By Emma Kolakowski
The Office of Faculty and Academic Staff Development has announced the winner of the 2022 Simmons Chivukula Award of Academic Leadership. Dr. Victor J. DiRita has been recognized for his work as the chairperson of the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, where he also instructs. The award recognizes consistent excellence in leadership as measured by a variety of attributes including collaboration, empathy, humility, and transformation.
This award is sponsored by two former MSU faculty members. Dr. Elizabth H. Simmons served as an Associate Provost and the Dean of Lyman Briggs College, and is now Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at UC San Diego. Dr. R. Sekhar Chivukula is also now at UC San Diego as a distinguished professor of physics, after having served MSU as an Associate Provost and as the Dean of Undergraduate Studies. The generosity of these two academics enables the recognition of outstanding leadership by individuals like Dr. DiRita.
DiRita has served as chairperson since 2015, when he came to MSU from the University of Michigan’s Medical School where he had served as first Assistant and then Associate Dean. During his time as chairperson, DiRita has sought to improve DEI practices among both students and staff at the committee and individual levels. Together with the faculty advisory committee, DiRita created a new annual review form geared towards teaching faculty after recognizing that the existing form was slanted towards faculty members who conduct research. Dr. DiRita also created the Work-In-Progress Seminars, where graduate and postdoctoral students hone their oral presentation skills while enhancing faculty engagement with student projects. DiRita has also fit the award’s criteria of promoting the success of others, having consistently encouraged department staff to nominate their deserving colleagues for university and national awards.
Describing his leadership philosophy, DiRita says “Everyone should feel included and recognized for their work, and if not, that is a failure of leadership”. Over the past seven years that DiRita has been chair, he has created and bolstered numerous department initiatives designed to serve the needs of students, researchers, and instructors. In addition to his work as chairperson, DiRita also researches, in conjunction with several other scholars, the pathogenicity of microbes that cause human disease. DiRita was also the 2020-2021 president of the American Society for Microbiology and has served as an editor for multiple journals in the industry. The university thanks Dr. DiRita for his substantial contributions as a faculty member and academic leader.