Lindsey Henderson

Lindsey Henderson

Lindsey Henderson, Secondary Mathematics Specialist for the Utah State Board of Education.

Leading a revolution in how math is taught in Utah.

Lindsey Henderson (BS’2002 Mathematics Teaching, with a minor in geology) is poised to lead a revolution in how math is taught in Utah. As the Secondary Mathematics Specialist for the Utah State Board of Education, she and her team determine how Utah school kids are taught mathematics and which math courses are useful for their career paths following high school graduation.

In October 2021, Henderson and her team posted a survey asking Utah’s tech founders, executives, and chief technical officers to discuss the kinds of math typically used in tech careers. The results were interesting and surprising. According to the tech community, calculus is moderately useful because it teaches problem-solving skills, but it isn’t particularly useful in daily work. Other respondents thought calculus should be replaced immediately with more useful math-related subjects, such as AI and data science. Another study by Dr. David Bressoud, DeWitt Wallace Professor Emeritus at Macalester College says that studying calculus in high school is only marginally beneficial for the small number of students (18%) who study it.

“These responses reveal how much math skills in the workplace have changed and suggest how important it is for students to learn new and different skills for their future careers,” said Henderson. “Skills such as how to analyze and interpret data and spreadsheets and how to create other types of visual data.” Half of the respondents reported using algebra often, but the majority noted that they seldom, or never, use geometry, trigonometry, and especially calculus. The results of the survey mirror the results of a similar and larger survey created by professors at Stanford University and the University of Chicago in 2019, which can read about here. For now, the Utah State Board of Education is still collecting data and hasn’t yet decided on how best to update secondary mathematics courses and teaching for Utah students.

In 2021, Henderson received a Women Tech Award from the Women Tech Council for her educational leadership.


Lindsay Henderson

"My education at the University of Utah has made every difference in my life. I had a wonderful experience at the U, both socially and academically, and I feel it prepared me for success!"


At the U

Henderson grew up in Spanish Fork, Utah, and was raised by a mom who taught deaf students and a dad who taught kids who had been hospitalized due to mental illness. Her mom and grandfather have strong roots at the U since they both graduated from the university. Growing up in Utah County, Henderson’s family was considered an outlier because they always cheered for the University of Utah teams at sporting events.

“I saw the U as an opportunity to further my education and as a safe place to start learning how to become an adult,” said Henderson. She loved living on campus (in the Van Cott dorms and then eventually in Benchmark after the 2002 Winter Olympics). She worked at the front desk at Van Cott as well as at the Heritage Center before, during, and after the Olympics.

She was very good at math and enjoyed calculus and linear algebra. She decided that she wanted to earn a math degree because she loved learning, doing math, and she hadn’t heard of many women who had math degrees.

“My education at the University of Utah has made every difference in my life,” she said. “I feel so fortunate to have had access to such a high-quality institution of higher education.  I had a wonderful experience at the U, both socially and academically, and I feel it prepared me for success!”

Favorite Professors

After she received an associate’s degree from Utah Valley University (UVU), she transferred to the U. Her favorite math professors were Dr. János Kollár (linear algebra), Dr Alexander Balk (differential equations), and Dr. James Carlson (history of math).  Although she had already taken linear algebra at UVU, she took the class again at the U just for the opportunity to study with Dr. Kollár. She was impressed with his teaching style, and today she still loves linear algebra.

She remembers Dr. Balk’s efforts to engage students in differential equations by using rainbow-colored chalk to make things exciting. She appreciated his interest in students, and she felt seen and valued by him, which contributed to her doing well in his class.

She still thinks most about a history of mathematics class taught by Dr. Carlson. She loved learning about how mathematical topics were discovered and about different cultures and the way they reasoned and made sense of the world mathematically. While she was taking his class, she suffered a life-threatening snowboarding injury and had to be hospitalized. Dr Carlson worked with her one-on-one to help her make up an incomplete grade. “He did it out of the goodness of his heart and because he truly cared,” she said. “To this day, I appreciate his willingness to work with me, and I will never forget how he adapted his teaching to support me during a difficult time.”

Dr. Mary Burbank in the College of Education was a non-mathematics professor who greatly influenced Henderson. She was Henderson’s student-teaching professor, and Henderson flourished in her classroom. “She was the kind of professor who really took the time to get to know you, and then she pushed you to grow in ways that you needed to grow,” she said. “I loved working with her and appreciated the trust and relationship building she invested in because it really helped me hone my teaching skills.”

Advice for Students

“Learn to be your biggest advocate—nobody else will do it for you. Make space for yourself and your ideas because you have wonderful thoughts to share and so much to learn from others,” she said. “Not everyone will recognize your potential, and that’s okay as long as you do. Your persistence and thirst for knowledge will benefit you in so many ways in the future!”

Teaching Math

Once Henderson graduated from the U, she accepted a position teaching integrated 8th grade science and pre-algebra at Bryant Middle School in the Salt Lake City School District. After two years teaching both mathematics and science, she was told that she wasn’t considered “highly qualified” to teach integrated science and that she would have to complete more coursework to continue. At that point, Henderson decided to become a full-time mathematics teacher. She worked hard to keep her middle school students interested in math, and she tried to harness their excitement for learning. She would integrate mathematical discovery and enrichment tasks into the standard curriculum, such as having students use Mobius Strips, build tetrahedral kites, and work on other mathematical projects.

After five years at Bryant, she began teaching mathematics at Highland High School. From there, she transferred to East High School, where she spent the next nine years. Throughout her 13-year teaching career, she taught all secondary grade levels and all math subjects offered in Utah, from pre-algebra to AP Calculus, except AP Statistics and continuing education courses. She enjoyed it when the state switched to the new integrated math standards in 2010. She loved teaching and integrating connections between algebra, geometry, and algebra II, instead of teaching each subject by itself. She started using task-based and inquiry-based mathematical learning experiences.

“I loved making my classroom a place where traditionally underrepresented groups of students felt safe, and I particularly enjoyed making math accessible to all students,” she said. “One of the ways I did this was by helping students see themselves differently—changing their thinking so that they began to see themselves as mathematical thinkers and doers.”

Towards the end of her teaching career, she decided to form her own business—Sugar House Instructional Design—so that she could consult on curriculum development projects. She taught and consulted with private STEM Education Technology (EdTech) startups. Her consulting practice went well, and she was quickly promoted from consultant to chief academic officer for a local startup called Zaniac.  She spent two years there before moving to Because Learning! (formerly Ardusat) as the director of learning.

From Because Learning! she made the transition back to public education, but now she had her math and teaching skills, along with her newly honed people and project management skills. She landed a district-level leadership position in the Davis County School District, the largest public district in Utah, and served as their K-12 mathematics specialist for the next two years. She found that she had a talent for bringing together diverse stakeholders and achieving a consensus, along with building productive, positive communities of educators.

