Charlotte Acharya from the UC Davis Genome Center showing Ken Burtis the results of a PCR run on the IntelliQube

UC Davis Distinguished Emeritus/a Professor Award


The UC Davis Distinguished Emeritus/a Award honors outstanding scholarly work or service (e.g., service in professional, university, Academic Senate, emeriti/ae, departmental, editorial posts or committees) performed since retirement by a UC Davis emeritus/a. The award is administered by the UC Davis Emeriti Association (UCDEA).

Award Details

The call for nominations takes place in the fall and is open to all Emertae/i.

Distinguished Emeritus/a Award recipients receive a plaque and a cash award of $1,000. The award is typically announced at the annual Emeriti and Academic Retirees Luncheon in January of each year.

For Further Information

Please contact the UCDEA Awards and Recognition Committee through the UC Davis Retiree Center.

Professor Ken Burtis is the 2022 UC Davis Distinguished Emeriti Awardee


2022 UC Davis Distinguished Emeritus Professor Ken Burtis
2022 UC Davis Distinguished Emeritus Professor Ken Burtis

We are pleased to announce Professor Emeritus Kenneth C. Burtis of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology in the College of Biological Sciences as our selection of the UC Davis Distinguished Emeriti for 2021-2022. The decision is based on his essential contributions since retirement to the Healthy Davis Together (HDT) Program, including extending asymptomatic COVID-19 testing established at UC Davis to the city of Davis and the broader Yolo County community. This award honors outstanding scholarly work or service (e.g., service in Professional, University, Academic Senate, Emeriti/ae, and Departmental, editorial posts, or committees) performed since retirement. The award will include recognition at the Chancellor's Emeriti Luncheon, a plaque, and a $1,000 award.

As a UC Davis alumnus, who returned to UC Davis as a faculty member in 1988, Ken has consistently
shown academic excellence, quiet leadership, and “service above self”. In retirement, he continued to
serve the campus and community. In the nomination letter by Dean Mark Winey and Executive
Associate Dean Powers state “Ken began his 30 plus year career at UC Davis in 1988, first as an Assistant
Professor and then moving through the ranks, where he retired as Full Professor on July 1, 2020. During his years as an active member of the faculty, Ken held many important service positions, including Associate Director of the UC Davis Genome Center, Dean of the College of Biological Sciences, Interim/Acting Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor, as well as Faculty Advisor to the Chancellor and Provost. As Faculty Advisor, Ken was integrally involved in establishing the asymptomatic COVID-19 testing during the early stages of the pandemic in the spring of 2020. Ken worked with campus leadership and scientists at the Genome Center, principally Director Michelmore, and the School of Public Health, to develop testing protocols as well as create the significant infrastructure for testing all on-campus students, faculty, and staff. These efforts placed UC Davis in the enviable position of maintaining campus operations at a very high level, compared to almost all other universities, and became a national model for rapid-low-cost testing on college campuses. Coinciding with Ken’s retirement, as soon as it became clear that the on-campus testing program would be successful, plans were made to extend rapid and affordable saliva-based testing into the community of Davis. This expanded testing would become the core component of the Health Davis Together Program (HDT). Ken was involved in these efforts from the very beginning, where he continued to work on the design and implementation of the HDT program as Professor Emeritus. Ken was ultimately named Chief Operating Officer of HDT in September of 2020 which he carried until late spring of 2021.

It is important to realize that in addition to testing, HDT includes a range of activities, including an increase in the number of investigators and contact tracers, providing masks and other protective equipment to local businesses, providing advice and incentives for safe practices, as well as offering incentives to students to shop locally. These activities required tremendous coordination between campus and local government and county public health officials, where a complex interplay exists between scientific, financial, as well as political considerations. As Chief Operating Officer, Ken played a crucial role in this coordination.”

Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Croughan, trained in public health and epidemiology, also had high praise for Professor Burtis’ efforts. She said, “The positive impacts of these efforts, and others too numerous to cite, should not be underestimated. Healthy Davis Together has played a key role in enabling the healthy resumption of in-person education and work this fall, and it was commonly cited by parents and students alike as the reason they chose UC Davis over other universities. Moreover, HDT provided significant economic benefits to the Davis community as we ensured that businesses continued to thrive. Finally, HDT has also provided a model response to COVID-19 that other institutions and communities can now study and learn from.”

Distinguished Professor Richard Michelmore, director of the Genome Center, has known Ken since he joined the UC Davis faculty. He said, “I cannot remember when….Throughout this time, he has always impressed me as a great champion of the campus and always willing to serve its goals. Therefore, it was no surprise when he stepped up to help lead Healthy Davis Together (HDT)...The testing program required many meetings to coordinate multiple groups. Although he was nominally retired, it was not  unusual for us to be at several meetings together during the day and then in a Zoom meeting late in the evening. I can very confidentially say that HDT and the successful partnership between the City of Davis and campus would not have happened without Ken’s tireless efforts.”

Professor Ken Burtis, the UCDEA applauds you for your courageous humanitarian efforts to monitor and contain this COVID19 pandemic. Your efforts have had a strikingly significant impact on the lives of our students, staff, faculty, and residents of the Davis community. As a result, in retirement, you continue to bring state and national attention to the University. You are most deserving of this Distinguished Emeriti Award for 2021-2022.



Past Recipients