Utah State University’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry has announced its Alumni Achievement Award recipients for 2021.
The honorees are Dale Christensen, BS 1987, Chemistry, who has forged a distinguished career in drug design and discovery as a contributing scientist, leader and founder of a number of drug companies, and theoretical chemist Anastassia Alexandrova, Ph.D. 2005, professor and vice chair for undergraduate education in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“We are excited and proud to recognize these two exceptional Aggies,” Department Head Lance Seefeldt says. “Following a new awards format we initiated in 2020, we name a senior award recipient, recognizing an individual who is completing a long and distinguished career, as well as a junior award recipient, who is an emerging leader in our field, each year.”
Christensen, the senior award recipient, and Alexandrova, the junior award recipient, will be formally recognized during Chemistry and Biochemistry’s Spring 2022 department seminars, presented in person and virtually. Christensen will be honored April 6, and Alexandrova will be honored April 20.
Dale Christensen, BS 1987
Born in central Utah’s Sanpete County, Dale J. Christensen moved with his family to the Salt Lake City suburb of Taylorsville when he was 5 years old. At age 10, after visiting the USU campus where his older brother was a student, Christensen made up his mind to be an Aggie, too.
“I never wanted or even applied to another school,” he says. “I felt at home in Cache Valley.”
After graduating from Taylorsville High School in 1983, Christensen entered Utah State, where the late professor Richard Olsen became an influential mentor to the undergraduate.
“Dr. Olsen put me on the career path to getting my Ph.D. in organic chemistry,” Christensen says.
Following graduation from USU in 1987, Christensen earned a doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of Utah in 1993. He was a National Institutes of Health Postdoctoral Fellow at Texas A&M University from 1993-1996.
A biotech executive and independent consultant, Christensen has more than 25 years of experience in research and early development of therapeutics across respiratory, inflammation, central nervous system, anti-infective and oncology indications. He holds an appointment as adjunct associate professor of medicine at Duke University Medical Center and has held senior positions at Spyryx Biosciences, Oncotide, Cognosci, Affinergy, Inc., Aryzun Pharmaceuticals and KaroBio USA.
In addition to leading research programs for each company, Christensen provided oversight of clinical trial design and execution, biomarker development, toxicology study design and execution, as well as early phase trials. His efforts have led to the invention of multiple drugs, along with improvements to the delivery of previously established drugs.
Christensen’s memories of Utah State include the “ultra-cold” winter of 1984, when temperatures dropped well below zero degrees Fahrenheit; playing hacky sack by the student center, and walking into the library on Jan. 28, 1986, to witness sobering television coverage of the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion.
“Utah State gave me an education that put me on the same plane as people from Ivy League schools — an education that has benefited me throughout my entire career,” he says.
Anastassia Alexandrova, PhD’2005
A native of Russia, Alexandrova earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry at Saratov State University in southeast Russia. She won the 2000 Russian Regional Student Olympiad in chemistry and completed predoctoral studies at the Vernaskii Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow.
In 2001, Alexandrova moved to the United States to pursue doctoral studies at Utah State, which she considers her first major career milestone.
“I benefited tremendously from a small research group I was part of, where I could talk with my adviser, Professor Alex Boldyrev, on a nearly daily basis,” she says. “I got to see how he thinks; following him, I learned to trust my scientific intuition, to go after the problem until we beat it to the ground, to argue with a forceful scientific opponent.”
Boldyrev encouraged her to publish, attend scientific meetings, network and “kept my mind open.”
“He gave me an excellent start,” Alexandrova says. “Alex is an incredible mentor, scientist and citizen of the world. His research is top class and his group is well taken care of, at the level that can make any student in any university jealous.”
Following USU, Alexandrova pursued postdoctoral research at Yale University and joined UCLA’s faculty in 2009.
Alexandrova’s research is focused on computational design of functional materials. This includes investigation of ultra-hard borated alloys, as well as efforts aimed at the in-silico design of metallo-proteins with specific, desired catalytic properties.
At UCLA, Alexandrova has received repeated university honors in research and teaching. In addition, she received a 2014 National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) grant and a 2016 Fulbright Scholarship.
Alexandrova has received numerous American Chemical Society accolades. In 2011, she was awarded the society’s Younger Chemists Committee Leadership Development Award, along with the 2015 Rising Star Award from the ACS Women Chemists Committee. In 2020, Alexandrova received the ACS Early Career Award in Theoretical Chemistry from the society’s Physical Chemistry Division.
Most recently, Alexandrova is a 2021 recipient of the prestigious Max Planck-Humboldt Medal.
The Aggie alumna says she treasures the friendships she’s made and colleagues she’s gained throughout her academic, professional and personal journeys.
“People in your life are resources,” Alexandrova says. “You never know when you might see an opportunity from teaming up with that one old friend or when the expertise of that one person would help your next step. If you are brave enough to believe you can change the world, you will."
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