It’s always a great day when we see our faculty being recognized for all of their hard work. Our entire department celebrates with them in their accomplishments! Dr. Dave Peterson received this years Dean’s Outstanding Achievement Award in Administration and Dr. James (Jim) Hu received the Educational Enrichment and Innovation Award.
Dr. Peterson has been our Associate Head for Undergraduate Programs for 9 years and previously served as Associate Head for Graduate Programs for 5 years. And if those numbers don’t blow you away, how about 35 years of service at Texas A&M University. Wow, impressive! Dr. Peterson has led the undergraduate program through two major transition in the last few years. He led the Undergraduate Program Committee in comprehensively reviewing and revising the Biochemistry and Genetics Undergraduate degree plans. This was a major undertaking, since the degree plan had not been reviewed or updated in over 20 years. Needless to say, this transition took a calm, rational, and friendly leader to get this accomplished and Dr. Peterson did it in stride. Dr. Peterson also recently secured accreditation of our biochemistry degree plan from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB). Now Texas A&M is one of only 38 universities to successfully receive this recognition. Dr. Peterson is quick to listen and to synthesize a broad range of opinions among the faculty and at the same time gets the job done in timely and effective manner. Dr. Peterson is simply a superb administrative leader who exemplifies selfless service every day and is highly deserving for being recognized for this year’s Dean Outstanding Award in Administration.
Dr. Jim Hu has been a member of the department since 1992. He has developed several course over this time period but his most innovative class was the creation of the Community Assessment of Community Annotation with Ontologies (CACAO). This course merges an unmet educational goal with an important research goal: teaching students to critically evaluate scientific literature by accurately annotating the functions of genes and proteins. Sequencing genomic DNA is rapid and automated, but is separated from he determination of protein and gene functions, which requires experimental analysis of individual genes and proteins. In order for genome sequences to be useful, they need to be annotated with known experimental information. Automated methods to annotate gene functions are inaccurate for a variety of reasons, so it is essential to have human curators evaluate functional annotations. Because there is a vast amount of literature and a relatively small number organizations with funding for professional curators, Dr. Hu designed a course that would employ undergraduates as biocurators, who scour scientific literature to annotate the functions of proteins using a defined set of terms called the Gene Ontology (GO) which has become the standard method for describing protein and gene functions in biology. Dr. Hu took this idea a step further. Instead of merely having undergraduates research topics of interest and provide the proper GO annotations, Dr. Hu set the course up as a competition. Student are divided into small teams, and they compete to see who can produce the highest quantity and quality annotations. Competition provides as extra incentive to the students. As a further step, Dr. Hu has exported the CACAO course to other universities, so that TAMU students compete with student at University College London, Swarthmore College, and many others. CACAO competitions have been held at 15 universities to date. The annotation supplied be each team are peer-reviewed by other teams and ultimately verified by experienced undergraduates, graduate students, postdoc, or instructors. Verified annotation are added to publicly accessible databases. Thus, the student make a concrete and substantial contribution to the scientific community. Other faculty clearly see this as a great model and hopes that it will inspire innovative learning experiences for future undergraduates. Dr. Hu is highly deserving for being recognized as this years Dean’s Outstanding Award for Educational Enrichment and Innovation.
We are extremely grateful to Dr. Peterson and Dr. Hu who continue to enhance the mission and goals of the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics and the College of Agriculture and Life Science. They both have made a huge impact on supporting the education of our undergraduate students and promoting excellence in academics at Texas A&M University.