When a secondary mathematics specialist position opened at the Utah State Board of Education, Henderson saw an opportunity to work with a community of mathematicians at the state level. In the two years since she joined the board, she has built a community of more than 4,000 math or math-adjacent educators/leaders, significant growth from the 250 educators she inherited when she first began working for the state. Since Utah switched to an integrated secondary mathematics core in 2010, there have been remarkable student results. “I have been proud to unite the Utah Secondary Mathematics community around a shared common vision for mathematics education in Utah, as well as set the tone of the culture for what mathematics looks like for secondary math students in Utah,” she said. She also has been fortunate to work with higher education partners on several projects, most recently in updating the Secondary Mathematics endorsement requirements. Math endorsements are required in order to teach in a public school in Utah.

She has been doing a lot of collaboration with the local mathematics community and also with the Conference Board of Mathematical Sciences. She is preparing for the 2023-2024 school year when mathematics core standards are up for revision, with the goal of updating standards and determining the best path forward to ensuring that Utah high school graduates have the requisite math skills.

Henderson lives with her wife and kids in Salt Lake City. She loves to read, enjoys summer, and is drawn to water in nature—lakes, oceans, rivers. “I seem to stumble across parabolas a lot when I am out and about,” she said. “I’m also the crazy cat lady in the neighborhood—I have four Scottish kilt kittens that I adore. My wife and I really love living in Utah and all that it has to offer.”

by Michele Swaner, first published @

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Randy Rasmussen

Randy Rasmussen

Randy Rasmussen & Denise Dearing

BioFire Diagnostics began when three college friends came together on the University of Utah campus to collaborate and build a transformative company.

Many of today’s most successful companies were created by groups of friends: Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard started Hewlett-Packard in a garage in Palo Alto, California; Bill Gates and Paul Allen, childhood friends from Lakewood, Washington co-founded Microsoft; and Larry Page, Sergey Brin, part of the same PhD cohort at Stanford University founded Google.

The University of Utah has its own version of this story: BioFire Diagnostics began with a group of three college friends who came together on the University of Utah campus to collaborate and build a transformative company.

The precursor to BioFire Diagnostics, Idaho Technology, Inc., was founded in 1991 by three U alumni: Carl Wittwer (Residency, ’88, Pathology), Kirk Ririe, BS’05, Chemistry, and Randy Rasmussen, PhD’98, Biology. Their unique backgrounds and experience perfectly complemented one another—Ririe was a chemist and engineer, Randy with a molecular and cellular biology background, and Wittwer a medical professional.

BioFire started small, with the trio working on prototypes of PCR machines which included hair dryers taped to fluorescent tubes. But the they set their sights higher to lead the molecular diagnostic industry, and BioFire’s product development has since evolved to include sophisticated diagnostic tools including Film Array®, a proprietary molecular diagnostics system that uses PCR and melt-curve analysis and simultaneously tests for multiple infectious agents in a single panel in the short time of about an hour.

From its humble beginnings in the corner of Ririe’s parent’ business, to their current location in University of Utah Research Park, BioFire has always had a simple, yet tremendously impactful, mission: “To help make the world a healthier place.”

Randy Rasmussen

"I urge students to explore their passion. A degree in the STEM field will open doors to many opportunities."


Due to its great success, BioFire was purchased by BioMerieux in 2013. Under the leadership of Dr. Randy Rasmussen, who currently serves as CEO, the company grew from 250 employees, in 2012, to over 1,400 employees in 2017. Their new, built-to-spec, 30,000 square foot building in Research Park, “allows visitors to see the research, development and manufacturing underway while simultaneously integrating the beauty of the foothills, says Denise Dearing, Chair of the Biology Department while on a recent tour of the building. “It’s stunning.”

Later this year, BioFire will have sold its 10,000th instrument—an astounding figure when considering there are only 6,000 hospitals in the U.S.

Born in Lansing, Michigan as the son of a horticulture professor at Michigan State University, Rasmussen has always had a passion for science. With family ties in Utah, Rasmussen began his education in biology at Utah State University and later spent time working with the U medical heart transplant team. From there, his passion for science led him to pursue a PhD in molecular and cellular biology at the U. While there he worked in Sandy Parkinson‘s lab which transformed him during his first year of core classes.

Rasmussen relates how in one year he went from “knowing nothing to knowing a lot.” It was a dramatic life transformation which exposed him to many new ares in biology.

At BioFire, going from scientist to CEO was a unique transition. Rasmussen expressed, “It was initially difficult to start off from a focus of research and development, to being primarily focused on the day-to-day of building a business. The other unique transition was, “Giving up control over the small, but important details that I oversaw, to fully trusting those you work with to get the job done.” Rasmussen shares that most of the leadership team has been with BioFire for over 15 years. This longevity shows the tremendous trust and loyalty of the BioFire team.

Rasmussen is tremendously appreciative of his time at the University of Utah where he met nt only his future business partners, but also his wife Heather Ross, BS’88, communication. Kirk Ririe introduced Randy to Heather—now married, they reside near the U and have a son Aidan, who currently studies economics at Wesleyan University.

Today, Rasmussen has a passion for Utah and the mountains where he enjoys skiing, biking and hiking. Continuing his connection to the U, he notes that many of BioFire’s talented employees are U graduates.

Reflecting on his life and career, Randy Rasmussen has some advice for current student at the U. He urges them to explore their passion, and explains that a degree in the STEM field will open doors to many opportunities. He believes that students should take classes in business to complement their technical background and should participate in internships to gain additional experience and perspective.

This story originally appeared in 2017 in the debut issue of OUR DNA.

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George Seifert

George Seifert

George Seifert

The Winningest coach in San Francisco 49er’s History.

George Seifert began his professional coaching career in 1977 as a defensive assistant to head coach Bill Walsh. After nine years and three Super Bowl championships with Walsh, Seifert was appointed Head Coach of the San Francisco 49ers in 1989

They were big shoes to fill for the unassuming defensive specialist and defensive backfield coach standing on the sidelines wearing his signature windbreaker and poker face, and not everyone thought he was up to it. “My wife told me, ‘George don’t screw it up,’” Seifert has reported, “so I did everything I could not to screw it up.”

Coach Seifert “was every bit the innovator on the defensive side of the ball as Bill Walsh was on the offensive side of the ball,” said Matt Maiocco of Comcast SportsNet on the occasion of Seifert’s induction into the 49ers Hall of Fame in 2014. “He kept that ship steady.”

The Bay Area native always loved football and, while attending San Francisco Polytechnic High School, conveniently opposite Kezar Stadium, Seifert’s football coach was quick to get him and his teammates, ostensibly as ushers, to see as much of the 49ers games as possible. “I don’t remember doing much ushering,” Seifert confesses. “It was just a way to get a free pass.”

Little did he know then that someday he would be first an assistant coach and then the head coach of his hometown team accompanying the 49ers to no less than five Super Bowl wins.

The early days.

Crossroads of the West

None of this was to happen until after college, however. The Friday before he enrolled in Cal Poly Tech, the University of Utah offered him a football scholarship, filling in for a last-minute cancellation.

He took it. The freshman guard and linebacker found himself on a bus headed for Salt Lake City, the “crossroads of the west.”

