Shay awarded Piper Professorship for teaching excellence

By Russell Rian

Dr. Shay at presentation
Dr. Jerry Shay (center) is joined by Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky and Dr. Sandra Schmid, Chair of Cell Biology, after he was named a Piper Professor by the Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation. The San Antonio-based Foundation annually recognizes 10 outstanding educators from Texas universities as Piper Professors. In all, 11 UTSW faculty members have been so honored for their teaching excellence.

When Dr. Jerry Shay attended graduate school, there was one way to learn: Listen and take copious notes. These days, medical students have novel-sized syllabi to follow, along with online lectures accompanied by downloadable slides and presentations.

“My attitude is that everyone learns differently,” said Dr. Shay, Vice Chairman of Cell Biology, who recently was named a Piper Professor by the Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation for his teaching excellence.

Dr. Shay’s teaching approach has been to make a subject applicable beyond the first-year medical school classroom. He parcels complex ideas into digestible tidbits of a few minutes each, ensuring the lesson is still relevant to anyone in need of a refresher years later.

His efforts to instill a love of learning captured the attention of the San Antonio-based Piper Foundation, which annually recognizes 10 outstanding educators from Texas universities as Piper Professors. Each award includes a certificate of merit, a gold pin, and an honorarium of $5,000.

“It is a pleasure and honor to be able to present this,” UT Southwestern Medical Center President Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky said in announcing the recognition “Jerry is the 11th member of our faculty to receive this. It is an elite category of educators, and it speaks to just how distinguished his teaching career has been.”

Dr. Shay, also Associate Director for Education and Training for the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, has been actively engaged in the full range of UT Southwestern’s education commitment. He has taught biology of cells and tissues for more than 30 years, and he created and now directs the Cancer Biology Graduate Program.

His teaching accomplishments include receipt of a UT System Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award, election into the UT Southwestern Academy of Teachers, membership on the executive committee of the UT Academy of Health Science Education, and service with the first-year medical school curriculum committee and UT Southwestern Quality Enhancement Plan.

“My thought is that education has got to be something that is for life. You don’t just learn for an exam and forget it,” he said. “What I hope to accomplish is to instill in students an appreciation of why reading, staying on top, and learning are important throughout their careers.”

Students say his class lectures are among the best, most organized, and most comprehensive. He has been quoted as saying, “If you cannot lecture on a topic so your mother would understand it, you are pitching it at the wrong level.”

In addition to teaching, Dr. Shay spends time ensuring students understand what it takes to apply for grants, write strong research papers, and prepare for second-year qualifying exams.

Dr. Shay came to UT Southwestern in 1975. He has worked for decades with Dr. Woodring Wright, Professor of Cell Biology and Internal Medicine, in a joint laboratory studying telomeres, the repetitive DNA sequences at the ends of linear chromosomes that affect aging and cancer. He has published more than 400 research articles, edited 10 books, and holds 20 U.S. patents.

 Dr. Shay’s numerous honors include the AlliedSignal Award for Research on Aging, the Leonard Hayflick Award from the American Aging Association, and an Ellison Medical Foundation Senior Scholar award. He is one of the most highly cited researchers, according to the Institute for Scientific Research.

Previous Piper Professor winners still on faculty at UT Southwestern include Dr. Ellen Vitetta (2011), Director of the Cancer Immunobiology Center; Dr. Eugene Jones (2009), Chairman of Physician Assistant Studies; Dr. James Richardson (2008), Professor of Pathology, Molecular Biology, and Plastic Surgery; and Dr. Erwin Thal (2000), Clinical Professor of Surgery.


Dr. Podolsky holds the Philip O’Bryan Montgomery, Jr., M.D. Distinguished Presidential Chair in Academic Administration, and the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Medical Science.

Dr. Shay and Dr. Wright share the Southland Financial Corporation Distinguished Chair in Geriatrics.

Dr. Vitetta holds the Scheryle Simmons Patigian Distinguished Chair in Cancer Immunobiology.