UTPA selects dean of new College of Science and Mathematics
Posted: 06/17/2010
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The University of Texas-Pan American has announced the selection of Dr. John Miller Trant, associate vice president of Academic Affairs at the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute (UMBI) in Baltimore, Md., as its new dean of the College of Science and Mathematics.

"I am very pleased that (UTPA) President (Robert S.) Nelsen felt I was a good match with my expertise and experience to what the University needs. I am very excited about getting down to Edinburg and going to work," he said.

- Dr. John Miller Trant
The college Trant will head was formed following the split of the current College of Science and Engineering into two colleges, a change approved earlier this year by The University of Texas System Board of Regents. The increased interest and enrollment by students in the sciences, engineering and math fields prompted the split. The retirement in August of the College of Science and Engineering's current dean, Dr. Edwin LeMaster, necessitated the need for two new deans. Dr. David Allen, dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, was announced as the new dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science.

Since 2007, Trant has overseen the faculty and academic affairs within the Office of Education, Professional Advancement and Training at UMBI, a research hub encompassing four centers focused on biotechnology and its applications to human health, the marine environment, agriculture, and protein engineering/structural biology.

As a UMBI administrator, Trant has served as an acting director for the institute's K-12 Education and Outreach Program, which developed and supported education and internship programs in biotechnology for students; was co-principal investigator of a five-year, $5 million per year National Science Foundation-funded program for training secondary school science teachers in inquiry based, experiential pedagogy; and increased UMBI's diversity efforts through a grant from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to enhance the research capacity of four Minority Serving Institutions in the study of marine sciences and achievement of doctoral degrees.

"A lot of the work I've been doing as associate vice president - working with faculty, graduate students, post docs, and staff, and developing policies, streamlining procedures, and spearheading change management - has provided me with important experiences," he said.

Prior to his administrative role at UMBI, Trant was a faculty member for 17 years - from 1990-1995, an assistant professor in the Department of Zoology and Physiology at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge and from 1995-2007, an associate professor at UMBI's Center for Marine Biotechnology.

Trant's faculty service is extensive and includes sitting on many university and system wide committees, the successful operation of a Bioanalytical Services Lab, mentorship of graduate students and fostering synergistic agreements between academic and industrial partners. He is also an accomplished researcher, authoring or coauthoring 76 publications in peer reviewed journals.

"The easiest way to describe myself is that I am a molecular endocrinologist. I look at hormones at the molecular, gene, cellular level," said Trant, who got his early interest in science growing up in Virginia Beach, Va.

"I grew up right on the water and my interests started there with aquariums, scuba diving and it kept on going," he said.

Trant earned his bachelor's degree in biology from Virginia Polytechnic Institute, his master's in biology from Texas A&M University, and his Ph.D. in zoology from The University of Texas at Austin. He also served post-doctoral fellowships at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and at the Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas.

"Because of my diverse experiences, I can take the tiniest most focused aspects of my research and see how it can apply to the medical field, aquaculture, agriculture, and so on. At UMBI, my role is to help faculty take their research and extend it into the biotech industry. I am excited to work with the faculty at UTPA to try and get that same idea of entrepreneurship, investing themselves beyond the laboratory," Trant said.

Trant said he hopes to establish a greater collaboration between the new colleges and the Regional Academic Health Center, the biomedical research facility operated by The University of Health Science Center at San Antonio and located adjacent to UTPA's Edinburg campus. He also sees the Coastal Studies Lab at South Padre Island as an "unpolished golden nugget."

First, however, as head of a new college he said his immediate goal is to craft a strategic plan and work with the faculty, chairs and others to determine what direction it should go.

"I think this new college can have a greater impact by focusing on key signature areas or programs where it can really make a mark for itself. We can't be everything to everybody. We still have to provide the services to our students but in addition, we need to ask 'what do we want to be known for?'" he said. "All this is just another phase of growing up and I am very excited about being a part of that here."

Although he describes himself as a bit of a workaholic in his career, he wants people to not see him just as a "lab rat" or a "pencil pusher."

"I have other passions beyond my work. I am a woodworker, a hunter and fisherman, and a photographer. I also rock climb. I love the outdoors," he said.

Dr. Narayan Bhat, chair of the Department of Chemistry, was a member of the selection committee, composed of eight faculty members, one student representative and a staff member, who screened, interviewed and narrowed the list of final candidates to the three forwarded on to UTPA President Nelsen for consideration. Bhat said Trant was seen as being very committed, highly qualified and having an outstanding record of administrative experience.

"His visionary leadership and positive attitude made him stand out as a finalist," Bhat said. "Dr. Trant's research accomplishments and his willingness to push science forward made him a very appropriate person to lead this new college at UTPA."

In his announcement of the dean selections, Nelsen said, "We are, especially, excited to have been able to obtain the committed and dedicated services of such distinguished, qualified and capable academic leaders who will assist us as we strive to bring excellence and extraordinary educational opportunities to the citizens and students of South Texas."

Trant and Allen are scheduled to begin their new positions at UTPA on Aug. 1. Allen's office will be in the current dean's space in the Engineering Building while Trant's office will be in a space being prepared in the Math and General Classroom Building.