We are looking for great stories from our alumni. We want to know what you’re doing, where you are, what’s been going on since graduation, how the Honors Program affected your life, or anything interesting you want to share with us about your life since Honors.

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Is there something or someone you want to hear about? Your favorite Biology Professor? What’s changed on campus? Some stats you’re craving? Let us know, and we’ll do our best to put it in a future post.


Honors Students Create Flint Water App

H2OFLINTBy Miyako Jones
The City of Flint has been experiencing a lead-in-water crisis for over 27 months due to improperly-treated water flowing through city pipes. It has been necessary for residents to filter their water or obtain access to alternate sources such as bottled water. Unfortunately, locating these resources is sometimes not as simple as it ought to be.

Two Computer Science Honors students, Phil Boyd and John Collins, became involved in an outreach project to help Flint residents locate resources related to the water crisis at the request of Dr. Mark Allison. Phil and John are both members of the UM-Flint chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), which Dr. Allison oversees as faculty advisor. They built an Android app called H2OFlint that assists residents with locating bottled water and water filter pickup locations, recycling locations, and blood testing locations. Icons representing the various types of resources appear on a map of Flint. Tapping an icon lists information about the location such as its name, address, and hours of operation.

The app was designed, developed, and launched in just a few weeks back in February. Both students gained valuable real-world experience and, in the case of Phil, working on the project confirmed his career path as an app developer. John learned “just how important being organized and good coding practices are to a project.”

The water crisis project has since been extended thanks to a $150,000 grant from Google. Phil continues to work on Android development while John intends to create an iOS app.


Bishr Al Dabagh, MD

Dr. Bishr Al-DabaghClass of 2005: BS, General Biology; BS, Molecular Biology and Biotechnology; BA, Communication
Mohs Micrographic Surgery and Medical & Aesthetic Dermatology, Flint, MI

Dr. Al Dabagh is a local dermatologist who graduated from the Honors Program in 2005. Under the guidance of Dr. Maureen Thum, he graduated with three degrees and a minor in Chemistry. During his off-campus study, he traveled to Fairbanks, AK to study the genetic basis of obesity in Alaska Natives, which became the topic of his Honors thesis. Upon graduation, he was awarded the honor of being a student commencement speaker as well as the Maize and Blue Distinguished Scholar Award. He attended medical school at Case Western Reserve University and later specialized in dermatology at Duke University Medical Center. He then followed his passion for dermatologic surgery, completing a fellowship in cutaneous oncology, reconstruction, and cosmetic dermatology at the University of California – San Francisco. Currently, he is in private practice locally in Flint and is involved in student and resident physician teaching. He also continues to be active in helping Honors students achieve their goals and dreams. Dr. Al Dabagh said, “The Honors Program was the launching pad for my career. It helped me head in the right direction and gave me invaluable skill sets.” His advice to future Honors students: “Take every opportunity to learn and enjoy it. Take time to smell the ‘educational’ roses. Set your focus early-on with good planning, hard work, and some luck, you will get there.”


Shannon O’Connor: Class of 2005

Shannon O'ConnorShannon recently completed her Master’s degree in Biology here at UM-Flint this past April. Her thesis research was on animal behavior; specifically, canine cognition. She intends to soon start a Ph.D. in animal behavior (cetaceans such as whales and dolphins in particular) so that she can teach Marine Biology, Animal Behavior, or Marine Mammals at the college level. She also plans to conduct research on cetaceans and be involved in their conservation.

In the summer of 2014, she was accepted into an internship with the Bosphorus Dolphin Project in Istanbul, Turkey where she spent three months working on a Ph.D. candidate’s project on the effects of marine traffic on three species of dolphins in the Bosphorus (Istanbul Strait). She also got to spend time with WWF’s green sea turtle conservation project in Adana, Turkey.

Her work with dolphins began while she was still an undergraduate. During her off-campus study she interned with the U.S. Navy’s Marine Mammal Program in San Diego, California. She spent three months working alongside their research division on three different dolphin-related projects. One project was on bottlenose dolphin echolocation and off-axis response (essentially the range of peripheral “vision” the animals have and the distinctions they can make with their echolocation at the periphery). Another project was looking at CT scans of dolphin heads to locate anatomical landmarks and ratios between these to try to standardize future studies that use electrodes for recording auditory evoked potentials in order to evaluate hearing. The third project was looking at cross-modal perception in dolphins to determine if they can correctly transfer information gained only echoically with no visual input to the visual modality (and vice versa). In other words, if a dolphin echolocates on an object but doesn’t see it, will she still recognize that object in the future when she sees it but can’t echolocate on it?


