NEWS: Three from Rice elected to American Academy of Arts & Sciences

Two Rice University professors and a fellow from Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy have been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Bonnie Bartel, Richard Tapia and John Mendelsohn joined the ranks of astronaut John Glenn, singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen, actor Sally Field and operatic soprano Renee Fleming as members of the academy’s Class of 2013 — one of the highest honors for leaders in academia, business, public affairs, the humanities and the arts.

Bartel is Rice’s Ralph and Dorothy Looney Professor of Biochemistry and Cell Biology. Tapia is a University Professor, the Maxfield-Oshman Professor in Engineering and a professor of computational and applied mathematics at Rice. Mendelsohn is the L.E. and Virginia Simmons Fellow in Health and Technology Policy at Rice’s Baker Institute.

“The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is one of the country’s most prestigious honorary societies as well as a leading center for independent policy research,” said Rice Provost George McLendon. “We’re very proud to have three acclaimed members of the Rice community among the select group of new honorees.”

Bartel joined the Rice faculty in 1995. Her research specialty involves the use of genetic, biochemical and cell biology tools to study how plants produce and use auxin and other hormones. Her lab’s identification of an auxin biosynthetic route in a subcellular compartment known as the peroxisome led to a new understanding of how this essential organelle has been conserved and modified during the evolution of plants and animals. Bartel has received Rice’s Presidential Mentoring Award and the Charles W. Duncan Jr. Achievement Award for Outstanding Faculty. She is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the American Society of Plant Biologists and in 2006 was named a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Professor. HHMI awarded her $1 million to build programs at Rice that integrate undergraduate teaching with research by developing freshman seminars in local biology research. Before coming to Rice, Bartel was an American Cancer Society postdoctoral fellow at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass.

Tapia joined the Rice faculty in 1970. As a mathematician, he has specialized in optimization theory and numerical analysis. As director of Rice’s Center for Excellence and Equity in Education, he has directed or co-directed more underrepresented minority and women doctoral students in mathematics than anyone else in the country. He also directs the National Science Foundation-funded Empowering Leadership Alliance, which engages underrepresented minority students in computing disciplines at research institutions nationwide. In addition to having Rice’s highest academic rank as a University Professor, Tapia has achieved a number of distinguished honors, including the National Medal of Science, the inaugural Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring, election as an AAAS fellow and receipt of the AAAS Lifetime Mentor Award, membership in the National Academy of Engineering, the Distinguished Public Service Award from the American Mathematical Society and the Distinguished Scientist Award from the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science.

Mendelsohn was named a fellow of the Baker Institute in 2011 and began his duties there in March 2012 after a sabbatical at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. His work focuses on the identification and evaluation of new health technologies, therapeutics and best practices as well as the promotion of policy recommendations to improve national and global health outcomes. A Houston cancer pioneer, Mendelsohn retired Sept. 1, 2011, as president of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center but remains on the faculty there and is co-director of the Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Institute for Personalized Cancer Therapy. Mendelsohn’s research helped pioneer the development of cancer therapies that target the abnormal genes, gene products and cell-signaling pathways that cause the disease. Among his honors are the Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal, the Lila Gruber Memorial Cancer Research Award and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the 10th International Workshop on Molecular Targeted Therapy of Cancer.

The new members of the American Academy will be inducted at a ceremony October 12 at the academy’s headquarters in Cambridge. A list of the honorees for 2013 is posted at

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