Leadership Council Member Spotlight
Katherine Seley-Radtke is a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in organic chemistry and drug design. She is also one of the U.S. State Department’s Jefferson Science Fellows. A member of the COSAM Dean’s Leadership Council since 2010, Professor Seley-Radtke earned her doctorate in organic chemistry from Auburn University under the mentorship of Professor Stewart Schneller, former dean of COSAM. It was Schneller who asked Seley-Radtke to join the council in 2010.
“Early on I helped out every year with the annual COSAM golf tournament, so when Stew asked me to become involved with the advisory council years later, I didn't hesitate. It was a no-brainer to come back to Auburn to help out again,” said Seley-Radtke.
Following a non-traditional pathway to her career in science, Seley-Radtke enrolled in college at the age of 15, but left to marry when she was 18. She returned to academia in her late 30s to pursue her bachelor’s degree from the University of South Florida and her doctorate from Auburn University, while at the same time maintaining a family with two daughters.
“I started attending college at the same time as high school and it just seemed fun. Of course it wasn't easy, but I think I thrive on challenges! I should stress – I never gave up on finishing – it was always something I knew I would ultimately accomplish, however when I met my first husband he was transferred out west and I was unable to go back to school right away. Then before, and again in between the births of my two daughters, I went back to school twice, each time chipping away at a little more of what I needed to get done to graduate,” said Seley-Radtke. “I finally went back full-time when the girls were in junior high and high school. I finished my undergraduate degree and then started on earning my Ph.D. degree. I subsequently joined Stew's (Schneller) research group, and when he and Aina (Schneller’s wife) decided to move to Auburn a few years later to become dean of COSAM, I never gave it a second thought – I knew I had to move to Auburn to finish. In addition, I ended up staying on to postdoc with Stew before FINALLY beginning my independent career at Georgia Tech!”
Seley-Radtke’s research, which has been consistently funded by the National Institutes of Health, involves drug discovery and development. Current projects are focused on the design and synthesis of: chemotherapeutic agents to treat infectious diseases and cancer; and biological probes to explore the structure and function of DNA. In addition to her research achievements, Professor Seley-Radtke has also worked closely with the Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services on the U.S./Russian collaborative effort toward the nonproliferation of biological weapons. Related to this effort, Professor Seley-Radtke’s Jefferson Science Fellowship assignment at the U.S. Department of State was in the Office of Cooperative Threat Reduction in the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation. As part of this mission, she has continued her involvement in the ongoing nonproliferation and diplomatic efforts in Russia. She works closely with leading scientists, ministry officials, and the Russian Academies of Sciences and Medical Sciences on critical scientific issues including national security and bioweapons, as well as emerging and reemerging infectious diseases. To this end, she has been given a top security clearance. Professor Seley-Radtke will once again spend time at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow this summer as part of her ongoing commitment to the Jefferson program.
Professor Seley-Radke is currently the vice president (and president-elect) of the International Society for Nucleosides, Nucleotides and Nucleic Acids, the leading scientific society for her field. She is also a member of the Award Nomination and Selection Committee for the American Chemical Society’s Medicinal Chemistry Division, and is one of the co-organizers of the 2014 National Medicinal Chemistry Symposium to be held in Charleston, S.C., in May of 2014. Additionally, in 2013 she was elected to the board of directors of the International Society of Antiviral Research, and since 2010, she has served on the AIDS Discovery and Development of Therapeutics study selection for the National Institutes of Health, along with several other ad hoc NIH study sections focused on drug design.
Of what in your career, thus far, are you most proud?
That's really hard to say – I had a very late start but I feel like I worked very hard to catch up! I have been lucky enough to have been awarded some incredible honors, including the National Academies of Sciences Jefferson Science Fellowship. It has led to some very interesting adventures and experiences, including getting to meet Dr. Condoleezza Rice, not to mention extensive travels around the world. Mentoring is extremely important to me, and I have worked closely with several scientific societies in an effort to promote women in science as well as to involve younger members of the field. I have also had the opportunity to train some excellent students and postdocs. Not to mention I have been able to work with many outstanding collaborators around the world. Overall I guess one can't ask for much more!
Why did you agree to participate on the Dean’s Leadership Council?
Because I believe strongly in giving back, as well as being involved in STEM outreach efforts. I feel it is our job as educators not only to get students excited about science, but also to give them various opportunities to expand their experiences beyond the laboratory. I think it is important to show students we aren't just confined to the laboratory, and that we can interact with the rest of the world as part of our research efforts.
