University professors awarded Outstanding Faculty Award

State Council of Higher Education for Virginia honors Petri, Columbus


Two University professors were selected last week as recipients of the Outstanding Faculty Award, given annually by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. Assoc. Chemistry Prof. Linda Columbus and Medical Prof. William Petri were among 12 faculty selected from a pool of 115 applicants from across the state.

Petri, who researches infectious diseases, has long-standing ties to the University as a 1982 Medical School graduate who joined the faculty in 1988.

“I came back here to [look at] infectious diseases because I felt that there was no better place in the United States to study [them],” Petri said. “I still feel that way now.”

The majority of Petri’s work and research is done in Bangladesh, where he will return after accepting the award.

Columbus, who was one of two recipients distinguished as a “rising star,” also works with infectious diseases. She joined the University faculty in 2007 and soon after began teaching, something she said she especially enjoys. Columbus now works with the American Chemical Society helping faculty improve effectiveness in classroom teaching.

Columbus said she appreciates the publicity that comes with award, especially as a female scientist.

“Being a woman in science, it means a lot to the people that I mentor and teach … can see that women can and do excel in science,” she said.

Columbus said she was happy to be acknowledged along with Petri, given his long-term success in the fields of medicine and infectious disease.

“I’m honored, and I can only hope that my award as a rising star [leads to a] trajectory that is even close to his,” Columbus said.

Petri said he was very excited to share the recognition with someone who does research in his field.

Despite both working with infectious diseases, Petri and Columbus have yet to work together, though they both hope winning this award will lead to future collaboration.

Petri and Columbus were first nominated by Provost John Simon before selection. Petri said the University annually nominates a handful of faculty, representing several different schools, based on a comprehensive measure of their achievement.

After receiving the nomination last summer, the candidates filled out an extensive application which touched on teaching, mentoring and service. They were notified of their selection in December.

“I found out right before the holidays, but they have this strict embargo, so the only person I told about the award was my wife,” Petri said.

All winners received $5,000 and will be recognized for their work during a Feb. 20 ceremony in Richmond. Petri used the prize money to treat his lab workers to dinner, and Columbus took her lab workers on a ski trip.

“When I earned tenure, I didn’t do that by myself,” Columbus said. “I rely on many people in my lab and … [it] was really great that I could do that and acknowledge their contribution.”

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