Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

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STRI Interim Director
recognized in Washington

June 22, 2021

Secretary of the Smithsonian awards medal to Oris Sanjur for her exceptional work in Panama

Oris I. Sanjur, interim director of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), and Panamanian scientist, was selected by Lonnie G. Bunch III, the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, to receive the Secretary's Gold Medal for Exceptional Service. This is the highest honor bestowed upon Smithsonian staff members by the Secretary in recognition of exceptional service over an extended period of time.

Sanjur’s relationship with STRI spans three decades and different phases. It began in 1989, when she became a research assistant and completed her biology undergraduate thesis project here. After finishing her Ph.D. in cell and developmental biology at Rutgers University, she became a postdoctoral fellow. Later, she managed STRI's Molecular Evolution Laboratory for a decade, publishing numerous articles and presenting at a variety of scientific meetings. She has been advisor to hundreds of students at various stages of their scientific training. She was promoted to Associate Director for Scientific Management, and has been Interim Director since June, 2020.

With the optimistic attitude, empathy and warmth that characterizes her, Dr. Oris I. Sanjur managed to keep STRI's institutional morale high during the most critical moments of the pandemic, showing herself accessible and committed to the needs of all.

Sanjur’s dedication and commitment to science throughout her professional career at STRI, are indisputable. However, her nomination for the Secretary's Gold Medal for Exceptional Service is due to leadership of the Institute in the last year, throughout the extraordinary circumstances caused by the arrival of Covid-19 in Panama.

Among other things, Sanjur navigated challenges unprecedented in STRI's history to ensure that essential scientific endeavors were not cut short during lockdown. Under her leadership and working closely with the scientific and administrative staff, the Institute's collections and basic operations were kept alive despite mobility restrictions. She also made sure to provide the emergency support required to other scientific institutions, with the equipment and reagents necessary to face the public health crisis.

With an ever-optimistic and warm character, she managed to keep institutional morale high during the most critical moments of the pandemic, through her accessibility and commitment to the needs of all. In particular, she stood out as a tireless advocate for the STRI community, especially those scientists whose research was suddenly interrupted. Sanjur continually balances empathy and professionalism while representing STRI in multiple institutional leadership and professional development forums.

As a Panamanian scientist and thanks to her ability to communicate with multiple audiences, Sanjur has been recognized by the highest leadership of the institution, thus strengthening the Institute's relationship with the rest of the Smithsonian units in the United States, and with the local and global scientific community.

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