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Employees recognized for years of service

Years of service winners

About 180 staff members at the University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus were thanked for their years of service at a recent breakfast at CU South Denver.

Years of service winners
Stephen Smidt, who has logged 35 years at CU, stands with 30-years-of-service employees Rhonda Truesdale, left, and Judith Cooper.

Receiving invitations to the recognition event, organized by Human Resources, were all active CU Anschutz and CU Denver exempt professional and classified staff who achieved years-of-service milestones at five-year increments in calendar year 2018, beginning with 10 years and going up to 35 years.

Stephen Smidt, of University Police, was the longest-tenured staff member with 35 years of service.

CU Anschutz Chancellor Don Elliman was on hand to extend congratulations and thanks to the staff members for their contributions to the university.


Heather Aberle

Dolores Alexander

Michael Anselmo

Daniel Argersinger

Meghan Atherton

Kerrie Bathje

John Bergman

Hearon Biffinger

Lesley Bishop

Mary Boe

Delan Bolack

Aaron Boothe

Kenneth Bosworth

Alice Bradley

Michelle Bray

Mona Briggs

James Brown

Joanna Cabrera-Rosas

Melissa Card

Melissa Caron

Jessica Castle

Leslie Chik

Jean Cofer

Rosemary Contreras

Sarah Derdowski

Amanda Drazin

Kelly Dufner

Jennifer Eggum

Victoria Engels

Tonya Ewers

Michelle Fields

Cathalina Fontenelle

Pei-Keng Foong

Christine Forrester

Rachelle Fortner

Gene Foulk

Tavia Franklin

Karlene Fry

Briana Gaddis

Charles Gallegos

Leslie Gerbracht

Rachel Gill

Patricia Goggans

Amanda Gonzales

Shelly Gregory

Stacy Grolnic

Jeffrey Gulka

Kieu Ha

Kimberly Harding

Alicia Harper

Deneshia Hearon

Christine Henderson

John Herrera

Tommy Hoong

James Howell

Kelly Hupfeld

Heather Jacques

Marisha Jones

Megan Jorgensen

Enrique Karr

Robert Kay

Heather Kennedy

Sheila Kennedy

Mary Kenworthy

Joseph Kimitch

Crisanta Klingler

Neil Krauss

Irene Kristufek

Susan Laws

Jeanette Leeser

Erica Lefeave

Byron Lemieux

Jessica Lincoln

William Lind

Olivia Llamas

Brian Logue

Dawn Mann

Cindy Mansfield

Jeana Marks

Randy Martinez

Erika Matich

Heather McCoy

Patricia McKissock

Leslie Mitchell

Allison Moravec-Rice

Samantha Moreno

Sandra Nicholis

Alexandra Ohene-Mobley

Shiela Otero

Jennifer Payne

Shaleeta Pearson

Terence Potter

Christine Raffaelli

Regina Reece

Nicole Rodriguez

Melissa Rosario

Rachel Rowe

Bonnie Savone

Wendy Schwarz

Roberta Sebby

Kathryn Serr

Polly Serrano

Kyla Smith

Christopher Stelmach

Barbara Suits

Paul Tabor

Stephen Tapp

David Thorson

Jennifer Thurston

Amanda Tran

Marshall Ward

Pamela Welker

Audrey Wen

Adam Wilkie

Lindsay Willis

Christopher Withrow

Lori Workman

Jessi Zemetra


Christine Ahearn

Theresa Anderson

Angela Beale

Bolormaa Begzsuren

Theresa Dargevics

Tate Hermanson

Kathleen Illian

Sheri Jungman

Timothy Kinsella

Timothy Lockie

Mary Loos

Dominic Martinez

David Martinez

Lisa McGill

Katherine Miller

Wolde Mirach

Candice Murchison

Lisa Neale

Julie O’Brian

Thomas Power

Frankie Rodriguez

Robert Schell

Cristina Tovar

Trishia Vasque


Ginger Acierno

Sharon Anthony

Eric Gray

Maria Hendrickson

Douglas Kasyon

Thinh Le

Kirk Martin

Joseph Martinez

G. Michael

Jacqueline Milowski

Vimol Mitchell

Shanelle Roquemore

Richard Simons

Rebecca Stricker

David Turnquist

Joanne Wambeke

Barbara Williams


Agnes Anderson

Randall Basham

Michael Carlson

Douglas Derber

Mark Douse

Jamie Esparza

David Paul

Riad Safadi

Connie Turner

Daniele Wolff


Dawn Arge

Judith Cooper

Ike Kim

Rhonda Truesdale


Stephen Smidt

Guest contributor: Photos supplied by Kaylene McCrum, Human Resources

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Leslie Berg named chair of Department of Immunology and Microbiology

