‘Mom’ of radiological sciences lab wins Marsh O’Neill Award

L.A. Cicero Donna Cronister

Donna Cronister, at Stanford since 1990, is the administrative services manager of both the Radiological Sciences Laboratory and the Lucas Center for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. She received the 2007 Marsh O’Neill Award.

Research in the university's Radiological Sciences Laboratory ranges from computational models of cancer to visualization of blood flow in our veins. The lab is used by a dozen different faculty members and more than 80 graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and scientific staff all working on diverse projects. The lab also provides magnetic resonance imaging services to hundreds more, and Donna Cronister has a finger in every one of these pies.

So for her enduring and extensive administrative support in the Department of Radiology, the Office of the Vice Provost and Dean of Research has named Cronister this year's winner of the Marsh O' Neill Award.

Cronister is the administrative services manager of both the Radiological Sciences Laboratory and the Lucas Center for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. But that title pales in comparison to how she was described by faculty who nominated her and depend on her throughout the year:

  • "The glue that holds it all together," Sean Mackey, assistant professor of anesthesia, wrote in his nomination letter.

  • "Our gold standard of an administrator," said Edith Sullivan, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

  • " The best of the best," according to David Paik, assistant professor of radiology.

  • "She is, of course, the driving force of success here at the Lucas Center," said Michael Moseley, professor of radiology. And beyond that, others in the lab simply refer to her as "the mom."

    "I ask the lab members to call me 'the queen,'" Cronister joked, "but I have yet to get them to do so."

    Cronister joined the lab in 1990 after leaving Xerox Corp. Both she and Gary Glover, the lab's director, have a hard time summing up her duties in a few words. She administers every aspect of the research conducted in the lab, including the internal work done by groups affiliated with the lab and the MRI services the Lucas Center provides to the community. She also coordinates funding for researchers, organizes courses and conferences, participates in budget planning, orders supplies and oversees building maintenance.

    "While some say that I am the director of the lab, everyone knows in reality that Donna is the real manager of our facilities and laboratories," Glover, a professor of radiology, wrote in his nomination letter.

    The Marsh O'Neill Award, now in its 17th year, is given to staff who make "outstanding contributions" to Stanford's research mission. Everyone who is nominated receives a congratulatory letter, but Cronister has fetched the $3,000 cash prize and will be feted at a 4 p.m. reception on Monday, Nov. 12, in the Faculty Club. Associate Dean of Research John Brauman will present the award on behalf of Ann Arvin, vice provost and dean of research.

    Only faculty members may submit nominations; and it is perhaps telling of Cronister's importance to her division that, while most of this year's candidates were nominated by one or two faculty members, she was nominated by eight. "She has made this complex and growing center a model of intelligent support for the research enterprise," David Spiegel, associate chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, wrote in his nomination.

    Cronister was thrilled to hear she had won the award, especially after several years of being nominated. "I'm stoked," she said. "Actually, I knew I'd been nominated a couple of years running, and I kept getting these letters. I always felt like Susan Lucci from All My Children. They kept nominating her for best actress in the Daytime Emmys and she didn't get it for 18 years."

    Cronister's name will be the 27th engraved on a plaque listing all the previous winners—starting with Marshall O' Neill himself, who became the first recipient upon retiring as associate director of the W. W. Hansen Laboratories in 1990. In some years, the award is given to two employees.

    Rachel Tompa is a science-writing intern at the Stanford News Service.