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Biochemistry Scholar Receives U's Highest Honor

Wesley I. Sundquist, distinguished professor of biochemistry, has been honored with the 2017 Rosenblatt Prize for Excellence, the University of Utah's most prestigious faculty award. The $40,000 gift is presented annually to a faculty member who displays excellence in teaching, research, and administrative efforts.

Sundquist has a doctorate in chemistry from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was a postdoctoral fellow at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England, and began his career at the U in 1992 as an assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry. He became the Samuels Presidential Chaired Professor in 2015 and a distinguished professor in 2017.

Chair emeritus of the School of Medicine Executive Committee and former chair of the Benning Society, Sundquist has also served as co-chair for the Department of Biochemistry with Chris Hill since 2009. Under their leadership, the department has increased in size by 50 percent, and it consistently ranks in the top 20 biochemistry departments in total National Institutes of Health funding.

Sundquist is internationally recognized for his research discoveries in Human Immunodeficiency Virus replication and fundamental processes in cell biology. His work has dramatically enhanced the understanding of the architecture, assembly, and budding of HIV, and his research on viral structures is leading to new strategies for HIV therapeutics that have transformative potential for human health. He is the director of a $24 million award that involves 18 principal investigators from nine institutions across the country.

During his 25 years at the U, Sundquist and his colleagues have published more than 100 scientific journal articles, 16 of which appeared in the prestigious journals Cell, Nature, and Science. He is one of the most cited researchers in the field of HIV/AIDS. As a mentor, Sundquist has trained more than 40 graduate students and postdocs, many of whom currently hold positions in academic and private-sector institutions.

Clear Bag Policy Coming in 2018

A clear bag policy will be phased in at all athletics events at Rice-Eccles Stadium and the Huntsman Center this coming fall with the goal of speeding up security checkpoints and protecting fans. Enforcement of the clear bag policy will not go into effect until July 1, 2018, although fans are encouraged to begin complying with the new policy immediately.

The policy change comes on the heels of several recent security breaches involving venues for large events around the globe. “This proactive measure will enhance security inside and outside of the athletic venues and speed up the security screening process for all fans,” says U Police Chief Dale Brophy. “Security staff will be checking bags, which means shorter lines, fewer hassles, more time in the venue enjoying your favorite sport(s), and a greater sense of security.”

The policy allows for a variety of options for fans. Each guest may carry one clear bag no larger than 12 inches by 6 inches by 12 inches, or a one-gallon plastic freezer bag. Small clutches or purses for privacy are still allowed under the policy. Diaper bags may also be taken into venues with the accompanying child/infant. Seat cushions without pockets or compartments will continue to be allowed as well.

Clear bag policies are a growing trend among many colleges and national sports venues. The NFL made the switch in 2013. Institutions in the Southeastern Conference, along with the U’s fellow Pac-12 member Arizona State, have also been early adopters.

Utes Had Record Year for NFL and NBA Drafts

The U's eight 2017 NFL Draft picks led the Pac-12 and tied for fourth in the country, while in the NBA Draft, Utah became the only school from the Pac-12 to have at least one player selected in the draft the past three seasons.

In the NFL Draft, offensive tackle Garett Bolles became the eighth first-round draft pick in Utah history when he was selected by the Denver Broncos as the No. 20 overall pick. Utah safety Marcus Williams was selected by the New Orleans Saints as the 10th pick of the second round. Running back Joe Williams BS’16, offensive guard Isaac Asiata BS’16, cornerback Brian Allen BS’16, center J.J. Dielman BS’16, offensive tackle Sam Tevi BS’16 and outside linebacker Pita Taumoepenu went in rounds 4-7. The 2017 Ute draft class broke the former school mark of six picks in 2010.

In the NBA Draft, men's basketball forward Kyle Kuzma became the 44th player in school history to be taken after he was selected as the 27th overall pick in the first round by the Brooklyn Nets and then traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. Kuzma is the 12th Utah player to be selected in the first round of the NBA Draft, and his selection marks the seventh time in school history since 1958 that Utah has had a player selected in three consecutive seasons.

Athletics Adds Women's Beach Volleyball and Men's Lacrosse

(Photo left courtesy U Athletics; photo right by Tim Haslam)

On the heels of adding women’s beach volleyball in spring 2017 as a new intercollegiate sport, the U Athletics Department announced this summer that it will also be sponsoring men’s lacrosse as an NCAA sport starting in 2018-19. Utah is the ninth Pac-12 member institution to sponsor beach volleyball. Men’s lacrosse is the U’s first completely new NCAA sport since women’s soccer was added back in 1995. With the addition of both of these new sports, Utah will support 20 total NCAA sports—eight men’s and 12 women’s.

Utah's beach volleyball operates as a combined program, drawing its members and coaches from the existing volleyball program, including coaches Beth Launiere, director of volleyball, and JJ Van Niel, head beach volleyball coach. The team completed its inaugural season in 2017, going 2-12 overall with the season highlight defeating Oregon at the Pac-12 Championship. At the finish of the Pac-12 season, freshman Dani Barton received Second Team All-Pac-12 accolades and was named to the Pac-12 All-Freshman team. The players practice in the new beach volleyball gym in the Einar Nielsen Fieldhouse on campus.

Men’s lacrosse will continue to compete as a club sport this year while it makes the transition into NCAA status. The program was endowed through a $15.6 million gift funded by an anonymous lead donor and other benefactors. No state or university funds will be used to support the program. Brian Holman, club lacrosse head coach, will lead the new team. A former eight-year assistant coach at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Holman helped lead UNC to the 2016 NCAA Championship before accepting the head club coaching position at Utah.

With 70 men's lacrosse programs in NCAA Division I, Utah becomes the first Pac-12 school with an NCAA men's lacrosse team and will join Denver and Air Force as the only Division I men's lacrosse programs west of the Mississippi. U Athletics plans to pursue a conference affiliation for its newest sport. The team will play its games at Ute Soccer Field and will hold practices on the infield of the McCarthey Family Track & Field Complex. The lacrosse season, which typically consists of around 15 contests, begins in February and runs through May. Season tickets will go on sale in the spring of 2018.

U Appoints Three New Deans

Martell Teasley, new dean of the College of Social Work, comes to the U from the University of Texas at San Antonio, where he served as chair of the Department of Social Work in the College of Public Policy for the past five years. His experience also includes the development of a disaster management certificate program at Florida State University, employment as a drug and alcohol counselor, time as a licensed practical nurse, and a decade of service with the U.S. Army.

Teasley emphasizes the importance of classroom instruction and program fidelity, noting, “students should know that the administration, faculty, and staff will work hard to make sure that our students are among the best educated in the country.” During his tenure, Teasley says the College of Social Work will continue to advance its commitment to community outreach, advocacy, and helping local communities address social service needs. Teasley received his doctorate in social work from Howard University, and his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Fayetteville State University and Virginia Commonwealth University, respectively.

Elaine Clark, professor of educational psychology, is the new dean of the College of Education. “I am honored to have this unique opportunity to work with the outstanding faculty and staff in the college,” says Clark. “The College of Education is a significant contributor to ensuring that all children with varied backgrounds, needs, and abilities have access to a high-quality education, including one that provides effective academic, social, emotional, and mental health supports.”

