People

Scientific Collaborators Pair Up to Lead Scripps Research Institute

January 17, 2016

John Dole
Steve A. Kay (left) and Peter G. Schultz
Shared Leadership

Federal funds remain the lifeblood of organizations like the Scripps Research Institute, but those dollars are dwindling, so "all of us need to be developing new models for financial security to support basic research and translate it to the clinic," says Steve A. Kay.

Mr. Kay, since November the president of Scripps, has come to the organization’s campus in La Jolla, Calif., after three years as dean of letters, arts, and sciences at the University of Southern California.

Earlier, at Scripps for 11 years, he conducted genetic studies of circadian rhythms. Now he wants to do what many independent research institutes must: move to what he calls a "much less NIH-dependent model."

In an unusual arrangement, he is sharing Scripps’s leadership with Peter G. Schultz, a Scripps chemist who in September became the institute’s chief executive. The two scientists have collaborated often in the past, particularly in establishing the Genomics Institute that Mr. Schultz founded in 1999 at the Novartis Research Foundation to translate research into medications.

"We have overlapping and complementary skills," says Mr. Kay. Together they are trying "to make a really clear case to the philanthropic community about what’s different with our institute."

Increasingly, what will make Scripps distinctive with be collaborations with such partners as Calibr, the nonprofit California Institute for Biomedical Research that Mr. Schultz formed in 2012. Mr. Kay says that marrying Scripps’s "brain trust across many areas of biomedical research" with Calibr’s proven "pipeline-based drug discovery" would create "a bench-to-bedside model for delivering medicines for unmet needs." He explains: "What we really want is to take our scientists’ discoveries further down the value chain."

He is confident that philanthropists in California and elsewhere will embrace that approach, and that Scripps researchers will, too. Unrest at the institute has waned since mid-2014, when faculty members denounced administrators’ plan to make Scripps a unit of the University of Southern California.

Mr. Kay, who was not involved in those negotiations, says Scripps researchers are intent on retaining aspects of the institute’s approach that have allowed them to excel in basic biomedical research. The institute will be judicious about any collaborations it forms, he says, even though, "of course, we’re going to be looking for partners that can enable our clinical interests." — Peter Monaghan

Cathy Spatz Widom
Violence and Its Roots

Though Cathy Spatz Widom has published more than 100 scholarly articles and won numerous research honors, she says she was "totally shocked" when she was chosen as a winner of the 2016 Stockholm Prize in Criminology, among the most prestigious international awards in the field.

Ms. Widom, a psychology professor at the City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, is best known for questioning how the "cycle of violence" theory — that violence begets violence — applies to abused and neglected children.

She shares the prize with Travis Warren Hirschi, an emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Arizona, and Per-Olof Wikström, a professor of ecological and developmental criminology at the University of Cambridge, who were recognized for separate studies.

Ms. Widom’s research covers the long-term consequences of child abuse and neglect. Back in the 1980s, she says, "the belief was that abuse and neglect led to delinquency, crime, and violence — that there was this overwhelming association." But she saw flaws in the methodology used in previous studies.

She and her research team used archival data to identify a group of abused and neglected children from a Midwestern metropolitan area, as well as a control group. Then they looked at their subjects’ arrest histories to try to determine whether childhood abuse and neglect correlated with a high likelihood of violent activity. They found only a small increased risk. The findings suggested that children with such backgrounds are affected by abuse in more-nuanced ways — emotionally, for instance.

That study became the first of several waves of research concentrating on the same group of individuals. Ms. Widom and her colleagues conducted their most recent interviews in 2009, when the subjects were middle-aged, and found that those who had been neglected or abused as children were also more likely to neglect their own children, though there was no increased risk of physical abuse.

She hopes to write a book that will illustrate the consequences of childhood abuse and neglect over a life span. "Ultimately," Ms. Widom says, "we want to learn more about what makes the difference in the lives of children who don’t succumb, who do appear more resilient." — Sarah Brown

Kelly LaChance (center), with her daughters Amber Ball (left) and Ada Ball
Tribal Support for Ph.D.s

Kelly LaChance has spent most of her life working to enhance the educational experiences and outcomes of American Indian students. Now her tribe has promised to do the same for her.

Ms. LaChance, a doctoral student in educational leadership at the University of Oregon since last summer and a member of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, is the first recipient of the Future Stewards Program grant. The award is a joint effort by the university and the nine federally recognized tribes of Oregon to help American Indian students earn advanced degrees and develop skills and knowledge to bring back to their communities.

The university’s Graduate School will cover two years of her tuition, and her tribe will pay her student fees and health insurance, along with a stipend.

The award will make a difference for her, and "it helps the university’s relationship with the tribes," she says.

Ms. LaChance, who has a master’s degree in education, has worked at the university since 2013 as assistant project director of the Sapsik’walá (Teacher) Education Project, which prepares American Indian and Alaska Native teachers to better meet their communities’ learning needs. She plans to continue her work in Indian education, focusing on increasing the number and effectiveness of federal and state efforts designed to preserve Indian culture in the classroom.

Historically, American Indian and Alaska Native students have been underrepresented at all levels of higher education. Only 109 American Indians or Alaska Natives earned Ph.D.s in the United States in 2014, according to the Survey of Earned Doctorates, 20 fewer than in 2004. Not only does Ms. LaChance want to increase the number of opportunities for those students through her work, she says; she also wants to improve their experiences along the way.

"I want them to be secure in their identity, their culture and language, and continue to grow and be successful in society," she says. Or, better yet, "have them go back and work for their tribes."— Sydni Dunn

An About-Face

In mid-December, Pennsylvania State University-Beaver announced that its next chancellor would be Lillian Schumacher, vice president for academic affairs at Tiffin University, in Ohio. She was supposed to start in February. But it was not to be.

Tiffin’s Board of Trustees named Ms. Schumacher this month as its interim president, following the resignation of Curtis B. Charles after just six months in the job.

Ms. Schumacher said in a written statement that she had been "ready and excited to start another chapter in my academic career, all the while feeling a bit torn about leaving because my heart is with" Tiffin. She said her belief in the university and its faculty, staff, and students made her decide to stay.

Officials on the Beaver campus said in an online news brief that the appointee would not take the job after all, because of "unforeseen personal circumstances." The university has not had a permanent chief since mid-2014, when Gary B. Keefer retired. Its search for a chancellor has been resumed. — Ruth Hammond

Obituary: Composer With a Cause

Elizabeth Swados, an arts professor in the drama department at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and a well-known composer, writer, and director, died on January 5 following complications of surgery for esophageal cancer. She was 64.

She joined the Tisch School in 2004, when the university was struggling to cope with a rash of suicides. In response she created a student-acted production, The Reality Show, which has been a required part of university orientation since 2005, Allyson Green, Tisch’s dean, wrote in a remembrance.

Among Ms. Swados’s many works are the 1978 musical Runaways and the picture book My Depression, whose animated film version appeared on HBO last summer. — Ruth Hammond

Read more about people in Gazette. Submit news to people@chronicle.com.


Questions or concerns about this article? Email us or submit a letter to the editor.