In his 39 years at Wheaton, Professor of Biology Edmund Tong has developed innovative teaching programs, trained numerous students in his lab, and received impressive grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and others.
This spring, he plans to retire. As he leaves, his legacy of inspired research continues through an impressive list of biology alumnae/i who sing his praises. During Commencement/Reunion Weekend, he will receive the newly established Heather J. Corbett ’86 Faculty/Staff Unsung Hero Award, which is based on nominations and is presented to a faculty or staff member who has made a significant contribution to community, career or volunteer service to Wheaton.
A favored professor, he has a reputation for being a mentor who is as interested in his students’ well-being as he is in their academic growth. “There were so many times that I went to his office in search of advice because I knew that he always had the most thoughtful insights,” says Kyle Glass ’11, who did his senior thesis with Tong.
“One of his best attributes was the way he guided and pushed us to do as much as we could. He always had the utmost confidence in us,” says April Greene-Colozzi ’09, a senior research technician at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. She began her work with Tong as a sophomore and, before she graduated, authored an academic paper with her professor.
Tong began his career at Wheaton in 1973 after earning his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “I was highly impressed with the college when I came for my interview,” he says.
At Wheaton, the bulk of his research has been focused on angiogenesis, the growth of new blood vessels, which has significant importance in the treatment of cancer and heart disease and in wound healing. He began this work in 1984 after receiving a pilot grant from the NIH. Over the years, Tong has trained close to 100 students in his angiogenesis research lab, nicknaming his student researchers “the A Team.”
In the mid-’90s, Tong started to investigate the effect of hydroxyoctadecadienoic acids on blood vessel growth. Tumors need blood to grow, and without angiogenesis, they will die, says Tong. The preliminary data from this research helped Tong obtain an NIH Academic Research Enhancement Award grant from the National Cancer Institute.
His innovative teaching style includes using the television show “ER” to teach physiology. “Students studied one patient case each week from the show,” he says. He also started a service-learning program at Sturdy Memorial Hospital in Attleboro, Mass., where students shadow doctors in the emergency room and other departments.
Of his many accomplishments, Tong is especially pleased with the Staircase Plan, a math and science curriculum he developed that combines existing First-Year Seminars and junior-year internships with a new feature, second-year short lab projects. The plan culminates with a student-faculty research project. “The mission behind the plan is to better prepare students for graduate and professional programs,” he says.
The plan received two large equipment grants from the Sherman/Fairchild and Kresge Foundations.
Tong is also proud to have a connection to Connections. His 2000 NSF proposal, “The Connections Plan,” examined ways to bridge the gap between math and science and the other disciplines, and was a starting point for Wheaton’s signature curriculum, which links courses across academic areas.
What will he miss most after his retirement? “My students, especially everyone who worked in my lab,” he says.
Though he will be retiring, Tong will not be leaving the Wheaton community. He plans to continue teaching his “Traditional Chinese Medicine” and Chinese arts and culture courses with Wheaton students in the summer. “And I plan to sit in on some classes, especially art history and studio art,” says Tong, an accomplished painter.