Amy Sater Named Chair of Biology and Biochemistry

Strong Leadership Experience, 22 Years at UH

Amy Sater, a professor on the University of Houston faculty for 22 years, has been named chair of the Department of Biology and Biochemistry in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

Amy SaterSater has been a member of the department’s leadership team for nine years, serving in the elected position of Policy Leader for the Cell and Molecular Biology Division from 2006-2011, and as Associate Chair for Undergraduate Studies from 2011 to June 2015. In addition to those roles, Sater has chaired departmental search committees and served on the graduate council.

“I worked closely with the last three chairs – Stuart Dryer, Dan Wells, and Jim Briggs – and learned valuable lessons,” Sater said. “One critical aspect of being chair is to be able to think about short-term and long-term consequences and to see what is coming down the road.”

The department experienced tremendous growth in a short period of time, going from 30 to 45 tenured/tenure-track faculty members in about eight years.

“Our department is structured in three research divisions – Ecology and Evolution, Biochemistry, and Cell and Molecular Biology” Sater said. “The divisions are excellent at decision making, but it is also important for people to talk across divisional lines and create more cohesion at multiple levels.”

Sater sees opportunities for departmental development in the spaces between the divisions or across divisions. “My goal is to bring us together as a department, so we can think carefully and strategically about what our goals are across the department.”

She is meeting with each member of the department individually and also plans to bring people together in groups thematically across divisions to discuss what would make a positive difference to the group and what obstacles they see.

“As a department, I want us to step back and take a look at the breadth of our research programs and think about what we can do to advance them,” she said. “What are the strategic choices we can make with regard to things like—how big our department should be, what will allow our educational missions to move forward, and what kinds of new hires would have the biggest positive impact on large parts of the department?”

Sater’s research interest is in understanding how cells in early embryos choose to initiate neural development. Most recently, she was been looking at how microRNAs, the small RNAs involved in regulating whether a gene is expressed, participate in that process.

One area of study is a specific microRNA critical in the establishment of the eye and retinal development. Another area she is pursuing is the study of astrocytes, a major type of glial cell in the brain. These cells have the ability, in response to certain stimuli, such as injury, to begin dividing again, and in certain conditions, can reprogram as neurons.

“I love working in the lab; it is a very satisfying experience for me,” she said. “I hope it will be possible to balance my leadership and research roles.”

Sater sees the next year as a time of strategic planning and development for her department and for the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics as a whole.

“I’ve worked a lot with Dean Dan Wells; I trust his judgement and his decision-making,” Sater said. “That is a big factor for me in taking on this job as department chair.”

- Kathy Major, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics