Biology department welcomes Professor Debbie Garrity as new chair

Professor Debbie Garrity, an alumna of biology and biochemistry at Colorado State University, will become chair of the Biology Department in July. Garrity will be taking over leadership of the department during the COVID-19 pandemic, however, her vision for biology at CSU remains the same.

“Faculty are now developing online or hybrid courses, and we remain committed to bringing a first-class education to our students,” Garrity said. “We are adapting our fall course design to foster meaningful connections with and among our students, and to provide a clear, easily –accessed course structure. Our laboratory and field-based research is limited at present, but our scientific community is busy writing and reading at home, holding lab meetings online, and interacting with colleagues all over the world. Together, we continue”.

After earning a Ph.D. at Cornell University and a postdoctoral fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital (Harvard Medical School), Garrity returned to CSU as an assistant professor in 2003. Since then she has researched early heart development and function in the zebrafish and served as a dedicated mentor to both undergraduate and graduate students.

In 2018, Garrity was recognized as a Professor Laureate, the highest academic honor the College of Natural Sciences bestows to faculty for outstanding contributions to its mission.

“Dr. Garrity has already shown tremendous leadership,” said Biology faculty member and graduate chair Lisa Angeloni on Garrity’s roles throughout the college. “We are lucky that she is eager to take on this new role leading our department.” Garrity is known for her forward-thinking leadership and progress-oriented mindset in her roles as a master teaching initiative coordinator in the college and as director of the campus-wide Life Sciences Core.

In looking to the future of the department, Garrity said, “we will need to work hard and with thoughtful strategies for research, education, and engagement. We need to keep an open mind. As chair, my immediate priority will be compassionate leadership as we are faced with tough decisions”.

“A time of great challenge means a time of great growth. I am already curious about which of the work-arounds and technologies that we develop now, will end up enriching and improving our program even more. What will the next five years bring to the Department of Biology? New research discoveries, new graduates, new teaching prowess, new ideas and new connections”.

Debbie Garrity’s vision for the department and her personal achievements in research and teaching positions her for success as the next department chair. I am confident in her abilities to provide strong leadership for the department, and I look forward to working with her in the years ahead.

– Dr. Jan Nerger, Dean of the College of Natural Sciences 

Dr. Garrity has really established herself as a supportive and compassionate teacher. I know she will lead our department in a similar fashion. She has an incredible sense of discovery so she’ll be a strong advocate for the success of our research.

– Paige Ostwald, Graduate Student 

Prof. Garrity showed great skills in her leadership of the LIFE program. She led a cohesive and energized team of faculty who had been teaching the same course but had not coordinated efforts, found funding for their great ideas, and implemented new methods for teaching that have improved the lives of the thousands of students who take the courses under her domain. 

– Dr. Joe Von Fischer, Undergraduate Chair 

Dr. Garrity is an absolutely fantastic mentor and leader. She has not only guided me in my research career but has demonstrated how to be a kind and passionate teacher. I am very excited about her transition to department chair, I have no doubt that the biology department will continue to excel under her leadership.

– Neha Ahuja, Graduate Student 

Thanking Mike Antolin

Welcoming Garrity as department chair will mean saying goodbye and thank you to the current chair, Mike Antolin. Antolin began his service as the chair of the Biology Department in 2012. An evolutionary and population biologist, Antolin studies the effects of infectious diseases on wildlife, including the impact of the plague bacterium on Black‐tailed prairie dogs in northeastern Colorado. In 2016, Antolin was elected as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science by his peers, who cited his “pioneering contributions to our understanding of zoonotic disease transmission and promotion of evolutionary concepts to broader scientific and public audiences”.

Antolin has long been an advocate for the Biology Department, and his legacy was epitomized by his leadership during development of the new Biology Building, from initial program design in 2014 to completion in 2017. The Biology Building was the first major facilities upgrade for the Biology Department since Yates Hall was built in 2002, and the first major research upgrade for the department since the Anatomy and Zoology Building opened in 1974. 

“Mike was a diligent champion for Biology in making sure we had the best possible new home for our department,” said Biology faculty member and undergraduate chair Joe Von Fischer of Antolin’s role in opening the new Biology Building “He campaigned the student fee board for funding, worked thoughtfully alongside the architects to make sure the design met our needs, and endured weekly construction meetings to resolve the inevitable hiccups that arose”.

The construction of the building increased the department’s capacity for cutting-edge research in critical areas like global ecological change, infectious diseases, conservation biology, molecular evolution, and plant biotechnology. The building stands as a symbol of Antolin’s leadership as department chair. 

Antolin says of his future in the Biology Department as a faculty member, “I look forward to the next chapter, with several exciting new projects combining studies of infectious diseases in wildlife with the genetic analyses of their evolutionary response to this ever-present challenge.” He said of Garrity “she brings the unique combination of truly caring that we succeed in training the next generation of citizens and scientists, leading by example through cutting-edge research and scholarship, and showing them we are best served by rigor and compassion in the work we do. I’m excited to see this next chapter for her and for the department”. 

Under Mike’s leadership, the department saw growth in the numbers of faculty, staff, graduate, and undergraduate students, as well as an impressive increase in research expenditures and productivity.  He led the effort to design and build the new Biology Building which will stand as one of the legacies of his time as chair.  Admittedly there are times I need to catch myself when I refer to the Biology Building as “Mike’s building!”  It’s been a pleasure working with Mike and having him as part of the College leadership team.

– Dr. Jan Nerger, Dean of the College of Natural Sciences 

Mike has made many contributions to the Biology Department and CSU – in particular, his contribution towards the culture and atmosphere of the department is commendable. Mike‘s jovial nature combined with his inquisitive wit helped foster a welcoming and supportive environment conducive to generating and challenging new ideas. Thank you Mike for serving as an advisor and a friend to so many of us in the department and helping to elevate each of us in different ways.

– Dr. David Markman, Former Graduate Student 

Mike has been a thoughtful and visionary leader for Biology. Of particular significance was his leadership guiding the department through the many challenges we faced while designing and building the new Biology building that will serve the department for years to come. 

– Dr. Dan Bush, Biology Faculty & Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs

One of Mike’s favorite things to do as Chair is attending commencement and cheer on our students as they walk across the stage, which is a great demonstration of his leadership of Biology. He is just so proud of the Biology department, from the accomplishments achieved by our faculty, staff, and students, to the new building, to the research and teaching programs. Mike not only supports me in my role, but he also challenges me. As chair, I see him as an advisor, supporter, leader, advocate, teacher, to mentor to me and to others.

– Meagan Taverner, Biology Office Manager