Craig Woodard

Meribeth E. Cameron Faculty Award for Scholarship

Craig Woodard spends his research life studying organisms that look something like small Rice Krispies.  The life cycle of a fruit fly involves dramatic changes from embryo to larva to pupa to adult, and the transformation from crawling maggot to aerial gymnast involves time inside a small crispy pupal case.  While enclosed, the pupa turns some body parts into mush, as other tissues expand into wings, legs and genitalia.  This metamorphosis is under the exquisite control of hormones, and Craig’s laboratory uses molecular, genetic, biochemical and cell biological approaches to understand their role in gene expression.

In pre-pandemic years you could walk by Craig’s lab almost any time of day, any day of the week, and see students boiling culture media, making crosses, counting progeny, looking through microscopes, extracting DNA, running gels and analyzing data.  You would also hear them talking, laughing, helping each other, sharing tips and making plans.  Craig was everywhere, cheering them on, challenging them to do more, listening, drawing at the whiteboard, sitting for one-on-one conversations and writing in his endless supply of notebooks.  For this all to work, Craig juggles the daily necessities of running a large laboratory, making sure incubators don’t overheat, flies are correctly mated, and shelves stay well-stocked.

There should be a drumroll as the following statistic is read: Craig has mentored 231 students in research projects in his 25 years at MHC.  Craig is a superb mentor, welcoming students at all levels, accommodating their schedules, goals and wide range of experience.  First-year students attend his lab meetings and learn to make fly food, sophomores sign up for their first credits of research, and senior honors students work with the confidence they’ve gained from years of Craig’s high standards and warm support.  Reading the acknowledgement pages of the scores of theses he has supervised lets his students give their own testimonials.  “As a freshman, I approached [Craig] to inquire about doing independent research in his lab; he signed me up before I had taken his class. His commitment to his students goes above and beyond any reasonable expectation.”  Another student writes “Without his overwhelming excitement behind both my successes and my setbacks, I would not have developed such a strong passion for research. Thank you for your commitment to making fruit flies cool and for being the hero of my lab stories.” 

Craig has published many papers with undergraduate co-authors, and his work has been supported with grants from the National Science Foundation, the Howard Hughes Institute and the National Institutes of Health. His alums are professors and doctors, run their own labs and work in biotech.  He stays in touch with a dizzying number of them—and they recognize how important he has been in their lives.

In the classroom Craig has inspired hundreds-if-not-thousands of students in both large lecture courses and small laboratory-intensive classes.  He cares greatly about each student, and brings a warm humor to every interaction.  He is not afraid to embrace new technologies, seeks out help when he wants to change direction, and never fails to share his experience with and learn from younger colleagues.  Long before it became a flagship part of the college, Craig invested time and energy in DEI issues, finding ways to challenge old norms and suggest new directions.

For his leadership, scientific passion and warm devotion to students, Mount Holyoke is proud to celebrate Craig Woodard as he receives the Meribeth E. Cameron Faculty Award for Scholarship.