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Professor Saha Wins Virginia's Top Award

Professor Margaret SahaProfessor Margaret Saha is among three W&M faculty members receiving the Commonwealth of Virginia's highest honor for professors.

Melvin Patrick Ely, the Newton Family Professor of History at the College; David Lutzer, Chancellor Professor of Mathematics; and Margaret Saha, Class of 2008 Professor of Biology, were among 15 statewide recipients of the 2006 Virginia Outstanding Faculty Awards. The awards are administered by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV).

"We're proud beyond ready description to know that SCHEV and the Commonwealth share our extraordinarily high opinion of Mel, David, and Margaret," said William and Mary President Gene R. Nichol. "Like the many Outstanding Faculty winners from years past, they are the very heart of our College."

William and Mary is one of two institutions in the state to have three faculty members recognized. Since the annual awards program began 20 years ago, 29 faculty members at William and Mary have received the honor - the most of any college or university in the state.

"All three of these individuals - Mel Ely, David Lutzer and Margaret Saha - represent the very best of what our faculty offer this campus and our students," said Provost P. Geoffrey Feiss. "They are dedicated teachers and mentors, as well as committed researchers and scholars. And, I am pleased to add, each of these faculty members has contributed in substantive and important ways to faculty governance and outreach to the citizens of the Commonwealth. They are truly the reason why William and Mary is such a special place."

The Virginia General Assembly and governor created the awards in 1986. Since the first presentation in 1987, 232 faculty members in Virginia's colleges and universities have been honored. This year, 15 faculty members from across the state were selected from a competitive pool of nearly 90 candidates who were nominated by their peers at Virginia's colleges. Statewide, there are roughly 11,000 full-time faculty members. Winners of the award must demonstrate a record of "superior accomplishments in teaching, research and public service." The recipients were honored Thursday evening during a ceremony with Gov. Timothy M. Kaine.

Margaret Saha is demonstrably one of the most productive teachers and researchers on any college campus in the United States. She is a 1995 recipient of the National Science Foundation Presidential Faculty Fellowship, an honor bestowed on only 20 researchers each year. In her 12 years at William and Mary, she has been an author of 36 papers in well-respected journals and has secured $1.2 million in research grants on which she was the sole principal investigator. In addition, Saha was co-principal investigator on many more grants, including a Commonwealth Technology Research Fund grant, "Bringing the Future of Bioinformatics to Virginia."

A developmental neurobiologist, Professor Saha's research centers around the question of how cells acquire their specificity and regional identity during early vertebrate embryonic identity. Her labs have probed a number of interrelated areas of investigation: patterning of the early vertebrate nervous system, development of vasculature and in vivo imaging of biologically important molecules.

Her contributions as a teacher and mentor rival her successes in the lab. She has taught an array of courses, ranging from large undergraduate lecture and lab-based classes to advanced, specialized graduate-level work. An innovator in the classroom, she has introduced students at the most elementary levels to the most advanced techniques. For example, Saha developed an exercise for freshmen in which each student isolates his or her DNA, amplifies it using the polymerase chain reaction, sequences the fragment and analyzes it using the most current bioinformatics approaches. The curriculum in the biology department has benefited from two consecutive $1.6-million Howard Hughes Medical Institute Undergraduate Science Education grants, for which she serves as author and program director.

Saha's hallmarks are the blending of teaching with research and employing other disciplines to enhance biology. Since 1993, she has mentored 10 undergraduate co-authors and 22 undergraduates who have presented work at scientific meetings.

This is part of a larger article that appeared in W&M News, Feb. 24, 2006.