One of the original professors at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine has been named the school’s first professor emeritus.

Venuti named OUWB’s first professor emeritus
Judith Venuti 22

One of the original professors at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine has been named the school’s first professor emeritus.

The Oakland University Board of Trustees approved the appointment for Judith Venuti, Ph.D., on Dec. 13, 2021.

Venuti says it’s “truly an honor” that’s made all the more special by the fact that teaching at OUWB was the highlight of an illustrious career in research and academia.

“My position at OUWB was the best job I’ve ever had,” she says.

“I’ve done a lot of different things, but (OUWB) was one job where I felt like I was making a real difference, that I was actually contributing to what was happening at the school, and my voice was heard.”

‘Fell in love with embryology and genetics’

Venuti has taught in the anatomical sciences for nearly 20 years and has received several ‘Excellence in Teaching’ awards. Her teaching experience has included: clinical anatomy, human prenatal anatomy (embryology), developmental biology, cell and molecular biology and allied health human anatomy (as course director).

Venuti is a fellow of the American Association of Anatomists (AAA) and served as AAA Annual Meeting Program co-chair, as a member of the AAA Board of Directors, the Executive Committee and on several other task forces and committees including the AAA Educational Outreach Committee. In 2019, Venuti received the AAA A.J. Ladman Exemplary Service Award, the highest honor recognizing a member distinguished in the field of anatomical sciences.

Venuti’s career path can be in large part traced to a course she took while pursuing an undergraduate degree at Northeastern University in Boston.

“I absolutely fell in love with genetics and developmental biology and the idea that we start off as a single cell that becomes a bunch of specialized cells that gives rise to an organism,” she says. “I was just fascinated with that idea.”

Venuti earned a bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Northeastern before a Ph.D. in anatomical sciences from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Her first faculty position was as an assistant professor in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University in New York.

She moved on to become an associate professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy at Louisiana State University’s Health Sciences Center in New Orleans.

In 2005, Venuti says Hurricane Katrina “put the kibosh on everything for me.” The research she and her research team were doing was lost; the team essentially dismantled by the disruption.

“It was hard to pick up and clean up after the hurricane…I lost so much,” she says.

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After spending a few subsequent years as a program director at the National Science Foundation in Washington, D.C., Venuti says she was contacted by OUWB’s Robert Noiva, Ph.D., associate dean for Graduate Studies and Community Integration. Venuti and Noiva knew each other from the time they were postdocs together at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

“He asked me if I had a student or postdoc who might be interested in teaching embryology at a new medical school and I said, ‘How about me?’”

She joined OUWB in 2011, and in 2012, she was appointed chair of the Department of Biomedical Sciences, the former name of the Department of Foundational Medical Studies. She helped build the department from 10 or so initial faculty to the almost 40 currently in place.

She oversaw the embryology curriculum for the M1-M2 students and was co-director of the Reproductive Systems and Musculoskeletal Systems courses. She also was chair of the curriculum committee and faculty awards committee and served as a member of the M1/M2 curriculum subcommittee, committee on committees and promotion and tenure committees (as well as others).

In June 2020, Venuti officially retired from teaching full-time. She was named an adjunct professor and continues to teach on a part-time basis in the anatomy lab and is currently serving as an interim course director for OUWB’s Musculoskeletal Systems course.

She divides her time between Michigan and her home in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, which is located at the extreme southwest corner of Cape Cod. Once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, Venuti says she hopes to participate in programs at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory, a private, nonprofit research and educational center affiliated with the University of Chicago. During her research career, Venuti conducted research as an MBL Fellow and taught in their world-renowned summer embryology course.

A high bar for high results

Though Venuti is retired, Doug Gould, chair of the Department of Foundational Medical Studies, says OUWB continues to embody the many best practices she introduced.

Venuti served as chair of the same department Gould now oversees.

Doug Gould

“She set the parameters and the tone for what (OUWB) values,” says Gould. “Judy set a high bar and a high level of expectation that move people beyond being teachers and (so they) become master educators.”

“You have to set a high bar to get a high result,” he adds.

Gould says just one of the ways Venuti did so was during annual reviews.

“She was very good at communicating expectations,” he says. “She would say ‘Nope, this is no good, you’re wasting your time, you need to do X,Y,Z.’ That’s really useful for somebody that’s trying to create something.”

Gould nominated Venuti to be professor emeritus.

Janine DeWitte, assistant dean for Faculty Affairs & Professional Development, said the title generally “serves as respect for and recognition of a distinguished career.”

“The title is awarded as an honor based on outstanding contributions that have made a positive impact on OUWB and significant contributions to a person’s area of expertise,” says DeWitte.

The title is reserved for very few as it requires 10 years of continuous employment with OUWB and a recommendation for a department chair. Even then, says DeWitte, nomination does not guarantee the title will be given as it’s intended for “only those who have a significant record of service and achievements.”

Venuti is among the very first to meet all of the requirements.

She says it means a lot to her, especially since she retired during the pandemic and never received the traditional retirement send-off.

“(Being named professor emeritus) is a nice way of being recognized for the work that I had done, and that the work is appreciated,” says Venuti. 

The most satisfying part of her work at OUWB, however, is that she was integral to helping set standards that continually yield high-quality physicians.

“I have many doctors who are Beaumont doctors, including my ophthalmologist who says, ‘(OUWB) students are great. I find that in general they are better prepared to come and work with us than some other medical students,’” says Venuti. “It’s very satisfying to hear that our students are appreciated by the community.”

For more information, contact Andrew Dietderich, marketing writer, OUWB, at [email protected]

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