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Noted biochemist elevated to dean of UTHSCSA Graduate School

Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., president of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA), today announced the appointment of Merle S. Olson, Ph.D., as dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. Dr. Olson has served as professor and chairman of the UTHSCSA Department of Biochemistry since 1983.

The Graduate School is the unquestioned center of basic biomedical research in South Texas. No other institution in the region comes close in the amount of peer-reviewed grant funding received for basic science research. The school, building on a long track record of success in attracting fiercely competitive federal dollars, showed a 26 percent increase in grant funding during the past year alone. Funding increased from $36,282,000 in Fiscal Year 2000 to $43,138,000 in FY 2001.

Dr. Olson succeeds Sanford A. Miller, Ph.D., who retired in December 2000. He emerged as the top candidate after an extensive national search. "I applaud this exceptionally skilled scientist, educator and administrator for accepting the challenge to lead our Graduate School into a new era of unparalleled growth in research and excellence in teaching," President Cigarroa said.

A Ph.D. graduate of the University of Minnesota in 1966, Dr. Olson is only the third dean of the Graduate School, following distinguished predecessors Armand J. Guarino, Ph.D., 1972-1986, and Dr. Miller, 1987-2000.

"San Antonio has achieved enormous success in initiating nationally competitive research and training programs," Dr. Olson said. "Graduate School scientists have contributed many important findings published in the very best international journals. Our faculty are responsible for initiating outstanding basic research programs conducted in laboratories at the Health Science Center."

The Graduate School offers eight different Doctor of Philosophy programs in the fields of biochemistry, cellular and structural biology, microbiology, molecular medicine, nursing, pharmacology, physiology and radiological sciences. "We have trained 422 top-notch research scientists at this institution since 1972 when the Graduate School was formed," Dean Olson said, "including many who have made significant contributions in their various research areas."

A Ph.D. in a basic science is one of the most difficult degrees to obtain; candidates generally require five to six years to complete a Ph.D. program, including dissertation preparation and defense. "Our graduates have become leaders in institutions and private sector research organizations around the country and are distinguished in their contributions of new knowledge in several areas of bioscience," the dean said.

His plans call for the Graduate School to continue its tradition of excellence and to become more interdisciplinary by collaborating closely with faculty in the Health Science Center's medical, dental, nursing and allied health schools.

Meanwhile, the public awaits word of new discoveries, often without understanding the incremental nature of science. "Discovery in the basic sciences often is not easily explained or appreciated," Dean Olson said. "Occasionally someone makes a very newsworthy experimental breakthrough, but most of the time scientists work diligently out of the public limelight. Yet every experiment, every observation produces the fundamental understandings that serve as the basis of future progress in biomedical science."

Contact: Will Sansom