The Future I Want To Create by Irosha Nawarathne

Irosha Nawarathne
Irosha Nawarathne
Research Fellow
Department of Medicinal Chemistry
College of Pharmacy

As a kid, I had a very curious mind. I remember how my older cousins teased me by name-calling me ‘Prof’ (professor).  I was fortunate to be born and grow up in Sri Lanka, a country with nature’s sweetest touches and an extraordinarily rich and unique bio-diversity. Despite being a bank officer, my father had a great passion for nature and science. His passion, my mom’s guidance, and my own curiosity inspired me to become a scientist. In grade school, I wanted to be a plant biologist. Then, in college, I realized that while I was not that good at biology, I excelled in chemistry, particularly organic chemistry. Therefore, I decided to pursue my graduate studies in Organic Chemistry, which let me unite my passions for science and nature.

After I graduated from University of Colombo, Sri Lanka, with my BS (honors) degree, specializing in chemistry, I flew across the world to join the Ph.D. program in Michigan State University’s Department of Chemistry. My dissertation research focused on the development of analogues of a major anticancer agent – paclitaxel (Taxol®). Basically, I modified the steps in the natural pathway to obtain more efficacious drug candidates. This process is called biocatalysis. Given my passion for nature, you can imagine how much I appreciated the idea of biocatalysis. The thought of taking lessons from nature to support our ideas was exciting. I was certain about my research approach in my independent career long before graduation.

The future I want to create is one in which I guide future generations in finding their enduring passions and help them being persistent in pursuing their ultimate career goals.

My career is centered on my desire to discover biologically important molecules, particularly the ones that are important in improving human health. To gain more expertise in drug development, I found an opportunity to pursue my postdoctoral work at the University of Michigan’s College of Pharmacy. My training at the University of Michigan focuses on developing treatments for tuberculosis by taking a medicinal chemistry approach. At U of M, I collaborate with a team of scientists who have experience in both academia and the pharmaceutical industry, and who share the same ultimate goal of improving human health. Our research is very practical and no longer restricted to basic academic research. I immensely enjoy the new perspective of my research and the many opportunities it offers to fill in the gaps of my knowledge in the drug discovery process.

I had multiple opportunities as a graduate student and as a postdoctoral scholar to collaborate with undergraduate, graduate, and high school students. My experiences in research, teaching, and mentoring inspired me to become a faculty member so that I would be in a position to pass on my passion for chemistry, with its connection to nature. I teach mostly organic chemistry and biochemistry, therefore finding the connection to nature is almost effortless. At this point, the future I want to create is one in which I guide future generations in finding their enduring passions and help them being persistent in pursuing their ultimate career goals.

The Future I Want To Create by Denise Asafu-Adjei

Denise Asafu-AdjeiDenise Asafu-Adjei, MPH
University of Michigan Medical School ’14 M.D. Candidate

My experiences witnessing extreme health disparities both in Ghana and the Bronx as a first generation Ghanaian-American provided the impetus to become a physician dedicated to improving healthcare and serving the medical needs of disadvantaged populations.

The future I want to create is one where access to quality healthcare is a viable option for all people.

My goal is to be a leader in academic Urology where I can integrate my interests in public health. I plan to achieve this through clinical practice, health services and policy research, and physician education initiatives abroad.

My MPH training has given me a unique perspective on the healthcare system and has endowed me with the skills to bridge the gap between those who deliver care and those who manage it. As a future clinician and researcher, I look forward to building collaborations between clinicians, policy makers, and other stakeholders that will ultimately result in improved access to healthcare. These collaborations include partnerships with physicians in Ghana and other African countries to create sustainable systems and share best urological management practices.

I chose to attend the University of Michigan Medical School because it had everything I was looking for: a collaborative environment where students could help drive the course of their education; a longstanding commitment to diversity; and global health opportunities. Besides the excellent national reputation Michigan earned for medical education and research, I found that students were actively involved in the community here, which was important to me. The students that I met during my interviews and 2nd look weekend really solidified my decision to attend this medical school, with students whose goals resonated with mine. I have found wonderful lifelong friends and mentors here and am excited for what the future holds for my classmates and me.



The Future I Want To Create by Lauren O’Connell

Lauren O'ConnellLauren O’Connell, MD, FAAP
Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics Fellow, Division of Child Behavioral Health
Pediatrics Health Services Research Fellow, Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit
Division of General Pediatrics, Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases

In the future I’m working to create, physicians will join other community stakeholders in intentionally supporting parents in the hard work of, well, parenting.  Effective parents who are resilient and well-supported by their community have children who are happier and healthier, and who grow up to be more effective workers and parents.  Talk about a positive feedback cycle!

