11 months ago

2017 Fall Highlights of Hope

  • Text
  • Andel
  • Institute
  • Highlights
  • Scientists
  • Michigan
  • Schweigert
  • Colvin
  • Jboard
  • Bergsma
  • Brundin


PHILANTHROPY Q&A with Chad Bassett and Rachel Mraz, JBoard Ambassadors Co-Chairs Finding New Ways to Learn, Connect and Give West Michigan natives Chad Bassett and Rachel Mraz are passionate advocates for the Institute’s mission. Bassett and Mraz are both young professionals, brimming with enthusiasm, creativity and passion for both their community and improving human health. As co-chairs for the Institute’s JBoard Ambassadors, Bassett and Mraz are constantly looking for new ways to engage people from different backgrounds to help cultivate the next generation of Institute support. Bassett, a graduate of both Notre Dame University and the University of Michigan, worked for a decade in the world of finance. His career includes positions at Bain Capital and Deloitte, and he is currently the founder and president of Good Industries, a Grand Rapids-based lifestyle brand, as well as Xplorer Technologies. A graduate of Cornell University, Mraz has cultivated a thriving career in Grand Rapids as a wealth management advisor and senior vice president at Merrill Lynch and is the founding member of the JBoard Ambassadors. What makes Van Andel Institute such an important part of your community? MRAZ: Grand Rapids is a hub of philanthropy and community engagement. The Institute is really an extension of the spirit of Grand Rapids. When I was young, I was involved with so many charitable organizations by virtue of my parents being involved in the community. I lost my mom to cancer, and my husband lost his stepdad, and now I have numerous friends and family members who have been diagnosed as well. I feel like the Institute’s importance to those who have been affected by cancer and other diseases in this community is really immeasurable. BASSETT: For philanthropy and entrepreneurship, there is no place better than Grand Rapids. It’s really great to be a part of such an engaged community that is always willing to do good. The Institute exists in a city where people want to see others be successful and help entrepreneurs grow and have all the resources that they need. The Institute is part of such a great period of growth for the region, and it’s been so exciting to watch both the Institute and the city of Grand Rapids grow together. (LEFT TO RIGHT) JBOARD CO-CHAIRS CHAD BASSETT AND RACHEL MRAZ. Why do you think it’s important for young professionals to stay engaged in their community and get involved with the JBoard? MRAZ: When we started the JBoard in 2009, I was the lucky one who didn’t have a family member who was affected by cancer. I thought that if we created an organization to support the Institute’s focus on cancer research, we could give people hope and empower them to take action against this horrible disease. In December 2015, this mission really hit home for me when my mom was diagnosed with cancer. She fought bravely for two years, surrounded by supportive friends and family, but passed away in 2017. If I was passionate when I started the JBoard, I am incredibly passionate now. I think it’s necessary for young people to know that they can participate in larger institutions and support something as important as the Institute’s cancer and Parkinson’s research. After all I have gone through, I want to tell everyone I meet, “I am part of this great group of people and you need to be too…” BASSETT: When I think of the JBoard, I think of three words: learn, connect and give. The opportunity to learn is an important aspect of being a JBoard member—learning from top educators and scientists and staying informed about the latest advancements in education and research. Our members can also network and connect with other passionate, professional people, and that is a constant source of inspiration. And the ability to give, knowing that every dollar given to the Institute doesn’t go for administrative expenses but right into the labs and the classrooms. That’s really exciting. I think we’re at an incredible tipping point in research and developing new cures for cancer and other diseases, and to be honest, it just feels good to do your part to help. Interested in joining the JBoard? Visit jboard or contact Sarah Rollman at 14 | VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE HIGHLIGHTS OF HOPE

EDUCATION Building a Career from Intern to Scientist like peers and working scientists with real responsibilities and value. “As a graduate student in this program, you’re really treated like an equal, meaning people do not view you as a student here, they see you as a scientist,” Bergsma said. “The attention you receive from faculty, and the quality of the mentorship, is much higher than anywhere else I’ve ever been.” We get to see everything While working in the lab, Bergsma and other graduate students have the unique opportunity to use some of the most advanced scientific tools available. This access gives students the ability to look at cancer and neurodegenerative diseases in multiple ways and illuminate paths to new discoveries. Van Andel Institute Graduate School (VAIGS) student Alexis Bergsma loves spending long hours studying the biological basis for cancer and other human diseases. She also loves working in a lab filled with natural light, modern architecture and advanced technology, where she collaborates with a team that feels more like a family than co-workers. Bergsma began working in the Institute as an intern, and it didn’t take long for her to know that it was the right place to start her career. “When I started my internship in my early twenties I was completing an undergraduate program at the University of Michigan, where I was in a class with hundreds if not thousands of students. I found the Institute’s small size, amazing facilities and collaborative culture really inviting,” Bergsma said. “Even when I was interviewing for other Ph.D. programs after my internship, I couldn’t get Van Andel Institute out of my head—I just knew I loved it here.” ALEXIS BERGSMA. Treated like a scientist As an intern and graduate student, Bergsma has had the opportunity to work in a variety of labs, studying everything from prostate cancer and bone diseases to Parkinson’s disease. The Institute’s inquirybased learning methods were difficult and demanding, but they provided invaluable lessons that helped shape Bergsma’s career as a scientist. “The Institute’s problem-based learning is a very different way of thinking, and it was hard to get used to at first,” she said. “At the Institute, you’re not just a passive student absorbing information—you’re expected to be present and to actively engage and participate in every aspect of the lab you’re working in.” The Graduate School’s small size allows for an intimate learning environment, where students can directly connect and get feedback from mentors and faculty. Bergsma was surprised to find that the Graduate School’s faculty treats students “Being a student at the Graduate School means we get to see everything,” Bergsma said. “Someone recently applied to be a lab technician here, and they were floored that we have access to CRISPR Cas9, which we can use to do genetic engineering. We also have a cryo-EM, which is the most powerful microscope in the world, so if there’s a new technology, we are probably using it here.” “I couldn't get Van Andel Institute out of my head—I just knew I loved it here.” - Alexis Bergsma Bergsma plans to graduate in 2018, and the education she is receiving at VAIGS is giving her the tools, training and knowledge needed to pursue life-long dreams and build a career that is both fulfilling and purposeful. “I’d love to stay on the bench, be a senior research scientist and continue to mentor other scientists,“ Bergsma said. “When I was younger, I knew I wanted to use my skills and abilities to help people and fix things, and now, I know that’s exactly what I am going to do.” VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE HIGHLIGHTS OF HOPE | 15

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