Hendrix leads a university, a cancer lab

Herald-Mail Media file photo
Mary J.C. Hendrix serves as president of Shepherd University and is a leading scientist in cancer research. Recently, a Taiwanese company licensed 10 of her research lab’s patents to develop new treatments for cancer.

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — Mary J.C. Hendrix sees Shepherd University as “a tremendous resource to the community and the region.”

Hendrix, the university’s 16th president, also is a leading cancer researcher. A Taiwanese company recently licensed 10 of her lab’s patents to develop new cancer treatments.

“On a daily basis, my life is driven by lists. Detailed lists keep me focused and on task, and they provide benchmarks about progress on key initiatives,” she reported when asked about juggling her responsibilities.

Hendrix holds a bachelor’s degree in pre-med/biology from Shepherd and a doctorate in anatomy/cell biology from George Washington University.

From 1977-1980, she was a National Institutes of Health Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Harvard Medical School’s department of anatomy and cell biology. She became a leading scientist in cancer research, focusing on identifying genes that contribute to cancer metastasis. The goal is to discover new therapeutic strategies.

Before taking the reins at Shepherd, Hendrix was president and chief scientific officer of the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine from 2004 to 2016. Prior to that, she held various positions at the University of Iowa (1996-2004), Saint Louis University Health Sciences Center (1994-1996), and the University of Arizona (1980-1993).

She has served on several boards related to health and educational issues and has received several awards.

Hendrix has been a member of the National Institutes of Health Council of Councils, the National Human Genome Research Institute Council, and the National Cancer Institute Board of Scientific Advisors. She is a past-president of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, which consists of more than 100,000 members— the largest coalition of biomedical research societies in the United States.

She has testified before Congress numerous times in hearings regarding the budgets of the National Institutes of Health, Department of Defense and National Science Foundation, and about human embryonic stem cell research. She also served as a co-founder and co-director of the Virtual Naval Hospital, a digital medical library created to provide critical information to service personnel deployed at remote sites which was adopted by the navies of four countries.

Hendrix, who was named Shepherd president in 2016, agreed to a new five-year contract with the school’s board of governors in June.

She recently answered a few questions in an email exchange with Mike Lewis of Crossroads Business Journal.

You’re the first Shepherd University graduate to serve as president. How has your experience as a student shaped your leadership as a president?

The nurturing environment created by faculty and staff when I attended Shepherd truly shaped the way I want to be perceived by our students, and I want Shepherd’s faculty and staff to create that same hospitable environment for our current students.

I have a photograph of Professor Paul Saab on the bookshelf in my office. He was one of my science professors during my undergraduate years at Shepherd, and he served as a mentor to me. In my opinion, Paul Saab set the standard for what a Shepherd professor should be — inspiring excellence and innovation and promoting confidence for accomplishing one’s aspirations.

What accomplishments stand out since taking the helm?

I am very proud of the public-private partnerships that Shepherd has undertaken, including the building of Potomac Place residence hall in partnership with the Shepherd University Foundation; the Business 2020 Committee, which developed fundraising to support the development of the College of Business; and the Friends of Popodicon, a volunteer group dedicated to restoring the gardens and interior of the historic brick house on Shepherd’s West Campus. These partnerships allow us to join forces to maximize our pooled resources and seek creative solutions to problems and projects.

To capitalize on Shepherd’s proximity to the Washington, D.C., metro area and the university’s mission as a regional economic engine, we have implemented the Center for Regional Innovation, the Shepherd Entrepreneurship and Research Corp., Veterans to Agriculture Program and the Applied Business Lab and its associated company, Potomac Applied Business Co. I am always looking for ways to advance Shepherd in the business community while serving our students and preparing them for successful careers.

What are the most pressing opportunities and challenges facing the university?

A goal of mine is expanding Shepherd’s online course offerings to better serve adult learners who are juggling careers and family along with their education.

Another opportunity is better utilizing assets at Shepherd University to benefit students. We have developed part of the extended Shepherd campus, the Tabler Farm, to serve as the site for the Veterans to Agriculture program — to benefit current students as well as provide post-military training to veterans.

Shepherd has strengthened its relationship with the business community by developing a risk management and insurance program to train our business students for jobs in this much needed sector in the insurance industry.

The program came about through a public-private partnership with Farmers and Mechanics Insurance Companies in Martinsburg after several conversations about how Shepherd could assist in addressing the need for risk management training. Additionally, we were able to launch a College of Business with the fiscal support of the business leaders through the Business 2020 Committee.

Shepherd’s biggest challenge is funding — only 15 percent of our budget comes from the state. We are always thinking of innovative ways to push the institution ahead with valuable and reciprocally beneficial public-private partnerships.

What is on the horizon for your lab research?

Recently, a Taiwanese company licensed 10 of my research lab’s patents to develop new treatments for cancer. That company has now formed a U.S. subsidiary in Rockville, Md., called TaiRx U.S. My lab made the fundamental discoveries, patented the novel research findings, and now the company is bringing those cancer treatments to the U.S. to further develop with the help of investors.

This provides a great opportunity for students to be exposed to translational cancer research — one of Shepherd’s faculty members is currently working on a part of this project and is involving students and area teachers in the work as well.

How do you juggle time, energy and attention among your family, the university and your research lab?

I follow the philosophy imparted to me by my father and mother: Service before self and excellence without arrogance. These themes have served me well throughout my career. On a daily basis, my life is driven by lists. Detailed lists keep me focused and on task, and they provide benchmarks about progress on key initiatives.

I am mission driven, and my chief concerns are Shepherd, my research lab and my supportive family.

Any tips or techniques for getting through the day?

I am exhilarated by accomplishing goals — institutional goals and personal ones. Each day I set out to initiate and accomplish as many goals as possible — with the help of a tremendous Shepherd Team and my family.

What role does Shepherd play in the larger community, and how do you see that role evolving during the next decade or so?

I think of Shepherd as a tremendous resource to the community and the region. Shepherd provides a stimulating intellectual environment for community members and offers continuing education opportunities for those who are no longer traditional students.

Shepherd’s relationship with the community is reciprocal: we can benefit from the expertise of community members, whether it is asking them to present lectures on their areas of expertise or to serve on advisory boards and committees.

Shepherdstown is West Virginia’s oldest town and an intellectual one that attracts many retirees who have enjoyed high-powered careers in Washington, D.C., and beyond. Shepherd builds on those connections for networking and mentoring programs like our recently launched Dinner with Strangers, where students are invited to dine with community members in their homes and stay connected.

Outside of the president’s office and the researcher’s lab, what are your personal goals and aspirations?

I thrive on being able to contribute to and make an impact on society. My scientific training has given me a set of valuable tools to address issues with a precise, outcomes-based perspective. Every day is another experiment that I look forward to performing.