Courtesy of the Department of Biological Sciences

CPP remembers trailblazing scientist and mentor Jill Adler-Moore

By Elizabeth Casillas, Aug. 31, 2021

The Cal Poly Pomona community remembers the legacy left behind by the late Jill Adler-Moore, vaccinologist and professor emeritus in the Department of Biological Sciences. The “science mom” to a multitude of students passed away June 14 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

Adler-Moore’s career started in the 1960s when she graduated from New Jersey’s Douglass College with a degree in biology. Her original plan to become a veterinarian was cut short when she met with the dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and was told the school did not accept women.

Adler-Moore did not dwell on that; she went on to earn her doctorate in medical microbiology from Cornell University Graduate School of Medical Sciences, and in 1974 joined CPP as a faculty member. Back then, she was one of the few women faculty members in the Department of Biological Sciences.

“She was confident in what she felt was the appropriate and correct thing to do,” said Jon Olson, senior research scientist in the Department of Biological Sciences. “She was persistent in pushing through the garbage, especially when she first came to Cal Poly in 1974. I would say a very high percentage of the male faculty members were of the ‘good old boy’ attitude.”

The driving reason for Adler-Moore’s decision to work at CPP was its students. She found them to be hard-working and goal-driven.

In a California State University profile, Adler-Moore discussed her affinity for CSU students.

“CSU students were the ones I wanted to be with,” said Adler-Moore. “These are kids with a really strong work ethic who don’t expect things are just going to be handed to them, and because of the smaller class size, I’d be able to really get to know my students.”

Courtesy of the Department of Biological Sciences

Adler-Moore was passionate about offering students every opportunity she could, and she applied for as many grants as she could to make this happen. The money she received from grants was used to fund a laboratory at CPP and to train high school science teachers in molecular biology techniques to instill high school students with a strong science background.

Adler-Moore was also the reason behind CPP’s addition of a biotechnology major in 1990 — the first such major in the CSU system.

“There are so many programs that she had a hand on that you wouldn’t even know,” said Airan Jansen, program administrator of CPP’s Master’s Bridges to PhD. “She was so into collaboration and making sure everybody was networking with one another.”

Adler-Moore paved the way for the Research Training Initiative for Student Enhancement, or RISE, at CPP. This program allowed underrepresented students to gain research experience and create faculty connections in preparation to pursue a doctorate in biomedical research.

“Adler, who ended up being my master’s mentor, made me realize that research could be really interesting, and it could apply to real-world kind of situations,” said former student Jennifer Rubio (’13, bachelor’s in biology; ’17, master’s in biological sciences). “I had never really encountered that idea before, and I’m positive I wouldn’t have my master’s and I wouldn’t be in a Ph.D. program had I not met her.”

She was also instrumental in securing funding for the Master’s Bridges to PhD grant at CPP. This program would help underrepresented and first-generation students gain mentors, and gain help, on their path to a doctoral degree. She wrote the grant to receive funding for the program; it was funded while she was in hospice.

The program began this semester, and according to Biological Sciences Professor and Program Director Nancy Buckley, it has enough funding for the next five years.

“It’s because of her that we have this, so even now she’s leaving us with this very positive thing for our students,” said Buckley. “I hope we can continue to support the kind of mission that she had, which is to support our students in achieving their professional goals, especially in the STEM fields and especially in biomedical science.”

Courtesy of the Department of Biological Sciences

Outside of CPP, Adler-Moore was changing lives globally with her invention of AmBisome, a liposomal antifungal drug which wipes out fungal infections. This revolutionary drug allowed for fungal infection treatment in patients with a weakened immune system without adverse side effects.

Her scientific breakthroughs had her traveling around the world, which created special moments between her and her son, Matthew M. Moore.

“Whenever she would travel, we had this little ritual where when she would return, I would close my eyes and put out my hands so she could surprise me with a present from wherever she had been,” stated Moore. “It was often kitsch touristy stuff, but I remember displaying it with pride on the shelves of my room as badges of sentimental proof to my mother’s love for me no matter where in the world she went.”

Adler-Moore had the habit of changing people’s lives for the better and inspiring them to follow their goals. Adam Rosenthal, a previous mentee, recalled the time spent in her lab as a mixture of playfulness, tough love and honesty which projected his life into what it is now.

After graduating from the University of California, Santa Cruz, he worked at an insurance company before reaching out to Adler-Moore about interning at her lab.

“I look back at how my life would have been had I not met her; I can’t even imagine it,” said Rosenthal. “I was at a low point in my life when I met her, and she just picked me up. I met my wife in Jill’s lab. I really can’t imagine where I’d be without her.”

Similarly, a previous student, Hernan Reza (’14, bachelor’s in microbiology; ’17, master’s in biological sciences), recalled not being allowed to participate in her lab until his grades went up.

Adler-Moore pushed him to become the best version of himself, while mentoring and guiding him through his professional career.

“She was one of a kind, and I don’t think we’ll see somebody else like her. She cared about her students,” said Reza. “She made sure she made you felt included in what you were doing and not like just another cog in the wheel of research.”

Adler-Moore’s decades of work in laboratories and with students are ones that will leave an impact for generations to come. Family, friends and students around the world remember her for the champion she was and continue to spread her legacy to future generations.

Courtesy of the Department of Biological Sciences

“There are lots of little pieces of her in all of her former students. Her memory is going to live on forever,” said Rubio. “I mentor people and I tell them, ‘Well, my former mentor used to say,’ and like a lot of the important things that I’ve tried to pass on to them is stuff that I learned from Dr. Adler, so I consider them her mentees also. They didn’t know her, they’ve never met her or saw her, but what I pass on to them is from her. I know that I’m honoring her legacy by continuing to do those things.”

In lieu of flowers, Adler-Moore’s family has asked for donations to be made to the Biological Sciences Scholarship Fund at CPP. More information and the link to donate can be found at the College of Science’s giving webpage.


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