A faculty member in the U’s Department of Educational Psychology since 1983, Clark served as the director of the school psychology program for 21 years and department chair for six. She has dedicated her career to the development of applied research and the preparation of school psychologists to provide effective services to individuals who have significant social, emotional, and learning challenges, in particular, those with an autism spectrum disorder. Clark received her bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate in educational psychology from Michigan State University as well as a doctorate in neuropsychology from Brigham Young University.

John Scheib joins the U as dean of the College of Fine Arts from the University of Kentucky, where he was director of the School of Music for the past three years. He is recognized for his talent as a keen listener who works with his team, including community members, to build and enact vision and strategy to advance the arts.

His research in music education is rooted in his experience as a music teacher in the Wisconsin public schools for nine years. He focuses on, among other things, the beliefs and practices of music teachers and their students, and music education reform. “I am excited to be joining a college and university with such a strong commitment to the development of creative and innovative leaders and citizens,” says Scheib. “Our roles as artists, arts scholars, and arts educators are vital as we provide key opportunities for students to develop the wide range of intelligences and skills necessary for 21st-century success.” Scheib received his master’s and doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in music education.

Campus to Become 100% Tobacco-Free

A new student-led initiative will make the U a completely tobacco-free campus beginning in July 2018. The proposition was first brought to the U’s attention in 2010 by students in ASUU and underwent several years of discussion. Then in 2016, the charge was taken up again by a dedicated group of students with the help of a committee including faculty and staff, and the policy made its way through the Academic Senate.

The goal is to support the health and well-being of all who work, seek care, visit, and learn at the university. The policy will apply to owned and leased campus premises and U vehicles and is applicable 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Prohibited tobacco products are defined as cigarettes, cigars, pipes, water pipes (hookah), bidis, kreteks, smokeless tobacco, chewing tobacco, snus, snuff, electronic cigarettes, and any other nicotine-delivery products.

“Our No. 1 priority is to be inclusive to our diverse community during the transition to becoming a tobacco-free campus,” says Chief Wellness Officer Robin Marcus BS’83 MS’88 PhD’01. “Over the coming year, we encourage you all to support each other in a positive, nonconfrontational manner as we make this transition.”

As of April 3, 2017, there are now more than 1,800 smoke-free campus sites across the country. Of these, 1,536 are 100 percent tobacco free, and 1,400 also prohibit e-cigarette use. To assist faculty, staff, and students through the transition, the university will offer smoking cessation programs.

New Center Opens for Mindfulness and Integrative Health

The University of Utah College of Social Work Assistant Dean Dr. Eric Garland in his lab with a graduate student.

The U has launched a new center dedicated to providing a transformative influence on health care by unifying research on mindfulness and other integrative behavioral health interventions. Eric Garland, associate dean for research at the College of Social Work, serves as director of the new Center on Mindfulness and Integrative Health Intervention Development (C-MIIND). The center, which assumes oversight of more than $17 million in federal research grants, is housed in the college.

“The center will advance a vision of a new model of health care, in which behavioral health experts work in tandem with medical providers to address the physical, psychological, and social needs of people suffering from an array of health conditions,” says Garland, whose research focuses on using mindfulness to help individuals who experience chronic pain.

The center will bring together researchers and clinicians from across main campus and U of U Health( including faculty in social work, psychiatry, primary care, anesthesiology, neuroscience, psychology, and health) who are pioneering integrative interventions aimed at improving physical and mental well-being. C-MIIND will strive to attract top faculty and provide research opportunities for undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral fellows interested in studying mindfulness and integrative behavioral health.

A focus of the center also will be to train post-graduates and health care providers in innovative therapies to be used in primary care clinics, hospitals, community mental health centers, and addiction treatment facilities.

Business School Gets $20 Million Gift for New Economics Institute

The U’s David Eccles School of Business is establishing the Marriner S. Eccles Institute for Economics and Quantitative Analysis with the support of a $10 million gift from the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation and the Marriner S. Eccles Foundation. The Charles Koch Foundation matched the $10 million for a combined gift of $20 million.

“We are proud to partner with these foundations to create a world-class economics institute at the David Eccles School of Business,” says President David Pershing. “It will enhance and complement the university’s existing program in economics, expanding areas of faculty expertise and interdisciplinary opportunities and, most importantly, engaging our students in a balance of practical and theoretical learning opportunities.”

The mission of the institute is to push the frontiers of knowledge through academic research and provide U students access to high-quality education in areas such as game theory, econometrics, and quantitative analysis. Its generous funding will enable the university not only to recruit seven leading economists as academic faculty, but also to support innovative research and provide $1.6 million in student scholarships. Its focus will include the development of students’ quantitative skills, which are widely seen as critical for success in today’s data-driven job market. In doing so, it promises to open career opportunities for Utah students in an everexpanding array of areas from banking and private equity to technology and academia.

“The impact of this gift cannot be overstated,” says Taylor Randall HBA’90, dean of the David Eccles School of Business. “This institute will take the school and the university to another level of distinction, bringing leading economists into the Eccles School’s ranks who will enhance student learning in areas including economic thought and quantitative analysis, unlocking opportunities for them in a wide range of careers.”


Meet Katharina Gerstenberger, chair of the Department of Languages and Literature, who developed a love for reading as a child growing up in Osnabrück, Germany, in the 1960s, when her favorite author was Astrid Lindgren, who wrote Pippi Longstocking. By her teenage years, she had dived into the more serious literature of German writers such as Günter Grass and Christa Wolf. In the late ’70s, she spent a year at an American high school, an experience that would shape the rest of her life. She became fluent in English and learned to appreciate the openness and diversity of American culture. After reading Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind in English, she knew she was proficient and felt she had “arrived.”

Gerstenberger completed her undergraduate work in German literature and history in Berlin, returned to the U.S. in the ’80s for graduate school at Cornell University, and then taught at the University of Cincinnati for almost 20 years. In 2012, she joined the U in her role as department chair and as a professor of German. She is the author of Writing the New Berlin, a book on Berlin literature after the fall of the Wall in 1989, and is in the early stages of writing a book on issues of climate change in works of literature.

Here, a snapshot of some of her recommended reads.

I recently finished Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. This deeply moving novel follows the story of two slaves from Georgia as they escape to the North using real trains and actual tunnels. To me, fiction is a very powerful way of conveying historical reality, and this book, which takes literally the metaphor of the Underground Railroad, is a great example of that.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, his famous story about a young man who one morning wakes up and finds himself transformed into a giant insect, challenges one’s mind to enter into a very different and utterly strange world. Yet it also says something about life in Eastern Europe at the verge of World War I. And you are allowed to use the word “Kafkaesque” after you have read it. Truly important to me is that students read literary fiction at all, because it stimulates the imagination and invites us into rich alternate universes.

German Nobel Prize-winner Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks tells the story of four generations of a German family from the early to the late 19th century. The characters are fascinating. Mann’s style is sophisticated yet also accessible and entertaining. It was the first big (500-page!) novel I ever read, and that sense of pride and enjoyment is still with me.

Like many Germans, I can quote lines from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust, which is still the most famous book in the German language. One of my favorite lines is “Wer immer strebend sich bemüht, den können wir erlösen,” which means something like “Those who strive continually may be redeemed by the gods.” Perseverance is one of the characteristics I value most. This line cautions us that even after a life of perseverance, it is up to the gods whether we will be redeemed. I like the reminder that we ultimately do not have control over our fate.


