Elizabeth “Beth” Ponder, executive director of Sarafan ChEM-H and the Stanford Innovative Medicines Accelerator, and Mary Tang, managing director of the Stanford Nanofabrication Facility, have been honored with the 2023 Marsh O’Neill Award for Exceptional and Enduring Support of Stanford University’s Research Enterprise.

The award, administered by the Office of the Vice Provost and Dean of Research, recognizes outstanding contributions to Stanford’s research mission.

Inspired by the career of Marsh O’Neill, ’49, who served as the associate director of the W. W. Hansen Laboratories from 1952 until 1990 and managed more than 700 research projects, the award is presented annually to university staff members along with a $5,000 cash prize. This year, more than 20 staff members were nominated and endorsed by nearly 100 faculty colleagues.

Beth Ponder, executive director of Sarafan ChEM-H and the Innovative Medicines Accelerator

Ponder earned her PhD in microbiology and immunology at Stanford in 2009 and returned to the university in 2014 as the founding associate director of an interdisciplinary institute now known as Sarafan ChEM-H. In this role, Ponder has combined her subject knowledge and skill sets to “set a new standard for future leaders of Stanford’s cross-school, cross-disciplinary, and cross-cultural initiatives,” said Chaitan Khosla, director of the Innovative Medicines Accelerator (IMA), in Ponder’s nomination letter.

Ponder said she was drawn to work with ChEM-H after seeing the vision that Khosla presented of “building an institute where people do and think about science differently.”

“It’s exciting for me to come back and be part of building an institute that wants to make the environment different for graduate students, to be more inclusive and foster a culture where people can work in many different scientific disciplines and not feel limited by whatever the department is that brought them here,” Ponder said. “ChEM-H really embodies that spirit and has really built something wonderful.”

Ponder also enthusiastically embraced a second full-time role as executive director of the IMA, which launched as the COVID-19 pandemic began. In doing so, Ponder cultivated a new set of relationships within the university and hospitals while recruiting diverse, world-class teams of industry professionals, Khosla said.

The IMA’s launch during the pandemic tied together Ponder’s background in microbiology and immunology, experience running the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Emerging and Neglected Diseases, and her research in infectious diseases.

“While addressing COVID was not the original vision of the IMA, the IMA was both aggressively looking for opportunities to identify, repurpose, and deploy drugs in early outpatient clinical trials in our community and seeding a lot of early translational projects to understand the virus,” Ponder said. “We also helped the School of Medicine rebuild the Biosafety Level-3 Service Center to accommodate COVID research.”

Colleagues strongly praised Ponder’s mentorship of others, and her nomination included 13 faculty testimonials. Ponder said she feels “excited and honored” to be recognized and expressed gratitude for the role of her “amazing” team in her work at Stanford.

Further, “Chaitan Khosla and Carolyn Bertozzi are just wonderful mentors,” Ponder added. “They’re extremely supportive, and they have this vision of science being a better, more inclusive place for everybody, and I love that.”

Khosla is also the Wells H. Rauser and Harold M. Petiprin Professor in the School of Engineering, a professor of chemistry in the School of Humanities and Sciences, and a professor, by courtesy, of biochemistry in the School of Medicine.

Bertozzi is the Baker Family Director of ChEM-H, the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences, and professor of chemistry and, by courtesy, of chemical and systems biology and of radiology.

Mary Tang, managing director of the Stanford Nanofabrication Facility

For 25 years, Tang has tirelessly devoted herself to uplifting Stanford’s research community and beyond through the university’s shared facilities, said Debbie G. Senesky, associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics and of electrical engineering, and senior fellow at the Precourt Institute for Energy, in Tang’s nomination letter.

Tang joined the Stanford Nanofabrication Facility in 1998 and has held various roles within the SNF, eventually becoming its managing director.

“I joined Stanford on a two-year, fixed-term appointment and just had my 25th anniversary,” Tang said. “As someone who thrives on execution, I really appreciate that Stanford has a wealth of things that need to get done and opportunities to do them. This, and students, keeps things fresh for me.”

Students often start their studies without knowing what a silicon wafer is, and in just a few years, they become world experts in their field, Tang said. “Seeing them defend their theses is an incredible thrill,” she said. “It’s a privilege to play a part in their journeys.”

Under her leadership, the SNF supports thousands of researchers worldwide, in disciplines ranging from medicine and biology to fundamental physics and astronomy.

“Mary is truly a star staff member on campus, a mentor and role model for hundreds of students and postdocs, and a thought partner for many faculty,” said Jennifer Dionne, senior associate vice provost of research platforms/shared facilities, associate professor of materials and engineering, and senior fellow at the Precourt Institute for Energy, in a nomination letter. “Mary serves with kindness, humility, and outstanding vision.”

Tang co-chairs the data management working group for Stanford’s Community of Shared Research Platforms (C-ShaRP), a university-wide initiative to support shared experimental facilities across campus through infrastructure investments in new capabilities, refreshing aging instrumentation, hands-on education, and data management resources.

Tang has also helped establish the Microelectronics Commons California-Pacific-Northwest AI Hardware Hub, funded through the CHIPS and Science Act.

“Fabrication is making, and its culture has a strong, community-based maker ethos. All are welcome. Everyone is a learner and has something to teach,” Tang said.

Tang champions experiential learning through SNF’s community college internship and middle school teacher programs, and she fosters industry-academic collaborations through events like open houses, Senesky said in the award nomination.

SNF colleagues say Tang, whose nomination included 14 faculty testimonials, has created a collaborative, inclusive, and supportive research environment.

“Research is a creative endeavor, and a supportive community is essential for creativity,” Tang said. “It also just makes it a fun place to work.”

Tang said she feels “surprised, honored, and quite humbled by the attention” of the award.

Read more about the Marsh O’Neill Award, including previous awardees and nomination information.