Leslie J. Berg, PhD, who specializes in understanding how T cells develop and help fight infection, has been named Chair of the Department of Immunology and Microbiology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine on the Anschutz Medical Campus, effective Feb. 1, 2019.

Berg is Professor of Pathology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, Mass., where she has served on the faculty since 1998. At UMass, Berg served as Vice-Chair of the Immunology-Virology Program from 2003 to 2006 and as chair from 2006 to 2009. From 2009 to 2014, she served as the program’s Graduate Director.

Her responsibilities at UMass have included teaching, leading a consistently funded research laboratory, and handling administrative duties for the Immunology and Virology Program. She brings to CU School of Medicine considerable expertise in studying the way the body addresses pathogens, which is key to developing treatments for ailments caused by immune system dysfunction.

“We are trying to understand how our T cells make decisions about what kind of T cell they’re going to be and what kind of response they’re going to make,” Berg explained in 2012 as part of the American Association of Immunologists Oral History Project.  “One way to think about that is when you have an infection, depending on the nature of the pathogen, if it’s a virus or a bacteria or a parasite, your immune system has to come up with a different response because you need a different response to clear different kinds of infections. And your T cells have to figure that out.”

Berg’s research has helped show that the T cells respond to signals in a way that is more complicated than a simple on-off switch. Rather, the cells respond to a type of protein that gives a signal on how the T cell should develop.

In a 2012 article in the Journal of Immunology, she wrote that some signaling proteins provide an on-off switch, while others function like a mechanism inside a water faucet where “turning the handle a small amount produces a trickle of water, whereas cranking the faucet handle all of the way open produces a gushing stream of water.” That variation affects how the T cell develops and responds.

“I am confident that Dr. Berg will continue making outstanding contributions to science as a leader at the School of Medicine,” said Dean John J. Reilly, Jr., MD. “We are fortunate to have her joining the world-class faculty we have in our Department of Immunology and Microbiology.”

Berg earned her BA in biology from Harvard University in 1980 and PhD in molecular biology from the University of California Berkley in 1986. She conducted postdoctoral training at Stanford University before joining the faculty of Harvard University’s Department of Cellular and Developmental Biology in 1990. She remained at Harvard until joining UMass in 1998.

Berg is the author of more than 100 articles in peer-reviewed journals, book chapters and invited articles. She served as President of the American Association of Immunologists in 2011-2012 and has received numerous academic awards and honors.

Guest contributor: CU School of Medicine

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Evalina Burger named chair of Orthopedics

Evalina Burger, MB ChB, MMed, an expert spine surgeon and accomplished administrative leader, has been named chair of the Department of Orthopedics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, effective Nov. 1, 2018.

Evalina Burger, Orthopedics chair
Evalina Burger, MB ChB, MMed, chair of the Department of Orthopedics

Burger, who joined the CU School of Medicine faculty in 2006, is a successful and highly productive surgeon who has been recognized frequently by her peers as one of the best physicians in the country. In addition to her clinical work, Burger has been an active investigator and educator working to find new metal-alloy compositions to improve orthopedic implants.

She has written more than 60 peer-reviewed publications and several book chapters. She also serves on editorial boards of scholarly journals and has co-edited two textbooks on spine surgery. She has actively participated in FDA clinical trials for spine implants and has received several grants to support her work.

‘Global destination’

“Through innovation, infrastructure and inclusion, I see the Department of Orthopedics becoming a leader and an integral part of healthcare delivery on a national level,” Burger said. “With a diverse faculty, I hope to grow the department into a global destination for healthcare excellence.”

