 peer-reviewed publications, and funded by a NIH-R01 grant.”

Masayuki Nagahashi, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor, Niigata University, was a visiting scientist in Dr. Spiegel’s lab for 5 years, returning to Japan in 2014, where she has published more than 50 papers and has been awarded 10 grants. “It is my dream that I will be a great mentor like Dr. Spiegel to educate and motivate younger people with strong enthusiasm.”

“I still find myself trying to follow many aspects of Dr. Spiegel’s supervisory and leadership style . . . she always dealt with trainees’ difficulties in their projects head on, right there and then, no matter how big or small or how many other pressing issues she might have…she asked provocative questions that were meant to help us think through the problems so we learned how to address problems independently and identify important questions.” remembers Ana Olivera, Ph.D., Mast Cell Biology Section, NIAAID, NIH.

Dr. Spiegel influences even well-established scientists. Professor Brian “Binks” Wattenberg, Ph.D., Biochemistry and Molecular Biology attests, “While hesitating to call myself an old dog, there is no question that Sarah has taught me new tricks. It is, in fact, this unbridled optimism on Sarah’s part that everyone (including herself) can improve themselves in conducting this invigorating yet challenging enterprise that sets her apart as a faculty mentor.”

Dr. Spiegel has been recognized with the 2007 VCU WISDM Professional Achievement Award, the 2007 VCU Distinguished Scholarship Award, and the 2008 Virginia Outstanding Scientist of the Year Award. For her enthusiasm, expertise, and dedication to helping all those around her to have the most rewarding and productive career possible, we honor her today.

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