MU selects new director of Life Sciences

Director Jack Shultz was a professor at Penn State University.
Sunday, August 6, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:23 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

As the new director of MU’s Life Sciences Center, Jack ­Schultz hopes to capitalize on the “unexpected result that might happen when you put two people together that might not talk together otherwise.”

Schultz, a distinguished professor of entomology at Penn State University, wants to continue the MU center’s focus on connecting scientists from differing disciplines. He will take over for Mike Chippendale, who is serving as the center’s interim director.

A search committee of 19 people, including a graduate student, faculty, department chairs, deans and representatives from both the Danforth Institute and Stowers Institute, recommended Schultz after narrowing a field of about 65 potential candidates to four. Those candidates were then brought to MU for interviews with the committee, and to meet with faculty and community members, said Jim Coleman, vice chancellor for research. Positive feedback from those who met with Schultz also contributed to his selection, Coleman said.

While part of Schultz’s job will be to oversee the functioning of the center and to serve in a leadership role for life sciences at the university, he will also work to foster research relationships among faculty. Especially important, Chippendale said, is to encourage connections among scientists in different areas of study who might not otherwise work together.

“It’s very important to foster faculty research collaborations across different fields of science,” he said.

Work in developing interdisciplinary graduate programs at Penn State University gives him experience in bringing scientists with differing focuses together, Schultz said.

“Jack has a great record of truly doing interdisciplinary science,” Coleman said. “He has a great ability to see connections in what seem to be disparate fields.”

The center, which opened in 2004, houses about 40 faculty members involved in eight research cluster groups, Chippendale said. He said research at the center focuses on basic studies related to contemporary problems in food production and quality and health and well-being. Interdisciplinary study in life sciences is rooted in the fundamental similarity of how cells work, whether they be from plants, microorganisms, animals or humans.

Schultz said that as director, he hopes to bring the center into the international spotlight, garnering worldwide recognition for the research conducted by its faculty and students. He is excited to come to MU in part, he said, because of the opportunities he said the School of Journalism provides to enhance the transmission of what the center’s scientists find.

He is also excited to be coming to Columbia, he said, because of the town’s jazz scene. When not studying the workings of plants, Schultz spends time studying fretboards as an “on-and-off” professional jazz guitarist. He is an avid fan of jazz music, especially “straight-ahead” jazz and bebop, and extends his sense of cross-discipline thinking to an interest in jazz applications in rhythm and blues music.

The center’s past director, Michael Roberts, stepped down in October 2005 to pursue his research, at which point Chippendale — who had recently retired as the senior associate director of the center — was asked to serve as interim director.

Schultz, 59, received a doctorate from the University of Washington in Seattle. He joined the department of entomology at Penn State University in 1983 and went on to found the doctoral program in ecological and molecular plant physiology at the school. His research includes his role as the co-discoverer of communication among plants, in which he found that wounded plants can alert nearby plants to enable defense mechanisms, according to the release.

Schultz will officially begin his position on Jan. 1, 2007, at a salary of $200,000, an MU spokeswoman said.

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