Faculty Excellence Awards – 2010
Distinguished Mentor Award

“Rich exemplifies the old adage – when you want something done right, give it to a busy person,” says friend and colleague Clive Baumgarten, Ph.D. True — but you will quickly note that most busy people do not accomplish all that Dr. Richard Costanzo does. Over 30 years of NIH grant funding. Nearly 40 graduate student thesis committees. Dozens of teaching awards and recognitions including the 2004 VCU Distinguished Teaching Award and the 2003 School of Medicine Teaching Excellence Award. Hundreds of “committee years” at all levels of the University. And yet, when you talk to people about Dr. Costanzo, what they most often focus on is his ability to develop a personal connection with students and support them as they grow into a higher level of professional performance and accomplishment.

M.D. /Ph.D. student Alexandra Racanelli says, “I recall countless conversations with him throughout all stages of my training on topics ranging from selecting an adviser, to assembling a committee, to writing a grant proposal, and defending a dissertation; the content of our discussions always included sound advice and honesty.”

Evan Reiter, M.D., Associate Professor, VCU Department of Otolaryngology, states that Dr. Costanzo’s problem solving approach to research and patient care has made him a “more insightful physician.” “Dr. Costanzo has taught me a number of things … importantly, professional, ethical, and caring interaction with research subjects.”

Dr. Edward E. Morrison, Auburn College of Veterinary Medicine, recalls, “When I arrived to join Rich’s laboratory, he made sure that I was a colleague and integral member of the team. The results were outstanding manuscripts and an understanding of how a faculty member should conduct themselves. These experiences with Rich paved the foundation for my success as a faculty member and administrative head of a major academic unit.”

Another former student, Nancy Kosher Kleene, Ph.D., explains, “He maintained that delicate balance of giving me the freedom to follow my conviction in a set of experiments while letting me know that he was there to help. While many students were tempted to be more narrowly focused, Dr. Costanzo believed in a well-rounded education… (which) has made me a more flexible researcher?”

“It was as Rich’s graduate student that I learned the meaning of rigor in science,” says Mark Richardson, M.D., Ph.D., Chief Resident in Neurological Surgery at UCSD. “Following this training, it became clear to me that I should pursue a career in neuroscience. Rich again gave me indispensable advice when I transitioned into the M.D. /Ph.D. program…and it was at his suggestion that I applied for and received a pre-doctoral NIH grant.”

He recognized the “potential that I did not fully appreciate in myself” remembers former VCU Otolaryngology resident Eric Holbrook, M.D., now in practice at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Harvard Medical School. “Rich worked with me to develop an NIH post-doctoral F32 research fellowship…the seed that I’m sure helped me in obtaining my current NOH K08 training grant.”

Dr. Costanzo has developed a special relationship with his Japanese colleagues in the field of smell and taste. Masayoshi Kobayashi, M.D., Ph.D., Mie University Graduate School of Medicine, describes Dr. Costanzo as an international mentor. “He is called ‘Dai Sensei’ by his Japanese students, which means ‘great mentor’ in Japanese.” Sayaka Yagi, M.D., Ph.D., Kanazawa University Graduate School of Medical Science, remembers that when she came to the U.S., “I was told ‘you are a member of the Costanzo family’ and he kindly took care of me like his family, as he said. I feel I grew up not only as a scientist but as a human in Dr. Costanzo’s lab.”

Former student Dr. Karen K. Yee, a Research Associate at Monell Chemical Senses Center, sums up the qualities that have made Rich Costanzo such a powerful influence on so many. “Dr. Costanzo represents the qualities that a young graduate student hopes for in a mentor: being approachable, personable, and fair, instilling a sense of curiosity and experimentation, and demonstrating that research can be fun.” As current M2 student and research mentee Vinay Somashekar declares, “Dr. Costanzo’s tremendous impact on my life and that of others is truly immeasurable.”