Shannon with a turtle hatchling.

She is grateful to the Honors Program for teaching her the writing and research skills necessary to succeed in graduate school. “I realize that ‘hard science’ folks often turn their noses up at all the classic literature we read, but I actually appreciated it. We covered literature but also learned how to make one’s ‘voice’ heard in different fields and modes (writing, speaking, presenting, etc). I appreciated that as many science courses value writing but don’t teach how to do it well.”

Her advice to Honors students is related to graduate study. “Find a school that suits your learning style and personality as well as a faculty mentor who does. I started a Master’s program prior to returning to UM-Flint but was medically unable to complete it. Neither the school nor my advisor were supportive of me during that time and so I dropped out. Although I was still struggling with some issues when I returned, the faculty [at UM-Flint] are much more student-focused. If you prefer to work on your own and don’t require collaboration and support to be successful, then you will do fine at a more ‘prestigious’ graduate school. If not, however, you should seek a lower tier school but develop the best project you can and attend lots of conferences so that your work will speak for itself rather than the name of the school on the diploma. Seek out the school that best suits how you learn and work best—you’ll be happier for it. Oh…and, of course, network, network, network!”


Healthcare Abroad in Kenya – Kathleen Robinson, Honors Biology Major

Kathleen RobinsonFor her off-campus study, Kathleen accompanied students and faculty from the Nursing Department on their annual trip to Kenya. As she plans to become a physician assistant, the experience she gained on this trip was invaluable. She observed and assisted medical personnel with a variety of health situations, some of which are not often seen in the U.S.—if at all. She also learned to appreciate a different culture and how to adapt to different situations. Overall, her time in Kenya was a profound experience.

The first stop on the trip was a government-run hospital in the city of Kisumu. She and the other students from UM-Flint had orientation with Kenyan nursing students their first day at the hospital. Although she had known beforehand that the hospital did not have the technology and resources that hospitals in the U.S. had, she had not anticipated how much it would affect its practice and cleanliness. For example, they did not always have the supplies available to wipe down examination tables or clean their hands with antibacterial wash. It was very difficult for her to see that people were dying because they did not have the supplies necessary to help them. Her first rotation took place in the Emergency Department where a single nurse examined patients with the help of a few nursing students. People were lined up on benches waiting to be seen and even patients brought in by ambulance had to wait at least fifteen minutes to be examined. During one such drop-off, a girl passed away before she could be seen. Kathleen has encountered death in emergency situations before and thought that she would be prepared, but this case was different. She was sad that no one was able to examine her before she passed and that no one was with her. However, she did not blame anyone because she knew that the small staff was doing the best they could with the resources they had. She admired the nurse for her courage and perseverance. “It was amazing to see how these nurses practice and continue to want to work in those environments because, if she wasn’t there, who would help the patients?”

Kathleen also had the opportunity to spend time in a dispensary in a village outside Kisumu. She was able to help out in the pharmacy by counting medication and also in the immunization room where she was shown a variety of things such as how to measure, weigh, and record immunizations; how to administer immunizations; and how to check for malaria. The experience was very valuable and she felt like she was lessening the workload for the staff.Kathleen_Robinson_children

The second half of the trip was spent in Nairobi where she did rotations at St. Mary’s Mission Hospital and helped the nurses from St. Mary’s provide medical care at the Good Samaritan Orphanage in the slums. “The orphans and surrounding families lived in such meager conditions. However, these conditions that we may think would be horrendous and unlivable for us did not affect the happiness or love they shared. They were so joyous and welcoming towards our group. Just experiencing the love from these children showed me the innocence of these kids and how they are just like any other kid. They had such hope and happiness for the future. It was very inspiring.”

The experiences of this trip have significantly impacted her life.  First, it has helped her become more culturally sensitive. Second, it has taught her how to adapt to certain situations, which include a lack of medical supplies and communication barriers. She learned that, by opening yourself up and learning all that you can, you can forge connections with others. “I was definitely pushed out of my comfort zone but, with that, I grew and now I have more confidence in stepping out and taking risks. I am so blessed to be able to experience this trip and I am excited to see how this will impact my future plans and job.”