Burger was selected after a national search to succeed Robert D’Ambrosia, MD, who joined the CU School of Medicine in 2002 and who has been a catalyst for growth and an inspirational champion of the university’s diversity efforts. When D’Ambrosia joined CU, there were six faculty members in the department and there are now more than 110.

Burger has also been a key administrative leader in the Department of Orthopedics, serving as vice chair of clinical affairs since 2008. In her leadership role, she led efforts in clinical service development and reorganization and strategic business planning. She has also helped improve workflows to enhance quality patient care in a teaching environment.

‘Talented surgeon’

“Dr. Burger is a talented surgeon and a dedicated colleague,” said John J. Reilly, Jr., MD, dean of the CU School of Medicine. “She articulated an ambitious vision for the department, building upon the foundation established by Dr. D’Ambrosia, and clearly recognizes the importance of all of our missions. She successfully treats patients from all walks of life while efficiently managing the need for high-quality and efficient care in an academic setting. We are fortunate to have her on our faculty and I look forward to working with her in her new role as the chair of a growing department.”

Burger graduated with a medical degree, MB ChB, from the University of the Orange Free State in South Africa in 1984. She also earned a graduate degree, an MMed, from the University of Pretoria in 1993. In 2000, she became the first female orthopedic surgeon from South Africa and only the third woman ever to receive the American-British-Canadian Traveling Fellowship, which is awarded to highly accomplished young surgeons from English-speaking countries.

Prior to joining CU, Burger was an associate professor at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans from 2001 to 2006. While there, she helped establish the first fully functional orthopedic clinic after Hurricane Katrina.

Guest contributor: CU School of Medicine

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Memories of a CU centenarian

For as long as she could remember, 101-year-old Agnes Hansen knew she wanted to become a nurse. “When I was 6 years old, I said, ‘I’m going to become a nurse,’” said Hansen.

Hansen’s mother wanted to be a nurse, too, but “my grandfather didn’t think that was a nice profession.” So, instead of nursing, she became a teacher. And it’s a good thing.

Hansen’s father was a farmer and mother was a schoolteacher in northeastern South Dakota. Life was hard growing up during the Great Depression. “The reason we even made it was because mother was teaching. I remember my father planting every year for six years, producing nothing but dirt. It was horrible, horrible.”

In her spare time, Hansen’s mother helped local doctors deliver babies at home. One night, she came home from assisting in delivering a premature baby. “She said the little baby fit in a cigar box. And all I could think of was how the baby looked. That’s when I decided I was going to become a nurse and find out,” said Hansen.

Following in her mother’s footsteps

In order to fulfill her dream of becoming a nurse, she had to save enough money to go to nursing school. “We didn’t have any money and I had to work for everything I got,” recalled Hansen. She earned a teacher’s certificate and for a few years taught K-eighth grade.

“I saved my money and told myself, ‘I’ve got to be a nurse and I’m going to have my degree.’ I didn’t want to just be a three-year nurse. I wanted my degree – five years. And so that’s what I fought for,” explained Hansen.

After applying to the University of Colorado School of Nursing (it later became a college), Hansen became one of nine students accepted into the program. “We got one-on-one training, which was excellent. I received a great education. And I appreciate every day of it,” said Hansen.

Nursing in the 1930s and ‘40s

Agnes HansenAfter a two-year probationary period, they became acting nurses for the hospital. “And so we didn’t have to pay tuition or room and board after that because we were working eight hours a day plus having classes. We had one day a week off,” explained Hansen.

“The whole thing was challenging, but I think the most difficult part for me was the scholastic part that had to do with chemistry. I had a difficult time seeing molecules,” said Hansen.

“We had the same professors as the medical students, so we were told we were just as good. The only difference was they had a bit more training and education. And if we wanted to, we could become doctors too,” reminisced Hansen.

In addition to taking care of patient’s health care needs, nurses’ training included cleaning, cooking, giving patient’s back rubs and massaging their feet and hands. It was a holistic approach to patient care.

Hansen graduated from CU School of Nursing in 1941 – the year the United States entered WWII.

