UM picks institute's new head

California researcher to lead biotech center

August 28, 1999|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Jennie C. Hunter-Cevera, a California-based researcher who has held a variety of posts in industry and academia, was named president of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute yesterday.

Hunter-Cevera, 51, succeeds Rita R. Colwell, the institute's founder and first president, who left last year to become director of the National Science Foundation in Washington, D.C.

A native of West Virginia, Hunter-Cevera has been head of the Center for Environmental Biotechnology at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif., since 1994. She served concurrently as head of the environmental biology department at the University of California, Berkeley.

The lab's research has focused on a multidisciplinary approach to remediation of environmentally damaged sites.

Hunter-Cevera's research has been varied, taking her in recent years to the site of the 1986 nuclear accident in Chernobyl in the Ukraine to search for mutated life forms that could prove beneficial in developing new antibiotics.

Hunter-Cevera will take over a wide-ranging research enterprise focusing on biotechnology in the fields of agriculture, marine life, medicine and human virology. The state-supported institute, which has operations in Baltimore, College Park and Rockville, has nearly 500 employees and attracted more than $20 million in grants and contracts last year.

"Jennie Hunter-Cevera is a first-rate researcher and administrator who will lead UMBI as it exerts a growing influence on research into human health, the environment, marine biology, agriculture, and other areas of biotechnology," said Donald N. Langenberg, chancellor of the 13-institution University System of Maryland.

In remarks yesterday to a gathering of university officials, Hunter-Cevera said biotechnology research -- now about a quarter-century old -- is at a critical crossroads.

She noted, for example, concern in some quarters about the safety of genetic engineering.

"There is a lot we have to do as scientists to correct that perception," Hunter-Cevera said. "We don't spend enough time talking about science and its benefits."

The university system's Board of Regents hired Hunter-Cevera after a nationwide search that attracted more than 100 candidates, officials said.

She will be paid a salary of $177,000 and receive an annual housing allowance of $25,000, Langenberg said.

Hunter-Cevera received bachelor's and master's degrees from West Virginia University, and her doctorate from Rutgers university.

She did research for a dozen years with E. R. Squibb pharmaceuticals in Princeton, N.J., and Cetus Corp. in Emeryville, Calif. She also did consulting for various enterprises before joining the Berkeley lab in 1994.

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