“I woke up on the bus,” says the self-described city boy, “when we were passing over the salt flats with the sun coming up and I thought “My god, what did I get myself into?’” By the time the Greyhound rolled up the hill in the foothills of the Wasatch Front, he was relieved as the city and campus were situated in a beautiful almost feral setting.

In 1964 the Utah Utes beat West Virginia 32-6 in the Liberty Bowl, the first bowl game to be held indoors. Seifert says he wasn’t much of a football player, but that he made a better coach, and it had to do with his time at the U. Following graduation, he entered a master’s program in physical education and was a graduate assistant for the football program.

“I was always into football,” he says, but “I loved the teaching aspect of it.”  At age 25, he was hired by Westminster College to reboot its football program, and he clearly had found his bliss. From there he followed U Coach Ray Nagel to the University of Iowa.

When asked why biology, Seifert at first did not know what he wanted to major in, but due to the enthusiasm and expertise of his professors during his first year of general ed, he gravitated to zoology. He recalls stepping outside the old (and now raised) Ballif residence hall in his shorts with binoculars on a Saturday, kiting off to do field research while his “kibitzing” buddies, ready to party, chided him. He didn’t care. He loved the fact that he could step outside his dorm, just below Ft. Douglas, and almost instantly be in the mountains and among wildlife. Even in his shorts and with the friendly ridicule of his dorm mates, he was willing to follow his passion.

Super Bowl Victory Parade

The Coach

After working as an assistant at the University of Iowa, the University of Oregon and Stanford University, Seifert was hired as head coach at Cornell University. It was the late 70s, on the cusp of what Seifert calls the Golden Age of Football.

While at Oregon he recalls standing out on the field with coach Jerry Frei when Bill Bowerman dropped in. At the time, Bowerman who was coaching Steve “Pre” Prefontaine—one of the greatest American track stars of all time—walked up with a prototype of a track shoe he’d developed in his kitchen for artificial turf using his waffle iron. The shoe would develop into a Nike standard used not only for football but for virtually every court and field sport. Seifert was there for that little bit of history . . . and what would turn out to be many more.

Following Cornell, in 1977, Seifert returned to Stanford where he first met Bill Walsh destined to become the legendary coach of the 49ers. It wasn’t a straight shot for Seifert, however, to Candlestick Park with Walsh where the 49ers were now playing, even when Walsh moved to the 49ers himself in 1979. The Seiferts stayed on for another year at Palo Alto and were getting ready to move to Green Bay, Wisconsin with an offer to coach the Packers.

“Linda and I were talking up Wisconsin to the kids. Talking about how they would trade sunny California for playing in the snow and making snowmen.” The last minute, he was offered the position as the defense backs coach for the 49ers. “When we told the kids [we were staying] they were so disappointed they went running out of the room, crying.” In 1983 Seifert was promoted to defensive coordinator and in each of the following six seasons he finished in the top ten in fewest points allowed.

photo: Ian Walton/Getty Images

The Faithful

On Seifert’s 49th birthday, the 49ers won Super Bowl XXIII (January 22, 1989), and the following season he was promoted to succeed Walsh as head coach. That was when his wife said that little bit about not screwing it up.

Three superstars later—Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Steve Young—and the team had won two more Super Bowls, one in 1989 and another in 1994. It was indeed the golden years of football, not just for Siefert, but for the entire sport—and, of course, for the SF fans known as “The Faithful.” Seifert references Bill McPherson, defensive coordinator from 1989 to 1993, as “a man of wisdom” and a senior mentor who built the foundation of Seifert’s pro career.

Not only is Seifert one of only 13 NFL head coaches with more than one Super Bowl victory, but in Super Bowl XXIV he became the first rookie head coach to win the championship since Don McCafferty coached the Baltimore Colts to victory in Super Bowl V.

Seifert still holds the record (98) for franchise wins and also the record for winning percentage (76.6%).

Relaxing at home.

The Retiree

Today, Seifert lives with Linda in Nevada where he has returned to nature through fishing and hunting. Whether it’s hunting duck, deer or elk, he loves getting into the outback where he has made friends with ranchers and gets to dig back into his zoological pre-text to seeing and studying life around him.

It helps to have his trusty companions along with him, Cavalier King Charles spaniels Rusty and Dusty who, he says with affection, are just a couple of awesome “ragamuffins.” He still has a place in the North Bay and a boat near where his two children and four grandchildren live and where he exchanges his fly rod for a deep-sea one.

It bears repeating, though, that the circuitous route from a sort-of usher at Kezar Stadium as a boy to a college football player and biology major at the U and then to the art (and sport) of teaching, was one that not only presented itself to Seifert but was that intrinsic thing he chose to embrace fully. There are many people, many former players and many fans—especially in San Francisco “Faithful”–who are glad he did. To watch the tributes roll in during his recorded induction into the 49ers Hall of Fame is both inspiring and moving. Even Steve Young, who in 2020 (KNBR radio) reflected on his (in)famous tongue lashing of his coach on national television during a home game with Philadelphia after Seifert pulled him from the game, said, “I give George so much credit, for just staring out, straight ahead and letting that wind just go by like nothing.”

The Philosopher

That said, Seifert has said in interviews about everyone he’s coached that “If a player has the sense that you can make them better they will go through the wall for you.” You can see how the teaching and coaching ethic of George Seifert came to the fore as early as his sojourn at the U and how he never wavered from it. (Perhaps even his beloved superstitious behaviors as head coach started there as well?)

Not one to hold grudges, Seifert’s signature rigid demands on his players coupled with that expressionless face on the sidelines of a hotly-contested game are surface to something deeper. His hard-edged exterior obviously works with his players, but it can be underscored by humility. He knew, for example, when his predecessor retired that it was going to be a tall order, and he was visibly moved when asked about it. Things did not always come easy for him, as when Walsh earlier overlooked him when Walsh left Stanford for the big league.

Seifert seems to know how to take these defeats and even humiliations on the chin, including his untimely resignation from the 49ers in January 1997 when it was clear the team was not going to renew his contract, as well as, two years later, as coach for and de-facto general manager of the Carolina Panthers.

From his home base, split between Nevada and the North Bay, Seifert has watched with gratification as the University of Utah Football Program has expanded and grown into a “new environment.” He’s watched with interest as head coach Kyle Whittingham, despite heavy recruiting from other teams, decided on Siefert’s alma mater. The U’s first time ever at the Rose Bowl this past January, is strong evidence that, in the Pac-12 and nationally, the Utah Utes are a force to be reckoned with.

As for the pandemic, Seifert will tell you he’s become more philosophical during this disruptive time now entering its third year. He is old enough (82) to remember the hard times that this country has seen before, especially military conflicts overseas—the impacts of WWII, the Korean Conflict and Vietnam when there was enormous uncertainty, death and pain. And he’s a biologist and now master teacher enough to know that this too shall pass.

