Heideh Fattaey, 'the soul of Bio-X,' to receive 2011 Marshall D. O'Neill Award

Fattaey, executive director of operations and programs at Bio-X, is one of two winners of the 2011 Marshall D. O'Neill Award, which will be presented at 4 p.m. on Nov. 16 at the Faculty Club.

A linchpin of the Stanford community. An administrative whiz also known for her intellectual depth and breadth. "Ringmaster and roustabout" of the Clark Center. The glue that binds Bio-X together into a wonderful whole. Bio-X's secret weapon.

Those are just some of the many accolades bestowed upon Heideh Fattaey, winner of the 2011 Marshall D. O'Neill Award, which honors staff members who have made outstanding contributions to Stanford's research mission.

L.A. Cicero Heideh Fattaey

Heideh Fattaey, executive director of operations and programs of the Bio-X Program, said her role is 'all about working together to make a positive difference in this world.'

Fattaey is the executive director of operations and programs of the Bio-X Program, which supports, organizes and facilitates interdisciplinary research connected to biology, bioengineering and medicine. She was one of two people chosen for the award this year.

The other winner was Bettye Price, administrative services manager of the Biology Department.

From northeastern Kansas to northern California

Fattaey began working at Stanford in 2002, as the associate director of the Donald W. Reynolds Cardiovascular Clinical Research Center at Stanford School of Medicine.

She became the director of Bio-X operations and programs in 2004, and was promoted to executive director of Bio-X operations and programs in 2010.

Fattaey said she was happy and thankful to receive the O'Neill Award.

"But really, the first thing I thought was that so many of my colleagues also deserve the recognition," she said.

Fattaey, who earned a doctorate in biochemistry and molecular biology at Kansas State University, began her academic career at Kansas State, where she served as associate director of the Johnson Center for Basic Cancer Research and the lead scientist for the Center for BioServe Space Technologies, a commercial space center funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

"My scientific background is biochemistry and molecular biology, so most of my research was around protein biochemistry and cell cycle kinetics related to cancer biology," she said. "When I was an undergraduate student at Kansas State, I worked with terminal cancer patients, as a hospice volunteer. It was hard and heartbreaking to witness their pain. So as a graduate student I thought I would do what I could to help by studying the natural process by which cells stop growing and looking for the 'stop sign' missing from cancer cells, which grow and divide in an unregulated fashion.

"But I also got interested in sustaining cell life in zero gravity, so I helped build an apparatus for sustaining cell life in space. I had more than 100 experiments that were flown on various space-shuttle flights in the late 1980s to the mid-1990s."

Fattaey said the non-stop challenge of overseeing programs and operations at Bio-X has kept her on her toes for the last seven years.

"There is always a new problem to solve, and if we get a minute to think, we come up with another exciting thing to do," she said. "It's all about working together to make a positive difference in this world."

Bio-X's 'Secret Weapon'

"Dr. Fattaey is Bio-X's secret weapon," Carla J. Shatz, the Sapp Family Provostial Professor and Director of Bio-X, wrote in a letter nominating her for the award.

"Her scientific background and experience have ensured that the central programs at the heart of Bio-X run smoothly and are great successes: the Bio-X Graduate Fellowships and the Bio-X Interdisciplinary Initiative seed grants to faculty."

Shatz, a professor of biology and neurobiology, said Fattaey knows every single one of the 108 Bio-X graduate students – present and past – in the program.

"She knows their research projects, their faculty mentors, their successes and failures," Shatz said. "What is more, her dedication and stewardship of this program have been instrumental in obtaining a renewal of funding for the next five years!

"She has also worked on new ways to augment the funding of the Bio-X IIP Seed grants to faculty, making more such grants available at this challenging funding time and engaging more extensive and productive interactions with industry."

In 2009, at Fattaey's urging, Bio-X formalized the summer undergraduate research program that gives Stanford students the chance to obtain a lab experience and to participate in a faculty-led lunch seminar series. This year, 45 students participated.

Shatz said Fattaey was always thinking of new ways to make Bio-X thrive and grow.

"She is also a real facilitator," Shatz said. "Over the last three years, Dr. Fattaey has worked with me and Neurobiology Professor William Newsome to launch a new Bio-X initiative called "NeuroVentures," which involves faculty across the university. 

