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ASU honors New College prof with Faculty Achievement Award

April 25, 2011

Peter Jurutka, an associate professor in Arizona State University’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, says he’s looking for “full-membership participation” from his undergraduate research students; he’s not interested in hired hands. The philosophy is a winning one, as the mathematical and natural sciences instructor has been honored by ASU with a 2011 Faculty Achievement Award for excellence in student mentoring.

“Mentoring my students isn’t just about assigning experiments for them to conduct in the laboratory,” says Jurutka, who has taught at ASU’s West campus since 2004. “Students who I mentor are expected to participate as full members of the profession, not just as ‘hired hands’ conducting bench work.”

Jurutka is one of nine ASU faculty members to receive achievement recognition from the university in 2011, and is one of just two singled out for classroom excellence, joining assistant professor Amber Wutich in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. A native of Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic), Jurutka has leveraged his productive research program and more than $2.5 million in external grants to teach students scientific research and guide them as they identify their personal and professional goals.

“Dr. Jurutka’s mentoring activities have been highly successful,” says Todd Sandrin, associate director of the New College Division of Mathematical and Natural Sciences. “Clearly, his lab has a reputation among students as one of the best for research mentoring. When he selects a student for inclusion in his research program, he looks for students who might not otherwise have a similar opportunity.

“The research he has performed with undergraduates has been incorporated into award-winning presentations by his students, and some of his most recent manuscripts include undergraduate co-authors,” Sandrin says. “Dr. Jurutka’s mentoring skills have transformed the lives of his students.”

One of those students is life sciences major Christa Tabacaru, a senior who is scheduled to receive her B.S. in May and will pursue medical school upon graduation. She says “Dr. J” has helped her understand and appreciate research as more than a premed requirement.

“The research experience with Dr. J has taught me to become a great critical thinker,” says Tabacaru, who meets weekly with Jurutka to discuss results from her previous week’s research and to plan new studies. “It has opened my eyes to such a vast segment of biology, that it is extremely difficult to work through all of it. He has helped me focus my goals and ideas into more attainable ones, and in doing so has fostered my curiosity for science and life.

“He has helped tremendously in terms of guiding me through the premedical curriculum, both academic and extracurricular,” she says, adding that a 2008 illness and a biology course she took “for fun” sparked her interest in a career in medicine. “He has pushed me to strive for more in all that I do, be it research, my activities, my schoolwork. I believe that through his guidance I’ve been able to learn the art of balancing every aspect of my life.”

Jurutka received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Arizona in 1993 and his B.S. in chemistry from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, in 1987, both with honors. He joined New College in 2004 after serving on the faculty of U of A’s College of Medicine from 1993-2004 where he also conducted post-doctoral research following his graduation. At the West campus, his lab provides undergraduates with research opportunities that have led to more than a dozen published scholarly papers co-authored by his students and have focused on such topics as the fight against cancer and a greater understanding of post-menopausal osteoporosis.  He has received a number of prestigious honors, including the Norwich-Eaton Young Investigator Research Award for significant contributions to the field of bone and mineral research, and the John Haddad Young Investigator Award presented by Advances in Mineral Metabolism and the American Society of Bone and Mineral Research.

Jurutka is currently an independent reviewer for such professional journals as Molecular Endocrinology, Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, and Endocrinology.  His research has been widely published in peer publications, including the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, Cancer Research, Nutrition Reviews, Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, and the Journal of College Science Teaching.  He has also published for the American Association of Cancer Research and the Arizona-Nevada Academy of Science.

Roger Berger, director of the New College mathematical and natural sciences division, says Jurutka’s mentoring success is a reflection of the New College focus on the student.

“Mentorship in research is a critically important hallmark of the undergraduate experience in New College and in our division,” notes Berger. “Our students perform research with our faculty outside of the classroom while they work on real-world, practical problems facing society today. Peter mentors in meaningful ways many students every year. The benefits to his students are myriad; his experience and successes in mentoring represent an ideal that all ASU faculty strive to achieve.”

Jurutka says his mentoring activities with students is one of the highlights of teaching in New College.

“It is extremely rewarding, both personally and professionally, to engage students via intellectual study,” he notes. “To pass on not only an academic knowledge base, but also the tools that my students will use to access new discoveries and ask novel questions in their roles as life-long learners is a wonderful and exciting opportunity. Students learn to translate their abstract knowledge into workable solutions, a skill set that makes New College and ASU students valuable and highly desirable employees in a 21st century workplace after they graduate.”

Faculty Achievement Awards are made for a specific contribution appearing in the last 10 years that meets the highest standards of the discipline or profession. After receiving input from ASU faculty, nominations for the awards are made by deans and reviewed by panels of Regents’ and President’s Professors. This is the fifth year for the annual awards.

For a full list of 2011 honorees, visit ASU News at