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Feature Stories

The Kettle

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Chancellor Carrell smiles in front of the steps at One Discovery Square

Dear Alumni

In this season full of challenges, I have been wisely advised to build resilience in part by looking for “pops of joy” – infusions of energy that emanate spontaneously from real life. Often, these bursts come from nature – like the beautiful fall colors all around us as this first edition of The Kettle arrives in your mailbox. The advice goes further: once we notice what surprises us with delight or wonder, we can enrich our lives by paying closer attention to those kinds of things. 

For me, the stories of University of Minnesota Rochester alumni provide an endless repository of such joyful bursts! Each time I hear a bit of news about a UMR grad’s medical school acceptance, strong voice for racial justice, COVID-19 research, passion to provide exceptional health care or recollection of a beloved professor, I am uplifted. I know the same is true for faculty and staff who walked with you through your UMR learning journeys and for all those community supporters who have invested in the launch of this campus. We’ve collected a few of those stories in this first UMR alumni magazine, and it is my wish that what you find in these pages will also inspire and strengthen each of you in this historic period that calls us to persevere.

You may be wondering what has been happening at your alma mater and what you can expect in the future. 

First, a few fall 2020 updates...

Public Health
We Raptors have launched #ProtectTheNest, a campus public health campaign. I’m proud of the care for self and others that UMR students are showing. They are amazing young people!

Fall Instruction
Professors are teaching with a variety of modalities to support the implementation of public health mandates including physical distancing in classrooms. Several professors have undertaken creative endeavors designed to sustain students’ sense of belonging through virtual communities.

Enrollment Increase
UMR’s student body continues to grow, with fall 2020 bringing more than 900 students enrolled in undergraduate and partnership-graduate-professional programs.

Democracy Education
The fall 2020 semester is unfolding in the unique context of a presidential election. UMR is participating in the national All In Democracy Challenge.

Anti-Racist Education
Fall 2020 also provides the opportunity for our campus to take further action to dismantle systemic racism. With equity in educational attainment among our diverse student body as documented in the Washington Post, Hechinger Report, and the Chronicle of Higher Education, our commitment to all students continues. Students, staff and faculty are engaged in a campus community reading and discussion of Kendi’s How to be an Antiracist (2019).

Book Release
UMR’s founding chancellor, Stephen Lehmkuhle has just released his new book, Campus with Purpose (2020), which tells the story of his leadership to launch UMR as a different kind of campus.

What else is new or anticipated at UMR?

New Facilities
Last fall, we moved into One Discovery Square, with an incredible lab, active learning classrooms and lots of space to study. Here, UMR students mingle with employees from Epic, WuXi, Boston Scientific and Mayo Diagnostics. We’ll be getting creative about additional space as we continue to pursue a facilities model that is as cost efficient as possible to ensure we stay focused on our core purpose – the learning and development of our students.

Learning from Disruption
While we don’t yet know how the current societal shifts will impact higher education, we intend to be leaders in the next era of innovation. We’re imagining a higher-tech environment that retains the high-touch, close relationships that you prize.

Increasing Scholarship Dollars and Health Care Industry Connection
As this young campus moves into its second decade, we are seeking new ways to generate student support. Our “Invest in Success” model invites corporate partnerships that include not only dollars, but clear paths into employment.

“BluffTop View” Strategic Plan
Our comprehensive plan for this decade anticipates enrollment growth in three phases: Bold (1000); Bolder (1500); and Boldest (2500), with the aim to ensure that quality drives quantity.

Expanded Career Pathways
We’re expanding opportunities for BSHS students to pursue careers not only in 1) patient care and 2) health care research and discovery, but also 3) resilience, well-being and mental health; 4) global health and public policy; 5) the business and leadership of health care; and 6) emerging health technologies. Visit to learn more about these pathways and see a few familiar faces.

The future draws us forward, but for now, thank you for following your passions, caring for self and others and persevering through this historic period. 