Keeping the home fires burning

By 1943, Hansen was working at Fitzsimons Army Hospital. “My folks lived within a mile of the hospital,” she said. By that time she was married, but married life was put on hold when her husband was shipped overseas to build airstrips in the South Pacific.

“He wrote me a letter every day he was there,” Hansen said with a smile. He was gone for 2½ years. In the meantime, she was working day and night at Fitzsimons caring for wounded soldiers. “I was working long hours because those boys would come home from overseas with horrible, horrible things. I just couldn’t go without taking care of whatever they asked for.”

The soldiers even had a favorite nickname for her – “mom.” Hansen said, “I was 28. So, I wasn’t that old. But some of them were only 17 or 18 years old. So to them, I was probably ancient.” When her husband returned, the two of them finally began married life.

Life choices

Before the war, the two sat down and talked about what they expected from marriage and what they expected of each other. They decided that if they ever had children that Hansen would be a stay-at-home mom. After the birth of her children, she lived up to her end of the bargain.

“That hurt like crazy after I had my education. I loved nursing. But we made that rule and I stuck with it, and I didn’t go back to work until my daughter was a junior in high school, and my son was already in college,” she said.

Volunteering turns into second career

While her children were in school, Hansen kept busy volunteering for her church at a nursing home. One day, the director asked her if she would consider working for them. And she agreed. That was the beginning of her second career.

Hansen had been out of the workforce for quite some time, but still had her uniform including her cap and shoes. “I got through that first night because I said to myself, ‘I am an RN and by darn, nobody’s going to know any different.’ And after that first night, I didn’t have a problem,” Hansen recalled.

Keys to longevity

After years of working at the nursing home, she and her husband retired and moved to Arizona where she taught exercise classes for 12 years.  She says that’s what has kept her so spry. In addition to exercise, Hansen doesn’t drink, didn’t smoke and “kept my diet like it’s supposed to be.”

Today, Hansen lives with her daughter and husband and is very self-sufficient — helping with laundry, tending to her garden and keeping busy with great-grandchildren.

Guest Contributor: Dana Brandorff, College of Nursing

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A passion for improving cancer detection

A first-generation college student who lost her grandmother to ovarian cancer, Jazmyn Mosqueda aspires to become a cancer researcher. She took a big step in that direction this summer as one of 37 applicants chosen for the prestigious Cancer Research Summer Fellowship (CRSF) program through the University of Colorado Cancer Center.

Founded in 1987, the CRSF program pairs young scientists with more than 50 faculty preceptors at the CU Anschutz and CU Boulder campuses, as well as National Jewish Health and the Veteran Affairs Medical Center. Fellows are chosen through stringent selection by a panel of 18 faculty members. For 2018, only 37 fellows were chosen out of 221 applications, a success rate of only 17 percent. When it comes to choosing fellows, Jill Penafiel, education manager, cautioned that good grades alone won’t make the cut. She elaborated that work ethic, character references, and passion for cancer research are key for successful applications.

Within the first week, fellows attend orientation and submit written project goals. The remainder of the 10-week fellowship is devoted to research, with weekly events and faculty lectures including different cancer sites and personalized medicine.

For her research project, Mosqueda worked under the mentorship of Matthew Sikora, PhD, in the Department of Pathology. The Sikora lab studies lobular breast cancer, a relatively rare type of the disease. “Lobular breast cancer has good biomarkers but generally poor outcomes — this research may improve treatment options for lobular breast cancer patients,” said Mosqueda, a senior majoring in biology and Spanish at the University of Northern Colorado.

Matthew Sikora and Jazmyn Mosqueda evaluate data
Matthew Sikora, PhD, assistant professor in pathology, looks on as Cancer Research Summer Fellow Jazmyn Mosqueda evaluates her data.

Invigorates project

Sikora said the Cancer Research Summer Fellows infuse additional energy into the research taking place on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. “It has been great having Jazmyn in the lab,” he said. “I love getting young scientists excited about research. It helps us, too, since the energy and new questions that undergraduates bring can really invigorate a project.”

