Faculty Excellence Awards – 2010
Distinguished Mentor Award

How do you maintain continuous grant funding since 1987, publish over 100 papers and abstracts, serve as a reviewer for over a dozen journals, maintain a vigorous commitment to teaching, professional leadership, and service activities inside and outside VCU, and still be the person students and colleagues go to for advice about everything from how to set up a lab to changing career paths? Skill, generosity, honesty, and a rare passion to help those around him “reach for the stars” are some of the qualities described by those who have been fortunate enough to work with Dr. Paul Ratz.

“I honestly have no idea how to express everything that Dr. Ratz has done for me,” declares former master’s degree student Shengsheng (Jack) Guan. “I would come to him…stressed out of my mind, and all he did was stop what he was doing and listen to everything I had to say. He gave me the advice I needed while still telling me the reality of the situation and allowing me to grow and learn from all the things that I was saying.”

Dr. Jeffrey Dupree, Assistant Professor, VCU Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology was first mentored by Dr. Ratz while a young faculty member at another institution. “He quickly became the person to whom I ask everything, including how to write a grant, how to make a request of your chairman, how to deal with difficult situations with graduate students, when it is ok to say ‘no’ …and how to put together an application packet and go through the job search process. As a junior faculty member, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and that success is out of reach. When I reach this point, I know that a few minutes of no-nonsense talking with Paul will energize me and will revive the passion for research that made me pursue this career path.”

Melissa Porter, M.D., now at the University of Louisville, worked with Dr. Ratz during her pediatric critical care fellowship at VCU. She recalls that “He frequently asked about the clinical problems that needed to be solved in the ICU, and how I thought the work we could do in the lab could potentially address those problems. The fact that I was able to both present at a national critical care meeting and publish a quality paper speaks well to Dr. Ratz’s abilities.”

Even a lab tour can become an opportunity for Dr. Ratz to influence a career. In 2003, Dr. Ratz contacted John E. Speich, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at VCU, about some robotic lab equipment repairs, and Dr. Speich’s work was never the same. “Although I have never taken a course in physiology, anatomy, biochemistry, urology, biomechanics, or even biomedical engineering, under Paul’s exceptional mentorship, I have successfully transitioned my primary area of research from robotics to smooth muscle biomechanics. With his guidance, I have published three first-author or corresponding-author papers in the Journal of Applied Physiology, and we have five papers in the American Journal of Physiology.”

Dr. Ratz’s students have gone on to productive research careers around the world, but his influence remains with them. As Melissa L. Bednarek, P.T., Ph.D., now at Chatham University, explains, “In the year since I completed my research and degree, I have become even more aware of the ways in which Dr. Ratz has impacted me professionally. Just recently, I took part in a research collaboration meeting and noticed myself directing others through the research process as Dr. Ratz has directed me on many occasions.”

The profound impact that Dr. Ratz has on his trainees is stated well by Adam Klausner, M.D., Assistant Professor of Urology at VCU, who describes himself and his fellow mentees as “the many children of Paul Ratz.” He elaborates: “Paul Ratz does everything in his power to be sure that you don’t fail. In this regard, he is like a guardian angel, watching from a close distance and always ready to intervene. Indeed, he has been more than a mentor for all of us. Rather, he has been a father figure: supportive, passionate, and involved.”