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.


Dr. Quamrul Mazumder – Associate Professor and Program Director of Mechanical Engineering

mazumder1Dr. Mazumder received his Bachelor of Science in Engineering from Bangladesh Agricultural University, his M.S. from South Dakota State University, his MBA from Oklahoma State University, and his Ph.D. from The University of Tulsa. “I have worked in aerospace industries such as Honeywell and NASA for 18 years prior to my academic career.”

When asked how he got involved with the Honors Program, he said, “My interaction with Honors Program director and students started since my arrival at UM-Flint. My teaching philosophies align closely with the Honors Program as I am passionate about student success by integrating them in the learning process.” Dr. Mazumder uses “metacognition and experiential learning methodologies” to motivate students to become better learners. He also advises Honors engineering students to “develop a seamless plan of study by balancing engineering and the Honors Program courses.”

Teaching 15 Engineering courses over the past seven years, at UM-Flint, Dr. Mazumder has developed, or redeveloped, most of those to create a better learning environment for his students. Two of the courses he teachers are General Education courses: one in technology and the other in Social Science. He is constantly thinking of ways to immerse students in the concepts of Engineering.

mazumder2Dr. Mazumder enjoys working on projects involving “breakthrough technologies such as computational fluid dynamics analysis to analyze the pressure drops in arteries. Students are encouraged to brainstorm and develop open ended approaches towards solution through extensive literature survey. Students also develop strategies, cost, and project schedules for implementation of the project. In most cases, experimental validation of the simulation or model is done for the study.”

Having written or co-authored up to 54 publications, twenty years of experience in the engineering industry, and teaching since 2006, Dr. Mazumder is a great resource for our Honors students. He is continuously attempting to recruit more students to work on research projects, and his passion for teaching and for his students is undeniable. “My inspiration in teaching is to contribute to the greater benefit to society and mankind. This can be achieved by helping students become successful and motivate them to contribute towards positive change to the world.” He has been known to say, “Engineering isn’t hard. Send them to me: I will show them it is easy.”


Physical and Analytical Chemistry in Germany – Alexander Khobeir, Honors Biochem/Molecular Bio & Biotech Major

khobeir1“One saying I learned that I will never forget is ‘traveling is not for the rich but for the bold.’ As I live here in the United States, I will live what I learned; I will teach what I learned; and most importantly, I will share what I learned.”

Alexander spent nearly a year searching for an off-campus study location at universities around the world, but had no luck. Just as he was about to give up and stay at UM-Flint, Dr. Thum approached him with an amazing opportunity. “How would you like to go to Germany for the summer?” His answer was an immediate “Yes!”

For over two months, Alexander worked in Dr. Thorsten Benter’s Physical and Analytical Chemistry Laboratory at Bergische Universitat Wuppertal in Wuppertal, Germany. During this trip, he had his first experience with culture shock. “Although I knew conversational German, it was not on the level of native fluency. The first day there I was physically and mentally exhausted! Everything around me looked like America, but it was not America!”

The first day in the lab was nothing like Alexander or his lab partner, another Honors student, had expected. They had both taken a class on proper German etiquette before leaving, but it failed to take into account the unique personality of their professor. When they politely addressed him as “Professor Dr. Benter,” he laughed and said, “Who is that? I am Thorsten!” Having been exposed to the casual style of the University of California, Irvine, he preferred it over the formality of Germany.

khobeir2Dr. Benter and his research group made Alexander’s experience unforgettable. He noticed that people loved working for Dr. Benter and that everyone functioned as one cohesive unit. His assigned project was based on physical and analytical chemistry, two courses that Alexander had yet to take. He and his partner spent the first week taking a crash course in chemistry, reading scientific papers and asking questions. “Professor Benter sat with us the entire week and explained everything at the most basic level and worked his way up. I learned more in that week than I would in one semester of chemistry classes.” Alexander was assigned to Professor Hendrick Kersten’s project to develop, test, and calibrate an analytical and sensitive method to detect explosives, narcotics, etc. in the air, which would then be integrated into a product to be used in airports, schools, and medical offices around the world. His specific task was to test various chemicals and create calibration curves for each chemical. Although Alexander plans to attend medical school, what he learned can also be used in medical biotechnology. “I was in love with the whole process and task. In fact, I loved it so much that the professor noticed and asked me to stay longer.”

Studying and research were not the only things he did during his stay. He traveled to over 20 cities in Germany along with Paris, Rome, Vatican City, Amsterdam, and Belgium. “Rome was the most beautiful city I have ever seen. The history you experience as you walk up and down a block is astounding!”

Alexander has received a job offer from Dr. Benter for next summer and looks forward to working in his lab again.


Honors has moved!

newhonorsuite1Thanks to a wonderful partnership between the Honors Program and the Thompson Library, Honors now has a new home!

The new suite consists of a reception area, manned by our wonderful assistant, Miyako Jones, two offices, a workroom/storage room, and a conference room. We are located inside the Library on the first floor, just left of the stairs and elevator.

There is still a lot of work to do, boxes to be put away, pictures to hang, and furniture to move in, but we are excited to have this new home to call our own.

A big thank you to Bob Houbeck, Becky Waller, the folks in Technical Services who had to put up with our dust, as well as the rest of the librarians and staff. We newhonorsuite2truly appreciate the sacrifices, time, energy, and funding that went into this project.