“That’s the beauty of life,” he says, while clearly never underplaying its challenges. Change and even death are part of it.


by David Pace, first published

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Patrick Newman

Patrick Newman

Fort Worth Botanic Garden

As a boy in growing up in Bountiful, Patrick Newman took a bite of a plant he would never forget.

It tasted just like black licorice, which he loved. “I remember being struck at that moment as an 8-year-old boy thinking, ‘Plants can taste like things — what else can plants do?’” says Newman in an article in the Fort Worth Report. “That sort of set me on a path of inquiry and, as a youth, I devoured science.”

“I came to the UofU to be a doctor, and was content with that decision and path until I took a plant physiology class from Leslie Sieburth,” he says of the plant biologist who studies pathologies in arabadopsis. Currently, with Neil Vickers, she is also Co-Director of what is now the School of Biological Sciences. “That course changed my perspective of biology, refocused my interests, and altered my career path—all of which I am extremely grateful for.”

Following graduation from SBS with a BA in 2003, he joined the Peace Corps, volunteering in the Republic of Azerbaijan teaching science and English. Once he’d located a greenhouse there, he started teaching the students about plants and gardening. Following his stint with the Corps, he returned to the U for graduate school—he has an MPA,’10, from the UofU—and to work at Red Butte Garden.

Patrick Newman

After ten years at Red Butte he became the Executive Director of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, TX. Then, in 2020, he was recruited to lead the merger of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT) and the Fort Worth Botanical Garden (FWBG).

As President and CEO of BRIT, one of the largest centers for botanical exploration and discovery in the United States, Newman heads up the executive team of the new organization bringing together BRIT’s fundraising, education, and world-class research capabilities with the Garden’s historically significant grounds, event facilities, and horticultural expertise.

Located in the heart of the Fort Worth Cultural District, just minutes from downtown, BRIT’s combined 120-acre campus offers stunning garden views, exciting exhibits, gift shops, and a café. Visitors can spend the day strolling through the Japanese Garden with its koi-filled pools, sculptured hillsides, crafted stonework and dramatic waterfalls. Nearby, one can visit the iconic Rose Garden, with a terraced ramp featuring paths that wind past colorful flower beds amidst a cascade of water down the center.

The Fort Worth Botanic Garden was established in 1934 and is the oldest major botanic garden in Texas. It contains a collection of more than 2,500 species of plants. Long celebrated for its beautiful tropical, rose, and Japanese gardens, the FWBG is composed of 25 specialty garden spaces, including a tropical conservatory, a public perennial trial garden, and naturalized areas and vistas.

Next door, at the BRIT campus, visitors learn more about botanical research through art galleries, libraries, plant collections and science-related exhibits. An international scientific research and learning center, BRIT has a mission to conserve our natural-world heritage by sharing knowledge of the plant world and helping the public understand the value plants bring to life.

Fort Worth Botanic Garden

It would seem to be a perfect job for Newman whose early passion for plant biology coupled with his Master’s Degree in Public Administration has led him to a research institute which serves as a think tank and a catalyst in conservation. Additionally, FWBG | BRIT knows that education is lifelong. “We are dedicated to inspiring nature-lovers of all ages to explore the world around them, discover new interests, and engage their communities in positive change,” reads their website. “… We strive to introduce community members to the wonders of plants and ecology, the importance of conservation and sustainability, and social-emotional learning.”

Newman talks fondly of the friendships he made while at the University of Utah, as well as his avid running career; to date, he has completed 48 marathons in 29 states.

Clearly, however, his passion lies in the world of plants and the broader context of the eco-system that many believe is currently under not only the singular threat of global warming, but the degradation of the planet’s bio-diversity.

“More than ever before,” he says, “the planet needs well-educated and passionate advocates of biodiversity conservation. It also needs an increase of kindness and compassion. The University of Utah and U Biology are the perfect proving ground to develop those attributes in future scholars, doctors, leaders and humanitarians.”

His advice to students? “Take full advantage of all that the U has to offer. And remember that biology is really the study of plants and everything that parasitizes them.”

By David Pace, first published @


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Audrey Brown

Audrey Brown

Audrey Brown

“One of the biggest things that helped me was connecting with my loved ones.”

When the pandemic first emerged in early 2020 Audrey Brown, HBS’21, found that online classes were novel at first, “but I quickly found myself losing motivation and becoming depressed/anxious due to the day-to-day Zoom monotony and the never-ending doomsday news on social media.” As part of the covid or Zoom college generation, Brown could have put her academic career on hold, pivoted away from a college education… in short given up. But several supportive people, programs and institutions helped her navigate through this singular moment.

“One of the biggest things that helped me early on, the Bountiful native says, “was focusing on connecting with my loved ones. Even something so simple as getting out of my house to go on a walk with my mom was a huge help. I also had to learn to let go of things that were out of my control, and disconnect from the news that was feeding into my anxieties.” Needless to say, those anxieties extended beyond the coronavirus pandemic and included political and social strife unlike most of us can remember in the United States. Then there were challenges from the natural world: a devastating windstorm and the earthquake of 2020.

Aside from family, Brown found support from a bevy of awards and scholarships through the University, College and School of Biological Sciences. Yes, financial help was important, but so was the acknowledgment that came with awards like the AChemS Award for Undergraduate Research, Association for Chemoreception Sciences, 2020; the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program Scholar award (UROP); and an Independent REU project award, Department of Mathematics where Brown had matriculated along with her major in biology.

A four-year Presidential scholarship, a Utah Regent’s Scholarship and a College of Science Dean’s scholarship both facilitated and rewarded her achievements, culminating in her graduation with honors, magna cum laude. She even received a marching band performance scholarship during the 2018/19 academic year.

The ACCESS cohort.

Another scholarship, however, was just the tip of an iceberg of networking opportunities and a kind of mentoring that can help young women in STEM, like Brown. That program was ACCESS Scholars, a College of Science initiative now in its thirty-fifth year that represents women and individuals from all dimensions of diversity who embody the program values of excellence, leadership, and gender equity.
Brown claims that the program “jumpstarted my research career and increased my appreciation for science as a whole.” The summer after graduating high school she took an interdisciplinary STEM course which introduced her to diverse scientific topics and where she gained an appreciation for the vast amount of research done at the University of Utah.

Today, she has stayed closely involved with the program and has served as a teaching assistant (TA), mentor, and curriculum developer. The ACCESS program places each student in a research lab where they gain firsthand scientific experience by completing a personal research project. Brown was placed with Dr. Alla Borisyuk, a professor in the Department of Mathematics, and studied the olfactory system. This was done in collaboration with and using the data from the Wachowiak lab at the University of Utah, a lab she joined a couple years later, and stayed in for the remainder of her undergraduate career. “I’m forever grateful that I had the opportunity to be exposed to research early on. I quickly fell in love with it and am excited to continue as I work on my PhD.”

That’s right. Brown is now a candidate for her doctorate in biology. She is just finishing up a rotation in which she gains experience in three different labs before deciding where she will spend the remainder of her career as a graduate student.