On behalf of the UMR community and all those uplifted by news of your lives and work,

Chancellor Signature

Chancellor Carrell

University of Minnesota alum Mohamed Yusef smiles in front of downtown Rochester, Minnesota

Growth & Fulfillment

Written By: Kimberly Friedline

Mohamed Yusuf can’t picture himself in any other career than as a Respiratory Therapist. 2020 has been a year unlike any other, and Respiratory Therapists have found themselves in the center of COVID-19. “COVID-19 is a novel disease, meaning that health care providers are learning as we go,” Mohamed explains. “Patients with the virus have respiratory symptoms and develop different conditions that vary in severity. We, as Respiratory Therapists, provide different modalities and therapies to help treat each patient. It’s definitely an individualized approach. Sometimes it’s as small as giving breathing treatments or oxygen therapy, or as invasive as life support: mechanical ventilation, ECMO, etc.”

Mohamed’s journey to this, at times intense, career started thousands of miles away. “I was born in Sanaa, Yemen. My parents immigrated there from Somalia during the civil war and then had a stroke of luck by winning the Visa Lottery giving us the opportunity to move to the United States. Here, we’ve been able to pursue a future worthwhile not just for my parents, but for my brother and me. For that, I thank them eternally.” Eventually, the Yusuf family landed in Rochester, Minnesota where they have now been for more than 20 years.

After graduating from John Marshall High School in Rochester, Mohamed decided to pursue further education at Rochester Community and Technical College. He graduated with an Associate’s Degree in Health Sciences and transferred to the University of Minnesota Rochester’s Bachelor of Science in Health Professions Respiratory Therapy program. “My older brother, Abdullahi, was part of UMR’s historic first class. I was familiar with the University through him. Friends and family members helped me to become familiar with the Respiratory Therapy program.” Watching his brother’s success at UMR made Mohamed confident it was the right fit for him as well. “UMR collaborates with Mayo Clinic School of Health Sciences in a hands-on approach. That experience, along with UMR’s faculty, shaped me into the health care provider I am today.” 

While his educational experience at UMR prepared him for his career, one memory really stands out to Mohamed, one that shaped his focus to become a great Respiratory Therapist. “I was on an observational shift with a practicing Respiratory Therapist, Mindy Eickhoff, in the Emergency Department on a busy day. That experience alone cemented my desire to be like my wonderful preceptor. She was calm under pressure, very approachable, respected among her peers and sought after for advice in the decision-making process of taking care of a critically ill patient. She became my student lead, and was hired on as faculty. I now work side-by-side with her. It’s an honor to call her a coworker and friend.”

The camaraderie that he and his coworkers have developed is something that has buoyed him through the tough parts of this career. “The absolute hardest thing is the exposure to death. In the hospital from the outside looking in, we tend to think that people go to the hospital to heal. But it’s really hard to prepare for the sadness and learning how to cope when patients die. It’s very human to react and grieve with family members or colleagues after a difficult resuscitation or code. It’s really helpful to debrief, and Mayo Clinic has an amazing program to provide support when needed.”

In spite of the hard parts of his career, Mohamed can’t imagine himself doing anything else. 
“The best thing above all else is 
the gratification of helping patients both young and old, and seeing them do well with the therapies you provided. I love dealing with patients of all ages, from little two-month old kiddos that come in 
with bronchiolitis or asthma, to a very sick 70 year old smoker with an onslaught of different 
respiratory conditions.” 

These constant changes and challenges feed Mohamed’s love of learning and growing as a practitioner. “This career is never the same two days in a row. Working in the Trauma ICU and the Emergency never know what kind of case is going to come in. It’s like a puzzle; you only get bits and pieces of the entire picture. As a Respiratory Therapist, my job is to put it together quickly and treat the patient’s needs.”

Mohamed’s commitment to excellence in patient care was recognized in a big way by Mayo Clinic in January 2020, when he was given the prestigious Karis Award. “The Karis Award is presented by the Mayo Clinic Values Council to formally recognize persons who live out the Mayo Clinic Values in an extraordinary way,” he says. “I was nominated by three physicians along with others that I work with in the Emergency Department. It is the biggest accomplishment in my professional career. I was nominated and selected by the council just four years into my career and it still feels surreal to me.”