I currently work toward this future on two fronts.  Clinically, I’m training to be a Developmental Behavioral Pediatrician (DBP).  As a DBP, I have many roles: I diagnose children with autism, ADHD, and behavioral problems; I help manage the developmental and behavioral challenges of children with genetic disorders or who started life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU); and I advocate for my patients with their schools, daycares and foster care agencies. But the best part of my job is helping parents and caregivers identify strategies and skills to increase the quality of life for their child and families.  When I can help a family problem-solve around a real-world, daily issue, then I know I have had a lasting positive impact on my patient.

Someday, I hope children benefit from community-wide support for the work of parenting.

In addition to my clinical work, I am training as a fellow in Health Services Research through the Child Health Evaluation and Research (CHEAR) Unit in the Division of General Pediatrics.  My research focuses on how the system of health care can promote effective parenting skills in order to optimize child health outcomes. One example is helping parents manage the behaviors surrounding the management of a chronic disease like type I diabetes.

I love that at the University of Michigan I can pursue this training simultaneously.  I can serve individual families, getting to know them personally and connecting them with the unique resources that will help them thrive.  And I can research how policy decisions made on the clinic, community and state levels impact parenting and child health outcomes.  Then, I can take my grounding in clinical reality and the knowledge generated from my research and combine them to develop effective interventions.  I could only do this in a robustly cross-disciplinary environment.  At University of Michigan, I easily connect with professionals across medicine, public health, communications, social work, psychology and law.  These relationships stretch me to develop projects I could not conceive of in only one department.

All of my work – the clinical encounters, the research, the networking – has a goal.

Because my training as a pediatrician and as a researcher has depth, breadth, and interconnectedness, I can do more than dream about this future.  I can build it.

The Future I Want To Create by Kyriel Pineault

Kyriel PineaultKyriel Pineault, Ph.D. Candidate
Graduate Student Research Assistant & Graduate Student Instructor
Cell and Developmental Biology
U-M Medical School

I am a second year Cell and Developmental Biology graduate student in Deneen Wellik’s laboratory. The Wellik lab studies the role of Hox genes in the developing embryo using the mouse as a model organism. Currently in the lab, there are trainees working on the development of the lung, pancreas and limb, as well as one student studying fracture repair. I’m looking at the role of Hox11 in patterning the muscle, bone and tendon in the developing limb. In mice, when the muscles, bones, and tendons are not patterned correctly, this portion of the limb does not develop. We have shown that Hox11 function in the connective tissue is essential for proper limb development. In comparison to the muscle and bone, relatively little is known about the development of the tendon and other connective tissue elements of the limb. As such, there are limited reagents and tools to study this tissue in detail. This is rather detrimental to the musculoskeletal community, as it has become increasingly apparent that the connective tissue is critical for proper patterning of the muscle and bone in the developing limb. In my graduate thesis work I hope to be able to contribute to the knowledge of tendon and connective tissue biology in the context of Hox genes and development.

As a competitive ballroom dancer and athlete, I am particularly interested in understanding the details of musculoskeletal development. The complexity of integrating the development of the muscle, bone, and tendon into a functional unit such as the limb is incredible.

Unfortunately, I am also aware of the difficulties in treating musculoskeletal injuries, specifically injuries to the tendons and ligaments. Tendon healing after injury is rather poor and the therapeutics that currently exist are inadequate.  I hope that through my work I can contribute a greater understanding of the mechanisms of connective tissue development and the role of the connective tissue in patterning the limb. In the long term, this work will aid in the development of better therapeutics to treat injuries of the musculoskeletal system.

I am not yet sure where I want to take my scientific career, but I do know that I would like to continue contributing to research that impacts human health. To that end, I have become interested in the concept of translational research. I am really excited about the idea of collaborations between wet lab scientists and clinicians working together to better understand all aspects of a disease or injury, and there are many such opportunities at Michigan. Scientists and clinicians can think very differently and they both bring a different set of skills to the table when attacking a medical problem. I believe that these types of collaborations will be the key to developing revolutionary therapies and cures.


