Kathy Svoboda

Texas A&M University College of Dentistry

Contact Details

Texas A&M University College of Dentistry


In preparation for the Ladman Award, the AAA office asked these questions:

1). What does being named AAA/Wiley A.J. Ladman Exemplary Service Medal winner mean to you?

It is a great honor to be recognized by my Anatomy family and peers for my service to the Society. I have been involved since the early 1990’s. This is my record of committee and offices for AAA:

American Association of Anatomists
Education Affairs Committee, 1990-1995
Executive Board Member, 1997-2000
Experimental Biology 1997-2003 AAA Program Co-Chair
Experimental Biology 97-99 AAA Signal Transduction Theme Organizer
2nd Vice President, 1999-2000, 1st Vice President, 2000-2001
Finance Committee, 2000-2007
Nominations Committee, 2001-2003
President Elect and Membership Committee Chair, 2003-2005
President, 2005-2007
Experimental Biology Board of Directors, AAA representative, 2007-2011; Chair, 2011
Past President, 2007-2009
125th Anniversary Task Force, 2009-present
Henry Gray Award Committee Chair, 2007-2009
Ladman Service Award Committee Chair, 2007-2009
Honorary Membership Committee Chair, 2007-2009
Nomination Committee Chair, 2008-2009
Fellows Committee 2009-2012, Chair 2011
Journal Oversight Committee, 2011-2014
125th Anniversary Development Committee (Chair), 2011-present
Publications Committee Chair, 2013-

2). What inspired you to enter the field of anatomy?
I have been interested in anatomy since my high school biology classes taught by Mr. Brookhart. We dissected worms, starfish, crayfish and grasshoppers. I was fascinated by the anatomical differences in the animals and made very detailed drawings from the lab sessions. I was also familiar with chicken anatomy, because my parents raised chickens, and my job in the harvest assembly line was removing the guts!

In college I took comparative anatomy and developmental biology, which naturally led to human anatomy. After college I landed a job at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) in the prenatal diagnosis laboratory and also obtained a MS in human genetics there. My thesis was on developing a diagnostic chromosomal staining method to detect areas of chromosomes that did not stain with the method being used at that time. Most of my basic science classes for the MS were in anatomy. When I decided to continue my graduate education and seek a PhD, the anatomy department offered me support from their training grant. They had just hired Dr. K. Sue O’Shea, who became my first influential mentor. She guided my PhD project and helped me complete the degree requirements in two years!

3). Tell me a little about your journey through your career and path to achieve this wonderful honor.
I have had wonderful mentors, beginning in high school and throughout my career. I’ve already mentioned that Mr. Brookhart influenced my interest in biology, but other faculty were also influential. Mrs. White was my home economics teacher, and Mr. Shickley taught history. Both were my role models, and they each encouraged me to attend college. Since my only role models were high school teachers or nurses, I headed off to college to become a teacher. I took pre-med classes and majored in biology, but I fell in love with biology and really enjoyed bench science. Dr. O’Shea was a wonderful mentor and really inspired a love of the morphological and cell biological analysis of developmental biology processes. I studied the cell shape changes of the neuroepithelium in early eye development and used light, transmission and scanning electron microscopy for my project. It was at the 1982 AAA meeting where Dr. Elizabeth D. (Betty) Hay recruited me to join her laboratory at Harvard Medical School. In her laboratory I learned how important cell and molecular biological approaches were for understanding developmental biological observations. The entire anatomy faculty helped all of the students and post-doctoral fellows with their projects. I remain friends with many of the people who worked with me on those projects. For several projects, I needed to learn molecular biology, so Betty asked Dr. Bjorn Olsen to let me work with his group to learn how to isolate mRNA and analyze collagen gene expression. Yoshi Ninomiya, Marion (Emmy) Gordon and Don Gerecke were on the team that took me on as a new ”student”. That was the beginning of our long friendship.