Creative dance supports social play in children with autism

In a recent study, University of Utah researchers found that creative dance helped increase play skills in children with autism spectrum disorder. “Play is central to the development of children’s language and cognitive skills,” says Catherine Nelson, associate professor of special education at the U. “However, children with autism often have difficulties with social play and play with objects such as toys.”

The study examined methods for increasing the quality of play of three preschool-aged children with autism who were in classes primarily composed of children without disabilities. Therefore, the interventions chosen for the study were ones that all children in the classrooms could enjoy without singling out the children with autism.

Typical preschool activities include large-group circle time and learning centers that contain a variety of toys and materials. In this study, favored play materials of the children with autism were added to the learning centers along with associated toy accessories that increase the potential for child-to-child interaction. Creative dance activities were then added to the circle time, and new and interactive ways to use the added play materials were practiced during the activities.

“For example, one of the children with autism liked pushing small match box cars back and forth on the floor,” says Susan Johnston, chair of special education at the U. “Creative dance activities included having the children ‘drive’ around the room with hula hoops representing car steering wheels. …Following the dance activity, the child and his peers went to the learning centers, and instead of simply pushing the cars back and forth, he played with the other children, using the pretend play skills he had just practiced.”

By the end of the study, all three children demonstrated gains in social play skills as well as complexity of play with objects. However, the gains were not maintained when the intervention ended, suggesting that movement-based interventions can improve play skills in children with autism, but such interventions must be ongoing if gains are to continue.

Certain 'Miranda' requirements found to handcuff the cops

On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking “Miranda ruling”—the U.S. Supreme Court decision that criminal suspects must be informed of their constitutional right to an attorney prior to police questioning—two U professors released study results suggesting that about 20 percent more violent crimes and 11.6 percent more property crimes would be solved each year without the Miranda requirements.

S.J. Quinney College of Law presidential professor Paul Cassell, along with researcher Richard Fowles, a professor in the U’s Department of Economics, found that Miranda requirements reduced police effectiveness by hindering law enforcement’s ability to solve certain cases. The two found that Miranda has “particularly harmful effects on police efforts to solve robbery, larceny, and vehicle theft crimes.”

But Cassell and Fowles note that the research suggests that the harmful effects do not stem from the well-known “you have the right to remain silent” Miranda warnings, but rather from Miranda’s lesser-known procedural requirements. For example, the Miranda procedures generally prevent police from questioning a suspect in custody unless he or she agrees to be questioned. Such expectations could be replaced by a requirement that police videotape questioning, a change Cassell and Fowles believe could result in a “win-win” solution that would not only allow police to obtain more voluntary confessions from suspects but also provide safeguards against false confessions or inappropriate police pressure.

A first look at the giant shipworm

The average giant shipworm is about the same size as a baseball bat (three feet long), and they are protected by a hard, white shell. (Image courtesy U of U Health)

Mother Earth still has a surprise or two up her sleeve. Scientists at the U recently led an international team of researchers who were the first to investigate a never-before-studied species—a large, worm-like animal called Kuphus polythalamia, or the giant shipworm.

People have known about the existence of the creature for centuries. A native of the Philippines, the animal’s three- to five-foot long, tusk-like white shells were first documented in the 18th century. But researchers had never before been able to study the living animal, a black, mud-dwelling species that is really a marine bivalve mollusk, like clams and mussels. “Being present for the first encounter of an animal like this is the closest I will ever get to being a 19th-century naturalist,” says the study’s senior author, Margo Haygood, a research professor in medicinal chemistry at the U’s College of Pharmacy.

The animal’s preferred habitat was unclear until scientists came upon a video showing the creatures seemingly planted, like carrots, in the mud of a shallow lagoon laden with rotting wood, with just the tops of the shells protruding. Now, researchers are learning about the unique and bizarre way the giant shipworms acquire energy with the help of bacteria that live in their gills. Normal shipworms burrow deep into the wood of trees that have washed into the ocean, munching on and then digesting the wood with typical internal digestive organs. The giant shipworm gets energy from its beneficial bacteria in a way much more similar to how green plants use the sun’s energy to convert carbion dioxide during photosynthesis. Haygood is investigating whether medicines might be developed from the shipworm bacteria.

Utah is no small potatoes in ethnoarchaeology

Researcher Lisbeth Louderback with ancient stone tools.

A new archaeological finding in the southern Utah town of Escalante may rewrite the story of tuber domestication.

Researchers from the U’s Natural History Museum of Utah and Red Butte Garden have discovered potato starch residues in the crevices of a 10,900-year-old stone tool within Escalante’s borders—the earliest evidence of wild potato use in North America. This is the first archaeological study to identify a spud-bearing species native to the southwestern United States, Solanum jamesii, as an important part of ancient human diets.

The researchers pieced together evidence from stone tools, ethnographic literature, and modern gardeners to show that Utahns have used the species intermittently for more than 10,000 years. The Escalante area was even previously known as “Potato Valley” to early settlers.

Native American tribes including Apache, Hopi, Kawaik, Navajo, Southern Paiute, and Zuni consumed S. jamesii, and some still tend their potato populations in cultivated gardens. The long history could mean that the species was transported, cultivated, or even domesticated. If true, S. jamesii would be the first example of a plant domesticated in the western U.S.

What Do We Want in a U president?

As the University of Utah begins its search for a new president, we wanted to know what attributes people in the U community think would be most important to consider. So we reached out to a few students, faculty, administrators, and alumni to find out. Here's what they had to say.

“I hope that the board of trustees will find someone with a clear vision for the university, a strong sense of integrity, and a commitment to transparency within the position. Our university needs a leader who will not only be the public face of the U for years to come, but who also has the interpersonal skills necessary to ensure that the U will remain a hub for world-class education, research, and health care for years to come.”

Steven Havlik
Biology major

President, The MUSS Board

“As a U student, especially a student reporter, I like to know what is going on with the higher-ups of my school. I want to know what decisions are being made, and how they will shape my college years. It is important to me to know that my voice is being heard, and that my experience is being considered as a factor in universitywide decisions. For my university, I want a president who is dedicated to transparency, and who is willing to show how and why they are making the university better for every individual involved.”

Megan Hulse
English and communication major

Editor in Chief, The Daily Utah Chronicle

“In addition to continuing the great work around equity and diversity initiated by our current administration, our next president should continue to guide the university toward becoming an inclusive environment for all students, faculty, and staff to excel to exceptional levels.”

Nicole Rene Robinson*
Professor, U School of Music

Assistant Vice President, U Office for Equity and Diversity

“The president should above all be student-oriented and have a vision of the university that is progressive, inclusive, and high achieving. The U is a top-tier research institution, and I love the opportunities it provides for entrepreneurship and cultivation of the intellect. I think a good president has ways of implementing these opportunities on an administrative level and finding ways to get students involved. Additionally, after speaking with a lot of students about the current political climate of the country, it’s become apparent that many don’t feel as comfortable or safe on campus as they deserve to be. I believe it is important for the president to find a way to make students feel welcomed and involved.”

Saeed Shihab
Biomedical engineering major
Vice President, ASUU Student Relations

“The University of Utah needs a president who has integrity, good judgment, courage, diplomatic and communication skills, a deep understanding about academics, scholastic accomplishments in their own field, and stamina to deal with the demands of the position. We also need a president who knows how a great university operates, and who can lead the U to look and act even more like the world-class university that it can become.”

