Professor, Researcher Ralph Yount Named Winner of WSU’s First Eminent Faculty Award

PULLMAN, Wash. — In his 41st year at Washington State University, Ralph Yount, biochemistry and chemistry professor and researcher, has been named winner of WSU’s first Eminent Faculty Award.

The $15,000 award was created at WSU President V. Lane Rawlins’ request to “honor career-long excellence within WSU’s superb academic community.”

Along with other award-winning faculty members, Yount will be honored at 3 p.m. March 28 during the public Faculty Honors Convocation in Beasley Performing Arts Coliseum.

Chair of the WSU Department of Chemistry and a faculty member in the School of Molecular Biosciences, Yount is internationally recognized for his research on the molecular mechanism of muscle contraction. A compound he made for his research has been used in more than 4,000 publications and played important roles in two recent Nobel Prizes.

His research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health without interruption for 40 years. The grant length is unparalleled at WSU and one of the longest continually funded projects at NIH.

As president of the 60,000-member Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology in 1997-98, he was a leader in the successful fight to begin to double the NIH budget for biomedical research in five years.

Yount was the first College of Sciences’ Edward R. Meyer Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry and Chemistry. He delivered the 1983 WSU Distinguished Faculty Address and received the 1989 Sahlin Faculty Excellence Award for Research.

“As we considered appropriate recipients for the first Eminent Faculty Award, there were many lists circulated. I believe Ralph was high on all the lists — and he was certainly high on mine,” Rawlins said. “We were looking for a person with a distinguished national reputation in research and scholarship, one who showed the personal commitment to students that we value at Washington State University, and one whose career exemplifies excellence. These criteria could have been written with Ralph in mind. Even more, he has served in administrative roles, as a member of key committees, and has really dedicated his career and his life to making Washington State University a better place.

“Furthermore, he is a genuinely good and kind person who, in spite of great success, has kept a sense of balance about who he is. Washington State University is fortunate to have him here. Our goal should be to find and develop more faculty like Professor Ralph Yount.”

Added Ron Hopkins, WSU interim provost, “Professor Yount is the perfect recipient for the first Eminent Faculty Award. Ralph’s research has changed our understanding of muscle contraction. But he is also an excellent teacher, an effective leader, a wonderful colleague and a caring human being. We are, indeed, fortunate that Ralph chose to dedicate his career to Washington State University, and I am proud to be his friend.”

“His concern (for WSU) and his quest to maintain (its) excellence have been hallmarks of his career,” Yount’s supporters said.

In addition to his research excellence, Yount’s service contributions have been without peer, they added. While serving as biochemistry and biophysics chair, he hired many quality faculty associated with the unit.

In teaching, Yount has “influenced nearly two generations of students at (WSU), and many undergraduates and graduates have gone on to successful careers because of his influence,” his supporters said. More than 40 undergraduate students who have worked in his lab obtained doctoral or medical degrees.

Yount’s successful recruitment of a graduate student, now a National Academy of Sciences member, is credited to a telephone call he made to the student’s mother. He has called the mothers of many students and convinced them WSU was the place where their son or daughter should be.

Yount’s personal compassion helps make WSU a “very caring and human institution,” according to his supporters. For example, when a staff member’s father died, Yount secured an airline ticket so the staffer could attend the funeral. When a faculty member was on maternity leave, he took on the professor’s teaching load. “He has not done these things for self-promotion. He did them because he cares about people and especially the people” at WSU.

Criteria for Eminent Faculty Award nominees included serving WSU for at least 10 years; changing the thinking in her or his field by making lasting contributions through teaching, research, creative scholarship and service; and contributing notably to the university community’s vitality and strength. Yount was among those nominated for the award. An emeriti faculty committee, chaired by Hopkins, recommended his selection to Rawlins.

Yount came to WSU in 1960 as an assistant professor and assistant agricultural chemist. An American Association for the Advancement of Science fellow, he is a past president of the Biophysical Society and vice president of the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

The graduate of Wabash College in Indiana earned his doctoral degree in biochemistry/chemistry from Iowa State University. He received an ISU Distinguished Alumni Award in 1999.