“Don’t ruin a story by making it too small.”
This was something the late Gordon Niswender, a CSU University Distinguished Professor and international leader in reproductive biology, was known to say.
Colleagues, friends and family of Niswender gathered on a windy fall afternoon to remember and celebrate his legacy and rename the Animal Reproduction and Biotechnology Laboratory (ARBL) building in his honor.
“I had the pleasure of working alongside Gordon for nearly 40 years,” said his longtime scientific partner and friend Terry Nett, a professor emeritus in the Department of Biomedical Sciences. “When it comes to telling his story, it’s difficult to cut his legacy down to a reasonable size.”
A giant in the field of reproductive biology
Niswender, a former director of the ARBL, grew up in Gillette, Wyoming where summers spent on his grandmother’s ranch inspired his interest in livestock. His first foray into science proved predictive of his future success when as a high schooler he won the Wyoming state championship at a Future Farmers of America speaking contest for a talk on brucellosis.
He received a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture education from the University of Wyoming, a Master of Science degree in animal science from the University of Nebraska, and a PhD in reproductive endocrinology from the University of Illinois. Niswender began his career as a post-doctoral fellow and assistant professor at the University of Michigan.
There, he developed the first radioimmunoassay methods that allowed scientists to measure blood levels of essentially all of the reproductive hormones in domestic animals. He brought that cutting-edge technology to CSU and went on to share it with over 600 laboratories in more than 40 countries around the world. He was also known for important discoveries related to the cellular and molecular mechanisms of ovary function in livestock.
Niswender’s career with CSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, from 1972-2010, was devoted to research, teaching, mentoring and leadership. His many roles included serving as interim dean, associate dean for research, director of the ARBL and director of the Equine Sciences program. He was also among CSU’s first group of University Distinguished Professors.
Niswender amassed numerous awards and honors over the years, including the Pioneer Award at the International Ruminant Reproduction Symposium and others from the American Society of Animal Science, the Endocrine Society, the Society for the Study of Reproduction and the UK Society for Fertility. As a founding member of the Society for the Study of Reproduction, he served as the organization’s youngest president and as editor of its Biology of Reproduction journal. Niswender’s massive body of work includes more than 250 research articles and book chapters that have been cited over 18,000 times collectively.
“Gordon believed it was important for scientists to be able to justify their research to the average person, which is why his research was so relevant and so often cited,” said Nett.
Niswender also mentored over 60 trainees who have gone on to have successful scientific careers.
“A towering and internationally prominent figure in reproductive biology, Gordon was an enthusiastic proponent for good science, lively discussion and boundless support for trainees,” said Barbara Sanborn, a professor emerita in Department of Biomedical Sciences. “His unique mixture of down-to-earth common sense and keen scientific insight made him a legend to those he trained.”
Niswender was known for being a people person as well as having a tireless work ethic, exemplified by his habit of holding 6 a.m. lab meetings so that he could prioritize family in the evening.
“Dr. Niswender was part of my career every step of the way,” said Colin Clay, interim dean for the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “One of the things he taught me was to not be too safe—any successful career has got to have a certain level of discomfort. And he always found time to bring people together. When I look back I really don’t know how he accomplished all that he did, and what’s really remarkable is that he made it fun.”
“Gordon was a steady scientific leadership figure at CSU,” said former CSU president Tony Frank. “Science marches ahead because of people like him. Buildings at a university represent something stable, something that outlasts generations, and it’s a marvelous match to name this building in his honor.”