And the pandemic, of course, has turned into an endurance test for everyone, including Brown. Two years in and she’s added to her repertoire of coping mechanisms. “I try to remind myself of all the positive things that have happened in my life over these past two years, some of which (ironically) never would have happened if the world hadn’t shut down. Rather than dwell on what might have been, I’ve been pushing myself to look for the positives and be grateful for the good in my life. I think that my advice for anyone struggling to find motivation due to the pandemic (or otherwise) would be to focus on finding positives in life, and in connecting with the people in your own circle of influence.”

"I still play the flute as often as I can"

Brown also finds solace and refuge in music. She plays the flute and the piano. “Music is still one of my favorite hobbies, so I intend to make it a part of my future, though I am no longer in any formal ensembles. I still enjoy playing the flute as often as I can and learning new pieces. I have several family members that also play the flute and I enjoy playing with them on occasion. And I am constantly listening to music of all different genres.’

When she’s not rotating through a variety of Molecular, Cellular and Evolutionary Biology labs, she reads. She recently completed “A Pocket Full of Rye” by Agatha Christie, and “Howl’s Moving Castle,” the fantasy novel by British author Diana Wynne Jones, later made into a celebrated animated film. “Currently, I’m reading ‘Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst’ by Robert Sapolsky, in order to scratch a non-fiction itch I’ve had for a while.” But she concedes along with a whole generation (or two), “My favorite book(s) are the Harry Potter series. I’ve read them several times. They are my ‘go-to’ when I have run out of other things to read.”

Brown considers her grandfather to be her inspiration, even her hero. “My grandfather spent most of his career working for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) research service. He worked on broadening the genetic basis of sugar beet crops by breeding hybrids from wild sugar beet strains.” At the time, the genetic basis for most sugar beet crops was very narrow, making them susceptible to diseases and changing environmental conditions. “His goal was to develop strains with increased disease resistance,” Brown says, “and increased sugar yield. He also investigated the possibility of developing a ‘fuel beet’—a hybrid sugar beet used for making bioethanol.”

The legacy of a grandfather’s example and hard scientific work may not be genetically passed on to a grandchild, but it is, nevertheless, deeply influential for Audrey Brown as the first year of graduate school closes in.

By David Pace, first published @

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Jan Mccleery

Jan Mccleery

Mike & Jan McCleery

Jan McClure was one of four women in a physics class of 200. It was Professor Emeritus Irvin Swigart's sophomore physics lecture class. The students were seated alphabetically, and the guy next to McClure was Michael McCleery-they met for the first time that day. "I got really lucky,' said Mike. Later, after they had both completed their undergraduate degrees, they married.

'Math was always my favorite subject: said McCleery. "As a child, my cousin would gather the neighborhood kids to marvel while I solved long-division problems on the sidewalk in chalk. Yes, I was quite the geek'
As a senior at South High School, she was encouraged to apply to the U, Stanford University, and Carleton College in Minnesota. She was accepted to all three, but her parents couldn't afford to send her out of state. "My father never owned a credit card and paid cash for his cars and our home. I was only 17, so the idea of financial assistance was never a consideration,' she said. ·1 received a scholarship to the U and could live at home. I'm glad it worked out that way since I met Mike at the U.

In addition to their classes, she and Mike enjoyed Greek life-Mike was a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon. and she joined the Golden Hearts little sister group. They both enjoyed the special friendships they made and still get together for reunions when they visit Utah.

She loved skiing. She and Mike would arrange their Tuesday/Thursday schedule so they could finish classes by 10 or 11 a.m. 'We'd wear our ski clothes to class, so we could go directly to the ski slopes for a half-day pass." she said. "In the warmer months, we enjoyed hiking and backpacking in the mountains.'

After receiving a bachelor's degree in math (with a minor in physics), she taught math at Lincoln Junior High in Salt Lake City, the same middle school she had attended and where Mike's mother also taught. "The kids called us the upstairs Mrs. McCleery and the downstairs Mrs. McCleery; she said. "They were going to call us the old and the new, but Mike's mom squelched that idea quickly.'

She also began taking graduate night classes. The next year, she and Mike moved into his parents' basement so they could afford to both attend school full time.

Her favorite math teacher was Professor Don Tucker. "He was caring and wise, and I still remember his exciting outlook on mathematics, as well as his humor,' she said. The late Professor Emeritus William J. Coles was her thesis advisor and encouraged her to use Professor Emeritus Klaus Schmitt's new, unique approaches to boundary value differential equations for her thesis. Dr. Schmitt's findings enabled her to prove a set of non-linear stability equations each in less than a page-theorems that had previously taken many pages to prove. Those three professors mentored her and gave her confidence during her orals.

During the summer, she was working for the Math Department, typing up new math books written by department professors. The day before the semester began, Professor Tucker realized he hadn't received an acceptance from one of the teaching fellows from Stanford. He knew McCleery had applied as a teaching fellow and ran into the office where she was typing to ask if she wanted a half-fellowship starting the next day, teaching one undergraduate math class. "Sure!" she exclaimed. A few hours later, Dr. Tucker ran in again and yelled, "Make that a full fellowship!'

After she and Mike received their master's degrees in 1973, they began working at Ford Aerospace in Silicon Valley-she spent nearly 20 years there while they raised their two daughters. She began as a scientific programmer with assignments, such as satellite design and tracking, circuit simulations, raster-scan analysis, and microprocessors.

She enjoyed the variety and wide range of programming languages she learned and new technologies. She found that her studies at the U equipped her with strong analytical skills and a passion for problem solving. During her tenure, she was promoted to software manager, responsible for the company's software design tools, artificial intelligence, software security, and computer and configuration management.

She left Ford Aerospace after accepting a job in a commercial software company, eventually moving on to become director of quality assurance at ASK Computers Ingres Database division in Alameda, Calif. Later, she was a product line manager for ASK MANMAN, responsible for marketing, development, and customer support.
The dot·corn boom was going strong, and she was invited to join a startup that focused on building sales tools for semiconductor companies. Starting a company had been her dream for years. She and two other co-founders formed lntelic, which was later renamed Azerity. She created the product prototype, formed an engineering team, and served as vice president and chief technology officer. 'Those years were the highlight of my career,' she said. ·we had a great deal of success because of the industry knowledge of my two partners and the quality of the talent we were able to attract.' McOeery solicited a manager she knew from Ford Aerospace to join them.Together they developed a new, practical software methodology that resulted in bug-free, on-time, scalable, reliable, and maintainable enterprise software.

Azerity's product was called "ProChannel" and was used by 30,000 semi-conductor company sales reps and distributors worldwide. After the U.S. economy began to slow in the 2000s, she and her partners sold the company, but their product is still being used worldwide today. Jan stayed on to consult for the new company and retired in 2014.'

Her advice to students is to study hard but also enjoy college life. 'Some of the friendships you make at the U will last a lifetime,' she said. She encourages students to study math, physics, astronomy, and computers to broaden their analytical skills and to open up a wide spectrum of possible vocations. In terms of a career, her recommendation is to find a company to work for that has a product or service you want to put your time and effort into-a product that excites you and with a working atmosphere that inspires you to be your best.

