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New distinguished alumni award goes to NIH official

Alumni and friends have ensured that Joe Sam's name will continually be recognized by establishing and endowing the Joseph Sam Distinguished Alumni in Medicinal Chemistry Award. Pictured with Sam is Kristen Gilmore.


he Department of Medicinal Chemistry has honored its former department chair, the late Joseph Sam, by establishing an alumni award in his name.

The Joseph Sam Distinguished Alumni in Medicinal Chemistry Award was established at the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy to recognize the longtime department chair, Graduate School dean and associate vice chancellor for research.

Naming the award for Sam is a fitting tribute to the exceptional impact he had on developing the department and on launching basic research at the university, said Stephen Cutler, the department's current chair.

"It is also wonderful to recognize our distinguished alumni in this fashion, since every graduate of our department knew Joe Sam," Cutler said.

Michael Rogers

The inaugural recipient of the award is Michael Rogers (PhD 72) of Vienna, Va., director of the Division of Pharmacology, Physiology and Biological Chemistry at the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

"I feel both humbled and greatly honored to have been selected to receive the inaugural Joseph Sam Award," Rogers said. "I am especially honored to once again have my name linked to his. He not only guided me through my graduate program, but it was his network of professional contacts that started me on my path at NIH. He was a fine gentleman, an extraordinarily supportive mentor and a guiding influence in my life."

While Rogers was earning his doctorate, Sam served as his dissertation director. He has worked at NIH-NIGMS since 1980 and served on numerous NIH committees. He also served on the advisory board of Chemical and Engineering News from 2002-05 and serves on the Chemical Sciences Roundtable of the National Academy of Sciences.

Rogers received the NIH Merit Award in 1991 and the NIH Director's Award in 1989 and 2011.

"Michael Rogers is an exceedingly accomplished scientist," Cutler said. "He is responsible for the planning, organization and administration of the NIH-NIGMS's large national program of grants and fellowships in the pharmacology, physiology, biochemical and chemical sciences.

"When I called Dr. Rogers to inform him of the selection committee's recommendation, his reaction was very modest. I informed him that this is how Dr. Sam would have reacted if he had been selected. We knew at that moment that the selection committee had made the correct recommendation for our inaugural recipient of this award."

Recipients of the award are selected based on recommendations from a committee of departmental faculty. Criteria include positions held in academia, government or industry, service to the discipline, and quality of research or pedagogical publications, as well as research, grant, teaching or other awards and honors.

Once the award was established, Cutler reached out to department alumni and friends to endow the award, and they were quick to respond. Among them was Robert Vince, who was instrumental in getting the ball rolling.

"Joe Sam gave me my first job," Vince explained. "I got to know him and his family very well. I always admired him."

Vince left the department for another faculty position at the University of Minnesota, where he still works today, but he never forgot Sam and his mentorship.

"This award was a good opportunity to do something for Joe," Vince said. "There was something special about Joe, and I wanted to honor him."

Vince and other alumni and friends have ensured that Sam's name will continually be recognized with Ole Miss and achievement in the field of medicinal chemistry.

"The endowment honoring Dr. Sam is a true partnership [among] friends, alumni and members of this department," Cutler said. "He will forever be remembered for his instrumental role in developing our department and for his 'genetic' influence on the field of medicinal chemistry."

Sam served as department chair before becoming dean of the Graduate School and associate vice chancellor for research in 1969. He died Oct. 3, 2009.

The Joseph Sam Distinguished Alumni Award endowment is open to gifts from other individuals and organizations. To donate, mail a check to the University of Mississippi Foundation with the name of the fund noted to P.O. Box 249, University, MS 38677, visit or contact Raina McClure at (800)340-9542.



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