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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

LILLY'S TEACHING HAS FAR REACHING EFFECTS

Photo of Dr. Walt Lily

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Oct. 4, 2002 - Each year Southeast Missouri State University presents the Faculty Merit Award to a professor who has shown excellence in the field of teaching; this year's award will be presented to Dr. Walt Lilly, a biology professor whose success has been reflected in the achievements of his former students throughout the past two decades.

Lilly will be presented with the award during Homecoming festivities Oct. 18.

Lilly along with his colleague and research collaborator Dr. Allen Gathman, professor of biology, have made a far-reaching impact on their students. Former students who were active in their fungal biology laboratory at Southeast are now research scientists at Eli Lilly, Pharmacia/Monsanto, the Danforth Center, Washington University and Genome Systems and other major biotechnology firms. Some are doctoral students at Baylor University, the University of Wisconsin, University of Toronto, Purdue University, the University of Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M and Ohio State; and even a law school student at the University of Minnesota. Others have or are seeking MD's at the University of Missouri, the University of Colorado and Baylor University, and are genetic counselors at Genzyme and Alfigen.

Their former students have completed Ph.D. degrees at Oxford University-England, SUNY-Syracuse, the University of Nebraska, the University of California-Irvine, Texas A&M, the University of Kentucky, the University of Texas-San Antonio and the University of Illinois. Still others are now teaching at University of California-Irvine, John Hopkins University, the University of Notre Dame, Baylor University and the University of California-Sacramento. One heads the Microbiology National Naval Medical Lab, another is the director of Medicago (alfalfa) Genome Group at the Park S. Noble Foundation, and another is the coordinator of the State of New York's Ornamentals Integrated Pest Management program.

"All I do is give them the opportunity and resources to show they can do science and give them the best advice I can," Lilly said. "They all embarrass me when they talk about the role they say I have played in their success."

Lilly, who downplays the integral role he plays as a mentor, says the greatest compliment he has received is from a former student now teaching in California. That student said she accepted a mentoring role, and teaches a course in mentoring, as part of her faculty duties because Lilly demonstrated to her how important it can be.

Lilly became a Southeast faculty member in the Department of Biology in 1982 after receiving a doctoral degree in botany from the University of Minnesota. In that year, he opened an interactive research laboratory to guide his studies in fungal biology, which is still running under the collaborative leadership of Lilly and Gathman. This laboratory has since been open to undergraduate and graduate biology students interested in learning through hands on experience. Together, Lilly and Gathman have attracted more than $600,000 in grant funds to support the research of their students. In addition to his own work in the laboratory and teaching classes, Lilly has directed over 40 undergraduate student research projects, 10 masters students' thesis research projects and has co-authored 19 professional journal articles with students. He also serves as the University's radiation safety officer.

"I think you have a much greater opportunity to serve students in a teaching/research environment like we have at Southeast", said Lilly. "Students who come to work in our lab do so because of a sincere interest and curiosity about biological processes. They come to us looking for research experience, and we try to give them an experience that is as much like the real world of their future as we can."

Many of the students who have worked in the laboratory have left Southeast with experiences that have given them opportunities across the country. The experiential learning found in Lilly's laboratory has led them in their individual successes.

"The laboratory was a wonderful atmosphere to be in because I had a great time interacting with funny, intelligent, diverse people while learning about the intricacies of science. While working in his laboratory, I became captivated with scientific research and I wanted to continue on that path and explore teaching as well. I realize that Walt gave me, through his teaching in the classroom as well as in the lab, an excellent base of knowledge to build from, and I was very well prepared for graduate school," said Jaime Hearnes, a former student of Lilly's who is currently in her fourth year of graduate school in the Biochemistry Department at Vanderbilt University.

Jerry Wallweber, a senior scientist at Aclara Biosciences, said, "I got my bachelor of science in biology in 1986 and my master's degree in 1989. Immediately, I was able to see what Dr. Lilly gave me. I was accepted into a major research program in a well-known laboratory. After each of my accomplishments, I wanted to thank him for laying such a solid foundation from which I could build."

Lilly thrives on his interaction with students. One of his goals in the classroom is to tear down the barrier that isolates teachers from their students and let his students know that he is just like them, he said.

"Walt is a positive role model for me for many reasons," Hearnes said. "He cares about people and the community and is constantly finding ways to get involved to make things better. He is funny and he brings out the best in everyone around him, especially his students. He is an inspiring mentor and teacher, and he is a life-long learner."

Lilly, however, is slow to take credit for his own success. "I would measure my success on the basis of what my student successes have been. Their careers and lives are the best I can show for my success," he said. "A lot of the success over the years is based on the fact that there have been some really great students. All I do is give them the opportunity to show what they can do."

 

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