Six Win Maize and Blue

Six Honors Students won the Maize and Blue Distinguished Scholar Award this Spring, which is the highest academic award available to graduating seniors. Imad Aljabban will receive a B.S. in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology; Simran Bhatti will receive a B.S. in Biology; Amanda Kaspar will receive a B.S. in Elementary Education; Emily Krueger will receive a B.S. in Health Sciences; Erika Trigg will receive a B.A. in Communication; and Heather Workman will receive a B.F.A. in Studio Art along with a B.A. History.

Within the next five years, Imad hopes to begin medical school following the completion of a master’s degree in Immunology at Harvard Medical School while Erika intends to complete a master’s degree in Student Affairs Administration at Michigan State with the possibility of pursuing a Ph.D. Erika also plans to get married next summer.

Both Imad and Erika have enjoyed the opportunities that the Honors Program have made available to them. Being encouraged to research topics outside of his discipline has helped Imad gain insight and respect into fields unrelated to his own and has taught him to appreciate the value of diversity. Erika believes she benefitted the most from the off-campus study and thesis requirements as they allowed her to thoroughly explore the topic of new student programs and learn about the role that support networks play in first-year student retention and success. This knowledge has been used to enhance the development of UM-Flint’s new two-day, overnight orientation program.

Congratulations to our May 2014 Maize and Blue winners and good luck with all of your future endeavors!


Chris Houston, Ph.D.: Class of 1994

Chris Houston with his family.

Chris Houston with his family.

Dr. Chris Houston is currently a Senior Principal Scientist for Bausch + Lomb who specializes in problem solving, particularly involving trace analysis and identification of unknown chemical entities. He received his Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry with a minor in Biochemistry from Indiana University-Bloomington. “One of the greatest things about the Honors Program, for me, was the peer group,” said Dr. Houston. “Starting college as a shy teenager, I immediately met and became close with a variety of bright, interesting people that really enriched my college experience.”

Dr. Houston entered the Honors Program as a Freshman in the 1989 cohort alongside his future wife, Kristy. He is fond of his cohort and the interesting discussions and debates they had during class. He believes that he “could not have asked for a better support system through the trials of college.” To this day, he remains in close contact with several members of that cohort.

He is also grateful to the Honors Program for helping him to develop his writing. Though he does a lot of technical report writing as part of his job, the enjoyment he received from writing in Honors courses has led to a hobby of blogging about his experiences as a private pilot.

In the future, Dr. Houston intends to continue to hone his skills and become the scientific equivalent of a master craftsman. His advice to current and future Honors students: “I have done a lot of interviewing of scientist job candidates over the years. The resumes that drift toward the top of the pile are those that describe a unique or differentiating experience from all the others. The Honors Program, with its amazing off-campus study opportunity tailored directly to you as an individual, is an amazing way to differentiate yourself from your peers. Take full advantage of it!”


Dr. Amy Gresock, Assistant Professor of Management

Dr. Amy GresockDr. Gresock received her B.S. and M.S. degrees from the Pennsylvania State University and her Ph.D. in Business Administration with concentrations in Strategy and Entrepreneurship and a minor in Research Methods from the University of Central Florida. She has also earned a graduate certificate in Teaching with Technology. Currently, she is Assistant Professor of Management in the School of Management. She has been involved with the Honors Program for two years and is a member of the Honors Council.

Dr. Gresock has taught business courses at the university level for 10 years, the last four being here at UM-Flint. She typically teaches capstone courses (Strategic Management) and Introduction to Entrepreneurship both at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

When asked what she enjoys the most about working with Honors students, she said, “Our Honors students love learning! They have a desire to go above and beyond because of the passion they have for their subject areas. It’s very exciting to work with students who have the level of dedication and creativity that they do! They exceed expectations, and I learn so much from them!” These interactions are what encouraged her to run for Honors Council. “I’ve met some incredible students who have tremendous potential. Working with them beyond the classroom… and having the chance to contribute to make the Honors Program even more beneficial to the students, was something that I was extremely interested in.”

She brings previous professional experience as a Strategic Consultant, a Business Plan editor, and an entrepreneur to her students. She guides them by monitoring their progress and by offering advice and insight on business and research issues. Her own research, which is conducted on resource accumulation processes prior to firm launch, has been presented at conferences such as the Babson Entrepreneurship Conference and published in outlets such as the Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development.