Where can Mohamed be found in 10 years? “Definitely still at the bedside,” he muses. “I appreciate helping patients, and I don’t see doing anything else for the 
time being.” 

University of Minnesota Rochester alum Brady Zell smiles in the One Discovery Square lab

Happy Little Accidents

Written By: Kimberly Friedline

How a troubling diagnosis launched a career in research

Brady Zell’s journey from a small town in South Dakota to a career that “feels like science fiction” pursuing his Ph.D. in Virology and Gene Therapy at Mayo Clinic wasn’t a straight path. Instead, he describes it as a series of “happy little accidents.”

Growing up in a small town outside of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, his father worked as a pharmaceutical sales representative and introduced Brady to the world of medicine.  His interests grew as he showed an aptitude for biology and anatomy in high school. With encouragement from his mother to pursue a medical career, Brady’s empathetic and caring nature seemed to point him to a career in nursing, but along came trouble. Cardiac trouble, to be exact, for his father. 

Brady’s father’s new diagnosis led the family to make several trips to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. After an ablation procedure and having a pacemaker placed, his father is doing well and continues to thrive. What started out as a scary time for Brady and his family interestingly led to his exposure to research. Prior to accompanying his parents to Rochester, Brady says he “had no clue” about research as a career option.

On a whim, he asked his father’s electrophysiologist if he had any learning opportunities that he could be involved in which led to the first happy little accident, a part-time internship. This experience opened his eyes to a future that he had never considered before. “We did really cool work with animal hearts and mapping electrical pathways for potential therapy which stimulated my interest in research.”

While in Rochester, Brady and his family also learned about the University of Minnesota Rochester. He was immediately hooked. “I fell in love with the small class sizes, integrated topics between courses, engaging and caring faculty, and of course, its close proximity to Mayo Clinic for additional learning opportunities.” Brady began his career at UMR in the fall of 2014 and instantly leaned into the vast array of program opportunities and Mayo Clinic collaborations.  

For Brady, the “happy little accidents” weren’t confined to academics. While in his second year at UMR, he struck up a friendship with a fellow student named Cassie. “The first time we really recall interacting was during a group project, a debate for our ethics class. Our team won the debate and coincidentally, we won each other over. We spent countless hours studying together for courses like anatomy and physiology and chemistry. And boy, did we have chemistry... We spent our UMR careers together from our second year on and were engaged the fall of our senior year.” 

University of Minnesota alums Brady and Cassie Zell smile in commencement robes while holding their diplomas

One happy little accident led to another. “I joined a peer-run directed study research group under the advisory of Dr. Andrew Petzold and Dr. Robert Dunbar at UMR where we studied learning models with zebrafish. This experience was fantastic because they taught us to think critically both independently and as a group to solve issues that arose with our experiments.” 

Here, Brady also experienced what he calls one of the most invaluable aspects of the program at UMR: mentorship and time spent with faculty. Offering guidance, encouragement, and a genuine care for their students, he believes that the faculty, the framework of the program, and the collaboration with Mayo Clinic together puts students in the position to succeed. The student-led group focused on giving students the opportunity to launch into research work and is overseen by faculty to give the students advice and personal mentorship. Through this group, he and the other students learned how to interact in research settings, form hypotheses and pursue them, with faculty available to offer guidance every step of the way.

From the research group, Brady heard about Mayo Clinic’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship. Brady was accepted into Dr. Michael Barry’s lab in the Department of Molecular Medicine, where (happy accident!) he was first introduced to virology and gene therapy. As a lab, they explored cancer virotherapy work using the Adenovirus, which is one of the early “pioneers” in the gene therapy field. He credits this experience with sparking his interest in virology and gene therapy as a career. Not only was the experience formative in terms of learning opportunities, it also led to Brady applying to the Virology and Gene Therapy (VGT) program, within the Department of Molecular Medicine. 