The McCleery's live in Discovery Bay on the California Delta, which marks the confluence of the Sacramento River and the San Joaquin River. The Delta is 1,000 miles of waterways, and they enjoy exploring them by boat. A decade ago, McCleery and others formed Save the California Delta Alliance, when the state of California planned a big tunnel construction project that would have ruined the Delta. She served as president for several years, and the nonprofit has been raising money for scientists to testify on behalf of the alliance. To date, they have successfully pushed back on proposed projects that threaten the Delta.

McCleery has written several books, including two children's books. One is called The Fable of the Farmer and the Rsh educate kids about the water issues in the Delta and how to be good stewards of the environment. Sassy the Salmon is about the circle of life.

She has also written two non-fiction books:
It Starts with an Idea about her software start­up adventure, including advice on software development and management. The other, Class of '67, is for her granddaughter and contains stories about growing up in Utah. She had so much fun writing them that she went on to write two spy novels: Alias Juno Wolfe and Who ls Juno Wolfe. All titles are available on Amazon under her name-Jan McCleery.

by Michele Swaner

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April Christofferson

April Christofferson

April Christofferson

“I love the process of writing,” says April Christofferson, BS’73, “but I write because I’m trying to make a difference.”

The difference this Illinois native is talking about includes many of the most complex and conflicted issues of her adopted home in the American West, including wildlife and public lands management, tribal rights, and development. Most recently her passion as a writer has turned to the issue of more than 6,000 missing and endangered indigenous women in the country, many of them in the West.

Trapped ©2012

This year, the reissue of the first two books of her Judge Annie Peacock Series, Alpha Female and Trapped, by Burns & Lea Books–along with its shopping of them by publisher/agent Story Merchant for a television miniseries based on the characters’ adventures in Yellowstone National Park and beyond—speak to the enduring interest of her literary creations, characterized by deep-dive storytelling that started more than a quarter-century ago.

Growing up in Chicago, Christofferson came to love the West during summers visiting Yellowstone and her grandfather’s ranch in Wyoming, where both parents had been raised, and later her paternal grandparents’ homes in Salt Lake City and Richmond, Utah. But the road she traveled to become a successful writer is a long and winding story in itself.

Edgewater ©1998

In many ways, it starts with Christofferson’s maternal grandfather, Floyd “Doc” Carroll, a rodeo champion and Wyoming state veterinarian who was inducted into the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s Hall of Great Westerners in 1998. He was a stunt double for the famous movie cowboy Tom Mix. “My grandpa was such an influence,” says Christofferson. “I knew from when I was a little girl that I was going to live out West and be a vet.”

After receiving her undergraduate degree in biology from the U, Christofferson began a veterinary medicine program at the University of Illinois in Champaign. But after her first year, she realized she truly wanted to be back West.

“Throughout college, I worked at an animal hospital, but I was always upset—they would try not to tell me if someone was bringing in an animal to be euthanized, because I’d do anything I could to persuade them not to” if treatment were at all possible, she recounts in the alumni story by Marcia C. Dibble. “I realized I wasn’t really emotionally cut out to be a vet.”

The Protocol ©2000

Christofferson and her husband, Steve Leach—also a Utah graduate, BS’76, communication—quickly relocated to Coeur d’Alene, where April focused her love of animals on rescuing those in need. She began a series of odd jobs waitressing, loading UPS trucks, and working as a pharmaceutical rep, while determining what else she could channel her passion into next.

A friend began nudging her toward romance writing, telling her anecdotes about others who had made the transition from completely unrelated careers.

“I thought, I don’t have a creative bone in my body, but I had just turned 40, so I sat down and wrote a scene about it—and I just got hooked that day.”

Clinical Trial ©2001

It wasn’t a straight line between getting “hooked” on writing and publishing her first novel. Inspired by her oldest sister, Christofferson attended law school at nearby Gonzaga University in Spokane, where she graduated with a JD in 1983, followed by a stint as counsel at the Seattle-based entertainment company Miramar. But she continued to write, and for her first book, After the Dance, set in the entertainment industry with which she was then intimately familiar, the underlying issue was that of a family dealing with the death of a son from AIDS.

After the novel’s release by a small publisher in 1994, Christofferson swiftly got an agent and quit Miramar to write full time. After the release of her second book, Edgewater, she promptly signed a book deal with national publisher Forge Books.

Her next three novels, The ProtocolClinical Trial, and Patent to Kill, were all medical thrillers. She centered the plots of the second and third of these thrillers on the abuse of indigenous peoples, a theme first introduced into her work in Edgewater. Her next book, Buffalo Medicine, focused on the slaughter of bison that wander outside the boundaries of Yellowstone.

Patent to Kill ©2005

Following the publication of Buffalo Medicine, she started getting gratifying feedback that helped her see that her work was making that difference she had always hoped it would.

Alpha Female, the first in the series now being shopped for television, revolves around poaching (in this case, of wolves) and addresses the threat to national parks from drilling.

In addition to using her writing as a vehicle for educating readers, Christofferson currently devotes time to Footloose Montana, a grassroots nonprofit she helped found, which is dedicated to protecting all wildlife, including predator species. She presently serves on the advisory board.

Alpha Female ©2009

Now a resident of Bozeman, Montana, where her son  and  one of her two granddaughters live, Christofferson has a full life.  It includes regular visits to the Blackfeet Reservation, where her daughter and other granddaughter live, writing daily in a small but cozy outbuilding, hanging out with her kids/grand daughters and husband, and, of course, entertaining a herd of furry friends, currently featuring five cats and four dogs, including an “all heart” black lab. Always, there are animals nearby, a tribute to her original impulse to be a veterinarian, now turned to animal rescue with her husband, the executive director of an animal shelter in the town of Livingston, north of Yellowstone in the Absaroka Mountains.

Grizzly Justice ©2019

Christofferson’s most recent book Grizzly Justice is about a recently fired ranger who disappears into the backcountry, hell-bent on saving a wounded grizzly bear whose fate is all but certain: euthanasia. Her current project Wolf Killer is more than timely; it feels ripped from the headlines after Montana Governor Greg Gianforte was reported to have trapped and killed a collared Yellowstone wolf who had wandered 10 miles out of the protected space of the park. (Gianforte was given a written warning for failing to take the required trapping course).

Even though she had started drafting the manuscript before the incident, the wolf, who was named “Max,” became a cause celebre. The issue of wolf hunting in Montana and the American West is classic Christofferson fodder for the kinds of stories she excels at rendering.

Generously, she attributes the beginning of those stories in part to her undergraduate years in Salt Lake City. “I’m a big fan of the University of Utah,” says Christofferson, recalling the extra semester she spent after graduation working on the University Health campus, and her senior project in biology, when she had been studying the molting of snakes.

“I was obsessed with snakes,” she says. “I had 20 of them [Coluber constrictor foxii, commonly known as “blue racers”] in an aquarium in the greenhouse. I would go up there, weigh them, record my observations.” One day when she arrived, someone had left the aquarium open, “and there I was lying on the floor of the greenhouse, trying to catch snakes, with my husband helping me,” she says with a laugh.

