Outgoing, energetic, and always positive, Ammini Moorthy has had a huge influence over Wagner’s biology students for the past 33 years.
A cell biologist and genetics expert, she takes special pride in her genetics courses — she grants that they were tough, but the students appreciated it when it came time for the MCATs. She taught scores of other biology courses as well, and developed all of the new ones offered during her early years at the College, so that many biology students “had a minor in me,” she jokes.
Dr. Moorthy earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in zoology at Kerala University in southern India, her native land, where she has returned as a master teacher during recent sabbaticals. She received a Ph.D. in cell biology from New York University in 1973.
Besides genetics, her other favorite course was an Intermediate Learning Community — Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications of the Genome — that she team taught with sociology professor John Esser. In this popular ILC, students did research on issues around the human genome and wrote a paper in which they proposed solutions and an action plan to implement their solutions. Wagner College received a grant from Project Pericles to fund this effort in what Moorthy calls “intellectual civic engagement.”
Her most memorable moments as a professor came from seeing her students succeed and achieve even more than she expected — students like Robert Bolash ’03, who received a Fulbright Fellowship to study in Germany and then completed an MD at the University of Miami School of Medicine; and Christina Lamb Perez, who received a National Science Foundation grant and completed her Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
“The most notable thing about her was that she connected with each of her students, and had a keen sense of awareness about them,” says Bolash, who is now an interventional pain physician at the Spine & Pain Institute of New York. “Perhaps her greatest influence was her ability to instill the need to go beyond what was average. ‘Just getting by’ would never be tolerable, and she had an excellent way of instilling motivation using a healthy dollop of encouragement, a sprinkling of guilt, and a smile that stretched from ear to ear when you shared with her the results of your success.”
In retirement, Dr. Moorthy wants to continue to challenge herself, just as she challenged her students. “I want to change my course of life, and do something very different,” she says, starting a long list of the things she wants to do: travel to new places, try new types of cooking, raise tropical plants, and begin more volunteer work. “There are a lot of things to do, you know, you only live once,” she says.
At the same time, she plans to keep in touch with her old life at Wagner, by offering her services as a tutor and raising funds for undergraduate biology research. And her own field of genetics continues to fascinate her. “Medicine is going to change because of genetics,” she says. “It is going from interventional medicine, where you wait for something to happen and then you go for treatment … to prophylactic medicine, where you know certain things [in advance]; for example, I am susceptible to getting breast cancer or colon cancer or diabetes or high blood pressure, and I am given an option to change my lifestyle. That way, you become the guardian of your own health.”
She only wishes she could be around for at least another 20 or 30 years to see how it all turns out.
— Laura Barlament | Editor, Wagner Magazine | November 11, 2013
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