René Sacasas was a curious eight-year-old the first time he ever set foot on the University of Miami’s Coral Gables campus. That was 60 years ago, and Sacasas’ family had come to get a close-up look at the school to which his older sister had just been accepted.
“It wasn’t much to look at in 1955, but even then I felt it was a special place,” he recalled.
Over the next eight years, Sacasas fell in love with the University, swimming in its on-campus pool, attending Hurricanes football games in the Orange Bowl, and listening to the Band of the Hour. “The U,” he said, “became a great part of what Miami meant to me as a community. It meant home.”
He eventually moved to Washington, D.C., to attend college, got married, worked on Wall Street, earned a law degree, then returned to Miami in 1976 to practice law. But something was missing—a true sense of community. So when a former mentor called him in 1985 with a job offer as an assistant professor in the UM School of Business Administration’s Business Law Department, Sacasas took the job.
“I came home,” he said.
On Wednesday, with colleagues, friends and family looking on, Sacasas, who has built a remarkable career in academia and service over his 30-year UM career, accepted one of the institution’s highest honors: the James W. McLamore Outstanding Service Award. Named after the co-founder of Burger King and former chair of the UM Board of Trustees, the award honors a member of the University community who has gone above and beyond the call of duty in service to the institution.
“Service is the one pillar of the three traditional pillars of academia that you truly cannot do alone,” he said at the awards ceremony, going on to thank those who have helped and worked with him for the past three decades.
He was one of three distinguished faculty members honored during the 2015 Faculty Senate Awards Ceremony, held in UM’s Storer Auditorium. Mary E. Mckay, a nurse-educator who has spearheaded patient safety, inter-professional education, and technology initiatives at the School of Nursing and Health Studies, received the Outstanding Teaching Award, while Jay S. Skyler, a Miller School of Medicine physician and diabetes researcher who pioneered the use of patient self-monitoring of blood glucose and developed the concept of intensive insulin therapy, picked up the Distinguished Faculty Scholar Award.
UM President Donna E. Shalala, who was honored with the Special Senate Award, described the three awardees as “change agents” who have gone the “extra mile in their devotion to the University and to our mission.”
During Wednesday’s event, the audience of about 250 people—many of whom included past Faculty Senate honorees—got firsthand accounts of the accomplishments that made Sacasas, Mckay, and Skyler deserving of their awards.
“He leads by example,” Linda L. Neider, professor of management, said of Sacasas, noting that her colleague never sought the spotlight but worked “behind the scenes” to accomplish such goals as increasing the size and diversity of the business school’s faculty.
Chair of the Business Law Department for the past 22 years, Sacasas was one of the first faculty fellows at Eaton Residential College, serving later as an associate master at Mahoney and then as headmaster for Hecht. During that time he counseled and mentored thousands of students.
Mckay, an assistant professor of clinical nursing and associate dean for the Bachelor of Science Nursing Program, thanked her family for their support, especially her mother, who is also a nurse and instilled in her a passion for the profession. Mckay noted that she often runs into former students while making clinical visits to area hospitals, and that many of those students often thank her for what she taught them. “I feel privileged to facilitate the education of our next generation of professional nurses,” Mckay said.
Skyler’s career in diabetes spans nearly five decades. His research interests are concentrated in the clinical aspects of diabetes, particularly improving the care of Type 1 diabetics through meticulous glycemic control, psychosocial and behavioral support, and immune intervention.
Professor of medicine, pediatrics, and psychology and deputy director for clinical research and academic programs at the Diabetes Research Institute, Skyler was study chairman for the nationwide, multicenter Diabetes Prevention Trial for Type 1 diabetes and now serves as study chairman of its successor, the National Institutes of Health-sponsored Type 1 Diabetes TrialNet, an international network conducting clinical trials to interdict Type 1 diabetes.
Over the years, he’s worked closely with industry to bring innovative products to the market that help diabetics to continuously monitor their blood glucose levels. One, a sensor that can be worn on the abdomen, transmits a signal not only to the receiver but also directly to a smartphone, from where it can be sent to the “cloud,” allowing, for example, a parent who may be sitting in the stands watching her son or daughter play baseball to see what their blood sugar is and to warn them if it is too low.
“I see a world without diabetes, and I want to live to get there,” said Skyler.
In receiving her Special Senate Award, Shalala, who steps down as president at the end of the 2014-15 academic term, said a great university cannot be built without an extraordinary faculty.
Professor of Law Richard L. Williamson, who was honored for his past service as chair of the Faculty Senate from 2009-2014, described serving as chair as “a little frightening” but “often exhilarating.”
“The intangible rewards are enormous,” he said.
To learn more about the awardees, click here.