Richard B. Brown PhD’85*
Dean, U College of Engineering

“The next president of the university must care deeply about students, believing that students are not an interruption of our work, they ARE our work. Understanding and framing the campus culture for learning requires assembling an amazing team of leaders, nurturing them individually and collectively, celebrating successes, and adapting from failures, always with the best interests of the university at heart. The U thrives on collaboration and partnerships; its new president must serve as a model and cheerleader for these values. The groundwork for a fantastic future has been set, and we all look forward to the incredible years ahead!”

Barbara Snyder
Vice President, U Student Affairs

“A university president’s job is highly collaborative. Thus, a successful president is one who has not only impeccable integrity, a great vision for the future of the university, and professional credentials that win the respect of peers and constituents; a successful president will also be one who is highly effective at building relationships with students, faculty, staff, legislators, and donors, along with business, education, and government leaders across the state of Utah and beyond. Having an optimistic attitude and a great sense of humor helps!”

Harris Simmons BA’77*
Vice Chairman, Utah Board of Regents
Chairman, President, and CEO, Zions Bancorporation

“I feel like a laundry list may be the best way to look at the ideal candidate so it can be used as a checklist. Here is my take on that list: Has a good sense of humor, clear idea of right and wrong, common sense, integrity, perseverance, willingness to listen and debate an opinion that is different from or opposite of their own, strong sense of family; is a problem solver, team builder, good communicator; is enthusiastic, passionate, thick-skinned, patient, loyal, visionary, optimistic, socially and politically poised, approachable, confident, caring, and respectful. Not necessarily in that order.”

Joe Sargetakis BA’80
President, U Alumni Association Board
Co-owner, Frog Bench Farms

“A university president should be a beacon, inspiring both commitment and deep curiosity in scholars across all disciplines. He or she must be a humanist, one who reminds us that for all our specialties, we aspire in common to aid and improve humankind. Our president must remember and honor the first purpose of all higher learning: To provide a physically safe and intellectually unsafe, exciting, and stimulating environment where any mind may think critically and develop to its fullest. The president must be well-rounded, have an ability to live in this unique culture, cultivating community support as well as legislative appreciation for the university. Finally, the president should be forthright about how the institution must adapt, always bearing in mind that the future will be shaped only inasmuch as we succeed to mentor, mold, and then make way for the individual student.”

Anne Cullimore Decker BS’57 MFA’82
Actress; former U Professor of Theater

*Members of the U's Presidential Search Committee (Simmons is co-chair).

Web Extra: Read a comprehensive overview of how a national search for a university president is conducted in our previous Continuum feature here.

We want to hear from you, too! Share your thoughts in the comments below...

For updates on the search and information about public input meetings, visit

Alum News

Alumni Association welcomes new board president, VP, and members

Joe Sargetakis

The Alumni Association recently welcomed seven new members to its Board of Directors, as well as a new board president and vice president, and new presidents of three affiliate boards. The Board of Directors consists of approximately 24 members who serve three-year terms. Members meet regularly to help support association events and other endeavors, and also serve on committees across campus and at the association ranging from legislative advocacy to scholarships to community service.

The new president of the Board of Directors is Joe Sargetakis BA’80. The owner of Frog Bench Farms in Salt Lake City, Sargetakis is committed to providing organic fruits, vegetables, herbs, and microgreens for farm-to-table restaurants in the city. He previously held vice president positions at Paine Webber and Morgan Stanley. His involvement with the U also includes membership in the Copper Club at the Natural History Museum of Utah and being a longtime member of Red Butte Garden. His other volunteer work includes serving on the boards of the Swaner Nature Preserve, Ronald McDonald House Charities, and Ducks Unlimited, and being on the founding board of the Sugar House Farmers Market. As the association’s board president, Sargetakis will also serve on the U’s Board of Trustees.

Susan Hansen Porter

The board’s new vice president is Susan Hansen Porter BS’85 MSW’88. Porter has been a psychotherapist for more than 30 years, owning and directing her own clinical counseling practice in Salt Lake. A licensed clinical social worker and member of the National Association of Social Workers, she’s also an adjunct professor in the U’s Department of Psychiatry and a trustee for the Hospital Foundation. Her community service also extends beyond the U, as she has volunteered her time to many organizations, including the Utah Food Bank and The Road Home shelter. Sargetakis and Porter are replacing outgoing President Julie Barrett BA’70 and Vice President Scott Verhaaren BA’90 MBA’91, who made significant contributions to the university and to the Alumni Association during their tenure. Barrett also served as a member of the U's Board of Trustees.

The new members of the board are Christine Burns MS’75, a psychologist in private practice; Leslie Corbett BS’87, the owner of Bjorn’s Brew; Sue Skanchy MBA’86, chief operating officer at Jones Waldo; Tom Carlson BA’90, senior director of Marketing and Business Development for Shell Energy North America; Glenn Seninger BS’88, vice president of North America Edge Applications with Oracle; Aden Batar MPA’15, director of Immigration and Refugee Resettlement for Catholic Community Services of Utah; and Kimberly Brunisholz BS’05 MS’11 PhD’15, a researcher with Intermountain Health Care.

Cheré Romney ex’94 is the new president of the Emeritus Board, Savannah Gelhard is the new Student Alumni Board president, the new MUSS Board president is Steven Havlik, and Brian Davis BS’07 is the new Beehive Honor Society chair. Brian Rosander BS’01 JD’05 continues as president of the association’s Young Alumni Board.

New Alumni Association board members (L to R) Christine Burns, Leslie Corbett, Sue Skanchy, Tom Carlson, Glenn Seninger, Aden Batar, and Kim Brunisholz.

Show your stripes at Homecoming 2017

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Reaping the benefits of Alumni Career Services

Amy Gleason with Sean O'Leary

Sean O’Leary BS’93 MS’99 graduated with an advanced degree in electrical engineering, but still not without apprehension about embarking on his first full-time job hunt. Now 18 years later, he owns his own engineering business. As he reflects on the career path that got him where he is today, he says he couldn’t have done it without Alumni Career Services (ACS).

O’Leary first visited the career center after graduation in the late nineties to get help with his résumé and to practice interview techniques, both of which helped him land his first job. Twelve years later, he found himself out of work. He knew the resources at ACS were available to him, but he had to overcome his initial pride about going back for help. “I didn’t even want to talk in Job Club, I just wished I could go back to an office and do my job,” says O’Leary. “I learned you have to get outside your comfort zone.”

The U’s Job Club, which is free, gives attendees the opportunity to network, critique each other’s résumés, practice elevator pitches, and even perform mock interviews. But it also provides an emotional support group. “Having a group of people you can sit down and talk to about worries is really important. They’re dealing with the same kind of things that you are… fears, frustrations, and challenges,” says O’Leary. “It’s bonding. I still keep in contact with people I met in Job Club years ago.”

Assistance from ACS has proved to be an asset through his entire career, O’Leary says. Just over a year ago, he stepped into their offices again with the intention of starting his own business. Having worked with the previous ACS coach, Julie Swaner BA’69 PhD’11, O’Leary was concerned when he heard she had retired. And, as luck would have it, he was the very first job-seeker new coach Amy Gleason worked with in her new position. “Here I was, just terrified because I was changing everything I was doing,” says O’Leary. “But Amy was excited and pointed me in the right direction. The things that she told me to do were spot on.”