Betty had a small lab group and an infrastructure in place each week to encourage cooperation between our group and others in the department. The department had state-of-the-art equipment, and we were one of the first schools to acquire a confocal microscope. The first one I used was a BioRad MRC 500 – converted to a 600. This microscopy technology marked a clear turning point in my approach to studying the actin cytoskeleton changes in response to stimuli in whole tissues. When I became an assistant professor, I moved to Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM). I interviewed with Dr. Allen Peters at the AAA meeting in Reno, NV, and started my position in 1987. At BUSM, I was one of the few cell and developmental biologists in a neuroanatomical department. Another Assistant Professor was hired about the same time, Dr. Douglas Cotanche. We became good friends and colleagues, sharing microscopes, lab space and students. Dr. Vickery Trinkaus-Randall also became a good friend and colleague. Doug, Vickery and I worked together to get the first confocal microscope on the BUSM campus and later collaborated again to obtain a NIH grant to replace the first one. The first microscope was a Leica prototype that could scan in both the xy and xz planes, which impacted my research dramatically.

4). Tell me a little about your lecture that you will be presenting at EB?
I will focus the talk on my mentors, friends and students and how confocal microscopy impacted my research. Compressing 30 years into 30 minutes will be a big challenge; so far I have over 90 slides that will need to be whittled down quite a bit to keep my talk interesting and relevant.

5). How long have you been a member of AAA and what advice would you give a younger anatomist just entering the field?
My first AAA meeting experience was in1980 in Omaha, and all of the students in our department were members. While in graduate school, we would use the school van to take groups to the meetings. I interviewed for a post doc position at the Indianapolis meeting a few years later. I don’t remember why, but my membership lapsed in my postdoctoral years and then I rejoined when looking for my first assistant professor job. I interviewed at the Reno meeting and met Dr. Allen Peters. I have been a member since then. I remember Betty making sure that all of her post docs studied the program in advance and had a clear plan for the presentations they needed to attend. She would make lists of posters based on three categories – must see for the science, good to see for the science (if you had time), and social visits (definitely needed to see either the presenter or the mentor). She also insisted that we attend all of the social occasions so she could introduce us to her colleagues. Networking was a clear goal of the meetings. Therefore, my advice to my students is to attend everything important to their work, which includes the award talks, and be sure to attend the socializers. Furthermore, they should interact with other attendees and meet people.

6). Tell us something (funny) about yourself that your colleagues might not know about you?

• I’m from a very small town in western Nebraska (Hershey); my parents’ phone number was 47 until after I was in college. My mother’s name is Enid Marie Hartford and my father’s name is Jerry Kay Hartford. My sister, Donna Solie still lives in their house in Hershey, NE. I have many nieces, nephews and cousins in the Hershey/North Platte area.
• My mother’s family homesteaded land in north central Nebraska in the 1860’s. My father’s family moved west with the railroad.
• Although many of my relatives were preachers, teachers and nurses, I’m the first one to complete an advanced degree (MS, PhD).
• I started college before I finished high school (1969). It was the first year for a pilot program, where a few students could take classes at a junior college for 3 days a week in their senior year.
• I have had a very complicated personal life. I married John J. Svoboda in 1976, and he had 6 children. Therefore, I am the step parent to 6, grandparent to 9, and great grandparent to 10 children. John was an extremely talented artist and writer, who won many awards for his work. He died in 1988. His daughter and I compiled his poems and some drawings in a book.
• I have been in a relationship with K. Shane Hartman for 25 years. Shane is an extremely smart, talented software engineer and manager. He has been very successful, both writing complicated software and managing business infrastructure. He is currently the Vice President of Information Technology at the Lighting Science Group.
• Shane and I are avid photographers and enjoy traveling together, especially to wildlife sanctuaries. We learned to scuba dive together and have logged over 150 dives, and of course underwater photography also became a passion. We especially enjoyed being in South Africa at the 2009 IFAA meeting.
• In my adult life, I’ve always had cats for pets. Currently we have 3 cats in Texas and 1 in Florida.

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