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 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?
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!”
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!”
Ms. 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.”
Dr. 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.”
Paula has been involved with the Honors Program long before she began teaching part time at UM-Flint in 1992. She was an Honors student herself in the early years of the program beginning in 1983. Her cohort was only 18 students, in contrast to the over 70 students in today’s freshmen cohort. Paula began teaching full time at UM-Flint in 1995. She received her B.A. from UM-Flint, her M.A. from Michigan State University, and her J.D. from Wayne State University.
When looking back at her personal experience, Paula said, “The Honors Program gave me my first opportunity to travel abroad, to appreciate other cultures, and to see the world. It gave me a well-rounded education.” Writing her Honors thesis helped teach her research methods. “It’s what made me want to go to grad school.” Paula went to Brussels and Germany for her Off-campus study project where she studied the migration of labor in European countries.
As an Honors Alum, it was a natural progression for Paula to start working with Honors students as an Honors Representative/Mentor, and as an Honors Council member. Her work with Honors students involves reading Economics student theses, advising students on their Off-campus study proposals, as well as some cross-disciplinary advising when students need economics data for papers, theses, or reports.
Where she enjoys working with Honors students the most is at World Fest. Paula is the Director for the Department of Economics’ Center for Economic Education, which hosts the annual event where upwards of 400 4th and 5th grade students come together to research topics such as economics, geography, culture, and political systems that they relate to a nation they choose. Paula recruits Honors students to supervise groups of children at the event. The Honors Students are able to bank needed service time, and Paula gets reliable ambassadors for the university to help her with the event. It’s a win-win.
Paula said, “The Honors students have always been a tight group who keep in touch even years after graduating from UM-Flint.” She still keeps in touch with a few of her Honors cohort. She looks forward to continuing her work with the Honors Program.
Dr. Jordan said, “I feel that being in the University of Michigan-Flint Honors Program exposed me to wonderful professors who helped me to expand my thinking and my goals. The program also exposed me to research and world-renowned researchers.” She is currently an Early Childhood Consultant and a Lecturer 1, teaching EDE & ECE classes at the University of Michigan-Flint. She also teaches ECE class for Mott Community College. Dr. Jordan consults for Great Start Readiness Programs in Michigan and for the National Association for the Education of Young Children in the Midwestern states. She attended Michigan State University where she obtained a Masters Degree in Child Development and Ph. D. in Family and Child Ecology. In the future, she intends to continue working with programs to help them raise the level of quality offered by assessment, coaching the staff, and providing professional development as needed. She would also like to extend her work internationally. Dr. Jordan’s advice to future Honors students: “I found the program demanding and hard work, but if you immerse yourself in the tasks it is an unparalleled learning experience that gives a great foundation for the future. A side benefit to the whole experience is that I was able to share what I learned with my children as they navigated the college path.”
Rachel said, “The Honors Program provided an advantage over other graduates. While colleges were pumping out programmers back then, it was unusual to have a graduate with the background that the Honors Program offered. The experience of writing a thesis and doing the off-campus research made my resume stand out among the rest. It allowed me to research and learn the latest technology that was not yet offered in the Computer Science curriculum.” Rachel currently lives in Grand Blanc, Michigan with her husband and two children. She works for a small automotive service engineering company in Lake Orion as a senior software engineer. The company develops hardware and software used to diagnose and reprogram modules on vehicles (cars, trucks, semi trucks, motorcycles, etc.). She was the engineering manager for a time, but decided she would rather “do than manage those who do.” “We get to do some pretty neat things for the automotive industry, like work with Harley-Davidson motorcycles.” Rachel’s has work has allowed her to travel all over the US (Pennsylvania, Missouri, California, Nevada, etc.) and internationally (Germany, Japan, etc.). Rachel was hoping to retire by age 35, but didn’t make it. She would be happy to stay with her current company until retirement, as she watches her children grow. Rachel’s advice for future Honors students: “Do your work with integrity, don’t cheat. You won’t get away with it… at least not long term. Be a good person, even when people aren’t watching. Don’t go into a company and act like you know everything, because you don’t. There will always be people who know more than you do. In the software development field, we want to know that you are trainable. Each company does things a little differently and it’s your job to learn the established processes and products at your company and do the job for which you were hired. When you have some experience at that company, look for ways to improve current processes. We’re not just looking for good programmers. We look for someone who has experience with design, writing proposals and design documents and validation. We also look for someone with good communication skills (oral and written), someone we can put in front of a customer that exhibits professionalism, someone who is a team player with a small ego, and someone who works with honesty and integrity. Consider the feelings of others before you open your mouth. Be careful what you put on social networking sites because potential employers may be looking too.”
Vanessa said, “My off-campus study period led me to where I am working now with Michigan Government Television. In addition, it opened up research opportunities, which I was able to build on in graduate school and beyond.” She is currently a communications instructor at Mott Community College and writing for Michigan Government Television (Michigan’s version of C-SPAN). She also does consulting work with nonprofits and political candidates in Genesee, Oakland, and Lapeer Counties. Vanessa serves on several nonprofit boards and she and her husband have been coordinating the entire fundraising and planning efforts to build a $103,000 dog park at Creasey Bicentennial Park in Grand Blanc, MI. No public dollars are being used for the park. Vanessa received a Master’s in Communication from Michigan State University and a second Master’s in Public Administration from Eastern Michigan University. In the future, she plans to continue to expand her consulting work and expand her teaching beyond the college environment to train business professionals for public speaking and other communication skills. Vanessa’s advice to future Honors students: “Take advantage of everything that is available to you through the program. Recognize that the connections you make in your off-campus study period can be great networking opportunities for your future studies and/or career. Realize that you don’t always have to go overseas to have a fulfilling experience. In addition, the intense coursework in the core classes prepared me for my studies at one of the top graduate programs in my field. I saw other students from universities across the country struggle to keep up at this level and I felt confident and prepared to be successful because of the foundation I had from my time in the Honors Program. Plus, looking back over my college years these were some of my favorite courses during my time at the University of Michigan-Flint.”
Class of 1994: BS, Biology
Center for RNA Molecular Biology
Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland, OH
Dr. Coller said, “The Honors Program at UM-Flint was a quintessential experience in my life both personally and professionally. 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. Second, the overseas experience 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.” He is currently an Assistant Professor in the Center for RNA Molecular Biology at Case Western Reserve University. He is a principle investigator of a federally funded research lab that focuses its research on understanding fundamental aspects of cellular function. His lab is comprised of 10 people, graduate students, and research technicians alike. Dr. Coller received his Ph.D. in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. He was then a Post-doctoral Fellow in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the University of Arizona -Tucson. In the future, he plans to continue to develop his lab’s research program doing the science that he loves. His advice to 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.”