Admission into the VGT program was a competitive process, with only three available slots and many applicants. However, with his mentors’ support and guidance, Brady was accepted into the program. “I had interest in oncolytic virotherapy (using viruses to treat cancer), as that is one of the primary focuses of the department, but I eventually rotated with Dr. Hideki Ebihara and knew that this was my home. While nearly all of the labs in our department are doing cancer therapy or gene therapy, Dr. Ebihara’s lab is different in that it is pursuing basic virology science. We integrate this knowledge and still have interplay with the gene therapy work in terms of developing treatments.”

"It was absolutely wild to utilize these things that nature and evolution created, for treating people and saving lives.”

For Brady, his research focus as a graduate student has the perfect combination of amazing technology and clinical focus that gives hope for future treatments. “We can genetically manipulate viruses to make them safe enough to put into people, and direct them to treat genetic diseases and cancer. I thought it was absolutely wild to utilize these things that nature and evolution created, for treating people and saving lives.” 

Things in the world of viruses have gotten increasingly interesting over the last few years. With high-profile, dangerous viruses like Ebola and SARS-CoV2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) gaining worldwide notice, the need for virology and gene therapy research is greater than ever. As a team, Dr. Ebihara’s lab is working to understand and develop tools to help combat these types of dangerous viruses. Together, they are doing this through creating virus life-cycle modeling systems that will allow researchers to learn more about the virus, and lay the groundwork for other labs and clinicians at Mayo Clinic to come in to test the translational medicine side. “I love this career because it feels like science fiction. Every day, I learn more about therapies that sound like something ridiculous you see at the movies. We develop these biological technologies and methods that would barely be imagined 20 years ago, and we can do it casually in 
an afternoon.”

This career pathway is a far cry from the work Brady did in the cornfields as a teenager back in South Dakota, but it keeps driving him intellectually. “Somewhere along my life’s timeline I must have developed this appetite for knowledge that I never really realized I had. I can spend significant amounts of time reading about viruses that have developed these really cool features, and we begin to think about how we can study them and undermine their danger.”

While the research and technology are on the cutting edge of science and medicine, the life of a researcher is a roller coaster of both amazing highs and deep lows. “The hardest part about this job is that there is a tremendous amount of failure and uncertainty. For every successful experiment it feels like there are 10 that fail. I forgot to account for something, miscalculated, made a technical error, or the experiment did not turn out.” It’s a career that requires grit, determination and the internal fortitude to push through, in spite of the failures and uncertainties. While no one can ever be prepared for dealing with failure, Brady is grateful for the mentorship from Dr. Petzold and Dr. Dunbar at UMR that helped prepare him for the ups and downs of a career in research, as well as the mentorship he has received at Mayo Clinic under Dr. Barry and Dr. Ebihara. 

Outside the walls of the lab, Cassie is his ever-present support and encouragement. “She has been essential in helping me push through adversity in my studies and, maybe more importantly, given me a reason to not live in the lab, and come home instead.” After receiving her own degree from UMR, Cassie has been working for UMR as an admissions representative for the BSHP program. She has just recently also begun pursuing a master’s degree in Health and Wellness through the U of M Twin Cities. While Brady continues to work toward his Ph.D., he’s hesitant to look too far into what the future holds. “I am still so early in my career in science. I still feel like a toddler learning how to walk in the field. My current experiences, and especially in the light of the pandemic, have been leaning me towards interest in the research of emerging threats, viral and otherwise.” We can’t wait to see where the series of happy little accidents leads him next. 

University of Minnesota Rochester donor Jim Clausen smiles outside of campus

Paying it Forward

Written By: Mamisoa Knutson

Without an anonymous scholarship he received in high school, Jim Clausen would not have been able to attend college.

Originally from Owatonna, Minnesota, Jim was able to leave and attend college at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities because of a generous donation. College tuition at the time of his start was $400 annually, but growing up in a poor family and despite working multiple jobs, the cost was still too high for him to be able to attend. His life changed when the Owatonna Foundation contacted him about an anonymous source who wanted to fund his education with a scholarship for tuition and books. He gladly accepted. Strong grades would allow Jim to keep the scholarship for all four years.  

When Jim graduated from college, he began a 32-year career at IBM, advancing to management positions in his tenure. When he retired, he was inspired to help college students fund their education.

