New chair of biological sciences department


Jessica Lincoln | staff writer

The Department of Biological Sciences is getting a new department chair this July, as Jana Patton-Vogt takes over for Joseph McCormick. Patton-Vogt’s term is set to begin on July 1 and end on June 30, 2023.

“It should be a fairly seamless and easy transition. I think we’re fairly like-minded, so I don’t think a lot is going to change,” McCormick said.

Patton-Vogt has been a professor at Duquesne since 2001. In addition to teaching courses in cellular and molecular biology, she has previously served as the department’s undergraduate coordinator and is an active researcher. She also advises the Duquesne chapter of the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), a student organization.

“Right now, I’m working with the current chair, the dean and the current faculty and staff to assess where we are. What are we doing well? What do we need to improve on? What’s on the horizon?” Patton-Vogt said.

The process of selecting the new chair involved a hectic year of calls for nominations, requests for faculty comments about those nominations and approval from the dean, provost and president.

“Technically, the provost and president can approve a candidate no matter what faculty members say, but I think we’ve made a good choice,” said McCormick.

While the transition is in its early stages, course offerings and budgets for the summer and fall semesters have already been discussed. One of the biggest challenges Patton-Vogt will face during her tenure, McCormick said, is the introduction of the new osteopathic school of medicine, with which the department will be closely involved.

“It’s kind of hectic,” he said of the process of becoming chair. “You have a lot of responsibilities in a very short time.”

After Patton-Vogt becomes chair, McCormick will remain a faculty member in the department, continuing his research and teaching first semester freshmen and Ph.D. students. During his tenure, he was involved in hiring a third of the department’s current tenure track professors, and he oversaw millions of dollars worth of lab renovations.

Students in the department spoke fondly of McCormick, noting that he has made a habit of stopping to talk to them in Mellon Hall.

“He knew everything that was happening on the floor, all the professors — everything he needed to know about the department,” said Raahi Modi, a junior biology major who serves as the vice president of ASBMB.

“He reminds you why you became a biology student in the first place. I think that’s the kind of person you need as chair, someone who can do that thoroughly,” said Noah Kent, a freshman biology major.

Overall, McCormick said that he was glad to have served as chair.

“Hopefully, we did a lot of good in the past decade, but at the very least, we pledged to do no harm. And I think we’ve avoided that,” he said.

With enrollment and the need for department staff likely to increase once the medical school opens, according to McCormick, the process of adjusting to a new chair may be complex.

“Dr. McCormick has been chair for quite some time, so I think there will be a period of adjustment, but I think it will work out for the better,” Modi said.

Although little has been decided at this point, Patton-Vogt said that she was excited to get started.

“In this department, we want to teach well, we want to do good research, and we always want to improve,” she said. “I’m looking forward to the challenge.”