Vol 7. Issue 17 / May 21, 2007

Scripps Research Holds 15th Commencement

By Mika Ono

In a joyful ceremony Friday, May 18, The Scripps Research Institute celebrated its 15th commencement, graduating 27 Ph.D. students—among them the first from Scripps Florida. Speaking at the event was University of California, San Diego (UCSD) Chancellor Marye Anne Fox, who also received an honorary degree.

Top Ranked Program

After a colorful procession of students and faculty across the ocean-side La Jolla, California campus, Scripps Research President Richard Lerner offered welcoming remarks and Professor Jeffery Kelly, dean of graduate studies, spoke about the Scripps Research Kellogg School of Science and Technology, emphasizing its reputation for excellence.

Kelly noted that, from its inception, the Scripps Research program was able to attract the very best students because of the power of its mission—to train the next generation of scientists as individuals capable of bringing together the principles of various scientific disciplines, in Kelly's words, "the skill set required to solve the complex problems of today and especially tomorrow."

The continuing quality of the program is confirmed by stellar rankings from various organizations, including U.S. News & World Report, which last month released its latest report on the nation's graduate schools. The publication again ranked the Kellogg School among the top ten programs in both biology and chemistry. (The Scripps Research program was ranked sixth overall in the country for chemistry, with the specialties of biochemistry and organic chemistry also each ranking sixth; the program was ranked seventh in the nation for biological sciences, with specialties of cell biology ranked 15th, and molecular biology, 12th, respectively.)

Compared to other prestigious graduate programs, the Kellogg School is a young upstart, having opened its doors in 1989. Since then, the Kellogg School program has expanded greatly in both size and reputation. The Kellogg School currently trains more than 225 doctoral students, who attend classes, complete lab rotations, and write a dissertation that offers an original contribution to their field. The school can now boast of 279 accomplished alumni, including the 2007 graduates.

"It is important to note that many of the major scientific discoveries that come out of this institute are work of graduate students—something that makes us feel enormously proud," said Kelly. "Extraordinary quality... is the standard and hallmark of this program."

A Florida First

Now, those affiliated with the Kellogg School can also be proud of the accomplishments of students from the program's Palm Beach County, Florida branch. Porino Va—the first graduate from Scripps Florida—was among those taking part in the 2007 commencement ceremony.

"The first student to complete the requirements for the Ph. D. degree at Scripps Florida… is a milestone event for Scripps Florida and the Kellogg School of Science and Technology," noted William Roush, professor, executive director of Medicinal Chemistry, and associate dean for Florida graduate studies. "This could not have happened without the superb efforts and strong commitment of Jeff Kelly, [Graduate Program Administrator] Marylyn Rinaldi, and all other members of the Kellogg School staff over the past two years to establish a top tier graduate program on the Jupiter campus."

The establishment of graduate education at Scripps Florida has been a key goal for the graduate program and for Scripps Flordia. In 2005, several students (including Va) transferred to Scripps Florida from the University of Michigan with Roush's lab. In 2006, the Kellogg School accepted its first new student to the Florida campus. And, in the fall of 2007, two new students are scheduled to begin graduate studies in Florida.

Va, who completed his dissertation on the stereocontrolled total synthesis of amphidinolide E and three additional amphidinolide stereoisomers, is delighted with his decision to complete doctoral work at Scripps Florida.

"I feel very fortunate to have the honor of being Professor Roush's first Scripps Florida Ph.D. graduate," he said in the days leading up to graduation. "The facilities and the science being conducted at Scripps Florida are truly world-class. It is really exciting to be a part of the genesis of a new research institution and I am certain that a few years from now, Scripps Florida will be even more recognizable for its novel discoveries in science."

After graduation, Va will go on to postdoctoral studies in the laboratory of Scripps Research Professor Dale Boger.

The Importance of Collaboration

As the ceremony continued, Fox—a physical organic chemist who is UCSD's seventh chancellor and the first woman to be permanent chancellor of that institution—stepped up to the podium to congratulate the graduates and address the audience.

"You are a very diverse graduating class," she said to the graduates. "You are from all over the United States and abroad, including Germany, China, Canada, Korea, Taiwan, and Switzerland. Before arriving at [Scripps Research], you studied at MIT, Peking University, and Penn State, among other elite institutions. But something brought all of you together here—your love of science."

Fox went on to stress the importance of collaboration in the sciences, which brings together the unique strengths of different individuals. "That's one of the reasons we've made so much progress in the science field in the last few decades… Collaboration is the key to our innovative, international center for science and technology on the mesa, which counts [Scripps Research] and UCSD as two of its leading institutions.

Fox also spoke about the importance of taking risks. "Failure is not the opposite of success," she said, advising the graduates to try new things, not avoiding failure, but rather ensuring the survival of the exceptional.

Before Fox was named UCSD chancellor in 2004, she was a distinguished university professor of chemistry at North Carolina State University, a post she had held since 1998. Prior to going to North Carolina, Fox spent 22 years at the University of Texas, where she advanced from assistant professor of organic chemistry to vice president for research and held the Waggoner Regents Chair in chemistry.

Fox, who has a bachelor's degree from Notre Dame College, a master's degree from Cleveland State University, and a Ph.D. from Dartmouth College, has held over 50 endowed lectureships at universities around the world. She has also served as visiting professor at Harvard University, the University of Iowa, the University of Chicago, the Universite Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris, and the Chemistry Research Promotion Center in Taipei. Fox is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and an elected member of the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

As part of the commencement ceremony, Fox was awarded yet another honor—an honorary doctorate of science from Scripps Research.

Celebrating Accomplishments

After Fox finished her address, the graduating students' advisors stepped up to the stage to speak about each graduating student and his or her scientific and personal accomplishments. Dissertations from this year's class included such topics as a novel approach to combating antibiotic resistance, functional and pathological amyloid in humans, and the exploration of stem cell biology with chemical tools.

Audience members—who included graduating students' mentors, friends, and family (some of whom had flown in to Southern California from as far away as Japan and Korea for the event), as well as Scripps Research faculty, students, staff, trustees, and benefactors—applauded long and loud in recognition of the graduates' hard work, determination, and skill.

Kellogg School graduates go on to work in both academia and industry. Members of this year's class will hold positions at institutions including: McKinsey & Co., Merck & Co., Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Columbia University, Washington University, Korea Institute of Science and Technology, Dynavax Technologies, Achaogen, and Harvard University.

As the commencement ceremony drew to a close, Lerner turned to the Kellogg School students and granted their hard-won degrees: "As candidates for the degree of doctor of philosophy, you have submitted yourselves to the traditional disciplines that become the scholar in the pursuit of knowledge and have proved yourselves worthy of this high calling....

"You may now move the tassel to the left side of your mortarboard."

Congratulations, Class of 2007!


Send comments to: mikaono[at]scripps.edu





A joyful ceremony. Click for slideshow.