AMHERST, Mass. – Tricia R. Serio, professor and head of the department of molecular and cellular biology at the University of Arizona, has been named dean of the College of Natural Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst by Provost Katherine S. Newman. Serio is expected to assume her new duties on campus in August 2017.
“UMass is incredibly fortunate to have attracted Tricia Serio as our new dean,” says Newman. “She is an exceptionally talented scholar with a remarkable career in the field of protein folding in biology. Her experience as a departmental and campus leader at the University of Arizona will serve her very well on our campus. All the way around, Dr. Serio is a star and we look forward to welcoming her to our community.”
Serio will take over from Steven Goodwin, who is stepping down after leading the college and one of its predecessors, the College of Natural Resources and the Environment, since 2007.
She says, “I am thrilled to join the University of Massachusetts Amherst and especially the College of Natural Sciences. I look forward to working with faculty, staff and students to build on the strong traditions of excellence, engagement and inclusivity in service of our mission.”
At the University of Arizona in Tucson, Serio leads a department of 20 faculty and 16 staff, with 575 undergraduate majors, 32 graduate majors and a budget of $4 million. During her tenure there, she has focused on organizational management, budgetary policy, interdisciplinary initiatives and strategic planning. She has also worked on creating and sustaining an inclusive workplace climate and implementing learning outcomes and assessments at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Her leadership in these areas has spanned from the department to the college to the university levels.
Serio’s research interests combine genetic, cell biological, biochemical and quantitative imaging techniques and mathematical modeling to understand and reverse potentially pathogenic processes. She works to understand the mechanisms by which protein conformations can self-replicate. She studies their links with many human maladies, particularly age-related neurodegenerative diseases, and how these processes can be reversed.
Using yeast as an experimental model, Serio’s studies focus on prions, a class of specialized proteins that can adopt multiple non-typical physical and functional states. Once these alternative forms arise, they self-perpetuate by continuing to promote the same pathway of abnormal protein folding. This process allows prions to act in roles, such as agents of infection and inheritance, that are not typical for proteins and that lead directly to their pathogenic effects.
As a public communicator of science, over the past year Serio has authored opinion pieces for the Huffington Post, Chronicle of Higher Education, U.S. News and World Report, Nature, The Hill, Medium and the Arizona Daily Star, about such topics as the unintended consequences of seeking tenure, mentorship, work-life balance, increasing college graduation rates, subtle sexism in science, the role of basic research in finding cures for human diseases and her son’s experience in a charter school.
Serio’s professional honors include the 2016 Mid-career Award for Excellence in Research from the American Society for Cell Biology, being named the Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences for 2003-07 and the National Cancer Institute’s Howard Temin Award for 2001-06.
Serio earned a B.S. in molecular biology from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Penn., and an M.Phil. and Ph.D. in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale. She was a postdoctoral fellow in molecular genetics and cell biology at the University of Chicago.