“Somebody paid it forward to me and I want to give back,” says Jim. And he’s been able to give back in multiple ways. At University of Minnesota Rochester, Jim funds two scholarships: the Jim and Sue Clausen UMR Scholarship and the Jim and Sue Clausen Health Care Scholarship. Jim also gives to the University of Minnesota Twin Cities College of Science and Engineering, a program he is passionate about because it prepared him for his career at IBM.

As a retiree since 1997, Jim is heavily involved in volunteering at UMR and within the Rochester community. When UMR was first established, Jim was hired on contract to help put together an early development program. He’s served as the President of the Greater Rochester Advocates for Universities and Colleges (GRAUC) in the late 1990s/early 2000s and is a member of UMR’s Volunteer Campaign Committee which advises Chancellor Carrell and Marco Lanz, Director of Development and Alumni Relationships on development-related matters. 

“I am extremely grateful for Jim and his dedication and passion to the innovative work that UMR is doing,” says Chancellor Carrell. “Without donors like Jim, access to quality health care education would be more challenging for our students. We continually work towards removing barriers, and scholarship funds are extremely helpful in achieving this.”

Jim understands the important work that UMR is doing for the Rochester community and has a desire to see UMR succeed. “Chancellor Carrell is doing a good job of setting the direction for UMR and encouraging scholarships for the health sciences,” he says. “Donors are interested in seeing students succeed, especially in health sciences in a community like Rochester.” 

Jim and his wife Sue are excited to continue to provide scholarships for UMR students with the hope that the students, like he has been able to, can one day pay it forward.

University of Minnesota Rochester professor Robert Dunbar smiles outside of campus

The Spirit of Innovation Still Reigns

Written By: Holly Galbus

As a member of the first cohort of faculty at the University of Minnesota Rochester, Robert Dunbar, Associate Professor of biology and psychology was integral to many of the decisions in the formation of the Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences program at the University. Well before the very first students arrived at the UMR campus in the fall of 2009, Dunbar collaborated with fellow faculty members Molly Dingel and Rajeev Muthyala in the creation of the interdisciplinary health sciences curricula and in building the administrative infrastructure.

He recalls of those early days, “It was very exciting to start from scratch, to put all the pieces together.” He added that it felt “natural and good” to work with neuroscientists, chemists and mathematicians in the building of the University, and to be a part of the myriad decisions that went into the creation 
of UMR.

Dunbar is a 2016-17 recipient of the Horace T. Morse University of Minnesota Alumni Association Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and history from Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, a master’s from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa and a doctorate in neuroscience from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities.
It was while doing post-doctorate work in 

North Carolina when he and his wife Karen made the decision to move to the Midwest to be closer to family. They moved to Iowa, and Dunbar began teaching biology at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake. Years later, in conversations with an art teacher at that university, he identified the difficulty in helping students of science think creatively, and, conversely, art students to think scientifically about the materials they were using. These conversations were the genesis of a new type of course the professors co-taught, a course that melded biology and art. This was a unique venture at this university and one that furthered Dunbar’s burgeoning desire to “teach a bit differently.” He realized this collaborative method of teaching across disciplines was the kind of work he wanted to do.

Soon after, he had a career-changing conversation with a friend who told him about a “new university that was being considered for downtown Rochester — one with an integrated and interdisciplinary design focus.” Dunbar was intrigued. Even though he was in his tenure year at Buena Vista, he applied for and accepted the position at UMR, a position that combined teaching, research and service.

The move to UMR was a good decision; he clearly loves his work.
“I really love to teach students in this creative and integrative environment. We explore exciting ideas conversationally, and I get 
to do this against the backdrop 
of research.”

Dunbar conducts research which studies the psychosocial underpinnings of student success.

With the 2020 fall semester, Dunbar began his 11th year at UMR. With growth in both enrollment and programmatic offerings, there have been substantial changes at UMR.

“The changes are considerable,” he says of UMR’s evolution. “But we haven’t lost the soul, the spirit.” He describes the campus’ formative years as an optimistic, wonderfully creative time when professors worked together as a group across disciplines. Over time, that has changed somewhat. With growth came adaptations to the programs to meet individual student needs.

