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December 4, 2006

Alumni Achievement Awards honor researcher, professor, staff member

By Louise Donahue

A pioneering medical researcher, an influential professor of Earth and planetary sciences, and an academic adviser known for her personal touch have been selected to receive the Alumni Association’s highest honors for the 2006-07 year.

Photo of Joseph DeRisi Joseph DeRisi

Photo of Gary Griggs
Gary Griggs

Photo: Jim MacKenzie
Photo of Lynne Wolcott
Lynne Wolcott

Photo: Matt Fitt

Joseph DeRisi will receive the Alumni Achievement Award; Gary Griggs, the Distinguished Teaching Award; and Lynne Wolcott, the Outstanding Staff Award.

The winners, who are to receive $500 each, will be honored at the Alumni Association Awards Luncheon at noon on Saturday, February 3, in the Porter College Dining Hall.

Joseph DeRisi is best known for his work leading to the identification of the type of virus involved in the SARS outbreak, prompting USA Today to describe him as a “rock star” of science. A Crown College graduate, DeRisi received his B.A. in biochemistry and molecular biology from UCSC in 1992 and later earned his Ph.D. at Stanford. In 2004, he was named a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellow--the no-strings-attached $500,000 award often called a “genius grant.”

DeRisi has been a strong supporter of free and open access to scientific discoveries, posting his results online and in journals supporting open access. An associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics at UC San Francisco, DeRisi has also worked to make DNA chip technology more affordable and less dominated by industry, sharing his expertise at a short course at UCSC sponsored by the multicampus California Institute for Quantitative Biomedical Research.

“When he’s not making marvelous lifesaving discoveries or accepting prestigious awards, DeRisi’s main career goal is the search for a cure for malaria,” wrote alumna Joan Fitting Scott (Stevenson College, ’69, sociology) in nominating DeRisi for the award. “DeRisi is embarked on a noble adventure.”

Founding faculty member Gary Griggs’s popular oceanography class ”has been introducing students to science and conservation issues in an engaging, thoughtful, and clear manner for almost four decades,” noted his department chair, Paul Koch, professor of Earth and planetary sciences. Despite his administrative duties as director of the Institute of Marine Sciences for 15 years, Griggs has always chosen to carry a full teaching load, probably reaching more than 10,000 students.

One of Griggs’s many success stories is former astronaut and UCSC alumna Kathryn Sullivan, the first American woman to walk in space. A linguistics major at the time she reluctantly signed up for Griggs’s oceanography course to fulfill a science requirement, the course proved to be a turning point, and she went on to earn a Ph.D. in geology. (See earlier Currents article)

Griggs has played a key role in building the Institute of Marine Sciences and Long Marine Laboratory into major centers for marine research on California’s Central Coast, which have drawn high-powered research groups including the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Geological Survey. He has also had a major impact on educating the public and schoolchildren on marine issues through the Seymour Marine Discovery Center, which opened in 2000 under his leadership.

In her career as academic preceptor at Cowell College, Lynne Wolcott's commitment to students and her mentoring of colleagues were renowned. Some former students doubt they would have graduated from UCSC without Wolcott; her assistance goes well beyond monitoring students' success and helping them navigate the intricacies of course schedules and requirements. One alumna recalled a "very hungry winter," when Wolcott did everything in her power to get the student financial aid, then took her to the Cowell Coffee Shop and got her three days' worth of food, since the aid wouldn't arrive right away.

Carol Freeman, who has served as Cowell provost, described Wolcott as having “the perfect balance between concern and common sense, justice and mercy, empathy and rigor.” Alumnus Addi Somekh witnessed that approach firsthand when he made “a dumb mistake” as a freshman that could have gotten him thrown out of UCSC. Instead, Wolcott got him back on track. Somekh later wrote and published a book with founding Cowell College faculty member Mary Holmes.

Wolcott, who came to UCSC in 1981, “so far exceeds the requirements of her job description,” wrote Cowell coprovosts Deanna Shemek and Tyrus Miller, “that occasionally we are left in wonder that she really is only one person.” In October, Wolcott was promoted to coordinator of academic advising, a position in which she applies her expertise and firsthand experience to coordinating all aspects of UCSC academic advising programs.

In addition to the awards for DeRisi, Griggs, and Wolcott, student winners of awards funded by the Alumni Association will be recognized at the February 3 luncheon. The awards luncheon is open to the public; tickets are $18 each. The RSVP deadline is January 26, with early reservations encouraged because seating is limited. Call (831) 459-2530, (800) 933-SLUG, or go online.


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