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Renowned VCU Professor Jan Chlebowski Dies at 74

Friday, March 16, 2018  
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Jan Chlebowski, Ph.D., who served as a faculty member at Virginia Commonwealth University for 39 years, died March 10. He was 74.

A widely-respected biochemist and adored mentor for generations of VCU students, Chlebowski’s research focused on biophysical mechanisms that modulate protein structure and enzyme activity. He led the Massey Cancer Center Structural Biology Shared Resource core for many years and was a long time member of Virginia Bio.

In the nearly 40 years he spent at VCU, Chlebowski held numerous titles and participated in or chaired more than 100 committees. Most recently, he was a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the School of Medicine’s associate dean for graduate education. He also served as an affiliate faculty member in VCU’s Departments of Chemistry, in the College of Humanities and Sciences, and Biomedical Engineering, in the School of Engineering.

“It is hard to imagine a more student-focused and committed faculty member than Jan,” said Peter F. Buckley, M.D., dean of the VCU School of Medicine. “He simply loved our institution and delighted in his vital role of overseeing the training of our graduate students.”

A champion of programs that provided students with a diverse culture for growth and scientific enrichment, Chlebowski was instrumental in securing funding of a large National Institutes of Health initiative that enhanced graduate education opportunities for minority students. The program, which Chlebowski led as director, provided a bridge for Virginia State University and Hampton University master’s degree students to transition to doctoral training at VCU.

Chlebowski was also the faculty sponsor of the graduate student organization Women in Science, and a leader in the Broadening Experiences for Scientific Training program, which raises graduate students’ awareness of potential careers.

Chlebowski led programs at VCU that increased international student opportunities. He directed the university’s international educational partnership with the University of the West of England since the program began in 1987.

In addition to championing diversity programs at VCU, Chlebowski led programs that increased international student opportunities. He directed the university’s international educational partnership with the University of the West of England since the program began in 1987. In the past 30 years, he oversaw more than 100 UWE student internships at VCU, doing everything from recruiting faculty advisers to picking up students from the airport when they arrived in the U.S. His enthusiasm for the program was stoked in part by his own experience studying abroad. In 2002, the UWE awarded Chlebowski an honorary doctor of science degree.

“Jan was a very important part of my academic life for nearly 18 years, starting when he first collected myself and four other British students from the Richmond International Airport on a 100-degree day,” said Sarah Golding, Ph.D., director of undergraduate research in VCU’s Department of Biology.

Golding first came to VCU as a UWE student intern in July 2000. After returning to England to complete her undergraduate degree, Golding came back to VCU to start doctoral research at the School of Medicine. In 2011, she joined VCU’s Department of Biology as the inaugural director of undergraduate research.

“Jan supported every step of my career development,” Golding said. “As one of the more than 100 students that came to VCU through his research exchange program, I can confidently say all of our lives were changed by Jan in a positive way.”

Chlebowski earned his doctorate in organic chemistry at Case Western Reserve University in 1969 and completed post-doctoral training as a research associate at University College London in 1971 and as a research fellow at Yale University in 1976. He was a research associate in Yale’s Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry until 1979 when he joined VCU in what was then the School of Basic Health Sciences.

“VCU, the School of Medicine and the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology have lost one of their treasures.”

He was promoted to the rank of professor in 1991 and was named associate dean for graduate education in the School of Medicine in 1995. He served three times as interim chair of the Department of Biochemistry and later was a valued adviser to three biochemistry chairs.

“VCU, the School of Medicine and the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology have lost one of their treasures,” said Sarah Spiegel, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at VCU School of Medicine. “I will personally miss him more than words can describe.”

A memorial service will be held at the Hermes A. Kontos Medical Sciences Building, 1217 E. Marshall St., on Friday, March 16, at 4 p.m.

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