Spanning an impressive career of over 50 years in cancer research and microbiology, Dr. Jon Wiener has worked for several sectors, universities, and medical laboratories nationwide. Having taught mass seminars to medical students as well as worked alongside renowned scientists and professionals on some of the unsolved wonders in microbiology, Jon joins ACU Online as the program director for Precision Medicine, seizing the opportunity to return to his roots: teach students how science can drastically impact people’s lives.
With a deep love for learning and leading teams interested in solving medically-based issues, Jon is eager to see how all three of our precision medicine programs—which include a Master’s of Science in Precision Medicine, a Certificate in Precision Medicine, and a Certificate in Precision Medicine Administration—can grow and flourish into the next phase of cutting-edge medical science practice.
Cultivating A Love For Science
Born in the Washington, D.C., area, Dr. Wiener recalls when his love for science was awakened. In his freshman biology class, Jon discovered his fascination with microorganisms and viruses and, very quickly, knew what he wanted to spend his life studying. Heading to the University of Maryland in the 1970s, Jon did not hesitate in picking microbiology for his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Despite these academically rigorous degrees, even for many students interested in biology, excelling in college came naturally to Jon. He had the cognitive ability to capture the information quickly and connect it with other aspects of biology, physiology, and virology.
As a result, soon after he completed his master’s, Jon was invited to apply for his doctorate at the University of Virginia, where he gained more profound insight into the world of virology and began to be guided by highly successful professors and even the chair of the microbiology department.
“I don’t know why they took me under their wing, but they did,” Jon said. “They not only taught me but also mentored me and allowed me to see what administration is like. All the pains and issues that come with it. I didn’t think about it then, but those mentorships actually helped me when I was asked to lead labs and other departments later in my life.”
With connections across the university and within his department, Jon was soon offered a post-doc fellowship at Duke University, where he was “taught by some of the world’s leading virologists of his time.” Working for nearly five years as a leading researcher and assistant professor of biology, experimental surgery, gynecologic oncology, and general cancer research at the Duke University Medical Center, Jon rose through the ranks to become one of the country’s leading experts in molecular oncology.
And then an important call came in. For the first time in his career, Jon was asked to be the primary leader in building a cancer research lab at The University of Texas M.D Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. Not only was this an honor, but a giant leap into academic administration.
For the next 16 years, Jon led his cancer research lab and worked with various medical students equally interested in studying and finding solutions for breast and ovarian cancer. Jon became an academic and professional mentor guiding dozens of students into the world of cancer research. Eventually, he was asked to step in as assistant dean of the graduate school at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.
“I loved that place,” Jon exclaimed. “I was doing real work with people who were invested in making a difference. Who wanted to become doctors and innovators in oncology for their patients. I truly thought I was going to retire from there. I was set.”
Fast forward to 2009, Jon decided it was his time to retire (early) and moved to Asheville, North Carolina, with his wife and family. And while he was glad to be retiring from the fast pace life of M.D. Anderson, his love for science and teaching kept stirring inside of him, resulting in his calling to go back to work.
Facing Challenges and Finding Silver-Linings
Looking to ease into retirement, Jon decided to take on a part-time professorship at a small community college. Within days of starting his new employment, Jon was hit with a blow – the national recession. Like many new employees nationwide during this time, Jon’s teaching offer was furloughed until further notice and retracted entirely. Now, Jon started to panic. Having recently purchased a home and moving across the country, Jon quickly felt the economic burdens of providing for his family. It was time for him to do something, anything. Quickly, Jon picked up the phone and cashed in a favor – he called his old colleagues at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. He needed a job, and he needed it now.
“You know, most of the time when people say that ‘you can always come back,’ they really just mean lunch,” Jon laughed. “Well, I didn’t. I called them up and said, ‘Look, I need a job. I have a house. I have a family. Let’s make something happen.’ In three days, they had a faculty position.”
Without skipping a beat, Jon hopped in his car and left for Houston again. Only this time, he had to leave his family behind. Remembering his family’s hardships during his absence, Jon knew his return to M.D. Anderson was temporary. He needed to find a job back in Asheville. Applying left and right to any schools that would take him, Jon was offered a job at the Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College as the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and the dean of Allied Health, where he led over 11 programs and served more than 800 students and 120 faculty members. With his 70th birthday approaching, Jon felt retirement tugging at him again. In his words, “this was it for [him]. It was his time now.” Or so he thought.
Returning to His Roots in Higher Education
Everything changed when he received a call from his long-time friend Dr. Russell “Rusty” Kruzelock, vice president for research at ACU. Kruzelock convinced Jon of the idea of building a program dedicated to teaching graduate students the theories and skills required to implement precise treatment protocols for patients confronting severe illness. Sold on the concept and his ability to work from his home, Jon signed on and became the program director for the new Precision Medicine programs at ACU Online. For him, it was “the perfect job.” He feels like he was led to ACU for a moment like this.
Aiming to be an innovative program, Jon is hyperfocused on making this program successful nationally. “We are one of twelve programs in the country, and it’s a relatively new idea. If you ask me, it’s going to change medicine,” Jon remarked. With the amount of advanced technology available in modern medicine, Jon would argue that the precision medicine program is unique because it teaches students how to detect illnesses and potential signs of cancer before it spreads. In his professional opinion, it’s the future of medicine.
Outside of tackling the wonders of science and medicine, Jon is also focusing on other foundational aspects as program director, including teaching graduate-level courses, working with external partners, and building a culture of mentorship between faculty and students.
Having served in numerous leadership positions and working at all levels of his profession, Jon’s return to the classroom is what he was meant to do. It’s where his love started, and it’s where it’ll end.
Do you desire to learn from ACU’s renowned faculty members like Dr. Wiener? Visit acu.edu/online or contact us at 855-219-7300 today to learn about our online programs.