What talents/qualities do you possess that make you a valuable member of the Dean’s Leadership Council?
In addition to being an Auburn alumna, I have mentored 50+ graduate students, including a joint Russian graduate student, 60+ undergraduates, and almost 20 postdoctoral associates in my research group over the past 16 years. Those students represent many countries across the world, which gives me a perspective on international science matters. In addition, since 2007 I have served as the program director of University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s NIH-funded Chemistry-Biology Interface Graduate training program, one of only 22 in the country. As part of that program, I have mentored between 30 and 36 graduate students in chemistry, biology and biochemistry. This gives me a better handle on not only what is important, but what is CRITICAL in terms of providing a strong graduate and undergraduate cross-disciplinary, hands-on educational experience to STEM students in the ever-changing landscape of university life.
In terms of my international experiences, I feel strongly that the National Academies of Sciences Jefferson Science Fellowship, my year at the State Department and of course, my subsequent stints at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, not to mention my previous work with the Department of Defense on the joint smallpox projects with Russia, have provided me with a unique perspective in terms of alternative career pathways for science majors. No longer just confined to academia, industry or patent law, science policy and governmental science are also very important alternatives for our students that we need to stress, particularly in these lean times. In addition, my husband, Mike, has been a scientific review officer at the National Institutes of Health for the past 20 years, and prior to that he worked in several other government science positions. Since few in academia have had extensive, hands-on experience with government, we are often asked to give talks on alternative career pathways for scientists, something I feel is typically lacking when advising students.
What do you believe are the greatest strengths of the College of Sciences and Mathematics at Auburn University?
The people. Throughout all of my experiences with Auburn, including through today, I have always been impressed with the dedication of the people involved in COSAM. In particular, I think Stew's efforts over the 17 years he was dean to develop a strong, cohesive and excited organization were outstanding and laid the foundation for those who have continued on. It is pretty impressive to see the sheer number of changes, not to mention the growth in COSAM from when we first came to Auburn back in 1994!
Is there a particular area of COSAM that holds significant interest for you? If so, what is it and why?
Yes, the Society of Women in Sciences and Mathematics’ outreach to young women scientists. I feel it is extremely important to get women excited about science and math as early as possible. Our granddaughter Riley is already very excited about science thanks to Grammie and Grampie!
As a COSAM donor and supporter, what areas of the college do you support and why do you feel it is important?
Each year we sponsor a table at COSAM's annual Society of Women in Sciences and Mathematics luncheon because we feel it is important to support COSAM's efforts particularly in terms of outreach for attracting young women to science. We also contributed heavily to the COSAM Schneller Chair fund – our second contribution took it over the target goal and we were very proud of that! Stew was an excellent mentor and it was a great way to show him how much I appreciated his efforts, as well as to support COSAM and Auburn. And, whenever we can make it down there, we also support the COSAM golf tournament because Mike is a rabid golfer! Related to that, at the COSAM golf tournament's silent auction I bid on (and won!) the chance to name one of the new trapdoor spiders that Auburn's Dr. Jason Bond discovered a few years ago. Jason is a taxonomist and has named spiders after Angelina Jolie and Stephen Colbert, but Mike thinks "Aptothicus Mike Radtkei" is by far the best! Bottom line – I am, and always will be an Auburn Tiger – WAR EAGLE!!
Seley-Radtke and her husband, Mike, have four adult children between them: her two daughters, Tristan and Ali, and Mike's son, Matt, and daughter, Alesia. They also have three granddaughters via Tristan: Riley, 7, Zoe, 4, and Harper, 1.5. The couple has several pets including two cats, Einstein and Cinderella, who are both rescues, and three dogs. The youngest dog is named Rioja, a.k.a. “Rio” and is a 5-year-old Spanish mastiff who weighs around 240-250 lbs. “He thinks he’s a lap dog!” said Seley-Radtke. The other two dogs are both rescues: Birdie, who is around 14 and is half chow chow, half golden retriever; and Bacchus, who is almost 13 and is half black lab, half black-and-tan coon hound. “They're both lightweights. They only weigh in about 80-85 lbs. each!” said Seley-Radtke.
In her spare time, she enjoys cooking, growing orchids and traveling.
“Mike and I love to travel! Since 2002 I have been in 21 countries, many of them more than once, as well as 17 trips to Russia,” said Seley-Radtke. “I have also lived in Russia for as long as three months at a time and, as I mentioned earlier, I will be back there this summer for about a month and a half.”