Dr. Gresock looks forward to continuing her work with the Honors Program and working closely with Honors students. She had this to add: “Many students in our program truly enjoy it, and they can see the value added. I’ve had students mention that the program has been of particular benefit when applying to graduate programs. Graduate schools appreciate that extra effort put in to be part of the program. Also, I have witnessed lasting friendships evolve between students and research collaborations with faculty. Yes, the program is extra work, but students find that it is ‘worth it’, and I definitely agree!”


Honors Student Presents at the 2014 APS March Meeting

Ayana Ghosh in ColoradoAs a physics student, Ayana dreamed of presenting her research at the American Physical Society March Meeting, which she learned about from her professors. Each year, it brings together nearly 10,000 physicists and students from industry, universities, and major labs throughout the world.

During her off-campus study at New Mexico State University in 2013, Ayana worked on two experimental condensed matter projects under the supervision of Dr. Stefan Zollner. Although her main task was to determine different optical properties of Germanium (Ge) grown on Silicon (Si), she was also able to build a theoretical model to support her experimental data. Similar work was completed for a Nickel Oxide (NiO) sample in order to explore the band structure of this material. She later obtained approval from Dr. Zollner to submit the abstracts of her work to the 2014 APS March Meeting. They were accepted, and she traveled to Denver with the help of the Honors Program; the Department of Computer Science, Engineering, and Physics; and the Fran Frazier Student Travel Scholarship.

Ayana gave two oral presentations at the APS March Meeting, which was held at the Colorado Convention Center from March 3rd to March 7th. The first, titled “Strain measurements of Ge epilayers on Si by Spectroscopic Ellipsometry”, introduces a theoretical model used to explain the different optical properties of the semiconductor Germanium, which is widely used in electronics such as cell phones. The second presentation, “Dielectric function of NiO and Si from 25 meV to 6 eV: What’s the difference?”, discusses how full-zoned band structure can be used to explain the small absorption peaks detected by a second derivative analysis of the NiO spectrum conducted by spectroscopic ellipsometry.

For Ayana, this experience was one of the best so far from both an academic perspective and a career perspective. She thoroughly enjoyed her time in the picturesque Rocky Mountains and looks forward to presenting her research at another APS conference in the future.


International Business and East Asian Culture – Fatima Qureshi, Honors Business Major, Japan and Taiwan

Fatima QureshiOur first day was packed with tours and site-seeing. We received a rundown of the entire Taiwan experience as well as pointers and tips. We took a tour of the National Palace Museum and also went to the Taipei 101 Observatory. Both places were absolutely stunning and the information we received was fantastic. In Taipei, we were using public transportation or our feet. Even after going to only two or three places we were exhausted. In the days that followed, we attended several lectures on the Taiwanese economy and the booming business sector in Taiwan at the National Taipei Public University. We also visited the Tarako Gorge and the Tarako National Park in eastern Taiwan. At the park, I and three other participants climbed a hundred stairs to get to a temple in the mountains. It was breathtaking. On the last day of our trip, we went to visit the Bunun Tribe and the Kuanfu sugar plant. The day we headed back to Taipei, we were exhausted from three days of nonstop adventures.

Being a business student, I observed the marketing strategies all around me. The advertising was nothing like I had seen before. What I noticed was the use of bright colors in most of the advertisements, the cartoon-like mascots for practically everything (especially electronics), and their emphasis on the youth as spokespeople for some items. Because Taiwan is a leader in technology innovation and production, I saw a large variety of computers, cell phones, PDAs, etc. One unique aspect was the amount of customization available.Fatima Jumping

The next day, we were off to the airport to fly to Osaka, Japan. Here, we were staying in Hikone where the Japanese Center for Michigan Universities (JCMU) is located. We attended a Survival Japanese class where each one of us was called on to answer a Japanese question in Japanese; the experience was full of laughs and embarrassment. The next day, we went on a day trip to Kyoto. We visited Nijojo and the United Nations World Heritage Site and we went to Kinkakuji. That night, we went to Gion Corner where we saw geishas and I was part of a tea ceremony, which was very cool. We were also part of the JCMU 20th Anniversary celebration where we met a lot of students and were exposed to many different cultural things. We also took a day trip to Nagoya where we took a tour of a Toyota plant. On our last day, we visited Hikone castle and attended a lecture on Japanese culture and history.

I am amazed at the experiences I had, the people I met, and the things I took back. Truly a lifetime experience.