Amy Ralston named James K. Billman, Jr., M.D. Endowed Professor

Published October 30, 2016

Amy Ralston, MSU NatSci associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, was named the first James K. Billman, Jr., M.D., Endowed Professor at an investiture ceremony on Oct. 27.

Associate Professor Amy Ralston was installed as the inaugural James K. Billman Jr., M.D. Endowed Professor in the MSU College of Natural Science (NatSci) Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (BMB).

“The college and the university are very fortunate to have someone of Amy’s standing to occupy this important position,” said R. James Kirkpatrick, NatSci dean. “We are thrilled that Amy will serve as the first Billman Professor and look forward to great things. We also want to thank Dr. Billman, for whom this professorship is named, for his generosity and vision.”

Ralston, who was recruited to MSU in 2014, focuses her research on how embryos make and use stem cells in order to create new ways to study and treat human health problems, including infertility and birth defects. Her pioneering work with stem cells and other scholarly achievements led to her receiving a 2016 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from U.S. President Barack Obama—the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on science and engineering professional in the early stages of their independent research careers.

Ralston received her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio, and her Ph.D. in developmental genetics from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.  Prior to joining MSU, she pursued postdoctoral studies in mammalian stem cells, embryology and genomics at the Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute, Toronto, Ont.  Ralston started her independent research career as a tenure-track assistant professor of molecular, cell and developmental biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. 

Ralston said that she is flattered and pleased to hold the Billman Professorship.

“This endowment will allow me and my students to pursue exciting new areas of stem cell research in my lab,” Ralston said.  “Dr. Billman’s generosity and vision shows me that MSU is a unique place with extraordinary alumni.  I am proud to be a part of that.”

Thomas Sharkey, University Distinguished Professor and BMB chair, said that in addition to being an outstanding scientist, Ralston is a well-rounded professor.

“In addition to her scientific achievements, Amy cares about the next generation of scientists and teaches first-year biology, hosts undergraduates in her lab and is a mentor to graduate students and postdocs,” said Thomas Sharkey, University Distinguished Professor and BMB chair. “Amy also has shown remarkable leadership in the department, taking on committee work thoughtfully and effectively. We are pleased to be able to confer to Amy this well-deserved honor.”

Sharkey also expressed his gratitude to Dr. Billman for providing this endowed position in support of the department.

“Jim has been a good friend of the department and has provided support for undergraduate research in the past,” Sharkey said. “We are grateful for his support and the example he has set in nurturing the development of people.”

Billman graduated from MSU with a B.S. in biochemistry from the Honors College. He earned his M.D. degree at The Ohio State University and subsequently trained in the specialties of anatomic and clinical pathology at the University of Michigan.  Following medical practice as a pathologist in the U.S. Air Force Medical Corps, he joined the Quad Cities Pathologists Group serving Western Illinois and Eastern Iowa and enjoyed a long career in pathology and laboratory medicine. 

The investiture ceremony took place Oct. 27 at MSU’s Wharton Center for the Performing Arts. MSU Provost June Pierce Youatt, NatSci Dean R. James Kirkpatrick, BMB Chair Thomas Sharkey and the donor, James K. Billman, Jr., were present at the ceremony.