November 2009

Award Winner Lauded for Teaching

Gentile, seventh from left, regularly invites members of her lab group over for dinner and games and often organizes relationship-building activities outdoors.


Colleagues and students don’t hold back when asked to evaluate University of Richmond associate professor of chemistry Lisa Gentile. They gush about her enthusiasm and about how she always delivers. They say she “rolls up her sleeves, gets out the chalk and goes to work.” They also call her a “dynamo.” If you average such reviews, add them to her laundry list of responsibilities as a department head, sprinkle in a dash of her K-12 outreach efforts and analyze the results, you don’t need an advanced degree to conclude — unscientifically, of course — that she must be superhuman, or pretty close to it.

All kidding aside, those who work with Gentile in the classroom and lab have come to expect no less than greatness from her, making her selection as the winner of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s Award for Exemplary Contributions to Education all the more fitting, according to Barbara Gordon, executive director of ASBMB.

“Lisa’s commitment to teaching and turning her research into experiential-learning opportunities for students at all levels makes her an outstanding example for faculty at whatever stage of their careers,” Gordon said. Gentile said she feels lucky to be recognized for simply doing the things she loves best.

“I am incredibly honored to be nominated for this award, especially considering the accomplishments of some of the past recipients,” she said. “I am fortunate to be part of an institution that is so supportive of interdisciplinary approaches to science education, both in the classroom and in the research lab.”

Colleagues describe Gentile, long a champion of undergraduate research and pioneer of outreach activities for each institution at which she has hung her hat, as an agent of change.

“Her energy, creativity and passion for curricular reform seem boundless. She seems to develop new courses with ease — all the while still mentoring research students, writing research proposals and submitting manuscripts for publication,” said professor Carol Parish, a member of Gentile’s department. Today, Gentile is collaborating with colleagues from five different disciplines to establish a unique course that replaces standard introductory classes in computer science, biology, chemistry, physics and math. Instead of learning the subjects in isolation, students will approach them in an interdisciplinary way, according to professor J. Ellis Bell, who insisted that such reworking of curricula is “the future of science education."

Lisa Gentile, left, invites high school teachers and students from schools serving underrepresented minorities to work alongside her research group each summer.

The quantitative science course, to be offered over two semesters to first-year students, is funded in part by a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Ten faculty members — two from each discipline — spent last year developing the course and are now working on implementation, Gentile said.

Gentile’s inclusive approach also carries over into her lab. Each summer, she invites high school teachers and students from schools serving underrepresented minorities to work with her research group, which studies the structure and function of proteins.

In recognition of the ASBMB award, bestowed annually for effective teaching of biochemistry and molecular biology through leadership, writing, educational research, mentoring and/or outreach, Gentile will give a plenary lecture, “Dynamics of PKA Signaling,” at the society’s annual meeting April 24–28 in Anaheim, Calif.

Angela Hopp is managing editor for special projects at ASBMB. She can be reached at

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