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CONTACT: Bruce Smith
Public Information Officer
(310) 434-4209
DATE: August 30, 2004


Santa Monica College biology professor Walt Sakai – known for his field research, particularly with monarch butterflies – and music professor James Martin – who has established annual programs honoring the works of famed classical composers – have been awarded chairs of excellence.

Sakai received the Avaya Inc. & Anixter Inc. Chair of Excellence in Life Sciences and Martin was awarded the Ilona Katz Chair of Excellence in Music.

Each professor receives $5,000 a year for each of the next three years to be used for projects of his choice that will enhance his teaching. Sakai plans to use the funds to expand his field research projects, including a new one in Costa Rica. Martin plans to expand his annual tribute programs to such composers as Mendelssohn and Chopin.

SMC President Dr. Piedad F. Robertson announced the recipients at the college’s Opening Day convocation Friday, Aug. 27.

“These worthy recipients have undertaken special projects that not only are valuable in their fields, but they give our students outstanding opportunities to do field research or to study and perform with professional musicians,” Robertson said.

Sakai and Martin are the second recipients of their respective awards, following Doug Allan in biology and David Goodman in music.

Altogether, the college has established five chairs of excellence at SMC. The others are in physical science, earth science, and art. Such awards – believed to be rare for a community college – are administered by the SMC Foundation and are funded from the interest earned on the endowments.

Sakai, who has been teaching at SMC since 1975, received his bachelor’s degree in zoology from the University of California at Davis and his master’s in ecology from UCLA.

Although he has been involved in several long-term research projects spread throughout three counties in Southern and Central California, he is best known for his monarch butterfly migration study in Goleta. The project, begun nearly 20 years ago, involves the tagging of the insects using tiny adhesive stickers. Each winter, the project has involved the efforts of 50 to 75 SMC students and members of the general public.

Sakai is also known for ongoing bird banding efforts in several locations throughout Southern California, as well as an inventory and monitoring program of small mammals in the high desert at the University of California’s Burn Piñon Ridge Reserve.

Martin, who has taught at SMC since 1984, earned his bachelor’s from Pennsylvania State University, master’s from Indiana University, and doctorate from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

Martin has been the conductor/music director of symphonic, opera, ballet and musical theatre orchestras in New York, Chicago and San Francisco. He is a composer and professional flutist who has performed with the Los Angeles Opera, Joffrey Ballet and more.

His widely praised SMC annual tribute programs to composers, started in 2002, have grown in both scope and in the number of musicians. For example, his celebration of Franz Schubert’s works last spring was a three-day affair that featured public performances of vocal selections; chamber music; military marches; piano, string and orchestral works; and even ballet. These celebrations have combined the talents of SMC professors, students, alumni, accompanists and guest artists.

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