Between Swaner and Gleason, O’Leary learned about branding and marketing a company. And in July 2016, he officially became his own boss when he started Celtic Engineering Solutions. The company’s green logo with classic Celtic knots proudly highlights O’Leary’s Irish heritage. “I would definitely not be the successful business owner I am today without the repeated help of Alumni Career Services,” says O’Leary.

Five reasons to join the Alumni Association

1. STAY CONNECTED: Receive each issue of the U’s award-winning Continuum magazine, along with Alumni Connection, the monthly e-newsletter filled with great alumni stories, news from campus, and updates on alumni events.

2. CONTRIBUTE TO SCHOLARSHIPS: Your membership fee helps support future alumni through our scholarship programs. Last year, the Alumni Association awarded a total of more than $700,000 to deserving students.

3. CAREER SERVICES: Members have access to career coaching, Job Club, workshops, networking events, and more (including free services for members both in-state and out) to help improve work performance or find new jobs.

4. DISCOUNTS AND OTHER SAVINGS: Save at the Campus Store and Utah Red Zone, on Continuing Ed classes, and in a variety of other areas— from 2-for-1 arts and athletics tickets to gym memberships, tailgate discounts, and more.

5. SHOW YOUR PRIDE: Attend Homecoming activities such as our tailgate, Emeritus Reunion, and Scholarship 5K at your member rate; volunteer at events along with other alums; connect with your local alumni chapter; get U swag!

Class Notes


Rachel Harry BA’85, a drama teacher at Hood River Valley High School, in Oregon, has received the Tony Awards’ Excellence in Theatre Education Award. The honor, announced at the 71st Annual Tony Awards, at Radio City Music Hall, recognizes a K-12 theater educator in the U.S. who has demonstrated monumental impact on the lives of students and embodies the highest standards of the profession. Harry will receive $10,000 for her theater program. A native of northern Wisconsin and a former dancer, she received her bachelor’s degree in English at the University of Utah, and a second bachelor’s degree in theater as well as a master’s degree in theater production at Central Washington University. In addition to teaching at Hood River for 30 years, she is an instructor at Columbia Gorge Community College.

Carl L. Laurella BS’82 has been recognized as the top financial advisor in Utah by Barron’s magazine in its annual “America’s Top 1,200 Advisors: State-by-State” list. Of six Utah advisors highlighted, Laurella was ranked number one in the state, based on client assets, return on assets, client satisfaction/retention, compliance records, and community involvement. At the University of Utah, Laurella serves on the Humanities Partnership Board and the College of Nursing Advisory Council and is a member of the Health Sciences Benefactors. He also supports scholarships for first-generation U students in humanities, nursing, and athletics. Laurella resides in Park City and has worked in Merrill Lynch’s Salt Lake City office for more than 31 years. He has been recognized on Barron’s Top Advisors list several times.


J. Aaron Sanders BA’98 MFA’01 received a 2017 Lambda Literary Award for his first novel, Speakers of the Dead: A Walt Whitman Mystery Lambda Literary is the nation’s leading organization advancing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender literature. The 29th annual awards were announced at a ceremony in New York City. Sanders’ mystery covers the investigative exploits of young reporter Walt Whitman as he navigates the seedy underbelly of New York City’s body-snatching industry in an attempt to exonerate his friend of a wrongful murder charge. An associate professor of English at Columbus State University, Sanders received a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Utah, and a doctorate in American literature from the University of Connecticut.

Sylvia Torti PhD’98, research assistant professor of biology and dean of the Honors College at the University of Utah, won the Nicholas Schaffner Award for Music in Literature for her novel Cages. Set in and around a research laboratory in which two scientists are experimenting on birds to discover the origins of memory and birdsong, Cages is a complex interweaving of biological, philosophical, and mystical themes. It is also a story of love, loss, and memory as the two scientists vie for the heart of a young research assistant. Torti previously received the Miguel Marmol Award for first fiction by an American of Latino descent for her novel The Scorpion’s Tail. An ecologist and writer, she holds a doctorate in biology from the U’s College of Science.


Clint DeMill BS’11, associate director of administration at the University of Utah Guest House and Conference Center, was named the 2017 Certified Hospitality Technology Professional (CHTP) of the Year. The honor is considered the ultimate achievement in hospitality information technology and recognizes the individual who scored highest on the CHTP certification exam within a given year. The award is presented by Hospitality Financial Technology Professionals, a global nonprofit organization dedicated to solving hospitality industry problems and facilitating education. The nonprofit’s certification programs set industry standards around the world for hospitality, finance, and technology. DeMill began his hospitality career at a Utah mountain resort in 1996 and worked at University Guest House while pursuing his bachelor’s degree from the U in parks, recreation, and tourism.

Ishion Hutchinson ex’12 has been awarded the National Book Critics Circle’s Award for Poetry for House of Lords and Commons. The collection traces the landscapes of memory and childhood in the author’s native Jamaica. Hutchinson, whose work is often political in nature, received a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of the West Indies and an MFA at New York University before coming to the University of Utah. His first poetry collection, Far District, won the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry. Far District was completed at the U under the direction of Professor Jacqueline Osherow. Hutchinson also has received the Whiting Writers Award and the Larry Levis Prize from the Academy of American Poets. He currently lives in Ithaca, New York, and teaches poetry at Cornell University.

To submit alumni news for consideration, email


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U to Begin Search for New University President and Head of Health Sciences

On May 1, President David W. Pershing announced that he will conclude his tenure as the 15th president of the University of Utah by the end of the 2017-18 academic year. He will remain in his role until a successor is in place. “Serving as the president of this remarkable institution has been the greatest honor of my life,” wrote Pershing in a letter to faculty and staff.

Appointed in 2012, Pershing has made student success his top priority. Under his leadership, the university has implemented new deeply engaged learning experiences (such as undergraduate research opportunities), and six-year graduation rates have risen from 59 to 65 percent. The university is attracting more students who are better prepared for college than ever before, and is doing more to support them with academic counsel and advice. Numerous outreach programs to find and assist students experiencing academic and personal challenges have been created, and the U has nearly doubled its number of scholarships and created more on-campus jobs for students.

Pershing had expected to announce this fall that he would finish his service at the end of the next academic year but chose to make the announcement sooner so the search for a new president would run simultaneously with the search for a new senior vice president (SVP) of Health Sciences. “We’d like to have a new president in place when we are making the final decision on a Health Sciences senior vice president,” says Pershing.

Just days before his announcement, Dr. Vivian Lee resigned as SVP of Health Sciences, CEO of U of U Health, and dean of the School of Medicine. During her tenure from 2011-17, the university has received national recognition for its focus on providing high-quality and patient-centered care, while stabilizing and reducing costs. “Dr. Lee has led a remarkable transformation of our academic and research operations and has been at the forefront of innovations in health care delivery,” Pershing said in a prepared statement. “On behalf of the entire leadership at the University of Utah, I want to express my gratitude for Dr. Lee’s extraordinary achievements.” Lee will remain at the U as a tenured professor of radiology. Dr. Lorris Betz, who was SVP of Health Sciences from 1999 to 2011, is serving in the interim while the national search to replace Lee is conducted.

The news from both Pershing and Lee came on the heels of a controversy regarding the dismissal and reinstatement in March of Dr. Mary Beckerle as CEO and director of the Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the U. The university is working with the Huntsman family on a new Memorandum of Understanding with the goal of reaffirming HCI’s role as an integrated and collaborative part of the university.

