USD Chemistry Chair, Professor Tammy Dwyer Named ACS Fellow Honoree

USD Chemistry Chair, Professor Tammy Dwyer Named ACS Fellow Honoree

Tammy Dwyer, a faculty member in chemistry and biochemistry at the University of San Diego since 1994 and current department chair, has been named to the 2017 class of American Chemical Society Fellows, essentially a lifetime achievement-type honor given to scientists who’ve demonstrated outstanding accomplishments in chemistry and have made important contributions to ACS, the world’s largest scientific society.

“I feel very fortunate, I’m blessed and I’m honored,” said Dwyer of the recognition after being nominated by current and former USD department peers, including Assistant Professor Jessica Bell.

Bell’s nomination letter highlighted Dwyer’s “demonstrated excellence and leadership as a scientist, educator and manager, and for her service to the ACS community. Through the lens of her 25-year-career, the impact of Tammy’s leadership is reflected in the successes of her students, department and the development of programs for and engagement within her community.” 

Dwyer will be one of 65 ACS Fellows honored at a ceremony and reception on Aug. 21, which is during the ACS’ 254th National Meeting and Exposition in Washington D.C. 

The award recognizes Dwyer’s research, teaching and mentoring, managing USD’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry as chair for 13 of the last 16 years and her long-standing participation in ACS. Dwyer’s 1994 arrival at USD — she was at California State University San Marcos for two years prior — was the start of an amazing legacy she’s built. 

“I’m always thinking, I’m not afraid of change and I love moving forward and improving things,” Dwyer said. “I’m very proud, I’ve always tried to do a good job, do the best work I can do and be the best leader I could be.” 

A first-generation college student who earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1983 at California Poly State University (now Cal Poly) in San Luis Obispo and an MS and PhD in chemistry at UC San Diego, Dwyer credits her first-gen designation as motivation — “I’m compulsive and I learned how to be self-motivated and self-directed.” 

Success Through Research 

Research has been one area where this approach has particularly thrived. 

Her research program, according to Bell’s description, involves multi-dimensional, high resolution nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to examine DNA structure at USD, which is primarily an undergraduate institution. Dwyer has published 15 peer-reviewed papers on the study of DNA, drug-DNA complexes and DNA duplexes containing non-natural nucleobase analogs. After she helped USD acquire two high-field NMR spectrometers via research grants, she’s published six papers in top peer-reviewed journals. Undergraduate USD students who work in Dwyer’s lab perform all studies and data analyses. Dwyer has authored or co-authored the majority of high-resolution NMR solution structures of DNA containing non-natural nucleobases found in the literature. 

Dwyer played a major role in enhancing the reach and interest in undergraduate research across campus into what is now called Creative Collaborations, an on-campus, two-day spotlight for all USD undergraduate research regardless of their major. 

Bell stated that as department chair, Dwyer’s “signature accomplishment has been to significantly raise the research profile of the department and, in turn, the university, while maintaining excellence in teaching.” Chiefly, she guided the chemistry and biochemistry department through the successful completion of a Research Corporation Department Development Award during which a research requirement for all majors was implemented and support for student-faculty research was enhanced. 

Connecting with Students

Dwyer’s teaching in the classroom for classes such as general chemistry, analytical chemistry, research methods and physical methods has been vital. Recognized for her teaching at USD with a University Professorship (1999, 2012) and the Davies Award for Teaching Excellence (2000), Dwyer has mentored several students from USD who are now employed in the biotechnology industry, have gone on to obtain professional degrees and some who’ve become educators. 

“I am so proud of every student who has come from our department’s lab,” said Dwyer, who relishes not just the work done by the students in her lab, but also attending weddings, PhD graduations, exchanging Christmas cards and having lunch with former students who’ve become teachers and seeing them giving back. “It’s wonderful to continue to be involved in their lives and that they want to stay connected to me.” 

As department chair, Dwyer’s leadership has helped others thrive. 

“She takes the time to get to know people, listen to them and inspire them to be better. Tammy has strengthened the department’s cohesiveness by empowering others to develop and test new ideas,” Bell stated. 

The results come in the form of successes for both faculty — multiple National Science Foundation CAREER and Dreyfus Teacher Scholar award winners — and students who’ve been awarded Beckman and Goldwater scholarships. Dwyer also helped to develop the biochemistry major at USD, ensuring the chemistry major’s ACS certification and biochemistry’s ACS and ASBMB certification. 

Being selected as an ACS Fellow, Dwyer said, “gives me confidence that I’m doing the right kinds of things in the classroom, in the lab, with students and faculty, I’m doing the right things in life and it can have an impact,” she said. 

ACS Involvement

Dwyer’s ACS involvement in a myriad of volunteer roles has been impactful on the local chemistry community. She’s served within the ACS San Diego Section as an education committee member and its chair to promote chemistry in K-12, councilor, as the ACS San Diego Section chair, and as a member of the ACS Women Chemists Committee. Other volunteer efforts over the years includes K-8 outreach to introduce and inspire young students about chemistry; co-organized and helped fundraise for the Maria Goeppert-Mayer Symposium (1997-2006) and more. 

Dwyer said her involvement with ACS is as strong as ever, providing USD chemistry and biochemistry students opportunities to attend its spring and fall conferences where they can immerse themselves in the subject through meeting high-profile people, attend undergraduate and graduate school fairs and more. 

This activity shows Dwyer always has the chemistry field’s best interests in mind. Being named an ACS Fellow is a permanent reminder that the chemistry field is better because of Dwyer’s involvement. 

— Ryan T. Blystone

Tammy Dwyer, PhD, Chemistry and Biochemistry Department chair and professor, has been selected as a prestigious American Chemical Society Fellow for her outstanding contributions.Tammy Dwyer, PhD, Chemistry and Biochemistry Department chair and professor, has been selected as a prestigious American Chemical Society Fellow for her outstanding contributions.

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