WMU News

Ide and Means named Gwen Frostic professors

May 20, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- Two environmental researchers at Western Michigan University have been named to professorships created through a major bequest from one of the University's best-known alumni--artist and naturalist Gwen Frostic.

Dr. Charles F. Ide, has been named the Gwen Frostic Professor of Environmental Biology. A specialist in developmental and environmental neurobiology, Ide is director of WMU's Environmental Institute and the Great Lakes Center for Environmental and Molecular Sciences.

Dr. Jay C. Means has been named the Gwen Frostic Professor of Environmental Chemistry and Toxicology. A professor of both chemistry and biology, Means specializes in environmental contamination issues.

Ide and Means were appointed to the two new positions that were created with part of a 2001 bequest to the University by Frostic, a WMU alumna and internationally known artist who died in April of 2001.

Frostic's $13 million gift is the largest in WMU's history and carries no restrictions. The University has opted to use the majority of the funds for a series of projects and endowments that reflect Frostic's achievements; her love of art, nature and writing; and her dedication to education. Among those endowments is one used to create endowed professorships in the area of environmental studies.

"Gwen Frostic had a deep love for our state and a commitment to Michigan's natural environment," says WMU Interim President Daniel M. Litynski. "Her interests have been foremost in our minds as we selected Chuck Ide and Jay Means for these positions. Their work is focused on understanding the impact of environmental problems and finding ways to remediate them."

WMU's named professorship program, which was initiated in 1997, is designed to reward faculty members for outstanding performance in research and teaching with three-year appointments that include an annual stipend of $12,500 to augment their salaries and offset professional expenditures. Each professorship is named to honor a donor whose exceptional generosity has made the position possible.

Ide says the professorship will allow him more time to focus on the current work of the Great Lakes Center, and in particular on a Dynamic Decision Support System being developed in collaboration with Altarum, a Michigan-based nonprofit research institute. Ide is focusing on integrating human genome-based health risk assessment data into the system, which is designed to help environmental policy-makers have access to data that will allow them to make informed environmental decisions. In addition, he plans to launch some writing projects that focus on his genome-based environmental research.

"I'll also be working extensively with undergraduate and graduate researchers to help provide them with the training and research experiences that will give them a solid basis for careers in environmental research and decision making," Ide says.

Ide came to WMU in 1998 from Tulane University, where he served as associate director of Tulane's Xavier Center for Bioenvironmental Research. His career also has included research positions with the state of Louisiana and the UCLA School of Medicine, as well as teaching and research positions at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Oregon. He earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Oregon and master's and doctoral degrees from Princeton University.

According to Means, terms of the professorship, which include a reduced teaching load, means he will be able to devote time to a number of research initiatives that he has under way. Those include a large-scale field study of test organisms' molecular and genetic responses to environmental pollutants.

"I was both surprised and honored by this appointment," says Means, who stepped down from his position as chairperson of the Department of Chemistry last fall to devote more time to his research. This will allow me time to focus on some research projects that have been in development and are now at a point where they can move rapidly forward."

Means came to WMU in 1997 to head the Department of Chemistry, a role he continued in until October 2002. In addition, he serves as associate director of the University's Environmental Institute and of the new Great Lakes Center for Environmental and Molecular Sciences, which was established last fall with a $2.7 million award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Before coming to WMU, he was a faculty member of the School of Veterinary Medicine at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Means also has held visiting appointments at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, the National Science Foundation/National Bureau of Standards, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. He earned bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Illinois and a second master's degree from Concordia University in Illinois.

Since coming to WMU, a major focus for both scientists has been the Kalamazoo River watershed, a U.S. Superfund site. Their research focus has been on how such river contaminants as PCBs affect the organisms--including humans-- that live in and around the river.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 269 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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