Mosqueda’s summer research has centered on understanding new roles for a protein called int/Wingless 4 (Wnt4) that enables breast cancer cell growth and survival. Although she expressed that research in general is hard, Mosqueda focused instead on the satisfaction that comes the first time an experiment is successful. Having lost her paternal grandmother to ovarian cancer before she was born, Mosqueda said her family history inspired a passion for improving early cancer detection. She hopes to attend graduate school in cancer biology after she graduates in May.

As a first-generation college student, Mosqueda talked about her project with her family, which has improved her science communication skills. “I think it’s important to be able to explain to someone who doesn’t have a scientific background or isn’t educated in the hard sciences, because that’s ideally what physicians should be able to do for their patients,” noted Mosqueda. As the first time away from her native Greeley, Mosqueda continued, “I think my family is proud. But my mom misses me.”

Stepping stone

Mosqueda feels that the summer fellowship makes her a more competitive candidate when applying to grad school. Penafiel echoes this sentiment and said, “The fellowship is a great stepping stone for aspiring medical students or grad students.” Penafiel expressed the gratification that she gets from the success stories, adding, “It’s wonderful to see students go on to do great things.”

Mosqueda added, “I’m grateful and thankful for the opportunity to experience something like this.”

The nationwide fellowship program ended in early August with a public poster session where many fellows’ families were in attendance. The CRSF program is managed by John Tentler, PhD, associate director for education, and Jill Penafiel.

Guest Contributor: Shawna Matthews, a postdoc at CU Anschutz.

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skaggs pharmacy graduate

Growing up with a pharmacist for a grandfather, Megan Wary always knew she wanted to work in the medical field. So, after earning her undergraduate degree at the University of Arkansas, she had a crucial decision to make: Where would she call home for the next four years and continue her education?

Ultimately, the pull of Colorado’s outdoors coupled with the high reputation of the pharmacy school and the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus attracted Wary to the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Today, Wary will join her fellow graduates in the 2018 Spring Commencement Ceremonies. Looking back, she said she’s glad she chose the top-ranked veteran-friendly university and the outdoor-oriented state, both of which helped shape Wary’s future.

Ticket to outdoor paradise

Wary enjoyed spending her spare time at Breckenridge snowboarding with classmates.

“I knew I was ready to move out of Arkansas,” Wary said. “I wanted to be able to hike and snowboard, to spend time in the sunshine.
There’s no better place.”

In between studying for her challenging courses, Wary enjoyed all that Colorado has to offer, especially hiking fourteeners and snowboarding Peak 6 at Breckenridge.

“There is such a special vibe about Coloradans,” she said of meeting new friends. “Everyone that moves here has something in common, whether it be hitting the trails or the slopes.”

Overcoming injury

While taking full advantage of Colorado’s outdoor sports and recreation two years ago, Wary slipped during a kickball match and tore her ACL.

She didn’t let her serious injury hold her back. One year after the tear, Wary participated in a “Tough Mudder,” a grueling race that involved trudging through thick mud while tackling a challenging obstacle course.

“This was something that I was really proud of,” she said. “If soldiers can recover from traumatic injuries and live their everyday lives, then I can heal from this ACL injury and finish this race.”

The symbolic victory highlights Wary’s passion for working with veterans.

Service through pharmacy

“It has always been a sweet spot for me,” she said. “I have a lot of family members in different military branches. I just really love working with that population. I know that I want to be with these people and serve them as they have served us.”

Faced with leaving Colorado, she will miss the great outdoors and the people she’s met along her journey, said Wary, who intends to complete a pharmacy residency with the Veterans Administration, her top choice.

“It’s going to be tough to leave this wonderful place,” she said. “But, I know that my education and training will help me achieve my goals in the years to come,” said Wary, who advises incoming pharmacy students to keep their studies first. “But, enjoy Colorado. Denver and the surrounding areas have so much to offer. Keep the faith. You will make it.”

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Rapping his way through the Curriculum

Lee Amaya, stage name SouLeePharmD, is our very own rapping pharmacist.

Amaya fell in love with rap music and poetry during high school. “I became infatuated with the flow and rhyme schemes of songs while listening to my favorite artists. The raw passion displayed and the topics they rapped about resonated with me,” says Amaya.