“The past few weeks have been challenging for our entire university community,” says Pershing. “However, I want to assure our U family and friends that Dr. Ruth Watkins, senior vice president for Academic Affairs, Dr. Lorris Betz, and I are determined to work collaboratively and energetically to keep the university on course. And although I have announced that my time as president is nearing its conclusion, I am committed to maintaining the momentum the U is enjoying so that my successor will inherit a strong, vibrant campus.”

Upon completion of his presidency, Pershing intends to return to teaching and research at the U as a Distinguished Professor of chemical engineering. He is the recipient of the university’s Distinguished Teaching and Distinguished Research awards and the Rosenblatt Prize for Excellence. This story was last updated at time of press, May 15, 2017.

 New Program Supports African American Students

The U is launching a first-of-its-kind program aimed at preparing African American students for success after graduation. The African American Doctoral Scholars Initiative, which begins fall 2017, provides eligible students with annual scholarships worth up to $5,000, among other resources.

The community-building program is designed to help students develop skills including teaching, creating syllabi, submitting grant proposals, publishing and presenting research, etc. The scholarship award money may be used for research and conference travel, professional development, and dissertation research and writing expenses.

“Many African American doctoral students are only prepared to conduct research upon graduating,” says Deniece Dortch, program manager for the initiative and a postdoctoral research fellow. “We recognize these gaps and want students to be competitive on the job market once they complete their degrees. This program provides students with a network of peers, mentors, and professional development workshops to set them up for success.”

To be eligible for the program, students must self-identify as a member of the African American community, be accepted into a doctoral program at the U, be a full-time student, have earned a 3.0 cumulative GPA or higher, be a U.S. citizen, and demonstrate a commitment to understanding black life, history, and culture in the United States.

U Now Offers Online-Only Bachelor’s Degrees

The U will offer fully online undergraduate degrees beginning in fall 2017. A new package of courses, called “Block U,” will fulfill all general education requirements. This set of courses will complement the select majors currently offered on the web. “In the past, the U has offered several online undergraduate majors, but without an online general education program, students going to school online couldn’t complete their degree,” says Ann Darling, assistant vice president of Undergraduate Studies. “Block U provides the flexibility of online delivery and the benefits of highly engaging instruction.”

Majors offered through UOnline will include economics, nursing, sustainable tourism and hospitality management, psychology, and social work, along with a minor in gerontology. Most general education courses in Block U will be available for students to take at their convenience, helping them fit school into their personal schedules and busy lives.

Web-based courses don’t come at the expense of developing relationships with classmates and professors. The global citizen course, in particular, was developed to give online students access to the benefits of a learning community experience. “U research demonstrates that learning community courses are especially powerful success experiences for students of diverse backgrounds,” Darling says.

The U offers more than 450 web courses in addition to these fully online undergrad programs. And online graduate degrees available through the U include electrical and computer engineering, occupational therapy, and information systems.

A Reason to Smile

This May, future dentists tossed their caps in the air as the first cohort of students to graduate from the U’s School of Dentistry. The university’s first new school in more than 50 years has racked up an impressive set of achievements in its four short years: the inaugural class had the second-highest GPA for incoming dental students in the U.S., all 20 students have passed their dental board exams and scored in the top 15 percent nationally, and all will practice dentistry either in private practice or with additional training.

Ski Team Wins NCAA Title

Photo courtesy

The Utah ski team claimed the 2017 NCAA championship in March, their first nationals win since 2003. A special shout-out goes to freshman Martin Bergström, who won two national titles at the meet, in the men’s 10-km classic and the men’s 20-km freestyle race.

Utah Director of Skiing Kevin Sweeney notes: “In all my years of coaching, it was one of the most challenging four days of competition.” Sweeney also led the program to its last title 14 years ago and served under Pat Miller as head Nordic coach on Utah’s two NCAA title teams in 1997-98. “The weather was incredibly cold and windy, and challenging from both a waxing perspective as well as visibility and conditions. It took a lot of perseverance and gutsy performances for us to win.”

The Utes have 11 NCAA titles and 12 championships overall, including an AIAW title in 1978. Utah's NCAA wins rank third all-time in skiing.

Varsity Esports Comes to the U

The U and its nationally ranked Entertainment Arts & Engineering (EAE) video game development program are forming the U’s first college-sponsored varsity esports program. Utah esports will compete in multiple games and has confirmed the industry-leading League of Legends as its first game, with additional games to be announced shortly. The esports program is the first of its kind from a school in the Power Five athletics conferences (Pac- 12, Big Ten, Big 12, Atlantic Coast, and Southeastern).

“Esports has had a dramatic rise in popularity in the U.S. over the last few years— especially on college campuses,” says A.J. Dimick BA’03 BA’06 MEAE’14, director of operations for the esports program. “We think college esports is a great opportunity, and we want our students to be part of it.”

The U’s esports program will be sponsored by the EAE program, which has been ranked the No. 1 video game design program in the nation for three of the past five years by The Princeton Review. “EAE is proud to elevate competitive gaming at the U,” says Robert Kessler BS’74 MS’77 PhD’81, director of EAE. “We think it is a great opportunity for our students, the vibrant gaming community here on campus, and Utah fans in general to come together and watch these players hone their skills and play competitively to represent our school.”

College esports is in its infancy, but there are scores of teams sponsored by student gaming clubs across the United States. “We have more than 750 university League of Legends student clubs, and more than 20 official varsity programs across North America,” says Michael Sherman, college esports lead for Riot Games. “The U continues to showcase why it’s among the nation’s most innovative and competitive as the first Power Five school to build its varsity League of Legends team.”

Debate Society Earns National Championship

Congratulations to the U’s oldest student organization, the John R. Park Debate Society, for earning the season-long national championship awarded by the National Parliamentary Debate Association. The debate team also finished sixth place (first place in Pac-12) at the NPDA National Championship Tournament in March. The tournament included more than 140 teams from 41 universities and colleges.

The U Takes on Real Food Challenge

In February 2015, President David W. Pershing committed the U to the Real Food Challenge—a goal to have 20 percent of the university’s food categorized as “real” by 2020. “Real food” is a newer term used to describe food that is local/community-based, fair, ecologically sound, and humane.

Spring semester, “real food” labels began arriving in some campus stores. The new labels highlight the elements of “real food” and are now on food items at Mom’s Café and Mom’s Pantry at the Marriott Library and the Counsel Café in the S.J. Quinney College of Law.

“These labels increase transparency about the food students are consuming,” says Emily Paul, co-chair of the U’s Real Food Challenge student group. “This will give students the opportunity to make more sustainable and ethical food choices now and moving forward.”

Piano Scholar Inspires Underserved Communities

"Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything." ~ Plato

Desireé González, multiple award-winning pianist, teacher, and senior doctoral student in the U’s School of Music, uses this quote as her inspiration. González is the O. C. Tanner Piano Service Scholar for the 2016-17 school year. The program, created by the O. C. Tanner Company, selects one piano student at the U each year to receive an award in support of a teaching assistantship. The scholar presents 15 performances or presentations during the academic year with the community’s underserved populations.

It’s no accident that many of González’s recitals feature works by Latin American and well-known classical composers. “I want specifically to help the Latino and refugee communities because I am one of them,” says González. “I want to reach out through musical experiences to let them know that they are strong enough to pursue their dreams.”

