UNM-LA’s Dr. Leslie Dendy Granted Emerita Status

Dr. Leslie Dendy visits the UNM-LA Biology Lab to pack up course materials she will share with other instructors as she retires. Photo by Nancy Coombs/UNM-LA

UNM-LA News:

UNM-Los Alamos (UNM-LA) faculty member Dr. Leslie Dendy will be awarded Emeritus status upon her retirement on July 1, 2019.

Emeritus status is an honor conferred by the university to show respect for a distinguished career. Based on her significant and valued service to UNM-LA, the unanimous vote of the faculty, and the approval of the Provost at UNM, Dr. Dendy will be granted this honor after her 44 years of service.

Dendy moved to Los Alamos with her husband and 4-month-old daughter in 1973. Dendy taught her first class in Fall 1973. At that time, UNM’s schools in Los Alamos and Espanola were called the UNM Northern Branch College, and she commuted to Santa Clara to teach Biology.

“I thought my teaching job here would be a good way to keep my brain busy while caring for a baby and looking for a ‘real’ research job,” Dendy said. “But I fell in love with teaching from the first day and never looked back.”

Dendy earned a Ph.D. in Biology at Rice, then completed a postdoc at UC Medical Center in Denver. When Dendy first began post-secondary studies at Rice, the school did not offer bachelor’s degrees in her field of interest, but they specially created a program that allowed her to earn a BA in Biochemistry. In her time as an instructor, Dendy continued her education by auditing at least 15 courses at UNM-LA.

“I have had the privilege of benefitting directly from other teachers’ experiences,” Dendy said.

During her long tenure at UNM-LA, Dendy taught 19 different undergraduate Biology courses, four chemistry courses, one natural science course, 11 sessions of Children’s College and three community education classes. She served as the curriculum coordinator for Science while mentoring hundreds of students and serving as a role model and friend to countless teachers and staff members.

“I have worked with warmly wonderful and dedicated teachers and staff members (including at least six UNM-LA directors that I can remember),” Dendy said. “I have become friends with a lot of students. I see them everywhere in town and even as far away as Japan.”

Many of these students write thank you letters to Dendy, sometimes years after they have been in her class.

Lily Chylek, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard Medical School, received her Ph.D. in Biochemistry, Molecular & Cell Biology at Cornell University. Chylek, a student with Dendy in 2010, wrote “I need to thank you again for being a really excellent teacher who got me started in learning and liking biology. Taking your classes was a valuable experience; they provided the foundation that I’m going to need.”

Kinga Canfield wrote in 2013, “I got into the summer research program in medical school at UNM, so thank you very much for helping me achieve that…. I enjoy Microbiology lectures, however I wish my professor was as systematic and organized as you. Your knowledge and experience spoiled me…. I miss your classes.”

Toshiyuki Shiina, a former nuclear physicist who decided to change careers, took several classes from Dr. Dendy and then went on to medical school at UNM. Shiina wrote, “What’s really amazing is your ability to make biology a fun subject to think about so that a rusty old brain, which did everything to avoid the complexity of biology for 30 years, has no difficulty learning. Thank you for converting me from bio-phobic to bio-philic!”

In reviewing her career at UNM-LA, Dendy recalled, “When UNM-LA planned its new buildings at its current location in 1981-82, I helped architect Harvey Hoshour plan the biology-chemistry lab room, including the lab table layout, placement of windows, and purchase of major equipment. I have now been around long enough to see the furnishings of that room renovated twice!”

Introducing Dr. Dendy at the 2019 UNM-LA Commencement, Dr. Rooney said, “Tonight we want to honor one member of our faculty in particular, Dr. Leslie Dendy. She has been an example and role model for her colleagues. Numerous students have pursued careers in medicine and biology thanks to her influence. She has nurtured the careers of students who were underprepared when they arrived on our campus, as well as Ph.D. employees from LANL who decided they wanted to transition to research careers in biology. Her influence has been profound.”

Dendy plans to continue to serve UNM-LA in a volunteer capacity, finishing out her job on the Professional Development Committee and offering her skills as a tutor at the Academic Resource Center and as a substitute teacher.

UNM-Los Alamos is an innovative, rigorous, and affordable comprehensive branch community college that provides foundations for transfer, leading-edge career programs, and lifelong learning opportunities. More information about UNM-Los Alamos is available at losalamos.unm.edu.

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