The Late Carol Ann Paul Posthumously Awarded Top Honors in Her Field

December 16, 2014
Carol Ann Paul, black & white closeup

Carol Ann Paul, a beloved member of the neuroscience faculty at Wellesley, died on October 23 at age 66. On November 17, she was posthumously awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience, an international organization that is focused on neuroscience education and research at the undergraduate level. Aware of her failing health, her Wellesley colleagues shared the news of this award with her, though its presentation is ordinarily a surprise.

Her skills as a laboratory instructor and mentor at several institutions—but particularly in the Neuroscience Program at Wellesley College, which she had made her academic home—will be remembered and valued by a generation of undergraduates.

At Wellesley, Paul was a founding member in 2007 of the independent Neuroscience Program, which evolved from the interdepartmental Psychobiology (1968-1997) and Neuroscience (1997-2007) Programs. The independent program status means faculty are appointed directly to the Neuroscience Program and do not share appointments with other departments, which has allowed for the design and implementation of a new core curriculum in the neuroscience major. Paul played an integral role in planning this curriculum, which is composed of introductory, intermediate, and advanced courses.

Faculty in the Neuroscience Program at Wellesley work as a team to create and maintain the curriculum, but Paul was a driving force behind the laboratory experiences in the core sequence. Both NEUR 100- and 200-level courses include state-of-the-art laboratory experiences that have been widely applauded by students and faculty alike. In many cases, Paul conceived of the laboratories, planned them, and carried the projects through to completion.

Only three years after the establishment of the new Neuroscience Program, however, Paul suffered a devastating stroke as a result of a familial heart condition, cutting short her career. In spite of physical limitations due to the stroke, she remained a devoted learner and a teacher. Allene Lummis Russell Professor of Neuroscience Barbara Beltz shares an example: "She returned to our introductory neuroscience course to tell our students about the neuroscience behind stroke and what it’s like to be a stroke survivor." She also launched a stroke support group and was active in writing workshops and book clubs.

Throughout her career Paul was an active investigator with much published research, and served on the editorial board of the Journal of Undergraduate Neuroscience Education as well as co-authoring a definitive neuroscience laboratory text, Discovering Neurons. Her master's thesis, which found an association between brain size and alcohol consumption, spawned a scholarly paper and national recognition.

When nominating her for the award earlier in the year, Wellesley faculty had written: "For all of us in the Neuroscience Program, Carol Ann has been... an advisor-friend who combines direct honesty with her wonderful Irish wit and charm. She is the kind of mentor that each of us needs in our lives, pushing each of us to be the best we can be."

It may be fitting that the lifetime achievement award for a person of such high spirit and energy would come from an organization called FUN—the Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience. It is certainly fitting that in addition to posthumously granting her this award, FUN named its annual faculty award The Carol Ann Paul Educator of the Year Award.

A memorial service was held on November 1 in Houghton Chapel. Her obituary is published online.