Susan Duehlmeier BFA’70 MFA’73, piano area chair at the School of Music, has described González’s performances and assemblies in Salt Lake area public schools as remarkable. “The children are mesmerized by her presence,” she says. “Desireé is a leader in the School of Music and is already considered an expert in the field of pedagogy [teaching].”

Born in Monterrey, Nuevo León, México, González began playing the piano before she was three. At age 14, she studied with the Mexican-German concert pianist Alicia Monfort, and later attended the School of Music at Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León in Monterrey. She received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in piano performance from Brigham Young University and currently is an associate private instructor at the U’s Preparatory Division and a U-Piano Outreach Program piano instructor under the tutelage of Vedrana Subotic, an associate professor (lecturer) in the School of Music. González’s piano excellence has taken her to concert venues and music institutions across Mexico, the United States, and Europe, where her talent, academic research, and pedagogical interests have led to numerous presentations and performances, including a solo recital in Rome.

For González, music is the answer. And now she is using music to inspire others, as Plato’s quote inspired her, to pursue their dreams and give “wings to their minds, flight to their imagination, and gaiety to their lives.”

U Student Awarded Prestigious Hertz Fellowship

Ethan Lake, an undergraduate student in physics and math, has received the prestigious and highly competitive Hertz Fellowship, a $250,000 grant for up to five years of graduate study in the STEM fields. Lake is one of only 12 students nationally to receive this award and the second Hertz Fellow for the U.
The Hertz Fellowship seeks to support America’s most promising students in the applied physical, biological, and engineering sciences. This year, 721 students applied and went through a rigorous meritbased process. The top 150 applicants were invited for an in-depth technical interview, and of those, 40 were invited back for a second interview, with each interview increasing in difficulty. “I found the application process, especially the interviews, to be intellectually rewarding and very enjoyable,” says Lake. “I would definitely encourage other students to apply.”

During his undergraduate career, Lake has published six first-author papers, with another three either submitted or in progress. Through his research, he has collaborated with scholars at institutions around the world including Princeton University, Caltech, the University of Colorado-Boulder, Peking University, and Tokyo University.

“I’m very grateful to the mentors I’ve worked with for their constant patience, and I appreciate the freedom they’ve given me to explore and think about research problems independently,” adds Lake.



Badger Caught Burying a Bovine

Photo courtesy Evan Buechley

While studying scavengers in Utah’s Great Basin Desert, U biologists observed an American badger do something that no other scientists had documented before: bury an entire calf carcass by itself.

While badgers and their relatives are known to cache food stores, this is the first known instance of a badger burying an animal larger than itself. The finding suggests that badgers may have little or no limit to the size of animal they can cache, and that they may play an important role in sequestering large carcasses, which could benefit cattle ranchers in the West. “This is a substantial behavior that wasn’t at all known about,” says U senior Ethan Frehner, first author on the paper documenting the finding.

Badgers spend a significant amount of time either underground or in nocturnal behavior, which is hard to directly observe. Camera traps, a relatively new tool for researchers, made it possible to document the caching. A badger at another site in the study also attempted to bury a calf carcass, suggesting that the behavior could be widespread.

Badgers cache food to isolate it from other scavengers and make it last longer. But doing so could also provide an ecological service to ranchers, many of whom see badgers as pests, because they dig burrows through rangeland and can eat chickens. But burying carrion could prevent disease from infecting other cows. And, adds fellow U senior Tara Christensen, “If the carcasses are being buried, they’re not going to be attracting large predators.”

Both Frehner and Christensen participated in the study as undergraduates. The work was funded by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to doctoral candidate Evan Buechley. The team’s research was covered by dozens of major media outlets, including National Geographic, NPR, and Newsweek. The time-lapse video of the caching had garnered more than 1.5 million views as of mid-May, more than any other video produced by the U.

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Promising Results in Protecting Bones from Cancer

Once breast cancer spreads through the body, it can degrade a patient’s healthy bones, causing numerous problems. Scientists at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah have identified a new way that bones get destroyed through cancer. And they’ve also learned how to block that destruction with a new drug. Initial tests with patients show promising results.

Forty-thousand people die every year of breast cancer because the disease has spread to other sites in the body. And approximately 75 percent of the time, it spreads to their bones. Alana Welm, an investigator at HCI and associate professor of oncological sciences at the U, explains: “It’s a similar process to what happens in osteoporosis, except to a much greater extent. The cancer causes bone to be eaten up.”

Welm and colleagues discovered that a protein called Ron is responsible for destroying the bone. In mice, the scientists then studied what happened if they knocked out the gene containing the Ron protein. “We found it completely protected the bones from destruction,” says Welm. But it isn’t possible to simply knock out peoples’ genes. So to test the process in humans, HCI scientists worked with a biotechnology company that was developing an oral drug that blocks the activity of Ron. Welm’s group first tested this drug in mice and again saw positive results.

The biotech company was conducting a Phase 1 clinical trial to test the Ron inhibitor in men and women with various types of cancers, so Welm and her group collaborated with them to investigate the effect of the drug on human bones. The data showed encouraging results, and the drug was also well-tolerated in patients, with few side effects. But this trial was initially created only to test the safety of the drug. The next step will be specifically testing the drug in clinical trials with breast cancer patients.

Welm thinks the drug might work well in combination with existing drug therapies to improve outcomes for patients, especially those whose disease is resistant to current treatments. She also believes the drug could potentially be used for patients with other types of cancer that degrade bones, or for non-cancer-related osteoporosis.

Huge Black Holes Found in Tiny Galaxies

Artist’s depiction of a supermassive black hole. Illustration by Dana Berry of SkyWorks

Three years ago, a University of Utah-led team discovered that an ultra-compact dwarf galaxy contained a supermassive black hole, then the smallest known galaxy to harbor such a giant black hole. Now, the same group of U astronomers and colleagues has found two more examples of the phenomenon, suggesting that black holes lurk at the center of most of these galaxies— potentially doubling the number of supermassive black holes known in the universe—and that the dwarfs are likely tiny leftovers of massive galaxies that were stripped of their outer layers after colliding into larger galaxies.

“We know that galaxies merge and combine all the time—that’s how galaxies evolve. Our Milky Way is eating up galaxies as we speak,” says senior author Anil Seth, assistant professor in the Department of Physics & Astronomy. “But we have a really incomplete picture of that.”

Chris Ahn, postdoctoral candidate in the Department of Physics & Astronomy, and lead author of the international study, notes: “Maybe a fraction of the centers of all galaxies are actually these compact galaxies stripped of their outer parts.”

Stopping Chronic Pain Before it Starts

For millions of sufferers, there is nothing more debilitating than chronic back or joint pain. It can feel like a lifetime of misery. But researchers led by U bioengineering assistant professor Robby Bowles have discovered a way to curb chronic pain by modulating genes that reduce tissue- and cell-damaging inflammation.

Typically, inflammation is nature’s way of alerting the immune system to repair tissue or tackle infection. But chronic inflammation can instead lead to tissue degeneration and pain. Slipped or herniated discs, for example, are a result of damage after inflammation causes cells to create molecules that break down tissue.

Bowles’ team is using new genetics technology to stop the process. “This has applications for many inflammatory-driven diseases,” Bowles says. Now that researchers know they can do this, doctors will be able to modify genes via an injection directly to the affected area.

