2009 Professional AchievementDr. LaVerne Schirch
Retired professor of biochemistry
Researcher, teacher, mentor
Did you take your vitamins?
Encouraged by Bluffton professors Richard Weaver and H. W. Berky to explore chemistry as an undergraduate and graduate student, LaVerne Schirch has made it his life's work to further the field of biochemistry. His research—as a professor at Bluffton and the Medical College of Virginia at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU)—has focused, in particular, on the function of vitamins B6 and folic acid and how they relate to health.
Teaching students to research.
Following doctoral and postdoctoral studies in biochemistry at the University of Michigan and the University of California, Berkeley, Schirch returned to Bluffton as a professor of chemistry for 15 years. Many of his students participated in independent research and study. "I had about two dozen students at Bluffton who worked on my research projects," says Schirch. "These were very talented students, many of whom have gone on to establish their own careers in science or medicine. I owe my success to them."
Papers and grants galore.
Grant writing has always supported Schirch's research efforts. From 1964 until his retirement in 2004, he received consecutive research grants from institutions such as the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. In 1969, he co-wrote a grant that helped Bluffton acquire the first computer on campus. Schirch has written/co-written more than 130 publications relating to vitamins B6 and folic acid. He has also served on grant advisory committees for the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health and the American Cancer Society, and as a member of the editorial board of The Journal of Biological Chemistry.
The power of mentorship.
Schirch joined VCU in 1978, and spent much of his time mentoring graduate and postdoctoral students, most of whom were international students. He continues to assist many of them in grant and manuscript writing. In 2000, Schirch received the School of Medicine's Outstanding Teacher Award, and, in 2002, he received the school's Outstanding Research Award.
Schirch traveled to the University of Rome at least a dozen times to collaborate on research and five times received a visiting scholar award. Today, four of his former students are faculty members in the department of biochemistry at the University of Rome. Schirch also spent a semester conducting research at the University of Bristol in England. He has helped organize and participated in dozens of international symposiums.
Outside the lab.
For 15 years, Schirch volunteered with the Habitat for Humanity affiliate in Richmond, Va., serving on the board of directors and Family Selection Committee. He and his wife, Carol (Shelly '58) Schirch, have three children and eight grandchildren. In retirement, they travel, and Schirch continues to help write grants and manuscripts and mentor current and former students, as well as work on his family's genealogy.