Bartel wins 2011 Presidential Mentoring Award

Bartel wins 2011 Presidential Mentoring Award

Rice News staff

Bonnie Bartel is this year’s winner of the Presidential Mentoring Award, given annually to Rice faculty members who demonstrate a strong commitment to mentoring graduate or undergraduate students.


Bartel, the Ralph and Dorothy Looney Professor of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, joined Rice’s faculty in 1995. She was recognized for both her teaching and research in 2005 when she won the Charles W. Duncan Jr. Achievement Award for Outstanding Faculty, but she said being recognized for mentoring is special.

“I was honored and surprised and really touched because I think that mentoring is sometimes underappreciated,” Bartel said.

Bartel said she enjoys fostering the skills and confidence that are necessary for students to succeed in science. And one of her favorite things about Rice is that she gets to mentor undergraduates as well as graduate students and postdoctoral researchers.

“The transition from student to scientific colleague is a wonderful thing, and I know that is happening when a student is willing to challenge my ideas,” she said.

Bartel and her students investigate how plants produce and employ auxin and other hormones. Unlike animals, plants have neither glands to produce hormones nor a central nervous system to regulate them. Yet scientists know that plants use hormones to regulate leaf formation, stem growth, fruit development, longevity and many other functions. Plants achieve this feat by distributing the job of production — many cells can produce the hormones — and tightly regulating how the hormones are used through myriad genetic and biochemical mechanisms. Bartel’s group specializes in finding and exploring those mechanisms and it uses a variety of genetic, biochemical and cell biology tools to do so. Their recent findings that one auxin biosynthetic route is localized in a subcellular compartment, the peroxisome, has led to new understanding of how this essential organelle has been conserved and modified during the evolution of plants and animals.

Bartel is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a member of the Board of Directors of the Genetics Society of America. In 2006 she was named an HHMI Professor by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and awarded $1 million to develop programs at Rice that integrate undergraduate teaching with research by developing freshman seminars in local biology and bringing freshmen and sophomores into research laboratories.

About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.