We will have to wait to see if that story ends up in one of her books.


By David Pace, first published @

This story is an excerpt and update of Marcia C. Dibble’s profile of Ms. Christofferson that appeared in the U’s Continuum, now Utah Magazine, in winter 2007-08.

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Charles Sorenson

Charles Sorenson

“My best trait is the ability to hang out with people who are far more capable than I am,” says Charles Sorenson, MD, FACS, in a 2020 interview. “I am not intimidated by working with people who are smarter than I am.”

The former president and CEO of Intermountain Healthcare, the Salt Lake City-based nonprofit regional healthcare system, and by some measurements the largest employer in Utah, must have been “hanging” with some pretty capable and smart people over the years . . . and vice versa. Now Emeritus CEO, the U Biology alumnus, HBA’74, has a long history at Intermountain as a urologic surgeon and physician leader. Today he serves as Founding Director of Intermountain Healthcare Leadership Institute.

Charles Sorenson

The Salt Lake City native attended the University of Utah as a pre-med honors student with designs to go back east for professional school. Once he’d been accepted to Cornell Medical, he quickly learned that his undergraduate education had prepared him as well for graduate work “as Ivy League educations had done for my classmates. I’m particularly grateful for the extraordinary learning experiences I had through the Honors College,” he says.

He remembers his time as a student at what is now the School of Biological Sciences as a place with an “atmosphere of open dialogue, people who challenged my ideas and encouraged me to challenge theirs. Professors who genuinely cared about their students, some of whom became lasting mentors and models of professionalism and personal integrity.”

There were several U professors who were “remarkably engaging and committed.” But the one who had the most long-term influence on Sorenson was Homer R. Warner, MD, PhD former chair of the Dept of Biophysics and Bioengineering. In the honors class Warner taught there were just a handful of students, including Sorenson. “Homer was a brilliant, world-recognized innovator in the emerging field of computers in medicine. I ended up working in his lab for three years while going to school. He was an inspiring model of a dedicated physician scientist and also a leader who cared more about others than himself.” To Sorenson the doctor scientist remained a dear colleague, friend, and mentor until Warner passed away in 2012.

“I was a pretty good student,” says Sorenson in a Managed Healthcare interview, “and I wanted to go to medical school because it was the hardest thing I could think of doing, I always felt like doing hard things was good for me, and I always felt like this is what I always wanted to do.” The budding physician also had the example of his own father, a Salt Lake internist and of his mother, a nurse.

Sorenson’s penchant for leaning into “hard things” paid off. After Cornell, he returned to the U for his residency in general surgery and urology. Before his stint as CEO, Sorenson spent 11 years at Intermountain as executive vice president and chief operating officer.

During that time, he played a critical role in making clinical process improvements and developing Intermountain into an integrated delivery system. Beginning in the 90s, healthcare services nationwide were fragmenting and patients were no longer as much at the center of the equation as Sorenson believed they should be. To help remedy that, he teamed up to establish Intermountain Medical Group, an integrated practice of 1,500 physicians and advanced practice clinicians employed by the organization. Sorenson served as founding chair of the group’s board from 1994 to 1998.

Even after being coaxed into a full-time leadership role at Intermountain, Sorenson spent one day each week in surgical practice. That was fine with the board. They didn’t want him to go get an MBA; they wanted someone who understood clinical processes and frontline employees to further the organization’s mission.

Charles Sorenson

That approach was eventually recognized shortly after Sorenson stepped down as CEO when he was awarded the 2017 Distinguished Service Award from the University of Utah’s School of Medicine. The accolade is given to healthcare leaders who’ve made outstanding contributions to the school, the community, and the practice of medicine. At the time Ron Larkin, MD, a retired OB/GYN and former Intermountain trustee, said of Sorenson’s honor, “He has as much integrity as any person I’ve ever met. He’s completely always wanting to do the right thing. He’s got such great intellect and such great judgment. He does do the right thing.”

If it sounds like under the leadership of Sorenson Intermountain has been re-inventing American healthcare as a mission-driven, patient-centered and employee-happy enterprise, that’s because it was, so much so that in 2009 President Barack Obama held the system up, more than once, as a model of quality, low-cost, integrated patient care.

About that acknowledgement from the White House Sorenson said, “While it’s easy for all of us, who know Intermountain so well from the inside, to focus mostly on ways we can still improve, it’s important to step back from time to time and appreciate the progress we’ve made. The president’s comments are a tremendous validation of the extraordinary work of our people in every one of Intermountain’s facilities and services.”
It seems that Charles Sorenson is always deflecting what are arguably his accomplishments back to his loyal front-line workers—in fact to everyone who together makes “hard things” happen well and economically at Intermountain.

It’s called leadership, the execution of it and the training of others in it, something that Sorenson is deeply embedded in now as Director of the Healthcare Leadership Institute. Even the advent of the coronavirus pandemic could not stop him. “We transitioned our program at the … Institute from an intensive on-site two weeks for healthcare leaders to an all-virtual, three-month program. While we look forward to being able to return to our beautiful Institute with in-person programs, virtual sessions have been well received and highly rated by participants—so they’ll always be a component of our program.”

These days Sorenson has had more time to spend with his four adult children and his grandchildren. With his wife Sharee, he has spent time volunteering, including working with refugee families from Central Africa. He has served on the Board of Providence Health, a very large not-for-profit health system based in Seattle, since 2018. He also recently joined MEDI, the largest executive coaching firm in the nation dedicated exclusively to the healthcare industry as an executive coach.

With more time on his hands, he enjoys music, hiking and biking and catching up on his reading. Some recent favorites have included The Second Mountain by David Brooks, Churchill by Andrew Roberts, The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle, Sea Stories by William McRaven, After by Dr. Bruce Greyson, and Facing the Mountain by Daniel James Brown.

In addition to modeling his notion of hanging out with people whom he believes are smarter than he, Charles Sorenson’s advice to students is trenchant as they navigate a world that can be taxing and at times even despairing:

  • Have the courage to embrace new ideas­—even if they initially seem to challenge your own ways of thinking. But be careful not to be dragged along by what seems fashionable today but is not based on sound logic or in the best long-term interests of society.
  • Never neglect your personal values—always striving to improve and raise those values to higher levels.
  • Be very careful about those with whom you spend your time— professionally and personally. We become, for better or for worse, like the people with whom we spend our days.
  • Learn to be a “forever learner,” and help others to do the same.
  • Be generous and be grateful. You’ll be the greatest beneficiary of the help and thanks you extend to others.
  • It is advice from a leader and a coach of health executives that stems from a lifetime of achievement . . .of doing “hard things.”

By David Pace, first published @ Photos by Jeffrey D Allred, Desert News

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Noriene Jee

Noriene Jee

Noriene Jee

Noriene Jee always dreamed of attending the U.

