2022 Graduate School Convocation Program

Van Andel Institute Graduate School 2022 Convocation & Commencement Program

Van Andel Institute Graduate School 2022 Convocation & Commencement Program


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<strong>2022</strong><br />

<strong>Convocation</strong> &<br />

Commencement<br />


MONDAY, AUGUST 22, <strong>2022</strong><br />

1:30 PM | Tomatis Auditorium<br />

Download a printable PDF of the program booklet and new student<br />

biosketches at bit.ly/VAIConvComm<strong>2022</strong>.<br />



Dr. Steven J. Triezenberg, President and Dean, Van Andel Institute <strong>Graduate</strong> <strong>School</strong><br />


Recipient: Dr. Peter Laird<br />



Zach DeBruine, Ph.D. — Dr. Tim Triche, Jr.<br />

Emery Haley, Ph.D. — Dr. Juan Du<br />

Katie Hollis, M.S. — Dr. Bart Williams<br />

Jordan Prahl, Ph.D. — Dr. Gerry Coetzee<br />




Menusha Arumugam, on behalf of the <strong>Graduate</strong> Student Association<br />



Reception to follow in the Cook-Hauenstein Hall.<br />

Music for today’s celebration performed by Kopper and Keys.<br />

Van Andel Institute continues to monitor COVID-19. Participants who feel more<br />

comfortable wearing a mask may do so. If you feel sick or experience any COVID-19<br />

symptoms please join others in tuning in to the virtual livestream.


Ebenezer Asiedu<br />

Rafael Bená De Araujo<br />

Samuel Daniels<br />

Arkajit De<br />

Mehrshid Faraji Zanooz<br />

Cameron Forton<br />

Jui-Hsien (Rita) Lu<br />

Jae Min (Jamie) Park<br />

Xinyu Ye<br />

Natasha Zandstra<br />



David Van Andel<br />

Chairman and CEO<br />

Van Andel Institute<br />

James E. Bultman, Ed.D.<br />

Susan Keipper Meell<br />

Juan Olivarez, Ph.D.<br />

Teresa Weatherall Neal, Ed.D. (hon)<br />




Juan R. Olivarez, Ph.D.<br />

Chairman of the Board<br />

Mary O’Riordan, Ph.D.<br />

Vice Chair<br />

Maria Cimitile, Ph.D.<br />

James B. Fahner, M.D.<br />

Peter A. Jones, Ph.D., D.Sc. (hon)<br />

Candace T. Smith-King, M.D.<br />

Danny R. Welch, Ph.D.<br />

Thomas Curran, J.D.<br />

Secretary to the Board<br />

Katie Helder, B.S.<br />

Treasurer to the Board<br />




Stephen B. Baylin, M.D.<br />

José Brás, Ph.D.<br />

Lena Brundin, M.D., Ph.D.<br />

Nick Burton, Ph.D.<br />

Hong-Yuan Chu, Ph.D.<br />

Gerry Coetzee, Ph.D.<br />

Juan Du, Ph.D.<br />

Yvonne Fondufe-Mittendorf, Ph.D.<br />

Stephanie Grainger, Ph.D.<br />

Carrie R. Graveel, Ph.D.<br />

Rita Guerreiro, Ph.D.<br />

Brian B. Haab, Ph.D.<br />

Michael Henderson, Ph.D.<br />

Galen Hostetter, M.D.<br />

Scott D. Jewell, Ph.D.<br />

Peter A. Jones, Ph.D., D.Sc. (hon)<br />

Russell Jones, Ph.D.<br />

Connie Krawczyk, Ph.D.<br />

Peter Laird, Ph.D.<br />

Heidi Lempradl, Ph.D.<br />

Huilin Li, Ph.D.<br />

Evan Lien, Ph.D.<br />

Wei Lü, Ph.D.<br />

Darren Moore, Ph.D.<br />

Sara Nowinski, Ph.D.<br />

Gerd Pfeifer, Ph.D.<br />

J. Andrew Pospisilik, Ph.D.<br />

Scott Rothbart, Ph.D.<br />

Hui Shen, Ph.D.<br />

Xiaobing Shi, Ph.D.<br />

Matthew R. Steensma, M.D.<br />

Piroska Szabó, Ph.D.<br />

Tim Triche, Jr., Ph.D.<br />

Steven J. Triezenberg, Ph.D., D.Sc. (hon)<br />

Hong Wen, Ph.D.<br />

Bart O. Williams, Ph.D.<br />

Mary Winn, Ph.D.<br />

Evan Worden, Ph.D.<br />

Ning Wu, Ph.D.<br />

Tao Yang, Ph.D.<br />

Qiang Zhu, Ph.D.


