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Faculty Lecture Series makes a bold comeback

Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor Colin Combs delivers first presentation since 2012 to full house

Colin Combs
Colin Combs, a UND Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Sciences, had the honor of giving the first talk of the 2017-18 season. The topic was on his research efforts to understand various aspects of Alzheimer’s disease. Photo by Susan Caraher.

Gripping a tiny glass bell – a onetime gift of Japanese origin — Bill Sheridan stood near a podium at the front of an audience of 60 or so in the North Dakota Museum of Art.

Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Biology Bill Sheridan
Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Biology Bill Sheridan

Saying nothing, he kept careful watch of the time while the eyes of his equally silent audience were fixed on him. At the stroke of 4:30, Sheridan sounded his bell. The high-pitched din broke the silence and officially signaled the return of a treasured, albeit on-again-off-again institution at UND: The Faculty Lecture Series.

“That probably wasn’t necessary ….this afternoon we already have such a delightful attentive group,” said Sheridan, a UND Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Biology who helped spearhead the latest reincarnation of the lecture series with the help of a committee of fellow Chester Fritz Professors.

Series history

First founded in 1954, the lecture series, which highlights high-end everyday research and creative activity by UND faculty members, made a triumphant return to center stage Wednesday after a five-year hiatus.

Colin Combs, a UND Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Sciences, had the honor of giving the first talk of the 2017-18 season. The topic was on his research efforts to understand various aspects of Alzheimer’s disease.

The series got its start during the first year of George Starcher’s presidency at UND, and continued through 1988. The first lecture, “From the Viking Ships to Kon-Tiki,” was given by Richard Beck (1897-1980), who served on the faculty for 38 years and retired with the prestigious title of University Professor Emeritus of Languages.

After 1988, the series went dormant before being resurrected for the first time in 1997, following the Red River Valley Flood of that year. It was the start of another long run that concluded in 2012 with a lecture by the research team of Nancy Volgeltanz-Holm and Jeffrey Holm on health promotion in North Dakota communities.

Reza Fazel-Rezai, Sima Noghanian and Colin Combs
Colin Combs (right) visits with UND Electrical Engineers Reza Fazel-Rezai and Sima Noghanian before Combs’ faculty lecture presentation on Wednesday. Noghanian will be a feature lecturer on April 25. Photo by Susan Caraher.

Amazing response

Sheridan explained that a four-member Faculty Lecture Series Committee of Chester Fritz Distinguished Professors, comprising himself, English’s Sharon Carson, Biomedical Sciences’ Holly Brown-Borg, and Teaching and Learning’s Myrna Olson, worked with UND President Mark Kennedy and Provost Tom DiLorenzo to bring the series back to campus for a second time. The Offices of the President and Provost supplied funding for the series.

Sheridan added that there was an amazing response from UND colleges when the committee asked them for lists of their top prospects for future faculty lectures. The colleges’ responses were enthusiastic and immediate, he said.

The Chester Fritz committee used those responses to develop this year’s lecture schedule.

Wide-ranging disciplines

In Combs, the committee dipped into the University’s distinguished professorship ranks to kick off the year, but others who will take part in this year’s series represent varied disciplines and levels of academia at UND, including Assistant Professor of Law Kit Johnson and Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering Sima Noghanian.

A complete listing of the remaining Faculty Lectures for the fall semester follows:

  • Oct. 25, Susan Ellis-Felege, Department of Biology, College of Arts & Sciences
  • Nov. 29, Xiaodong Zhang, Department of Earth System Science & Policy, School of Aerospace Sciences, The Color of the Ocean
  • Feb. 28, Kit Johnson, School of Law, Moguls, Models, Patients, and Princesses: Finding the Unexpected in Immigration Law
  • March 28, John Fitzgerald, Department of Kinesiology and Public Education, College of Education & Human Development
  • April 25, Sima Noghanian, Department of Electrical Engineering, College of Engineering & Mines

There have been more than 150 faculty who have given presentations in the series. The diversity of topics is reflected in just a few of the titles: “Problems in Achieving Sustained Economic Progress,” “Themes of North Dakota History,” “A Great Shakespearean Enigma: the Sonnets,” “Is Success Destroying Psychology?” “The Continuing Search for Energy Fuels,” “You’ve Come a Long Way, Melancholy Baby: Women and Alcohol Abuse in America,” and “The Politics of Affluence.”

Tom DiLorenzo and Colin Combs
UND Provost Tom DiLorenzo hands over a special certificate to Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Sciences Colin Combs (right) in honor of Combs’ faculty lecture on Wednesday at the North Dakota Museum of Art. Photo by Susan Caraher.

More about Colin Combs:

Colin Combs is highly regarded for his work on neurodegenerative diseases and neuroimmune interactions during aging. His work has been supported by the highest-level grants from the National Institutes of Health and by private foundations such as the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

Combs’ efforts have been instrumental in increasing UND’s research capacity and discovery (Goal 4 of UND’s Strategic Plan) in support of the University’s quest to achieve Carnegie R1 status. His work also plays a huge role in helping UND take on one of its five Grand Challenges to solve problems and provide economic diversity in North Dakota by addressing health challenges through basic, clinical and translational discovery.

“Alzheimer’s is a big problem in the United States and North Dakota,” Combs told UND Today. “We’d like to be able to provide something that improves the quality of life for people with Alzheimer’s, or delay progression of the disease.”