Chairman's Examplary Faculty Prize

Terri A. Camesano
Recipient, 2014 Chairman's Exemplary Faculty Prize

To perform their functions—whether starting infections or causing tooth decay—bacteria must stick to surfaces, where they can form antibiotic-resistant colonies called biofilms. For more than a decade, Terri Camesano has been conducting pioneering research on the biochemical mechanisms bacteria use to adhere to substrates and exploiting that knowledge to find ways to prevent biofilm formation. Beginning with a highly prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER Award, and continuing with awards from the NSF, the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Army, and other organizations, Camesano has developed novel techniques for studying her tiny subjects. For example, using the atomic force microscope to measure the forces that hold bacteria in place, she showed how E. coli stick to cells in the urinary tract, and how compounds in cranberry juice prevent infections.

She is also studying natural antimicrobial peptides, with the goal of developing coatings that can prevent biofilm formation on all kinds of surfaces, including medical implants. And she is exploring tools that can kill virulent bacteria in soil. Her research has resulted in more than 60 scholarly publications and book chapters, one edited book, more than 100 presentations, and invited lectures in the United States, Australia, and Europe.

Camesano brings her enthusiasm for discovery to her work as an educator. She excels at infusing her courses with the immediacy of her ongoing research, and she welcomes undergraduates into her lab; many have won awards or published their work. In 2002 she established a partnership with École Nationale Supérieure des Industries Chimiques in Nancy, France, through which chemical engineering majors gain global experience while working on projects.

Camesano has spearheaded several federally funded programs for students from middle school to graduate school. As principal investigator for an NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates program, she gave students the opportunity to inspire future scientists and engineers by teaching in the two-week BioDiscovery Camp for middle school girls. She later founded an innovative program—also funded by the NSF—through which middle school teachers design curricular units in bioengineering to use in their classrooms. Both programs aim, in part, to inspire girls to think about pursuing careers in engineering.

Currently, Camesano is the principal investigator on five-year, $3 million award through the NSF’s highly competitive Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program. The first such award received by WPI, it is funding an innovative graduate program in biofabrication through which students learn to conduct research and then translate their discoveries into innovative solutions that can improve people’s lives.

Despite the heavy demands of research, teaching, and advising, Camesano has been active in service to the university and her profession. At WPI, she has served on numerous faculty and administrative committees. To explore her interest in academic administration, she applied for and won an appointment as a HERS Faculty Fellow at the Wellesley College Institute for Women in Higher Education Administration and was selected for the inaugural class of ELATE (Executive Leadership in Academic Technology and Engineering) fellows at Drexel University. With that preparation, she was named WPI’s first assistant dean of engineering. Beyond WPI, she is on the editorial board for the highly regarded journal Applied & Environmental Microbiology and is organizing the Advanced Research Workshop on Nanotechnology to Aid Chemical and Biological Defense; funded by NATO, it will take place this fall in Turkey.

For her groundbreaking research on bacterial adhesion, her innovative contributions to scientific and technological education, and her service to WPI and the chemical engineering profession, WPI is proud to confer upon Terri Camesano the 2014 Chairman’s Exemplary Faculty Prize.

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