Three UArizona faculty named AAAS Fellows
A. Elizabeth "Betsy" Arnold, Carol Gregorio and Cecile McKee are the newest fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world's largest general scientific society and publisher of the Science family of journals, has selected three from the University of Arizona to join the newest class of AAAS Fellows. The designation is one of the most distinct honors in the scientific community.
The new UArizona fellows are:
- A. Elizabeth "Betsy" Arnold, professor of plant sciences
- Carol Gregorio, professor and head of the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine
- Cecile McKee, professor of linguistics
The 2021 class of AAAS Fellows includes 564 scientists, engineers and innovators spanning 24 scientific disciplines who are being recognized for their scientifically and socially distinguished achievements.
"AAAS is proud to bestow the honor of AAAS Fellow to some of today's brightest minds who are integral to forging our path into the future," said Sudip Parikh, AAAS chief executive officer and executive publisher of the Science family of journals. "We celebrate these distinguished individuals for their invaluable contributions to the scientific enterprise."
The AAAS Fellows tradition stretches back to 1874. Fellows include distinguished scientists, engineers and innovators who have been recognized for their achievements across disciplines ranging from research, teaching and technology, to administration in academia, industry and government, to excellence in communicating and interpreting science to the public.
AAAS plans to organize an in-person gathering later this year to celebrate the new fellows when public health and safety conditions allow.
A. Elizabeth "Betsy" Arnold
Arnold, a professor of plant sciences, is being recognized for her contributions to the field of ecology and evolution, particularly for her studies of plant microbiomes in wild and agricultural ecosystems.
"This is humbling," she said. "I never imagined being recognized among people of such excellence in their work. Becoming a fellow inspires me to work harder to grow our diverse and inclusive research team and our positive impact on the people of Arizona, our country and worldwide."
Arnold earned her bachelor's degree in biology from Duke University before working at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama on plant-fungal interactions in tropical forests. She then earned her doctorate at UArizona as a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow. She returned to Duke as an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow in Microbial Biology in 2003. In 2005, Arnold began as a UArizona faculty member and as curator of the university's Robert L. Gilbertson Mycological Herbarium, a role which she still holds today. She has led an effort to digitize, expand and preserve the Gilbertson Herbarium in additional to making contributions to research, instruction, mentorship, outreach and service.
Arnold has published more than 140 peer-reviewed papers and for the past five years has served as executive editor of the journal Mycologia, the flagship journal of the Mycological Society of America. She currently serves as president of that professional society, where her leadership efforts include work to improve inclusiveness in STEM fields.
Arnold studies how fungi live in cooperation with plants. What she learns can help humans understand how a plant thrives in a changing world.
"There are millions of fungal species on Earth, yet we've only described about 100,000," Arnold said. "Every plant holds a tremendous biodiversity waiting to be discovered. In many cases those fungi can be used to make new medicines or agricultural tools for sustainability."
Arnold also believes that the study of fungi is an inclusive science.
"We've had middle school students, high schoolers, K-12 teachers, tribal college partners and people from the general public help make new discoveries about the biological diversity of the world around us," she said.
Arnold credited her mentors – going all the way back to middle and high school, and especially in her undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral years – for getting her where she is today and for driving her passion for inspiring the next generation.
"My mentors helped me get on the right path, and now I feel that I can pay it forward," she said.
She also thanked her past and present students, collaborators and colleagues who "have made my life so fulfilling. I feel empowered and honored to make positive impacts any way I can."
Gregorio is being honored for her internationally recognized contributions toward understanding heart and skeletal muscle structure, function and disease.
"It's an honor to be nationally recognized," Gregorio said.
Gregorio earned her bachelor's and master's degrees from SUNY Buffalo and her doctorate from Roswell Park Cancer Institute in New York. She did her postdoctoral research at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. She joined the UArizona faculty in 1996.
In additional to heading the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, she is co-director of Sarver Heart Center, director of the Molecular Cardiovascular Research Program, a professor of cellular and molecular medicine, assistant vice provost for Global Health Sciences and a BIO5 Institute member. Gregorio is also the Czarina M. and Humberto S. Lopez Endowed Chair for Excellence in Cardiovascular Research.
Gregorio's research focuses on identifying the components and molecular mechanisms regulating contractile proteins in cardiac and skeletal muscle during normal development and disease. By studying the effects of human mutations in contractile proteins – those responsible for allowing the heart to beat – her laboratory can decipher how the protein normally functions in health and development. These data are important for designing therapeutics. The research excites Gregorio because it is a path to be able to predict heart disease before it happens.
Gregorio said she loves the beauty of her science: "Muscles work by sliding against each other – their structure is highly regular. The same mechanisms that cause a heart to contract, cause cells to move during processes such as cancer metastasis, but because striated muscle is so beautifully aligned you can see and watch muscle filaments move, which would be impossible if it wasn't so well organized."
Outside of her research, Gregorio passionately advocates for faculty.
"I love creating an environment and providing a mentorship structure so that faculty can excel," she said. "It's an important part of my job; it's fun and rewarding."
McKee, a professor in the Department of Linguistics, is being recognized for her "distinguished contributions to developmental psycholinguistics, particularly experimental design for demonstrating children's knowledge of syntax, and for distinguished service in promoting public awareness of the significance of linguistic study," according to AAAS.
"This is a big honor because the citation mentioned things that I have cared about my whole career," McKee said.
McKee is director of the UArizona Developmental Psycholinguistics Laboratory and affiliated with the Department of Psychology and Cognitive Science Program, as well as the Second Language Acquisition and Teaching Program. During her career, McKee has also served as director of the Linguistics Program for the National Science Foundation, director of the SBS Research Institute, associate dean of research for the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and director of Research Development Services for UArizona's Research, Innovation and Impact. Most recently, she chaired AAAS's language and linguistics science steering group.
McKee studies young children's language development, recently focusing on how fast and how fluently they talk. McKee has also developed innovative ways to examine complex syntax in young children.
"For much of my research, I wanted to look at whether children knew something about their language that was either very rare or very complex. And, so, I spent a lot of time developing new ways to put 2-year-olds in experiments probing their grammatical knowledge. The reason that matters is that various contrasting theories care very much about that early end. Once a kid is about 3 or 4 years old, syntactically, they're pretty much done. We find they perform like adults in certain experiments."
McKee's experience at NSF prompted her to prioritize engaging with the public. She became convinced that scholars should not only do state-of-the-art research but should also share their research with broader audiences, including people who aren't at universities.
For many years, McKee – often accompanied by a team of students – has been active in public engagement at K-12 schools, science and cultural festivals, including Science City at the Tucson Festival of Books and Tucson Meet Yourself. Her team presented at NSF's pavilion at the 2014 USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C. She has participated in AAAS's Family Science Days every year since 2015. She also collaborated with the Children's Museum Tucson, as part of a UArizona class providing special engagement opportunities for undergraduate students.
McKee says at science fairs, there's often a focus on "rocks and rockets," and she enjoys explaining how language can be studied scientifically and showing people that you can aim science practices at "anything that floats your boat."
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Mikayla Mace Kelley
Science Writer, University Communications
University of Arizona in the News