Three exceptional scholars at the University of Connecticut have been selected for the highest honor the university bestows on its faculty, the Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor.
Each year, the Office of the Provost seeks nominations from across UConn for the newest cohort of Board of Trustees Distinguished Professors. Candidates must excel in all three areas of research, teaching, and public engagement. A committee of faculty is charged by the Provost’s Office to review and select each year’s honorees from among a competitive pool of nominees.
Honorees retain the title of Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor throughout their career at UConn and receive a $2,500 one-year stipend to be used by each recipient to further their professional activities. The number of available professorships each year is determined by the University by-laws. The Board of Trustees approved the latest cohort of honorees at its April 27 meeting.
The recipients for 2022-23 are as follows, with more detailed biographical information below.
- Laurinda Jaffe, Professor and Chair, Department of Cell Biology, School of Medicine
- Rachel O’Neill, Professor, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology and Department of Genetics and Genome Sciences, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and School of Medicine; Director, Institute for Systems Genomics
- Richard Pomp, Alva P. Loiselle Professor, School of Law
“The selection of each new class of Board of Trustees Distinguished Professors highlights how exceptional our faculty are at UConn. These are outstanding scholars who have made significant advancements in their fields, as well as in scientific discovery and community impact within and far beyond our university campuses. I am pleased to honor them with this recognition and congratulate them on this distinction,” said Carl Lejuez, provost at UConn.
In her research, Jaffe has repeatedly made discoveries that have been key to moving forward our understanding of the physiological mechanisms that produce a fertilization-competent egg and initiate embryonic development upon fertilization. Another major focus in her lab has been how membrane receptors and cyclic nucleotides function in the signaling pathways by which the cells that surround the oocyte in the mammalian ovarian follicle control meiosis. These discoveries have contributed greatly to our understanding of fertility mechanisms. They also provide important paradigms for understanding how cyclic nucleotides can coordinate intercellular communication in multicellular systems.
Over her career, Jaffe has published over 100 scientific papers and book chapters, including five single author or senior author original research papers in Nature and Science. In 2021, she was elected a member of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences in 2021, one of only three members at UConn.
Jaffe has actively participated in formal and informal teaching of graduate, medical and dental students at UConn Health as well as in the mentoring and laboratory teaching of doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows. She came to UConn Health in 1981 and has served UConn and the community for over 40 years. Early in her career, she developed and directed the medical and dental school curriculum in Tissue Biology, which was recognized by the 1988 Loeser Award for Outstanding Teaching. She has also contributed to the summer program for incoming medical students with disadvantaged backgrounds, a program designed to improve diversity in education at UConn Health. In 2018, she was honored with the Excellence in Research Mentoring award given by the UConn School of Medicine. Jaffe also serves on the Graduate Women in Medicine and Science steering committee and has led an initiative to advocate for an increase in endowed chairs for female faculty. For the past 14 years, she has chaired the organizing committee for the annual “Richard D. Berlin Lectureship”, a campus wide event that brings together many departments. In 2015, she helped to organize an event that brought author Rebecca Skloot and the family of Henrietta Lacks to the Storrs campus.
O’Neill’s work centers on how genomes function and evolve. She uses cutting-edge genomic, computational and imaging approaches to gain fundamental insights into chromosome biology and genome evolution in a wide variety of organisms. Her studies on the structure and function of chromosome centromeres, essential for proper chromosome segregation during cell division, have shaped the field of centromere biology. She is highly sought-after as a collaborator on large-scale national and international projects that require a high-level expertise in genome assembly curation.
O’Neill’s work on repetitive DNA, which makes up about 50% of the human genome but is frequently dismissed as “junk DNA”, has had far-reaching impact, including on normal fetal and placental development, the discovery of novel retroelements, evolutionary breakpoints and chromosome evolution, and continuing challenges to the centromere paradox. She is part of the team that released the first complete human genome sequence, published in a series of papers in Science. Her 2010 publication titled “Chromosomes, Conflict, and Epigenetics: Chromosomal Speciation Revisited”, remains one of the most cited reviews from the Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics. Collectively, O’Neill has published more than 100 peer-reviewed articles and led or contributed to projects that have brought over $23 million in extramural funding to UConn.
O’Neill is also the director of the Institute for Systems Genomics (ISG). As Director of the ISG, she has developed multiple new degree programs, initiated core facilities and programs (including the SARS-COV2 Surveillance Program) and established the iGEM and Genome Ambassadors outreach programs. Most recently, O’Neill organized and hosted Nobel Laureate Dr. Jennifer Doudna for the ISG Distinguished Lecture series, an event that attracted about 1,800 attendees for the live virtual presentation.
O’Neill also is part of the team that spearheaded the COVID-19 testing efforts at UConn that have helped UConn remain safe, efforts that were widely praised throughout the country including by White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator (2020-2021), Dr. Deborah Birx.
O’Neill has been recognized with several honors for her teaching, research and service, including a UConn Excellence in Teaching award, a Connecticut Women of Innovation – Academic Leadership Award, and is an elected member of the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering.
Pomp has dedicated his career to promoting fair, efficient, and progressive taxation. States, cities, and countries have valued his guidance on building ethical and sound tax regimes. He is sought after both nationally and globally as a visiting scholar, advisor, and expert witness, counseling cities, states, Indian tribes, the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Treasury, the White House, the Department of Justice, the IRS, the United Nations, the IMF, the World Bank, and numerous foreign countries, including Zambia, Indonesia, Gambia, Mexico, the Philippines, India, the People’s Republic of China, Vietnam, and the Republic of China.
He served as the hearing officer for the Multistate Tax Commission, revising the existing rules on state corporate income taxation and drafting alternative solutions. He helped design or draft the Navajo tax code, the Connecticut income tax, the Alaska personal income tax (adoption pending), and the federal Internet Tax Freedom Act. He was Director of the NY Tax Study Commission, and was described by the then-governor as “the father of fundamental tax reform in NY.” He was the only non-resident appointed to the California Commission on the 21st Century Economy. He participates in various capacities in Supreme Court litigation.
Pomp is a remarkably prolific author with 13 books and monographs and more than 140 publications in total. Pomp’s interdisciplinary work has been relied on by judges to justify their decisions in high-profile cases. His casebook, now in its ninth edition, has been translated in part into seven languages. His work has been described as challenging orthodoxy, exposing fallacies and myths, connecting seemingly disparate concepts, and fundamentally changing the profession’s views of classical problems.
He has won two awards for his teaching. His classes have been consistently described as transformative, inspirational, innovative, and creative, the reason for coming to UConn Law School.
His views are regularly sought by the media, including CNN, NPR, Bloomberg Radio, Sirius Radio, KCBS, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, the Los Angeles Times, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, The International Herald Tribune, and the Hill.
Pomp has received every major award in his field, including NYU’s “Outstanding Achievement in State and Local Taxation,” the Bureau of National Affairs “Lifetime Achievement Award,” Tax Analysts “State Tax Lawyer and Academic of the Year,” the Council on State Taxation’s “Excellence in State Taxation Award,” and the Connecticut Law Tribune’s “Professional Excellence Award.