From cell division to clarinets, professor finds joy in all

Passion and intellectual curiosity and drive and goals are great.

But so is balance, says University of Denver ProfessorSusan Sadler, winner of this year’s Distinguished Teaching Award.

Balance isn’t just her message to students; it’s her way of life. Intense lab research into hormone-induced cell division is only part of her life, the part she brings to the DU campus. Off campus, she’s made a habit of trying new things. During her chemistry studies as an undergraduate at Colorado College, she sang in the chorus with the Colorado Springs Opera. Today, she plays clarinets (alto and bass) with the traveling Denver Concert Band.

“These students who want to be lab rats — who want to do science all the time — I try to tell them this is life, you only get one chance. Try everything,” she says. “Never does someone at the end of their life say, ‘I wish I’d done more calculus.’”

But life isn’t only about play, either.

Research and interaction

Sadler, an associate professor of biological science, involves students — even undergraduates — in research into how cells and chemistry interact. The research involves looking for clues into how the body works, what hormones trigger which responses in cells, trying to uncover what triggers cells to multiply properly, and what goes wrong when they don’t.

“Life is not simple,” she says. “What we learn as we go along is how little we know. That’s exciting.”

Unlike the period when she began her own career in laboratory research, Sadler says today’s students are far from secretive, protecting each advancement. She says the new generation, a product of the Internet and online social networking, is collaborative. They often share discoveries or seek advice from peers when they come to a roadblock.

She says she enjoys seeing students feel their way through the courses of study at DU and taking advantage of the liberal arts courses available, in addition to science. Many enter school believing they want to become physicians, and many move on into careers that focus their scientific aspirations in different directions.

“Many times, we see them move into opportunities they haven’t even dreamed of,” she says.

Power in knowledge

An education in biologic sciences can lead to careers in public health administration, international studies, patent law and other fields.

One student she recalls fondly, Emily Bajcsi (BS ’98), was one of those students who entered school thinking medicine, and wound up somewhere else. Upon leaving DU, Bajcsi worked in hospitals and earned a master’s in public health in 2003 from Boston University. Then, she went to law school and is now a health care attorney.

“I’m working to improve people’s health through law and policy,” Bajcsi says. “The analytical skills necessary for practicing law were instilled through my study of biology at DU and with Professor Sadler in particular. I remain a science geek, continually fascinated by the natural world, thanks to Professor Sadler.”

A fondness for students

Sadler keeps a “Wall of Fame” in the hallway outside her office in the Seeley G. Mudd building with photos and the names of students who made their mark at DU. Pointing at them, she can recall where many went on: dental, medical, veterinary and law schools — she goes through each one. Bajcsi’s photo is among them.

“What makes my day is when I get an e-mail out of the blue,” she says. “Sometimes former students will just send me a note telling me how life is going.”

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