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Like many professors, Kathleen Morgan, a Sargent College professor and department of health science chair, expected to spend her summer engaged in research and revamping curricula for the upcoming academic year. Her plans changed when she got some surprising news: SAR Dean Gloria Waters had been appointed vice president and associate provost for research, and Morgan was being asked to serve as interim dean.
“Things moved very quickly,” Morgan says. “It wasn’t something I sought out, but it’s an exciting opportunity to try for a year.”
Morgan assumed her new role on July 1 and is rapidly learning to balance her research and teaching with all of the additional responsibilities that serving as interim dean entail. The University will launch a nationwide search for a new dean in the coming months.
Morgan “will be taking over a remarkably well-functioning college in Sargent, thanks in no small part to the excellent work of Gloria Waters,” says Jean Morrison, provost and chief academic officer. “Kathy is an accomplished and respected teacher, researcher, and faculty leader, and I look forward to working with her in the year ahead as she directs Sargent to continued excellence.”
As a newly appointed administrator, Morgan says she looks forward to welcoming new faculty in the coming weeks. Among her first tasks will be finding appropriate space for them in an increasingly cramped facility. As the college’s most visible ambassador, “representing Sargent across the campus is a big job,” she says. “We have basic science research and clinical programs, plus teaching. Keeping all those going is a juggling act.”
Sargent is already known nationwide for programs like physical and occupational therapy; speech, language and hearing; and nutrition. Morgan hopes she can also help raise the profile of health sciences. “I don’t think people know about the fundamental research that we’re doing,” she says.
There’s no better spokesperson for that job than Morgan. The Ohio native earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati and a doctorate in pharmacology from the University of Cincinnati. Her first position after graduation was as a lecturer and researcher at the Mayo Medical School in Rochester, Minn. She joined the Harvard Medical School in 1983, where she rose from assistant professor of physiology to associate professor within three years and joined the research staff at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. In 2006, BU recruited her to Sargent College.
“In addition to being an excellent researcher and scholar, Kathy had been the director and chief executive officer of the Boston Biomedical Research Institute for six years, providing her with a considerable amount of administrative experience,” Waters says. “Her seven years of experience at Sargent have given her a good sense of the priorities of the college, and I think will serve her extremely well in this period of transition.”
Morgan has earned numerous fellowships, awards, and honors over the course of her career and has published more than 100 articles in prestigious journals such as Nature, the Biochemical Journal, and the American Journal of Physiology: Cell Physiology. She also sits on the editorial boards of the Journal of Physiology, Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, and Cell Health and Cytoskeleton.
Currently, Morgan and her lab are engaged in research focusing on the aorta and cardiovascular disease. Citing findings from the Framingham Heart Study, she says colleagues have found that stiffness in the aorta, the body’s largest artery, is an early indicator of future cardiovascular problems among patients 40 to 60 years old. As the aorta loses flexibility, it pushes pressure farther downstream to smaller vessels, resulting in complications like kidney disease and strokes.
Fortunately, physicians can monitor aorta stiffness through an easy clinical test. But Morgan hopes her lab will identify a drug therapy in coming years that could prevent this stiffening altogether. “If we find a balker to that,” she says, “then a whole host of later diseases could be prevented.”
First things first: Morgan has to learn to juggle.