Born in Ogden, Utah, and raised in Davis County, Noriene Jee (BA’83 Mathematics) always knew she wanted to attend the U. While at Clearfield High, she made plans with a friend at Ogden High to apply to the university as roommates. Their plans worked—they both attended the U and are still close friends.

During her undergraduate years, Jee’s favorite math professor was the late Professor Emeritus William J. Coles, who taught a class in differential equations. “I really enjoyed the application aspect of differential equations,” said Jee. “Later I used the math he taught me during my work as a contractor for the Air Force.”

When she wasn’t attending classes or studying, Jee enjoyed skiing and playing golf.

After graduating from the U, Jee began her career working as a rate analyst for Mountain Fuel Supply, which became Questar Corporation (and was acquired by Dominion Energy in 2016). Eventually, she moved on to work as a reliability engineer for TRW Inc., a defense contractor.

While working at TRW she was able to earn a master's degree in statistics from Utah State University. When the defense industry took a downturn, Jee left the company and became a statistician for eight years for the Internal Revenue Service.

Later she returned to TRW, which was acquired by Northrop Grumman in 2002. She worked for Northrop Grumman for 17 years as a quality engineer. With her background in statistics, she was promoted to a quality manager position. By the time she retired, she had served as the Northrop Grumman mission assurance manager for a major program for the Air Force.

Value of a Math Degree

She is grateful for her education at the U. “The mathematics degree gave me the tools and useful skills to work as a reliability engineer and statistician,” she said. “Earlier in my career, statisticians were not as common as they are now, and my education gave me the skills needed to get jobs that provided better opportunities.”

In looking back at her college years, Jee has a few observations. “I didn’t appreciate the value of a mathematics degree as an undergrad. I thought I needed to be an engineer or something that had a descriptive title that led to a job. I took longer than I needed to graduate because I changed my major from engineering to mathematics. I should have just started with the math curriculum. I believe students know the value of a math degree better now since there are so many jobs that require a mathematics or a STEM degree.”

Fortunately, Jee’s daughter listened to her mother and followed a different route. She graduated from the U in 2020 with a degree in mathematics and is currently in a master’s program at Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science. “People are impressed that my daughter’s University of Utah undergraduate degree gave her the path to go to Columbia,” said Jee.

Jee has two horses and she and her daughter love to go riding. For now, riding may have to wait since Jee is living in New York while her daughter studies at Columbia.

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Sarmishta Kannan

Sarmishta Kannan

In the entrance of the Eccles Health Sciences Education building.

For Sarmishta Diraviam Kannan, HBS’17, the journey to her “dream school” – the University’s School of Medicine – spanned about 25 years and some 8,780 miles.

Sarmishta was born in Tamil Nadu, India, which is located on the southern tip of the Indian sub-continent. In addition to the long history of the Tamil people, Tamil Nadu is famous for its temples, festivals, and celebration of the arts.

When Sarmishta was just nine years old, her family immigrated to the United States. They settled in Boston where her father worked for GE Healthcare. In 2008, the family moved to Salt Lake City, near the corporate headquarters of GE Healthcare, while her father continued his career with the company.

Sarmishta, who was then 12 years old and in junior high school, was still mastering English as a second language and adjusting to social norms and public education systems in America.

It was a difficult time for Sarmishta, but her “dream” was beginning to form.

Sarmishta graduated from Hillcrest High School, in Midvale, in 2013 with the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma.

“The IB diploma is a rigorous program, and I was the only one to take the higher-level courses in all three sciences of physics, chemistry and biology,” says Sarmishta. “It was through the IB program that I found my passion in the sciences, especially biological sciences, and completing the IB program prepared me well for college.”

Sarmishta decided to attend the U as an undergraduate because of the abundance of research opportunities and the Honors degree option in Biology which gave her the chance to perform long-term research that culminated with an Undergraduate Thesis. Plus, it put her in close proximity to the School of Medicine.

The “dream” was clear now and within reach.

“The Honors thesis requires involvement in research that finishes with writing a paper on a particular research project. That experience was valuable to me as I got the opportunity to be involved in a research project from start to finish,” says Sarmishta.

She worked with Dr. Kevin Jones at the Huntsman Cancer Institute to help discover the roles that lysosomes and autophagy play in alveolar soft parts sarcoma, clear cell sarcoma, and synovial sarcoma.

“In the Jones lab, it was fascinating for me to see how researchers used experimental data to understand cancer biology. So, I decided to pursue sarcoma research for my thesis,” says Sarmishta.

“I investigated the hypothesis that Alveolar Soft Parts Sarcoma (ASPS) and Clear Cell Sarcoma (CCS) morphology is attributed to lysosomes and that these cancers up-regulate autophagy genes using autophagy as a survival mechanism,” says Sarmishta.

“I learned to design investigations and troubleshoot various lab protocols to gather data and test the hypothesis. Critically analyzing the data supported the hypothesis that ASPS and CCS contain abundant autophagic lysosomes. However, it raised further questions indicating more research was necessary to better understand autophagy’s role in ASPS and CCS.”

“Writing my thesis taught me to build an evidence-based argument based on my data, critically analyze the work of others, synthesize new ideas for further research, and effectively communicate complex topics,” says Sarmishta.

Her thesis abstract was published in the 2016 University of Utah Undergraduate Research Journal. She also presented her thesis to Utah legislators at the Research on Capitol Hill event in 2017 and at Undergraduate Research Symposiums in 2016 and 2017.

After graduating with an Honors degree in Biology, she continued to work in the Jones lab as a full-time Lab Technician before starting medical school. She worked on various projects including writing a review manuscript on sarcomagenesis, titled Genetic Drivers and Cells of Origin in Sarcomagenesis, which was published in early 2021 in the Journal of Pathology.

She also worked on a project that focused on modeling synovial sarcoma metastasis in mouse models. Sarmishta was listed as a co-author on that paper and was published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.

In the meantime, Sarmishta applied to the School of Medicine in 2019 and in 2020 and was accepted in 2020.

Finally, her “dream” was realized.

Today, Sarmishta is about halfway through her second year of the MD program at the University’s School of Medicine.

“It has been a very fulfilling experience so far! I am grateful to have the opportunity to follow my passion, learn about the human body, help and support people going through healthcare challenges. I am excited to start my clinical years where I get to rotate through various specialties in the hospital and apply all the knowledge I have been learning to patient care,” says Sarmishta.

In addition to school, she enjoys reading, painting, watching movies and singing.

In fact, Sarmishta is a classically-trained Carnatic singer. Carnatic music is a traditional system of music from India that provides a nearly limitless array of melodic patterns. It emphasizes vocal performance.

“I started singing when I was five and my parents enrolled me in Carnatic music classes in India. I continued my training after moving to the United States,” says Sarmishta.

“I perform publicly at the local Hindu Temple and at Indian festivals. One of my most cherished experiences was performing a Hindu song at the 6th Parliament of World Religions event, that was held in Salt Lake City.”

Sarmishta is scheduled to complete the MD program in 2024.

“A new dream is already forming,” she says.


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