Inspired, he began writing and producing his own rap music that he shared over the Internet. “Rap provided me with an outlet to voice my grief and frustrations with the world. Being a science nerd, this allowed me to express a side of me that I rarely revealed.”

One of his first live performances was in front of his entire high school.  “No pressure there!” says Amaya.

The performance was part of a Senior Project that was required to graduate from the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Consisting of an internship, mentorship, faculty-run seminar or independent project of the student’s design, the project is quite the undertaking. Instead of the usual fare, Amaya asked if he could compose a rap album and the school agreed — of course with the oversight of his honors English teacher. Most would choose creating and producing one song in five weeks, but Amaya chose an album!  Then, he selected one song to perform at a school-wide assembly. That project solidified his interest in the art form and he’s been writing, performing and producing ever since.

“Because my time was extremely limited during pharmacy school, I didn’t have a lot of time to be creative and write raps during the program,” says Amaya. He did, however, write and record one rap during his fourth year for a reflection project.  The song, which highlights his experiences as a pharmacy student, is the basis for a music video that is currently in development at the school.

Future goals for Amaya include creating educational raps about pharmacy-related topics in a similar fashion to ZDoggMD, who raps about medical issues and conditions and releases them to the public through social media.

“I would love nothing more than to be able to combine my musical talents with my pharmacy knowledge by writing songs about various healthcare topics to educate those who learn in an auditory manner,” says Amaya.

In the meantime, Amaya has lined up a PGY-1 residency at Nebraska Medicine in Omaha, which is sure to consume a lot of his time. ”Once I’m finished with residency and have more free time on my hands, I will definitely try to become the rapping pharmacist!”

Mic drop.

Reflections of  a P-4

Verse 1:

Let’s take a trip down memory lane

To recognize the school that left me better than I came

Now professionalism is steady flowing through the veins

And infected with wisdom to analyze gram stains


At the University of Colorado

Leadership in pharmacy has always been the motto

Faculty members have set examples we can follow

Phi Delta Chi Sigma Brothers yelling “bravo!”


Now looking back to first year

I get real sense of what I learned here

Communication skills, how to make the pills

And a genuine devotion to reshape the field


Through interprofessional education

Got to work with students of different healthcare occupations

Determining the plan of patient simulations

And giving way too many case presentations


Hook 1:

And now I’m dosing Vanco

Pharmacokinetics is a pharmacy staple

Ensuring safety, and our patients are stable

Crash cart filled and the meds are labeled


We do more than count by fives

Always taking time saving patient lives

Looking over DDI’s

And the prodrugs that need to hydrolyze




Verse 2:

We are the Skaggs School of Pharmacy

In the mile-high city where it’s hard to breathe

Whether asthma, infection, or heart disease

We stay monitoring meds in the chart with ease


In addition to creatinine clearance

Calling all our patients to verify their adherence

Giving education so that they can understand

That they’re taking Synthroid for their thyroid gland


And with so many doses

Always gotta remain focused

Learning pharmacotherapy from respected professors

Authors to guidelines every semester


They helped me become independent practitioner

When pharmacy training required analyzing literature

And working with a team to improve patient outcomes

All my APPEs, couldn’t’ve done it without ‘em


Hook 2:

And I sit here grateful

For every teacher that was willing to provide me

Guidance, education ‘til I got a brain full

Can’t contain appreciativeness inside me


And let’s not forget my peers

Who throughout the years gave me lots of cheer

I am ready for my career

And to practice at the pharmacy frontier

Guest contributor: Dana Brandorff

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Milestones in Success 2018

From puppies and genomes to iPhones and brains, topics highlighting the annual ‘Milestones of Success’ celebration generated ample applause in the Krugman Conference Hall on May 2, as CU Anschutz Graduate School students, faculty and staff recognized the accomplishments of their peers.

“Milestones is meant to be a light-hearted, bragging event,” Inge Wefes, PhD, associate dean of the Graduate School, said of the end-of-the-year affair. “We wanted to recognize publications, graduation and just an overall job well done.”

Awards were presented to students and faculty for many different categories, including most outstanding faculty peer mentor taken home by Chad Pearson, PhD.

