Hoover Watches Over Biology Projects 'Like A Hawk'

May 27, 2010 — When University of Virginia biology faculty describe facilities project coordinator Ron Hoover, their choice for a 2010 Leonard W. Sandridge Outstanding Contribution Award, they describe him in terms of the special attributes of nature's creatures.

From tracking down half-million-dollar equipment, to assisting with the planning and review of a new building, to babysitting newly hatched lizards, the 17-year employee "has saved the department and the College of Arts & Sciences thousands of dollars by being vigilant and watching projects like a hawk," biology chairman Douglas Taylor wrote.

In the past seven months, one of Hoover's tasks has been to help assistant professor Sarah Kucenas set up her lab, complete with renovating rooms for her fish and microscopes. "I 100 percent believe that I wouldn't be so far along in starting my lab if Ronnie hadn't been here to help," Kucenas said in her nomination letter.

On the day Kucenas' $500,000 confocol microscope was to arrive, it was nowhere to be found. Hoover tracked down the microscope on another U.Va. loading dock. "If Ronnie had not been so persistent ... this could have set Dr. Kucenas' research back at least four months," Taylor wrote.

Hoover can often be found making custom parts for old microscopes or figuring out ways to retrieve parts that fall into what researchers call "inaccessible spots deep inside the microscope," wrote professor George Bloom of Hoover's "above and beyond the call of duty" performance.

Research professor Ammasi Periasamy said Hoover "always has a solution. ... I was about to spend $200 to fix a pump which cools a costly laser unit, and he spent a couple of dollars to fix the pump within an hour."

Recently, an air handler unit in Gilmer Hall went down. "Ronnie immediately saw the urgency" of the situation, Taylor wrote. "The most pressing concern was 600 newly hatched lizards that are the culmination of five years of research and hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants and start-up funds. The lizards and the research are sensitive to environmental fluctuations. Ronnie understood ... the federal requirement that the University prioritize care and welfare of vertebrate research subjects. After finishing work normally at 5 p.m., Ronnie personally checked the facility again at 7 p.m., 9 p.m., midnight, 2 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. to make sure the experiment and animals were not in danger."

Biology is looking forward to occupying its new space in the College's Physical and Life Sciences building, currently under construction, in May 2011, Garrett wrote. "Ronnie has proven invaluable in shepherding our particular research requirements and facilities needs through the architectural and construction reviews. He has a wonderful appreciation of what each scientific investigator might need ... and he watches over us like a benevolent mother hen, steering each towards an ideal laboratory configuration that is integrated within the building's possibilities."

"If one wished to hire someone to fill a job entitled 'Facilities Coordinator' in a science department at a research university, expecting to find someone with Ronnie's suite of qualifications would be outrageously optimistic. His credentials cover every aspect of building construction," professor and associate chairman Reginald Garrett wrote. "In my 50 years of experience, he is truly unique."

Taylor seconded that. "Simply put, I could not do my job without Ronnie at the helm of building operations in the department."

— By Rebecca Arrington