Cal State Fullerton Professor Selected for Prestigious Wang Award Biochemist Maria Linder Praised by President, Colleagues, Students
Maria Linder, a 30-year faculty member at California State University, Fullerton, chair of the university’s Chemistry and Biochemistry Department, winner of nearly 20 major awards and fellowships, and author or co-author of more than 120 published articles, has been selected to receive the California State University system’s prestigious Wang Family Excellence Award.
She will be recognized Thursday by the CSUF Academic Senate for the honor.
Only four faculty professors from the entire 23-campus CSU — the nation’s largest university system — are chosen annually from among the CSU’s 23,000 faculty members to receive the Wang Award.
The award was established in 1998 by CSU Trustee Stanley T. Wang to recognize those who have distinguished themselves by their contributions in their academic disciplines and are having a discernable effect on students.
“I’m so happy that she won the award,” said Cal State Fullerton President Milton A. Gordon. “She has been an outstanding faculty member every year she’s been here. Maria Linder is one of those who has given of themselves to students and to science quietly, consistently and every day.”
Gordon pointed out that Linder was named Cal State Fullerton’s Outstanding Professor in 1985 and was named the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics (NSM) Distinguished Faculty Member in 1992 and 1998. In addition, she won the college’s Outstanding Research Award in 1995 and in 2002.
NSM Dean Steven Murray said, “She has compiled a superb scholarly record, but her impact extends far beyond simple counts of peer-reviewed publications and the dollar amounts of grants received. Dr. Linder is one of those rare individuals who is a truly a difference-maker — not only through her research on the biochemistry of iron and copper, but also in how she has changed the lives of the many students who she has so ably and personally nurtured and mentored.”
A CSUF graduate who agrees with Murray’s assessment of Linder is Navid Madani (B.S. biochemistry ’89, M.S. chemistry ’92) who first became her student in 1987. Linder was also her undergraduate and graduate research adviser. With a doctorate in biochemistry and as an expert on the AIDS virus, Madani is now a researcher and an instructor in pathology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School.
“I am involved in AIDS awareness and education programs internationally. The combination of laboratory investigation and my international work has allowed me to pursue a career where I can make an immediate impact on people’s lives. I believe that my success in science and humanitarian work is largely due to Maria Linder and her mentorship,” Madani said.
A more recent former student, Lawrence Wilson Gray (B.S. biological science ‘05), had this to say about Linder: “It is not too often that the professor-student relationship spans as many different realms as the dynamic one shared by Dr. Maria Linder and me. She taught, coached and trained me as a student, a mentee and a scientist. She provided me with additional help outside of her scheduled office hours and even on the weekend. She saw great potential, she explained to me later, at a time when I surely lacked self-confidence. I directly attribute her dedication to teaching as the impetus to my past and current achievements.”
Gray is now pursuing a doctorate in biochemistry at Oregon Health and Science University.
Among her other professional and academic associations, Linder is the co-director of the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates Project at CSUF and garnered renewed NSF funding this spring of $213,000 for the program.
Her books, “Biochemistry of Copper,” co-written with C.A. Goode (1991, Plenum. Linder wrote nine of 10 chapters), and “Nutritional Biochemistry and Metabolism (1985, 1991, Elsevier, Appleton-Lange) continue to be influential. “Biochemistry of Copper” is described as the “Bible” among researchers and students in that field, Gordon said, and “Nutritional Biochemistry and Metabolism,” a standard text for graduate-level nutritional biochemistry courses, has been translated into Spanish and remains in demand, despite being out of print.
Since she arrived at Cal State Fullerton in 1977, the professor has garnered millions of dollars in grants for research — more than $3.4 million in the past decade alone — particularly Research 1 grants from the National Institutes of Health. Usually awarded to institutions that emphasize research over teaching, such grants are more difficult to obtain within the California State University, where teaching is the primary mission.
Professor Linder’s research is in the structure, function, regulation and gene expression of proteins associated with transport and storage of iron and copper in the body. She and her student research team also examine the biochemistry of cancer and inflammation in relation to copper and iron metabolism.
The National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health have sponsored nearly half of her research efforts, including an ongoing study of copper transport in lactation, supported with a grant of $1.4 million, and studies on iron absorption in the intestines, supported by a $640,000 grant.
“This Wang Award is fantastic. I feel so very honored, proud and pleased,” Linder said. “I told my family right away. They’re very pleased, and my colleagues in Natural Sciences and Mathematics are quite congratulatory. This is good for me, and it’s also good for the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department, and it’s good for NSM,” she said.
Linder said she tries to teach her students a perspective as well as biochemistry. “I try to teach by making things relevant to people’s lives,” she said, then after a moment, added, “of course, I guess that’s pretty easy, since I’m a biochemist and that is the chemistry of life.
“But,” she said, emphasizing the last part of her statement, “particularly at the graduate level, I teach them to think critically and, especially, to think for themselves.”
The teaching doesn’t stop with her, though, she said. “My students are constantly teaching me. I’m always being shown new ways to look at things, how to deliver knowledge. Many of my students are still good friends, and they’re all over the world. We still learn from each other.”
Besides the prestige and honor, Wang Award honorees also receive a cash award of $20,000. When asked what she will do with the money, Linder stayed true to form, responding immediately: Use it to support more research. Research is expensive, and there are other aspects I would like to explore.”
Linder earned her doctorate in biochemistry from Harvard University, and completed postdoctoral research there and at MIT, where she became an associate professor of chemistry.
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