An Advocate for Women in Her Field: Biology Professor Honored by Scientific Community

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

In recognition of her “meritorious contributions to advance science or its applications,” Anne Dranginis, Ph.D., professor of biological sciences, has been named a fellow by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), an international scientific organization dedicated to promoting scientific research worldwide. Dranginis is the second St. John’s faculty member to receive this honor.

 “Our department is very proud that Dr. Dranginis is being recognized by the scientific community,” said Ales Vancura, Ph.D., professor and chair, department of biology.  “As one of the founding members of the Women in Science Society at St. John’s, she has helped advance the careers of women students in the sciences. She has also mentored many undergraduate and graduate students who have gone on to successful careers in academic institutions or in research.”

Dranginis traces her interest in molecular biology to her childhood in Ohio, where she and her mother spent many hours roaming in a local forest. “My mother taught me how to take care of injured animals,” she said. “I decided then that I wanted to dedicate myself to understanding how life works and use this knowledge to seek cures for disease.”

After majoring in zoology in college and pursuing doctoral studies in cellular and molecular biology, Dranginis spent eight years as a senior staff fellow at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Her work involved using yeast as a model organism for studying biological cell interactions.

Joining St. John’s in 1992 to teach and run a laboratory for the Department of Biological Sciences, Dranginis was also offered an endowed Clare Boothe Luce Professorship.  “I was impressed by the sizeable number of women faculty members in the sciences and by how many had research grants,” she said. “I didn’t see women in my field being treated this way elsewhere.”

In the 22 years she has been at St. John’s, Dranginis has received a large number of competitive grants, including some promoting science education for minorities. One of her proudest achievements here, she said, was sharing a US Department of Education grant with Elise Megehee, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry.  It funded a summer science camp program at the Oakdale campus that encouraged high school students to major in the sciences.

St. John’s has recognized Dranginis’ efforts with the Outstanding Faculty Achievement Medal and the Excellence in Teaching and Scholarship Award, which is given to one graduate-level professor a year. She also was named the Faculty Researcher of the Year in 1999.

“What I learned from Dr. Dranginis goes far beyond science,” said Li Li ’06Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. “She helped me realize that women can do anything if they have knowledge, a solid grasp of the material, and the proper tools.” Sung Su Lee ’11Ph.D., who is a postdoctoral fellow researching Parkinson’s disease, added that Dranginis taught him to troubleshoot, “a critical ability for someone pursuing research in my field.”

 “I am overwhelmed by the recognition I have received from my students and my peers at AAAS,” said Dranginis.  “One of the greatest joys of being part of the scientific community is that we value each other’s contributions.”