Following the recognitions, a competition dubbed the “three-minute talk” pitted students against each other and the clock, as they attempted to explain their academic work in three minutes or less. Participants included:

  • Rwik Sen, PhD, Julbert Caneus, PhD, and Sawako Tabuchi, PhD, who competed in the postdoc category. Tabuchi’s talk about comparing the brain to an iPhone camera won the crowd over, taking first prize.
  • Katie Mishall Barrett, Stephanie Garcia Alvarez and Esteban Lucero, who competed in the doctoral candidate group. Barrett won this category with her talk about thyroid cancer.
  • Liz Litkowski, Guttu Maskalo and Christophe Langouët-Astrie, who rounded out the competition in the master’s group. Litkowski’s talk compared puppies to statistical genomics and won the final category.

“It’s important to be able to present your research in a digestible way,” said Langouët-Astrie. “Our lab works with patients a lot and being able to break down the complicated research is incredibly important,” he said, adding that he’d do the competition again. “The more practice the better.”

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Lindau Nobel Laureate 2018

At the prospect of meeting her role model, Rushita Bagchi is at a loss for words. Selected through a national competition to attend the prestigious Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting this summer, Bagchi has the chance to interact with top scientists from around the world, including Elizabeth Blackburn, 2009 winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Rushita Bagchi, PhD, has been with the university since 2015.

Bagchi, who received her PhD from the University of Manitoba in cardiac pathophysiology, said she hopes she will be able to calm her excitement enough to gain insight from the renowned woman scientist. Bagchi recently spoke with CU Anschutz Today about her path to the notable meeting invitation. She has worked in Dr. Timothy McKinsey’s lab on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus as a postdoctoral fellow in the Division of Cardiology since 2015.

What do you study, and what do you like most about it?

Currently, I am researching the epigenetic regulation of cardiometabolic disease, with a special focus on chromatin modifying enzymes known as histone deacetylases (HDACs). This area is fairly lesser explored than broad cardiology. Any novel findings from this area of research have the potential to pave the way for the development of new therapeutics to treat patients diagnosed with diabetes and hyperlipidemia and cardiovascular disease associated with these conditions. The translational nature of this work is very exciting and keeps me very engaged.

What is the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting?

It is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for top trainees in the world (under the age of 35) to network and learn from the experts in the field. The annual meeting is conducted in different categories, just like the Nobel Prize categories. This year’s meeting in June is in the area of Medicine and Physiology. The top 600 trainees from 84 countries have been selected to participate in this meeting and interact with over 40 Nobel laureates. This is the best platform to build networks and lay the foundation for future collaborations. Mostly importantly, I think this is the best opportunity one can have to get to know the world leaders in science better and listen and learn about their academic and personal experiences.

What is the application process like?

It starts with a nomination from a partner institution in a country, which may choose to select its nominees through competition, merit or both. The nomination letter is just one of the many components of the application process. In addition, the nominees are asked to provide detailed biodata, their significant contributions to the field of science, recognitions and awards and what motivates them to pursue scientific research. A scientific committee carefully assesses thousands of applications from nominees worldwide and selects the top 500 or so individuals to participate in the meeting.

“I think this is the best opportunity one can have to get to know the world leaders in science better and listen and learn about their academic and personal experiences.”  ̶  Rushita Bagchi, PhD

What did you think or do when you heard you were chosen? 

I received an email from the meeting organizers very early morning on Feb. 27, which is also my dad’s birthday. It took me a little while to process what had just happened. I called up my husband in Canada and my parents in India immediately to inform them about my selection. I also passed on the news to my current mentor, Dr. Timothy McKinsey, and my PhD mentor, Dr. Michael Czubryt. It was very exciting, and surreal!

What are you looking forward to the most?

I am looking forward to networking opportunities and learning from the experts. I am especially excited about being able to meet Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, who received the prize for the discovery of the enzyme telomerase. I have always looked up to women scientists, and she is one of my role models.

What do you think you’ll say or ask when you meet her? 

Honestly, I don’t know how I will react when I meet her in person. I will probably be at a loss for words at the first glance, and then hopefully will be able to introduce myself and start a conversation. I will surely ask about her experience and path she took to becoming a top woman scientist and especially her advice for aspiring women scientists.



