Scott Juntti Joins UMD as William J. Higgins Assistant Professor of Biology
He is the first holder of this endowed position, which supports an outstanding biology faculty member who excels as a scientist and teacher. The position honors William J. Higgins, now an associate professor emeritus of biology, who has inspired thousands of students during his nearly 45 years on campus through his teaching, advising and mentoring.
“My gift is a simple gesture to honor the professor who took both a personal and professional interest in all of us,” said oral surgeon Julius Hyatt (B.S. ’80, zoology), who created the Dr. William J. Higgins Scholar-Teacher Fund in 2007. Hyatt holds positions at the University of Maryland Dental School and at the Maryland Center for Oral Surgery and Dental Implants.
Hyatt is just one of nearly 100 donors—70 percent of whom are alumni—who contributed $682,000 to the fund, which is the department’s first endowed professorship.
“Giving to the Higgins Fund helped secure the legacy of my physiology professor and allows many more generations of students to be enriched by his unique mentoring skills, as I was,” said endocrinologist Jeffrey Mechanick (B.S. ’81, zoology), a clinical professor of medicine, endocrinology, diabetes and bone disease at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Mechanick also chairs the UMD College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences’ Board of Visitors.
Juntti studies cichlid fish social behaviors, such as mating, parenting and aggression. At UMD, Juntti aims to use genetic approaches to uncover networks of genes that control such behaviors. In addition, he will teach mammalian physiology—the same course that Higgins once taught—in spring 2018.
“I’m excited to be on a campus with so many fantastic researchers, and I hope to bring on a group of engaging, supportive and insightful scientists,” said Juntti. He especially looks forward to having two renowned cichlid researchers as colleagues—Biology Professors Karen Carleton and Thomas Kocher.
Juntti earned his B.S. in zoology and psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He then earned his Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of California, San Francisco, where he received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to study how steroid hormone receptors control sexually dimorphic behaviors in mice. As a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University, Juntti received a National Institutes of Health Ruth Kirschstein Postdoctoral National Research Service Award. There, he used genetic methods, including the gene-editing technique CRISPR, to identify neurons and genes that control social behavior in cichlids.
Juntti also helped guide the next generation of researchers while at Stanford. He mentored 10 undergraduate students, including three who completed honors theses and one who received Stanford University’s best undergraduate thesis award.
“Mentoring is one of my favorite things to do,” Juntti said. “There’s nothing better than having conversations with students and helping them to develop scientific hypotheses and create the experiments that will allow us to drive science forward.”
After meeting Juntti, Higgins said, “I was blown away by Scott’s scientific research and I am excited for our students who will be so fortunate to enroll in his courses. Scott’s personality, academic background and interest in teaching make him the ideal person for this position.”
Additional donations to the Higgins Endowed Professorship can be made at https://go.umd.edu/higgins. To read about other endowed chairs and professorships in the college, visit https://go.umd.edu/endowedcmns.
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Writer: Irene Ying