Gift Leads to Cancer Research

Sam Houston State University continues to find innovative ways to grow for the benefit of students and faculty. A recent gift from Roland E. Black (’61), established a permanent fund for the university in the form of an endowed professorship.

Mardelle Atkins07Created to enhance the quality of instruction and research, endowed professorships greatly assist the university’s efforts to attract and retain outstanding faculty and administrative staff, by providing salary supplements and professional development funding.

Black said he is proud to be able to endow this professorship in the College of Science and Engineering Technology, and hopes others will be inspired to consider similar gifts to the university.

“I have been speaking with leadership about ways to give to the biology department for years, and the idea of an endowed professorship struck me as unique,” Black said. “I want to encourage other alumni, foundations and corporations to do the same. There are many ways to grow our great university.”

Receiving the award of an endowed professorship is a huge honor for any faculty member. SHSU selected Mardelle Atkins to fill this prestigious position in the Department of Biological Sciences. Atkins earned a B.S. in Genetics at Texas A&M University and completed her doctoral studies at Baylor College of Medicine. Her research at SHSU investigates how altering gene regulatory networks can reprogram cells, primarily using the fruit fly as a model system. Atkins hopes to potentially fight cancer by studying how gene networks that direct the development of organs are regulated, and how these networks change during tumor development.

RolandBlack“Cancer has touched everyone’s lives. A common occurrence is rapid weight loss, which is associated with a process called cachexia, a leading cause of death for over 2 million cancer patients a year. We want to discover the causes of it using our tumor model system and the end goal is to discover how to block cachexia in patients,” Atkins said. “This gift also gives me an opportunity to have time to develop research that only exists at Sam Houston State. I can offer students a chance to work in the lab as well, which is invaluable time for them, and who knows where that can lead. I thought I was going to med school until the first time I touched a microscope in a lab. Students are also essential in assisting in the day-to-day activities needed to keep this research going.”

This gift from Black, along with the new lab space available on campus, demonstrates the importance of research and scholarly advancement which allows Sam Houston State to recruit the best and brightest minds.

“I think this is an innovative way to be able to attract faculty,” said Tamara Cook, professor and department chair of Biological Sciences. “An endowed professorship helps tremendously with research here on campus. All of the rapid advances that have happened in science recently are wonderful, however it makes it harder for research because of expenses. This endowment will help the new faculty hit the ground running with research from day one, which is great.”

Along with the Roland E. Black Endowed Professorship in Biological Sciences, Black has also established the Roland Black Nursing Endowed Scholarship in order to recruit top-ranked students to SHSU’s nursing program.

Black’s other philanthropic interests at SHSU include supporting the Alumni Association through sponsorships at their various events, purchasing season tickets for the Bearkat football games and supporting an array of other events and endowments campuswide. Black also donated a rosewood Weber Grand Piano to the university and served as the President of the Alumni Association Board from 2016-2017. All of this while having established a professional practice in Dallas as an OB-GYN physician, from which Black has since retired.

As someone with “Bearkat blood,” Black says this endowment is “a small measure of gratitude” to the university for what it has given him, his family and the community for many years.

For more information on endowed professorship giving, contact Darlene Andrews at 936-294-3623.

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