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Former Olympian sets her sights on a new goal – becoming a surgeon

From throwing a hammer in Bird’s Nest Stadium in the 2008 Summer Olympics to studying to become a surgeon at CU Anschutz, former Olympian Loree Thornton is no stranger to pushing herself to the limits in pursuit of her dreams.

Since watching the 1996 Summer Olympics, Thornton knew that when she grew up she was going to be an Olympian. She didn’t know what her sport would be, but she envisioned competing in the games and meeting her teenage crush – a Russian gymnast. She went so far as to take four years of Russian in high school.

“I was like, ‘I need to speak Russian so I can meet him,’” Thornton shares with a laugh in an interview, “because, you know, I’d meet him and get married.”

She didn’t learn what her event would be until she was an undergraduate in college. One day, her track-and-field coach suggested she try the hammer throw.

“I was like, ‘Cool what’s that?’” Before that day, Thornton admits, she’d never heard of hammer throwing. The hammer isn’t a typical tool, but rather a metal ball that weighs about nine pounds. Attached to a steel wire, the ball gets swung above the head and released to fly across the field.

“I think it picked me,” she says of the sport she adores.

Breaking records

From then on, Thornton worked toward her goal of reaching the Olympics. At Colorado State University, she trained about four hours a day with her coach, going on to set a hammer-throw record.

“I broke the collegiate record – the furthest-throwing female to throw a hammer of all time,” says Thornton. “That’s why I think it chose me; I loved it.”

Loree Thornton swinging her hammer
Loree Thornton competes for the U.S. in the hammer throw.

In 2008, her dreams became a reality. She earned one of the three spots on the U.S. hammer throwing team for the Summer Olympics in Beijing. She admits that walking into Bird’s Nest Stadium was one of the most surreal experiences of her life. She had given over 10 years in pursuit a dream.

“You question yourself, you question the process, and then to walk into a stadium that’s vibrating with energy wearing USA across your chest is one of the best feelings,” she says. “I cried when I walked out. I thought, ‘all that work for this moment.’ It was pretty exciting.”

Connection to Winter Olympics

Even though Thornton participated in the Summer games, she is connected to the Winter Olympics. Some of her former track teammates went on to participate in bobsledding, and a former roommate from her first year of medical school is a gold-medalist speed skater.

Her favorite Winter Olympic sport to watch?

“I love figure skating. It’s really cool to see all those years of hard work come out so beautiful,” she says. “It’s where sport meets art.”

After the 2008 Olympics and four more years of throwing hammers, Thornton retired from competition in 2012 to chase another dream: to become a surgeon. Being a doctor had always been on her mind, but she had doubted her abilities – even after going to the Olympics.

“I came from a pretty underprivileged background. Saying you want to be a doctor is on par with saying you want to be an astronaut. People don’t do that, not people like you,” she says. If going to the Olympics taught Thornton anything, it’s that any dream, no matter how seemingly unattainable, can come true with enough hard work and dedication.

Sights on a new goal: surgeon

Thornton applied to medical schools and, upon hearing that she had been accepted into CU School of Medicine, she cancelled all other school appointments.

“I thought, ‘I got my number one choice – I’m done!’” she laughs.

Training to become a surgeon isn’t exactly like the long hours in the gym, but she is finding new ways to challenge herself to become the best-possible doctor. Thornton admits that when people suggest the kind of surgeon she should become – orthopedics is an oft-mentioned specialty – she thinks she wants to take a different path to prove them wrong. Whatever surgical route she chooses, Thornton continues to work tirelessly.

“There are some weeks where I get five hours of sleep a night. I’m getting my butt kicked, and I’m tired, but then I go into clinicals and I’ll learn about a disease in class and I’ll see it and feel like I’m helping a patient. That’s my favorite part: It reminds me of why we do what we do,” she says. “One day someone’s going to need the best of us.”

Thornton is currently in her second year of clinicals at CU Anschutz, on track to graduate with the class of 2020.

Similar to the way a sport picked her years ago, Thornton believes CU Anschutz likewise came calling.

“I feel happy where I am,” she said. “I’m supposed to be here.”

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