The Future I Want To Create by Amanda L. Schuh

Amanda Schuh
Amanda Schuh
4th Year PhD Student, University of Michigan School of Nursing

When researching graduate nursing schools, I focused on those that offered the then novel BSN to PhD degree. As a first generation college student, I wanted to visit each campus to get a feel of the environment and the people I would be potentially working with. So my Mom and I embarked on the 8-hour drive from Wisconsin to Ann Arbor – a place neither one of us had been before. The pride, tradition and enthusiasm from the students, staff and faculty were evident and inspiring. This visit made it clear that Michigan was my first choice. However, as an out-of-state student, I needed significant financial support to attend. When I learned that I was awarded the prestigious Rackham Merit Fellowship a few weeks later, attending Michigan became my reality.

Shortly after I arrived, I decided to pursue a Master of Science in Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing. Growing up in a rural community, I know all too well that there are limited mental health providers. Patients often wait many months to receive behavioral health care, which I believe is as important as physical health care. Advanced clinical training would allow me to translate my research into practice, while also serving a population that desperately needs quality nursing care. Additionally, I would have the opportunity to serve as a Graduate Student Instructor for many undergraduate and graduate nursing courses and share my passion for nursing and education with the leaders and the best.

The future I want to create is one where learning and teamwork is valued above all else. When all members of the health care team are working together to care for patients, outcomes are better.

In my specialty, I am interested in making behavioral health and primary care truly integrative so there are more opportunities for the nursing and medical team to work alongside each other and deliver streamlined care in one location. In order to achieve this vision and advance the profession of nursing, a strengthening of nursing research, practice and advocacy is required.

When educating future nurses at the University of Michigan, I have emphasized the importance of continuing your education and making meaningful contributions to the health care team. Spending time with students to encourage them that they are important and what they do matters has helped students to stay in the program and continue their successes in the classroom and beyond.

I am inspired by the students and the expert nursing clinicians and researchers that I have been fortunate to work with. Being a graduate student at the University of Michigan is one of the most challenging and rewarding parts of my career thus far. Through the struggles and sleepless nights, I know that I make a difference in the lives of my patients, students, family, and my community. I have learned that in order to be the best, I need to learn with and work with the best. Learning alongside fellow leaders is my lived experience of the Michigan Difference. I am thankful for the opportunity and hopeful for the future.




The Future I Want To Create by Kip Webster

Kip WebsterKip Webster, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Fellow
School of Kinesiology
Center for Physical Activity & Health in Pediatric Disabilities

The incidence of childhood obesity in the United States and globally has reached epidemic levels, creating a unique set of health care concerns not previously encountered in the health domain. Obesity that originates in childhood may implicate severe health complications for the remainder of a child’s life. Through early prevention and intervention efforts, it is possible to avoid many of these negative consequences through activities generally considered a norm for most children: Play.

The future I want to create is one that significantly reduces childhood obesity.

I am a postdoctoral research fellow in the School of Kinesiology in the Center for Physical Activity and Health in Pediatric Disabilities. The primary reason I came to the University of Michigan is to work with Dr. Dale Ulrich and his ongoing work with the Test of Gross Motor Development. This assessment can be used to identify motor delay in young children, plan appropriate movement programs, assess progress and evaluate intervention or research success. Through assessments such as this, we are able to identify delay early on and target appropriate behaviors that may allow children to engage in optimal amounts of physical activity, and therefore deter incidence of overweight or obesity.

Physical activity is a modifiable risk factor that may deter the onset of excess weight gain. When enriched at a young age, physical activity could enact a plethora of positive outcomes, including improved health, socialization, cognitive development and psychosocial factors. Unfortunately, play and opportunities for play are diminishing and children are becoming more sedentary and less engaged in physical activity pursuits. This becomes especially detrimental in at-risk populations that frequently demonstrate unhealthy weight gain and other health disparities at an early age.

My research primarily focuses on physical activity participation in early childhood and its relationship with motor skill competence. Children who are equipped with an adequate motor skill foundation are able to engage in more physical activities. This is an imperative time to intervene as most research indicates that young children who are the most physically active also have higher competence in motor skills, and vice versa. This may potentially influence adoption of active behaviors and create a positive trajectory of healthiness for these children. Longitudinal data suggest that activity levels track from childhood to adulthood, indicating that when a child is engaged in physical activity early on, they are more likely to be lifelong movers.

The other area of my research is examining physical activity and motor skill behaviors and their relationship with cognition. Currently, schools are an ideal venue for increasing physical activity, however opportunities to engage in physical activity have decreased significantly in the United States. Recent research indicates that physical activity and fitness are positively related to cognitive skills, academic achievement, and in-school behavior; creating more incentive for increased opportunity at these venues. Ideally, through appropriate motor skill competence and physical activity engagement, childhood obesity prevalence may be mediated by reconsidering current avenues and opportunities.