“Some of that initial structure has faded, but the spirit is still there,” he says.

Dunbar’s role has changed too, most notably in the shift in his teaching load. In his first years at UMR, he taught an introductory biology course, anatomy and physiology. He now teaches courses in neuroscience and psychology.

What hasn’t changed is Dunbar’s commitment and dedication to UMR students. He regularly receives emails from former students who tell him of the impact he made in their lives. His research into the psychosocial underpinnings of student success is also ongoing. For him, while course content is certainly important, it’s a relatively smaller factor in his role as teacher. What’s key is building relationships with students in order to help them understand the value of content as it relates to their lives and the world at large. The teaching methods he employs gives students ample opportunities to talk with students and faculty members in other disciplines, allowing them to make associations which further enhance memory and learning.

This fall, as students return to their coursework, the world looks a little different, and students are adjusting to learning either remotely or through a hybrid of online and in-person instruction. For Dunbar, this time of ambiguity is reminiscent of his first years at UMR, when the campus was new and all were making adjustments. He is confident that new strategies to engage students during this time will only enhance learning. “Those days have prepared me for this time,” he says.

Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Maggie Mahan smiles in a portrait

Q&A with Maggie Mahan

Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (BICB) Graduate ‘19

How did you arrive at the BICB program? 
In 2010, after completing my B.A. in biology and psychology, I pursued my interest in computational neuroscience by entering the BICB master's program. A few years later, in 2012, I transitioned into the BICB Ph.D. program while completing my M.S. in Computer Science.

What was your program focus? 
My program focus was at the intersection of computational neuroscience and medicine, primarily in discovering neuroimaging biomarkers for traumatic brain injury, with an emphasis on developing brain network analysis and machine learning methods that go beyond conventional approaches to enhance diagnostics and prognostics.

For those unfamiliar with BICB, how would you characterize its approach to graduate work? 
As an interdisciplinary program, the approach is biologically-distributed (i.e., exposure to multi-*omics), unorthodox (i.e., department-spanning coursework) and hands-on (i.e., direct access to high-throughput technologies and data). BICB’s approach to graduate work equips students with translational research skills marketable across various biomedical industries.

What is your current role?
I am a Scientific Solutions Engineer at, which is an informatics platform for biomedical research.

How do you use your Ph.D.?
I am responsible for writing Gears, which are packaged tools and algorithms for data curation, image processing and analytical pipelines in my current role with, a natural extension of skills developed during graduate school. I also continue to engage in computational neuroscience research, maintaining my Ph.D. focus on brain network topology and developing machine learning and natural language processing methods.

What advice or suggestions would you have for others interested in Bioinformatics? 
Maintain a steady intake of reading recent scientific and technical journals across the *omics spectrum, establish a creativity playground (data + code), master linear algebra, appreciate the impacts of algorithm design on data precision and practice data due diligence.

Do you have specific advice for other women interested in this historically male-dominated field? 
Write down your mission, the reason you set out to do what you set out to do. When challenged with all the big and little ways you are treated as less than because you are a woman, find persistence by focusing on your mission. Ignore their portrayals and distractions, and deliver your mission. Build relationships with other women for support. And, above all else, always believe in yourself.

A Message from the Alumni Advisory Committee

Dear Fellow Raptors, 

We hope this message finds you and your family well. As the Rochester Alumni Network Advisory Committee, we are thrilled to be a part of the inaugural issue of The Kettle.

The Kettle aims to connect raptor alumni, friends and supporters of the University of Minnesota Rochester. It is this common bond for UMR – built through shared experience and collaboration – that connects us all.

Whether you are a recent graduate, a graduate student pursuing an advanced degree, or a professional navigating a career and the demands of life, The Kettle is a community. This UMR community is a lifelong support structure, resource center and beacon of energy and innovation.

We welcome you to The Kettle and it is with gratitude that we appreciate your support of the University.


The Alumni Advisory Committee
Mohamed Addani ‘18
Nitya Chandiramani ‘17
Glen Morris ‘17
Rachel Nguyen ‘14
Mikayla Schmidt ‘18