Van Andel Institute began with a vision to improve human health through biomedical<br />

research and science education. Van Andel Institute <strong>Graduate</strong> <strong>School</strong> plays a key role<br />

in this mission, combining rigorous coursework, extensive laboratory experience, and<br />

the mentorship of VAI’s expert faculty to develop the biomedical research leaders of<br />

the future.<br />

The <strong>Graduate</strong> <strong>School</strong> was founded in 2005, with a charter to grant doctoral and<br />

master’s degrees, through the leadership of Dr. Gordon Van Harn as the Director<br />

of Van Andel Institute for Education. Dr. Steven J. Triezenberg became the founding<br />

Dean in 2006, bringing a vision of creativity and innovation for biomedical graduate<br />

education. The school earned accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission in<br />

2013 and is gaining a national reputation for its program design, curricular approach,<br />

and student support.<br />

From the first cohort of three pioneering students in 2007, the <strong>Graduate</strong> <strong>School</strong> has<br />

grown to a student body of 50 scholars from 14 different countries. Including today’s<br />

graduates, 32 students have earned Ph.D. degrees and four have earned master’s<br />

degrees. <strong>Graduate</strong> <strong>School</strong> alumni are now taking leadership positions in academia,<br />

research and industry, carrying forward VAI’s values of curiosity, collaboration,<br />

and urgency to improve the health and enhance the lives of current and future<br />

generations.<br />


The success of Van Andel Institute <strong>Graduate</strong> <strong>School</strong> arises from:<br />

• The vision and generosity of Van Andel Institute Founders Jay and Betty Van Andel<br />

• The stalwart support of David Van Andel, Chairman and CEO of Van Andel Institute<br />

• Encouraging guidance from Van Andel Education Institute Board of Trustees<br />

• Creative direction and diligent oversight by past and current members of the<br />

Van Andel Institute <strong>Graduate</strong> <strong>School</strong> Board of Directors<br />

• Committed leadership of Dr. Steven J. Triezenberg, President and Dean of<br />

Van Andel Institute <strong>Graduate</strong> <strong>School</strong><br />

• Dedicated and excellent work by <strong>Graduate</strong> <strong>School</strong> staff members Dr. Sarah<br />

Bodbyl Roels, Taylor Boyd, Dr. Brian Haab, Michelle Love, Christy Mayo,<br />

Susanne Miller-Schachinger and Alli Roman

New <strong>Graduate</strong> Student Bios<br />

Ebenezer Asiedu<br />

Ebenezer Asiedu, completed his undergraduate<br />

education at the University of Cape Coast (in Ghana)<br />

with a specialization in Biochemistry. His project focused<br />

on the stabilization of ascorbic acid through liposomal<br />

encapsulation. His long-standing interest in genomics and<br />

bioinformatics research led him to the Kwame Nkrumah<br />

University of Science and Technology, where he gained<br />

research experience in structural bioinformatics, immuneinformatics,<br />

microarray, RNA-seq, and ChIP-seq data<br />

analysis. He is interested in using functional genomics and<br />

epigenomics to understand how neurodegenerative and<br />

cardiometabolic diseases influence cancer biology and<br />

survival.<br />

Rafael Bená De Araujo<br />

Rafael Bená De Araujo completed his bachelor’s<br />

degree in psychology at the Federal University of Mato<br />

Grosso (UFMT), Brazil. He gained reseach experience<br />

in several labs at UFMT and the University of São Paulo<br />

spanning experimental psychology, neuroanatomy and<br />

neuropsychobiology, and ethology and bioacoustics. He is<br />

interested in the epigenetics of neuropsychiatric disorders,<br />

such as depression and anxiety, intergenerational<br />

inheritance, and the connections linking genetics and<br />

environmental influences.<br />

Samuel Daniels<br />

Samuel Daniels graduated from Michigan State University<br />

in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering.<br />

As a student research assistant in a neural engineering lab,<br />

he explored the inflammatory response to microelectrode<br />

arrays implanted into the brain. In early 2020, Samuel<br />

joined Dr. Hong-Yuan Chu’s lab at VAI as a research<br />

technician. His broad skill set includes stereotaxic surgery,<br />

immunohistochemistry and confocal imaging, qPCR,<br />

morphological analysis of different cell types, and patchclamp<br />

electrophysiology. He would like to understand how<br />

molecular and cellular changes of neuronal and astroglia<br />

cells influence disease initiation and progression.

