March 2013

Meet Santa J. Ono

Santa Jeremy Ono photoSanta Jeremy Ono became president of the University of Cincinnati in late October after previously serving as interim president, as senior vice president for academic affairs and as provost. He’s a professor of pediatrics at the College of Medicine and a research faculty member at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Before arriving at UC, Ono was part of the administration at Emory University and a faculty member at Emory’s medical school. Ono has served on the editorial board of The Journal of Biological Chemistry. In this quick Q&A with ASBMB’s education and professional development manager, Weiyi Zhao, Ono talks about his career path and the inspiration for it.

Tell us about your current career position.
After two years of serving as the provost of the University of Cincinnati, I was selected to serve as UC’s 28th president. As the university’s chief executive, I head a top-25 public research university that enrolls approximately 42,000 students and employs about 10,000 faculty and staff members. UC has a budget of $1 billion, is completing a $1 billion fund-raising campaign and has endowment assets of nearly $1 billion.

What are the key experiences and decisions you made that have helped you reach your current position?
I have served in a variety of academic and administrative positions over the past 21 years that have given me a wide-ranging foundation as a research scientist, a teacher, an administrator and a fund-raiser. My career has taken me to Johns Hopkins University, Harvard (University), University College London and Emory. All along the way, I have drawn energy from my interaction with students, and I remain very focused on students even today.

How did you first become interested in science?
My interest in science began while I was a freshman at Towson High School in Maryland. My high-school science teacher led some experiments that caught my interest. At that time, a revolution was occurring in molecular biology. I read a book about the double helix by James Watson and heard a presentation by Johns Hopkins researcher Donald Coffey, and I was absolutely enthralled by the concept of genes turning on and off during development from two cells to a full-blown person.

Were there times when you failed at something you felt was critical to your path? If so, how did you regroup and get back on track?
Being a scientist, you fail all the time. Not all experiments work the way you think they might. There have been dark moments when progress seemed slow or almost nonexistent. I sometimes wondered if I had what it really takes to be scientist. But I persisted with the support of my family, mentors and friends.

What advice would you give to young people from under-represented backgrounds who want to pursue careers in science similar to yours?
I had wonderful mentors who helped me all along the way, so I would encourage all young people with an interest in science – or any field, for that matter – not to be shy about seeking the advice and guidance of seasoned scholars. Do not think of science as a solitary endeavor that you have to pursue on your own. Like most things in life, you will need the help and support of others.

What are your hobbies?
I like music. Although I am not as talented as my brother, who is a concert pianist, I do enjoy playing the cello. I also like to sing and learned more about singing from a student at Emory. I like to attend concerts and musical theater shows. I also am a sports nut. I follow professional and college sports, and I play sports with my daughters in the backyard or at the Cincinnati Sports Center.

What was the last book you read?
“The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief” by Frances Collins was a book that was meaningful to me because it talks about the reconciliation of one’s faith with the empirical nature of science.

Do you have any heroes, heroines or role models? If so, describe how they have influenced you.
I have several heroes and role models. One of them is Neil Armstrong, who was a faculty member at UC after he stepped down from NASA. Neil’s reluctance to take the spotlight following the historic moon walk is a reminder to us all that most accomplishments are not solo feats. They are the result of team efforts. He also inspired hundreds who came after him to pursue careers in science and technology, and I count myself among them. I also respect and am inspired by the work and courage of Rosalind Franklin, whose X-ray ultimately revealed the structure of DNA and provided the images that James Watson and Frances Crick used to complete their model of DNA. Franklin died of cancer at age 37, not fully knowing the impact that her photograph would have and not sharing in the Nobel Prize that Watson and Crick would share. Her hard work played a pivotal role in our understanding of DNA.

Weiyi ZhaoWeiyi Zhao ( is the ASBMB manager of education and professional development.

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