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Norman K. Wessells, 1932 - 2023

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Norman K. Wessells, who joined the faculty of the Stanford Department of Biological Sciences in 1962 and served as the dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences from 1981 to 1988, reflects on his research and teaching contributions and his various administrative leadership roles. Wessells describe his life before coming to Stanford, including his childhood in New Jersey, his undergraduate and graduate education in embryology at Yale, and his experience as an officer in the US Navy’s Service Corps. He discusses coming to Stanford as a post-doc to work with Clifford Grobstein and provides a sense of how the field of biology was changing in the 1960s with the impact of new discoveries and the emergence of developmental biology. Wessells provides an overview of his research agenda, including his work on nerve cells and forming axons and the extra cellular matrix (ECM), and describes some of the curricular changes he instituted. Turning to his administrative positions, he reflects on how the School of Humanities and Sciences (H&S) operated under Halsey Royden, the dean from 1973 to 1981, and describes some of the initiatives during his own tenure, including the move of the Stanford Department of Computer Science from H&S to the School of Engineering. Other topics include Hopkins Marine Station and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, affirmative action in faculty hiring, the role of the dean’s office in tenure cases, faculty retirement age issues, and his move to the University of Oregon in 1988.

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