Minnetta Gardinier, Graduate College/Carver College of Medicine
At age 4 or 5, Minnetta Gardinier flew on an airplane for the first time. Her mother worked for Sky Chefs, supplying meals for the flights at the local airport in her native Syracuse, N.Y.
Her early experiences, which include time spent visiting and talking with the pilots in the cockpit, were cool for Minnetta, who today serves two roles at The University of Iowa: the associate dean for graduate recruitment and professional development in the Graduate College, and associate professor of pharmacology in the Carver College of Medicine. She joined the Graduate College in 2004 as she was wrapping up a stint as director of the molecular and cellular biology graduate program at the University (2002-08).
Today, Gardinier still enjoys the thrill of flying. She got her pilot’s license six years ago, and even co-owns a 1978 single-engine Cessna Cardinal Classic airplane. Gardinier forgets the stresses of academia when she pulls the plane out of the hangar and taxis down the runway to take off into blue skies and drill holes through the clouds at 8,000 feet.
“It’s a sense of freedom and serenity. You can fly wherever you want, really,” Gardinier says. “It’s a really different vantage point to look down on the earth and the countryside from the sky.”
Gardinier is a two-time participant in the Air Race Classic—transcontinental air racing for women sponsored by a nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging and educating current and future women pilots. This year, she flew from Denver, Colo., to Atlantic, Iowa, with stops throughout the south central United States. In 2008, her trip went from Bozeman, Mont., to Mansfield, Mass.
Gardinier took a break from flying and her busy schedule at the University to talk with fyi about her air adventures, her main research interest, and her job at the Graduate College.
Why did you decide to raise money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society during the Air Race Classic?
Most people get sponsorships to pay for the cost of the race. My thinking on it was that if I was going to do this, I felt like I wanted to do it to raise money for something or give back to something. The MS Society is a great place for it to go. For 15 years or so, my research was funded by NMSS.
How did you decide to pursue multiple sclerosis as a research area?
As a young student, the research just sounded intriguing to me when I first met a woman who would become my PhD mentor. I decided to stay in MS research and chose to pursue my postdoctoral training in Switzerland. My first independent research grant was awarded by the Swiss MS Society, and it facilitated the search for my first faculty position. At Northwestern University, my first funded grant in the States as a faculty member was from the National MS Society followed by the NIH (National Institutes of Health).
Who is your co-owner on the Cessna Cardinal Classic?
Dan Eberl, director of the UI genetics graduate program. We crossed paths at the Iowa City Municipal Airport when we were taking lessons. He purchased the Cardinal, and I convinced him that a partnership on the plane was a better economic deal. I got my private license six years ago, and 1-½ years later I got my instrument rating, which allows me to fly in clouds without ground references.
Is flying still a male-dominated activity?
Of all the licensed pilots in the country, I think only five to six percent are women. I still find that shocking.
What’s the best thing about your job as an associate dean in the UI Graduate College?
“I have the freedom to come up with new ideas and then to put them into action. It’s satisfying to implement changes that can improve graduate students’ lives across the institution. I miss not having the close interactions with graduate students in a program, but from this position I feel like I can effect some change that improves graduate training.
After leaving your faculty position at Northwestern University, why did you choose to continue your career at Iowa in 1998?
In Chicago, I decided I wanted to relocate my lab, and I thought I would look at college town settings. This was the first place I interviewed at, and I really liked both the university and the community environment when I visited.
by John Riehl