"As part of this effort, she has also overseen the creation and construction of the new Optogenetics Innovation Lab, headed by Karl Deisseroth, associate professor of bioengineering and psychiatry, to make this exciting new technology available to all faculty and students who want to use it in their research."

Fights for students, for fairness, for science, for Stanford

In a letter nominating Fattaey for the award, Deisseroth described her as one of the most important and valuable members of the Stanford community.

"What is amazing about Heideh is how everything is important to her across all scales and levels of significance," he wrote. "From the tiniest detail of an undergraduate student's summer support, to ductwork of the Clark Center, to the millions of dollars of donor and grant funding that keep her operations going, Heideh fights tooth and nail for the students, for fairness, for science, and for Stanford. She expresses and lives the highest ideals of the community."

He said Fattaey responds instantaneously to challenges and issues – day or night. "I am not sure if she even sleeps," he joked in his nomination letter.

"Despite Heideh's workload she continuously adds responsibilities as Clark and Bio-X grow and evolve," Deisseroth said. "Her intelligence and diplomacy allow her to work miracles as she guides hundreds of self-confident Stanford faculty to work together as a unified whole. I don't know if there exists another person on this planet who could do what she does – and always with a sense of humor, with respect, and with passion for the underlying principles."

The "soul" of Bio-X

In a letter nominating Fattaey for the O'Neill Award, Professor William "Bill" Newsome described her as the "soul" of Bio-X.

"She is highly competent, extremely hard-working, very responsive to all stakeholders and, remarkably, she manages to carry this immense load with consistent cheer and good will," he said. "Somehow Heideh has a knack for getting important contributions out of people (including self-absorbed faculty!), while maintaining positive working relationships with everyone.

"I have never heard her complain or seem put out by the incredible demands that are placed on her. If Heideh could bottle this talent, she would make many millions! What is most impressive, however, is Heideh's absolute dedication to her work in Bio-X. This is not simply a job for her; it is a vocation."

Ringmaster and roustabout

Matthew Scott, a professor of developmental biology, of genetics and of bioengineering, who served as Bio-X's director from 2002-2007, said the 1,000 people working in the Clark Center have complex and diverse needs – often accompanied by time pressure.

"Elements of the experience might be like running a circus; you need different approaches for the aerialists, the jugglers, the tigers and the food vendors," Scott said. "We have people in Bio-X and Clark who are metaphorically like all the elements of a circus team, although our food is much better. And the shows must go on. Heideh is ringmaster and roustabout."

Scott said Fattaey is constantly organizing events and conferences, while at the same time running large and complex financial operations that have to interface in a rigorous manner with multiple schools, about 50 departments and the university's central administration.

"She has established a well-earned reputation for exceptional thoroughness and trustworthiness in her budget and ideas," Scott said.

"She does her homework and understands Stanford operations to an amazing degree. She also supervised the construction of many of the labs in Clark, with all their complex and distinct needs, and brought incisive thinking to the design processes. Dozens of faculty are grateful to her for making things happen on time and on budget . . . and improved over the original plan. When a problem arises, she leaps onto it."

Scott said Fattaey took his idea to hold a modest "Kid's Day" at the Clark Center to inspire children to become scientists, and transformed it into an annual event that "attracts hundreds of delighted children to make DNA from strawberries or see how robots work." Last summer, Bio-X Kid's Day at Clark attracted more than 300 youngsters.

"I'm sure  – if we could only know the story – that future scientists will emerge whose first excitement about the field came directly from Heideh's efforts," he said.

Popular 'mayor' of the Clark Center

Walter W. "Woody" Powell, professor of education and co-director of the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, praised Fattaey's deep knowledge of all the laboratories across the Clark Center, not only of the personnel and their respective research, but also of the dynamics of interaction in labs.

"I recently saw this firsthand when we were arranging for a postdoctoral fellow to begin to do observational work in several labs at Bio-X," he said. "Heideh took us on a tour of the building, not the usual tour showing off the fascinating research that is under way in so many of the labs, but a much slower, more measured visit.

"She paused to talk with people in each of the labs and give us a sense of the mix of researchers – in terms of career stage, disciplinary background and work habits. It was quite simply amazing that she has this level of knowledge about the various labs. It was equally remarkable that the students and postdocs in all of the labs were genuinely warm in their greeting of Heideh, and keen to talk with her. She really does seem to be the popular 'mayor' of the Clark Center."