New <strong>Graduate</strong> Student Bios<br />

Arkajit De<br />

Arkajit De earned his undergraduate degree in<br />

Biotechnology from Adamas University in India. His<br />

primary research focuses on the structural and functional<br />

dynamics of proteins that cause a variety of diseases.<br />

His interests in protein homology modeling, molecular<br />

docking, and molecular dynamics simulations motivated<br />

him to pursue a research-focused degree in computational<br />

structural biology. He aspires to work collaboratively<br />

on interdisciplinary projects, perhaps applying various<br />

computational techniques such as machine learning in<br />

bioscience research.<br />

Mehrshid Faraji Zonooz<br />

Mehrshid Faraji Zonooz completed her bachelor’s in<br />

Cellular and Molecular Biology at Al Zahra University and<br />

subsequently her master’s in the Cellular & Molecular<br />

Biology program at Islamic Azad University (Tehran,<br />

Iran). She worked at Kariminejad-Najmabadi Pathology &<br />

Genetics Center from 2011 to 2021 as a medical genetic<br />

technologist and as an investigator in Next-Generation<br />

Sequencing and Cancer groups. Mehrshid’s passion for<br />

advancing knowledge in neurodegenerative disorders and<br />

cancer and being in touch with patients suffering from<br />

genetic disorders encouraged her to pursue studies at the<br />

Ph.D. level, which she began at VAI in January <strong>2022</strong>.<br />

Cameron Forton<br />

Cameron Forton graduated from Michigan State<br />

University with degrees in Human Biology and Zoology. His<br />

wide-ranging experiences include volunteering at Sparrow<br />

Hospital, an undergraduate assistant in biology lab<br />

courses, and studying animal behavior. After graduation,<br />

Cam assisted in the water quality lab at Sleeping Bear<br />

Dunes and worked as a technician on the bone marrow<br />

transplant floor at Spectrum Butterworth. Most recently,<br />

he has been studying the relationship between immune<br />

response, neurodegenerative disease, and behavior in<br />

Dr. Lena Brundin’s lab at VAI. Cam is interested in the<br />

roles of genetics and immunology in the mechanisms of<br />

neurodegenerative disease.

Jui-Hsien (Rita) Lu<br />

Jui-Hsien (Rita) Lu is a Research Analyst at Washington<br />

University in St Louis, working to integrate multi-omics data<br />

to better understand cancer genomics. She obtained her<br />

Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from National Taiwan<br />

University in 2014 and completed her master’s degree in<br />

the same program in 2016. Rita worked at Academia Sinica<br />

to develop bioinformatics tools for understanding and<br />

visualizing epigenetic modifications. Translational medicine,<br />

cancer genomics, and computational biology are research<br />

interests for Rita.<br />

Jae Min (Jamie) Park<br />

Jae Min (Jamie) Park is from South Korea. He graduated<br />

from Franklin & Marshall College with a neuroscience<br />

degree and joined a lab at Yale University as a postbac<br />

where he began research in neurodegeneration.<br />

He studied alpha-synuclein functions using in vitro<br />

experiments and bioinformatics on Parkinson’s cortical<br />

tissue. The heterogeneity of pathogenic mechanisms<br />

in Parkinson’s disease leads him to look beyond<br />

synapse-centric approaches, including the roles of<br />

neuroinflammation and gut microbiome.<br />

Natasha Zandstra<br />

Natasha Zandstra obtained her bachelor’s degree in Cell<br />

and Molecular Biology from Grand Valley State University.<br />

She participated in research projects on cell polarity<br />

and morphology, the ethylene synthesis pathway, and<br />

enzymatic investigation of β-lactamases. These experiences<br />

developed skills using confocal microscopy, RNA isolation<br />

and extraction, and protein sequence analysis. A project<br />

exploring the consequences of cell polarity and altered<br />

morphology on cellular function guided her to develop<br />

a passion for cancer biology and genetic pathology,<br />

particularly for women’s reproductive cancers and<br />

diseases.<br />

Xinyu Ye<br />

Xinyu Ye graduated from the University of Wisconsin-<br />

Madison in 2020 with degrees in pharmacology-toxicology<br />

and chemistry. His undergraduate research project<br />

focused on developing a saposin–detergent system to<br />

encapsulate the transmembrane domains of proteins<br />

with a single transmembrane helix, thereby facilitating the<br />

challenging structural determination for such proteins.<br />

After graduation, he joined Drs. Juan Du and Wei Lü’s labs<br />

as an assistant research technician, where he works on<br />

the structural and functional analysis of transient potential<br />

receptor melastatin (TRPM) family of proteins that mediate<br />

sensations including temperature, taste, pain and vision.

Van Andel Institute <strong>Graduate</strong> <strong>School</strong><br />

transforms students into independent<br />

scientists through an intense, problemfocused<br />

Ph.D. degree in molecular and<br />

cellular biology. By combining rigorous,<br />

problem-based coursework with<br />

extensive experience in laboratories<br />

led by the Institute’s expert faculty, the<br />

<strong>Graduate</strong> <strong>School</strong> prepares students<br />

for productive careers in biomedical<br />

research and beyond. The <strong>Graduate</strong><br />

<strong>School</strong> thrives within the state-of-the-art<br />

facilities of Van Andel Institute, with<br />

access to extensive core technology<br />

support and the resources of<br />

collaborators in Grand Rapids,<br />

Michigan and around the country.

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