We would especially like to thank Dan Sherman. Dan is a wonderful person to work with, and made this project painless and fast. We’ve even had some laughs along the way. Thank you Dan, and facilities, for all you do.

Once we are all setup, we hope to host on open house. In the meantime, feel free to stop by and say hello!


Three Win Maize and Blue

Three Honors Students won the Maize and Blue Distinguished Scholar Award this fall, which is the highest academic award available to graduating seniors. Kayla Cornell will receive a B.A. in Communication, Salaam Tarakji will receive a B.S. in the Mathematics Teacher’s Certificate Program and a B.A. in Psychology; and Miri Weidner will receive a B.S. in Health Care Administration.

Within the next five years, Kayla would like to begin working in marketing for higher education somewhere on the east coast while beauty blogging on the side; Salaam plans to obtain a master’s degree in Educational Administration and become part of positive movements to help revitalize Flint; and Miri hopes to continue her education and make progress in her chosen career.

When asked about their time in Honors, all the winners agree that the program has helped equip them with the skills necessary to succeed in life. Kayla believes that she greatly benefited from being pushed beyond her comfort zone in writing while in the program. Salaam is grateful for her trip to the Netherlands, which she believes would not have been possible without her participation in the program. Miri feels thankful that Dr. Thum helped her discover her hidden potential in areas she would not have considered prior to joining the program.

Congratulations to our December 2013 Maize and Blue winners and good luck with all your future endeavors!


Rhonda Stowers, J.D.: Class of 1998

rstowersMs. Rhonda Stowers is currently an associate attorney in the Flint office of Plunkett Cooney. The former Maize and Blue Scholar received her Juris Doctorate from the University of Michigan Law School in 2001 and strongly believes that she would not be where she is today without the Honors Program. “It’s not easy to get into the University of Michigan Law School, which is where I wanted to be. I think the Honors Program assisted greatly in that regard.”

Her Off-Campus Study took place in Tempe, Arizona where she gathered data from circuit court files to assist Arizona State University Psychology professor Dr. Sanford L. Braver in his research concerning divorce. She later reviewed the manuscript of his book. Divorced Dads: Shattering the Myths, and offered suggestions for revisions.

Ms. Stowers focuses her practice in the areas of general litigation, municipal law, and title insurance law. She has defended numerous municipalities on a wide range of topics, including the Freedom of Information Act, Open Meetings Act, federal and state constitutions, civil rights, zoning charter amendments and revisions, ordinance drafting, employment-related issues, and use of excessive force and has also handled numerous misdemeanor prosecutions. Ms. Stowers also represents homeowners, lenders and mortgagors in real estate litigation, focusing on title claim related issues such as vesting title-clearing and access issues, as well as boundary disputes. In addition to practicing law, she has also taught classes on search warrants and civil litigation for the Law Enforcement Officers Regional Training Council.

For several months of the year, she works for three to four hours as a volunteer in the Legal Services of Eastern Michigan’s legal aid clinic where she meets with individuals in the Flint community who have met the organization’s financial hardship criteria. She assists them with a variety of legal issues including driver’s license restoration, guardianships, adoptions, estates, landlord/tenant disputes, lawsuits, and contracts. Her work was recently acknowledged by Legal Services of Eastern Michigan, who named her the 2013 Pro Bono Attorney of the Year.

She loves what she’s doing now, and plans to continue working at Plunkett Cooney and raising her three boys. Once the boys are older, she may spread out a bit more professionally. Ms. Stower’s advice for current and future Honors students: “Make the most of every opportunity. It’s never too late. Find a good mentor and surround yourself with positive role models.”


Jeffery M. Coller, Ph.D.: Class of 1994

JDr. Jeffery Coller is currently an Assistant Professor in the Center for RNA Molecular Biology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. He received his Ph.D. in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2000 and was a Post-doctoral Fellow in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the University of Arizona-Tucson from 2000-2005. “The Honors Program at UM-Flint was a quintessential experience in my life both personally and professionally,” Dr. Coller asserts. “Personally, I met many brilliant people, some of whom I’m still friends with to this day. In fact, my best friend at that time is still my best friend today and we keep in touch constantly. The Program helped me meet people that inspired me to reach my career goals. It was like a geeky support group.”

His interest in RNA took root from his off-campus study project, which he conducted on group I introns in Dr. Britt-Marie Sjöberg’s lab at Stockholm University in Sweden. He believes that his experience overseas was professionally critical. “It opened my eyes to a big world of culture and opportunity. In fact, I can honestly say to this day that I would simply not be in the position I am in without the overseas experience.”

Dr. Coller is a principal investigator of a federally funded research lab comprised of 10 people, undergraduate and graduate students and research technicians alike. His work focuses on understanding fundamental aspects of cellular function, specifically the decay of messenger RNA.

In the future, he plans to continue to develop his lab’s research program and do the science that he loves. His advice to current and future Honors students: “Take advantage of your opportunity in this program. Dare to take a risk and do something you never thought you could do. It is a rare and golden opportunity to test your abilities. Also, make friends. The people you are surrounded by will one day be the leaders of our society. You can learn much from each other.”