Westminster Professor Receives Governor's Medal for Science & Technology
Award Presented to Dr. Bonnie Baxter for Science Education
By tapping into a rich yet often ignored scientific resource known as the Great Salt Lake, Westminster College’s Dr. Bonnie Baxter has attracted national and international attention for her research and education programs. Due to her exceptional achievements, Baxter was presented the Governor’s Medal for Science and Technology (Science Education) yesterday during a ceremony at the Clark Planetarium.
Baxter, an associate professor of biology at Westminster, has dedicated most of her recent career to promoting understanding of the Great Salt Lake through research on halophilic organisms (those that thrive on high concentrations of salt). Despite working in limited campus science facilities, Baxter has generated excitement and passion for science and the study of DNA repair and photoprotection in halophiles with her undergraduate students. Many of them have gone on to publish papers, speak at national conferences and gain acceptance into prestigious graduate programs due to her expert tutelage in this field.
“Bonnie has really been in the forefront of our efforts to build a nationally recognized undergraduate science program at Westminster,” said Dr. Mary Jane Chase, Dean of School of Arts and Science. “Her work with students and her leadership in transforming the undergraduate science program has made a huge difference. She has been very creative about finding ways of getting people excited about science research…she is a great colleague, mentor and teacher.”
Almost 10 years ago, Baxter became one of the first scientists to examine the biological entities in the lake with molecular biology techniques. “When I moved to Salt Lake, I was aghast that there was very little science being done at the Great Salt Lake, and none on microbiology,” said Baxter. “This unique ecosystem had to be explored, and I saw it as an opportunity for my undergraduates to do novel work.”
“In the 10 years I’ve been here, I’ve been like the gatekeeper for the lake,” she continued. “I’ve invited many renowned scientists out to study it, and my students get to work right along side them. I feel humbled by the award because I’ve worked with the top scientists in my field, and I am constantly learning from them, as well as from my students and fellow teachers.”
Last night, Baxter dedicated the Governor’s Medal to Westminster’s students during the awards ceremony.
“They are the ones carrying the sample bottles at the lake and the ones in the biology lab at all hours of the night, so they deserve it,” she explained.
“This award really reflects a convergence of many of my passions,” she continued. “I am very passionate about undergraduate science education, the environment, science and discovery and the Great Salt Lake itself. This is a great place to be in my career.”
Baxter obtained her Ph.D. in Genetics at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and did her post-doctoral research in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at Washington State University. She was also voted one of the five “Women Changing Utah” by Salt Lake Magazine for her research and education efforts related to the Great Salt Lake.
The Governor’s Medal recognizes those who have made career achievements and/or provided distinguished service that has benefited the state of Utah in the areas of Science and Technology. It was initiated in 1987 and nominations were solicited from the categories of: Academia, Science Education, Industry and Government and a Special Category. Baxter was presented her medal in the Science Education category.
Westminster is presently fundraising to build a $30 million state-of-the-art science center that will accommodate the growing number of science majors, as well as the school’s science requirements for all of its undergraduates.
Westminster is a nationally recognized, comprehensive liberal arts college distinguished by its unique approach to learning. With a broad array of graduate and undergraduate programs, Westminster prepares students for success with its emphasis on active learning, real world experiences and its vibrant campus community. These are further enriched by the opportunities presented by Westminster’s unique location, adjacent to the Rocky Mountains and to the dynamic city of Salt Lake. For more information visit www.westminstercollege.edu .