Joking that even though she’s a “lab rat” who often savors the solitude of her research, MTSU biology professor Mary Farone acknowledged that accepting the university’s highest faculty honor alone, in a pandemic-forced virtual celebration, isn’t how she prefers to work.
Farone, a microbiologist who began her MTSU career as an adjunct in 1996, is the 2020 recipient of the MTSU Foundation’s Career Achievement Award, recognized Thursday, Aug. 20, at the university’s Fall Faculty Meeting for her teaching, research and service to students.
University President Sidney A. McPhee presented Farone with her award in MTSU’s Tucker Theatre, the traditional site for the annual faculty gathering before each new academic year begins.
Instead of the usual full house of hundreds of congratulatory colleagues from across campus, however, the audience comprised fewer than a dozen carefully distanced guests and staff members.
“In times like this pandemic, I’m not surprised to be standing here alone to receive this award, but I shouldn’t be, because I didn’t get to this point in my career alone,” said Farone, a professor in MTSU’s Department of Biology who is internationally recognized for her work with host-pathogen interactions in animals and the environment.
She’s best known for her collaborative research with colleagues and students at Tennessee Tech University and at MTSU, including her husband, biology professor Anthony Farone, on two odd bacteria, found in a Cookeville, Tennessee, hot tub in 1999 and now studied for nearly 20 years, that invaded mammal cells’ nuclei and replicated.
Bacteria don’t usually do that; viruses do. And bursting into a host cell nucleus means the bacteria — and potential infections — can spread faster, much like viruses. (She explains more about this study in a July 2019 episode of “MTSU On the Record,” available to hear here.)
She shares her love of research with the students she guides in MTSU’s microbiology labs from freshmen to students in the university’s Molecular Biosciences Ph.D. Program, earning multimillion-dollar grants from entities like the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Science Foundation on projects ranging from studying pathogens on packaged produce to helping graduate students boost their communication skills to better share scientific research with the public.
“I fell in love with the students here,” she recalled of her first classes at MTSU. “They were so eager to learn, and they seemed to enjoy lab work as much as I did, and I find that true even today. In fact, I often tell my students, in the (same) class that I originally filled in for 24 years ago, that it’s the favorite part of my workday.
“It’s the students who motivate me to be a better teacher, a better mentor, and to keep pursuing my research questions.”
Farone also thanked McPhee; her family; her dean, Bud Fischer of the College of Basic and Applied Sciences; and Vice Provost for Research David Butler, dean of the College of Graduate Studies, for their support of her teaching and research, as well as her departmental colleagues and staff members and her collaborators at other universities.
“I’ve also been fortunate to serve on several university committees, and although I don’t know if ‘fortunate’ is the appropriate term for committee work, it’s through those committees that I’ve met faculty all across this campus doing remarkable research and creative projects,” she said.
“I’m proud to be part of a faculty who are committed to a campus of discovery and active learning. … I could not have achieved what I’ve done here at MTSU alone. And I think that recent events across our country have shown us that when we do work together, we can accomplish amazing things.”
During the virtual meeting, MTSU Provost Mark Byrnes acknowledged 11 more faculty recipients of the MTSU Foundation awards for their accomplishments in and outside the classroom. McPhee also presented his 2020 State of the University address, which is available at https://youtu.be/nd5H5RLNQeM.
The four recipients of the foundation’s 2020 Outstanding Teaching Award are:
• Professor Erin Anfinson, Department of Art and Design.
• Dr. Carmelita L. Dotson, Department of Social Work.
• Dr. Christine Eschenfelder, School of Journalism and Strategic Media.
• Dr. Jenna Gray-Hildenbrand, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies.
The seven additional Foundation Award recipients for 2020 are:
• Outstanding General Education Award — Dr. Michael Paulauskas, , Department of History.
• Outstanding Public Service Awards — Dr. Tracey Huddleston, Department of Elementary and Special Education; Dr. Holly Spooner, Mary Miller Chair of Excellence in Equine Health in the School of Agriculture; and Diane Cummings Turnham, senior associate athletic director and senior women’s administrator, MTSU Athletics.
• Distinguished Research Award — Dr. Tom Brinthaupt, Department of Psychology.
• Distinguished Creativity Award — Professor Angela DeBoer, School of Music.
• Special Projects Award — Dr. Song Cui, School of Agriculture. Cui also received the 2019 Distinguished Research Award.
The university also recognized 11 new faculty emeriti, two new deans emeriti and 54 newly promoted and/or tenured faculty members across campus.
The complete 2020 MTSU Foundation Awards program, which includes more details about the award winners and other honorees, is available here as a PDF
A video of the virtual award presentations, which includes Farone’s acceptance remarks, is available below.
MTSU’s 109th academic year begins Monday, Aug. 24, with the first day of fall 2020 classes.
— Gina E. Fann (email@example.com)