Stanford honors Nona Chiariello and Niraj Dangoria with 2019 Marsh O’Neill Awards

Nona Chiariello has been the staff scientist at Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve
Nona Chiariello has been the staff scientist at Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve for more than 30 years. (Image credit: Farrin Abbott)

Nona Chiariello, a staff scientist at the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, and Niraj Dangoria, associate dean in the Office of Facilities Planning and Management at the School of Medicine, will each receive a 2019 Marsh O’Neill Award for Exceptional and Enduring Support of Stanford University’s Research Enterprise during a Nov. 20 campus reception.

Stanford has selected two employees who will each receive a 2019 Marsh O’Neill Award for Exceptional and Enduring Support of Stanford University’s Research Enterprise : Nona Chiariello, staff scientist at Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve; and Niraj Dangoria, associate dean in the Office of Facilities Planning and Management at the School of Medicine.

Kathryn "Kam" Moler, vice provost and dean of research, will present the award at a reception from 2 to 4 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 20, in the MacKenzie Room of the Jen-Hsun Haung Engineering Center. No invitation is required. Email Darlene Goodart to attend.

The award is an opportunity for faculty to publicly acknowledge the staff members who support their research. Stanford established the award in honor of Marshall O’Neill, who worked at the university from 1952 to 1990, when he retired as associate director of the W.W. Hansen Laboratories. O’Neill was the first recipient of the award.

Nona Chiariello

As the staff scientist at Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve , Nona Chiariello is involved in all aspects of how the Stanford community - and the regional community - interacts with the 1,193-acre preserve, which is located in the eastern foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Chiariello, who has held the post for more than 30 years, said she was honored to be chosen for the Marsh O’Neill Award.

"It was especially meaningful to me because receiving the award implicitly recognizes Jasper Ridge as a significant part of Stanford’s research enterprise - and that’s very important to me," she said.

In a letter nominating Chiariello for the award, Elizabeth Hadly , faculty director of the preserve and the Paul S. and Billie Achilles Professor in Environmental Biology in the School of Humanities and Sciences, and Anthony Barnosky , executive director of the preserve and a professor (research) of biology, wrote:

"In the 2017-18 academic year alone, there were 75 researchers conducting 60 different projects at Jasper Ridge, and Nona enabled the research of every one of them, in ways that ranged from helping them to craft proposals that maximize taking advantage of Jasper Ridge’s unique research environment, to helping them design and set up experiments - all the while preserving the unique cultural and ecological integrity that makes Jasper Ridge such as exceptional resource for Stanford."

They also noted that Chiariello served as one of the project leaders of the preserve’s famed 18-year global change experiment, which resulted in papers in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and other high-profile journals, and also provided a training ground for a generation of global change scientists.

"As if all this helping others in her humble and understated manner does not keep her busy enough, Nona is also a world-class researcher in her own right, recognized by her recent election to the California Academy of Sciences," they wrote.

Paul Ehrlich , the Bing Professor of Population Studies, Emeritus, in the Department of Biology, described Chiariello as "brilliant, dedicated, dependable, helpful, friendly and willing to go wherever necessary to solve a problem," and added, "I often leaned on her advice when dealing with difficult situations, especially when considering issues like re-introductions of butterflies on the Ridge. What more could one ask?"

During a lean year for acorns at Jasper Ridge, Kabir Peay , an associate professor of biology and senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, couldn’t find enough acorns for student experiments to be conducted in the preserve, so he proposed using acorns from the main campus. But Chiariello worried they might introduce foreign genotypes to Jasper Ridge.

"In a stroke of genius, she remembered that one of the wooden walls of the research station had been used as a granary (an acorn storage spot) for acorn woodpeckers," Peay recalled. "Nona suggested we use these acorns for the experiments and helped me to find enough there for the class to use. It saved the class and also made sure that we didn’t take any risks that might endanger the integrity of the preserve."

Niraj Dangoria

As associate dean of facilities planning and management for the School of Medicine, Niraj Dangoria has a long list of responsibilities: space planning, capital projects, maintenance and repairs, space rental and leasing, renovation, project management, emergency preparedness, and health and safety functions in the school’s buildings, on and off campus.

An architect by training, Dangoria has worked in university planning and management for about 30 years, including more than 12 years at Stanford.

Dangoria, who oversees 50 employees, including architects, planners, project managers, engineers, lab safety experts, maintenance crews and financial managers, said he was "floored and very humbled" to be chosen for the Marsh O’Neill Award.

"But I attribute 70 percent of my success to my staff, and 25 percent to my supervisors and the leadership of the School of Medicine," he said. ""Without them, I would be nothing."

Several new campus landmarks bear witness to their work, including the Lokey Stem Cell Research Building, the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge, the Freidenrich Center for Center for Translational Research and the C.J. Huang Building. Two more will open in 2020: the Biomedical Innovation Building and the Center for Academic Medicine.

In a nominating letter, Linda Boxer , vice dean of the School of Medicine and professor of medicine (hematology), said few areas are as important and potentially contentious as research space, and no area has consistently created more headaches, anxiety, anger and disappointment than the issue of space constraints in recent years.

"It is against this background that Niraj has worked his magic - consistently, even-handedly, logically and cleverly," she wrote. "During his tenure at the School of Medicine, I imagine Niraj has positively affected the work life of almost every faculty member and employee."

Boxer also emphasized Dangoria’s leadership in emergency situations, citing the year Stanford Hospital and Clinics had to replace the 50-year-old electrical switching that delivered power to the Stone building complex, as well as the hospital.

"With painstaking details, Niraj and his team deployed emergency power through two huge mobile generators and miles of cabling to every laboratory in the 415,000-square-foot complex, ensuring that every freezer, incubator and other critical equipment identified by each lab was secured during the two-day power outage," Boxer wrote.

Robert Jackler , the Edward C. and Amy H. Sewall Professor in Otorhinolaryngology, described Dangoria as "one of the pillars" of the School of Medicine.

"Overseeing facilities, in the face of enormous demand, limited resources and a most complex regulatory environment, requires not only masterful skills in architecture, lab design and project management, but also the diplomatic skills and finesse of a United Nations ambassador," Jackler wrote. "It is indeed remarkable how well he balances all these aspects of his position."

Constance Chu , a professor and vice chair of research in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery, was impressed with Dangoria’s steadfast dedication to creating the optimum new research space for faculty in the Biomedical Innovation Building.

"Niraj demonstrated strong, yet collaborative leadership, communicated a compelling vision for an aesthetic, efficient and collaborative space, and went above and beyond to bring about this complex project in on time and within budget," Chu wrote. "His actions demonstrated a tremendous breadth of superb talents and personal qualities, along with an intense commitment to contributing this key resources in support of faculty research."