“The hope is that this stops degeneration in its tracks,” says Bowles. So far, the team has developed a virus that can deliver the gene therapy and has filed a patent on the system. They hope to proceed to human trials after collecting more data.

Alum News

UUAA scholarship spotlight: Turning adversity into passion

Meet Nora Ismail, recipient of a 2017 Achievement Scholarship granted by the University of Utah Alumni Association (UUAA) at its annual Spring Awards ceremony. This award is reserved for students who have overcome particular hardship to get an education.

Ismail was born in the U.S. as an American Egyptian/Russian, but her father’s business took them to Dubai when she was 11. Not long after settling in, a community of radical Islamists began targeting her family. Ismail was Muslim, but she attended church with her Christian mother, resulting in more harassment and even death threats from extremists. The persecution became so severe that Ismail was kicked out of school, and her family lost their business, home, and at one point didn’t have money for basic necessities.

At age 17, when Ismail was about to be forced into a marriage with a much older man, her parents desperately sought help and found someone who arranged for her escape back to the U.S., but she had to leave her parents behind. Ismail was taken in by a family in Utah, where she was able to finish high school and prepare for college. She entered the U last fall. Ismail is majoring in business and Middle Eastern studies and hopes to create an organization to empower women and children to get their educations.

When asked what she has enjoyed the most about her experience at the U, Ismail says, “the privilege of getting a chance to have an education. I had my education taken away from me by force and lived without it for a few years, so I got to feel the loss and need for it in my life.”

At the annual Spring Awards banquet, the Alumni Association honored 85 students with scholarships ranging from $1,500 to $6,000 per student.

Alumni Association honors academic advisor

The association’s Spring Awards ceremony also included the Perlman Award for Excellence in Student Counseling, which is given annually to a faculty or staff member who has made an outstanding contribution to the university through student advising and counseling.

The recipient this year is Maria Creasey-Baldwin, who is an academic advising coordinator with the U’s TRIO Student Support Services, providing support to students who are low income, have disabilities, and/or are first-generation college-matriculated. She has also coordinated a comprehensive six-week summer residential components in which students become familiar with going to college.

Creasey-Baldwin is beloved and respected by students and administrators alike for being deeply committed to helping students in any way needed. “If it was not for her, I would have not gone to school at all,” wrote a student who nominated her for the award. Creasey-Baldwin says the best part of her job is witnessing student self-discovery and seeing them reach their goals. “Being a part of their journey is profoundly rewarding,” she says.

Which counties drive with U pride?

Did you know that every dollar spent on University of Utah license plates goes directly to scholarship funds? Last year, license plates contributed to more than $700,000 for student scholarships! Are you supporting scholarships by driving with U pride? What about your family, friends, and neighbors… see how your county ranks as the Ute-est in the state.



Learn more about our scholarships in the fun infographic here.

Where will you fly your flag?

The Alumni Association is offering an incentive for first-time members—a U Alumni garden flag. For as little as $50, you can join a robust network of Utah alumni living all around the world. Becoming a member offers an array of perks and also helps support the association’s scholarship program, which will provide more than $700,000 to deserving students this year.

Association members enjoy benefits ranging from special members-only discounts, event invitations, career networking opportunities, and a subscription to all four issues of Continuum a year. Membership can be purchased annually, for three years, or for a lifetime, and is open to U alumni, family, nongraduates, and other friends of the U.

Visit to join and learn more about additional member benefits and promotions (including limited-edition U Alumni socks). And, if it is a first-time enrollment, start planning now where you’ll fly that U Alumni flag!

Save the date: Homecoming 2017

SEPT. 30-OCT. 8: Mark your calendars for this year’s exciting Homecoming lineup, including our traditional tailgate before the game against Stanford on Oct. 7. Go Utes!

Class Notes


Stephen Wilson Hales MD’73 reigned as the 2017 Mardi Gras Rex, or King of Carnival, in New Orleans this February. Rex’s proclamation opens the celebration of Carnival, and he and his Queen preside over its glittering conclusion at the Rex Ball. A New Orleans pediatrician and community leader, Hales is the founder and senior associate of Hales Pediatrics and has practiced in New Orleans since arriving there in 1975. After receiving his medical degree from the U’s School of Medicine, Hales completed his residency in pediatrics in Phoenix, Arizona, as well as a fellowship at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. A Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, he served as acting chief of pediatrics at the New Orleans Public Health Service Hospital.


Yuan Chang MD’87 and Patrick S. Moore MD’85 MPL’86, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine faculty members, have been awarded the 2017 Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize, an international research honor considered one of the most prestigious in the field of medicine. The award recognizes medical researchers who have made significant contributions in the fields of immunology, cancer research, microbiology, and chemotherapy. The duo’s Chang-Moore Laboratory is credited with discovering two of the seven known human viruses that directly cause cancer: the Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpes virus, and the Merkel cell polyomavirus.


Adrienne Gillespie Andrews BA’93 BA’96 has received the ATHENA Leadership Award from the Ogden Weber Chamber of Commerce. The award recognizes professional excellence, community service, and active assistance helping women advance. Hired at Weber State University in 2005, Andrews was selected in May 2015 to serve as the school’s first chief diversity officer. The recipient of several other awards, she facilitated the creation of Ogden’s first diversity commission in fall 2016 and the Weber State Town Hall Conversations on Race series. In addition to her degrees from the U in political science and gender studies, Andrews has a master’s degree from Minnesota State University-Mankato, and another from Rutgers. She currently is a doctoral student in the U’s Department of Education, Culture, and Society.


Thiago Ize PhD’09 and his colleagues at Solid Angle received a Science and Technical Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, hosts of the Oscars. Presented on February 11 in Los Angeles, the award honors their highly optimized geometry engine and novel ray-tracing algorithms that unify the rendering of curves, surfaces, and subsurface scattering. Developed at Sony Pictures, Imageworks, and Solid Angle SL, the team’s visual effects software, “Arnold,” is becoming one of the most popular programs in the industry and can be seen in films such as Captain America and the two new Star Wars movies. Arnold’s computer animation abilities include rendering photorealistic images of actors who are no longer alive. Ize lives in Utah, where he continues to work on improving the Arnold software.

Holly Rowe BA’04, ESPN sideline reporter for college football games since 1998, is co-recipient of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association Pat Summitt Most Courageous Award, named for the women’s college basketball coach who accrued a record-breaking 1,098 career wins, and died from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Rowe, known for her unique style in pursuing stories of athletes and teams, has been diagnosed with cancer and in February 2016 had surgery to remove two tumors. She has battled her illness with the same passion and relentless commitment with which she approaches her job. Rowe is the first recipient of the Summitt award who isn’t an athlete, coach, official, or team public relations person. She was honored at the women’s Final Four in Dallas in April.


Alex Mejia MS’13 and co-authors of the article “Latina/o Adolescents’ Funds of Knowledge Related to Engineering” (published in the Journal of Engineering Education) will receive the William Elgin Wickenden Award of the American Society of Engineering Education at the society’s annual conference this summer. The award recognizes the author(s) of the best paper published in the journal. An Angelo State University faculty member since 2015, Mejia’s primary research centers on working with K-12 schools to improve the success of Latino and other under-represented students in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. He received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at El Paso, a master’s degree from the U, and a doctorate in engineering education from Utah State University.

To submit alumni news for consideration, email


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