For Wayne State University graduate Gabriel Mpilla, earning his doctorate in Cancer Biology is a major accomplishment, especially as a first-generation college student whose native language is French and who moved to the United States from Cameroon in 2010 to further his education.
“Moving to America is the best thing that happened in my life,” Mpilla said. “My long-term career goal is to secure a tenured position within a biomedical research institution. I hope to become a principal investigator of a laboratory that has a research portfolio of both basic and translational research projects within a specialized niche of cancer therapeutics.”
The commencement for candidates from WSU’s The Graduate School and the School of Medicine was held Dec. 14 at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, the final of five ceremonies. It included congratulatory remarks from President M. Roy Wilson, and the deans of participating schools and colleges, including School of Medicine Dean and Vice President of Health Affairs Mark E. Schweitzer, M.D.
Mpilla earned his English as Second Language Certificate in 2012, then obtained a bachelor’s degree in Molecular Biology in 2015 from Delaware State University. He was accepted to Wayne State’s Cancer Biology Graduate Program in 2016. He defended his dissertation in March, and moved to Memphis, Tenn., shortly after to begin postdoctoral training at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Graduates affiliated with the School of Medicine included Mpilla and 18 others earning a Doctor of Philosophy degree through The Graduate School, as well as 16 students earning Master’s of Public Health degrees; 14 earning Master’s of Science degrees; and 23 earning Master’s of Science in Basic Medical Sciences degrees. In addition, four students received a Bridge Graduate Certificate in Public Health Practice.
Morenci Manning was also among those earning a Doctor of Philosophy degree. Like Mpilla, she completed the WSU Cancer Biology Graduate Program. In her time at Wayne State, Manning married and had two children – the most recent, a girl, born on Nov. 8. She also has an 18-month-old son.
“I couldn’t have possibly done this without the incredible support of my husband and mother. They honestly sacrificed a great deal of time, energy, career moves and more, all for me to finish, and I am so grateful,” she said. “I’ve known I wanted to participate in curing cancer since I was a kid, I just didn’t know how I would go about it.”
She joined the Cancer Biology Graduate Program at WSU in 2016, and defended her dissertation in July. Along the way, she married, had two children and switched the laboratory she was studying in. She almost gave up along the way, she admitted.
She is now interviewing for positions as a medical science liaison in oncology at a company driven to enhance precision medicine.
“My favorite WSU memory is winning first place in the graduate research symposium in 2018 for poster presentations,” Manning said. “It came at a very difficult time during my course of study and I wanted to give up but that gave me hope,” she said. “It honestly still feels surreal to be finished and I regularly forget that I actually did complete it. It was one of the most challenging feats I’ve ever committed to, but I am so grateful to have finished.”
At the ceremony, WSU Academic Senate member, School of Medicine Professor and Vice Chair of Internal Medicine Noreen Rossi, M.D., offered her congratulations to all graduates on behalf of the university’s faculty.
“You have achieved your respective degrees not only by facing the challenges of a rigorous education but also by navigating the path through the unpredictable and ever-changing view of a pandemic, a very unexpected additional hurdle,” Dr. Rossi said. “More than in any other class in recent memory, particularly in the fields of endeavor and disciplines that are present here today, the reality is that much is unknown, but that the very future of our fellow human beings, and the planet, needs the bright, energetic, hard-working, passionate and compassionate individuals that you are.”
Graduates and their degrees include:
Doctor of Philosophy
Kiarash Ghassaban, B.S. 2013, B.S. 2014, Amirkabir University of Technology, M.S. 2016, Wayne State University. Dissertation: “Assessing Midbrain Abnormalities in Parkinson’s Disease Using Magnetic Resonance Imaging.” Dissertation Advisor: Professor Ewart Mark Haacke, Biomedical Engineering
Stephanie Gladyck, B.S. 2013, Madonna University, M.S. 2015, Syracuse University. Dissertation: “MNRR1: Understanding the Role of a Novel Mitochondrial-Nuclear Regulator.” Dissertation Advisor: Professor Lawrence Grossman, Molecular Genetics and Genomics
Dustin Farr, B.S. 2012, Michigan State University, M.P.H. 2016, University of Michigan. Dissertation: “Characterization of the Immune Response to Vibrio Cholerae Infection in a Natural Host Model.” Dissertation Advisor: Professor Jeffrey Withey, Immunology and Microbiology
Abhinav Krishnan, B.A., B.S. 2011, M.S., 2018, Wayne State University. Dissertation: “Deciphering the Effects of Serelaxin on the Cardiorenal Axis in Acute Heart Failure — A Canine Model.” Dissertation Advisor: Professor Phillip Levy, Physiology
Peter Levanovich, B.B.A. 2010, University of Denver. Dissertation: “Cardio-renal Mechanisms of Fructose-Induced Salt-Sensitive Hypertension.” Dissertation Advisor: Professor Noreen Rossi, Physiology
Hasini Kalpage, B.A. 2013, College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University. Dissertation: “Serine 47 Phosphorylation of Cytochrome c: Implications for Ischemia/ Reperfusion Injury.” Dissertation Advisor: Professor Maik Huettemann Molecular Genetics and Genomics
Zhenjie Liu, B.S. 2013, Tianjin Medical University, M.E. 2015, Illinois Institute of Technology. Dissertation: “The Role of Biomaterial Substrate in Stem Cell Fate Determination.” Dissertation Advisors: Professors Zhengqing Hu and Patrick Mueller, Physiology
Morenci Manning, B.A. 2010, Indiana University, M.S. 2015, Ball State University. Dissertation: “Clinical Significance, Functional Role, and Molecular Mechanism of 2’-O-Methyltransferase FTSJ3 in Promoting Cancer Progression.” Dissertation Advisor: Professor Zeng-Quan Yang, Cancer Biology
Gabriel Mpilla, B.S. 2015, Delaware State University. Dissertation: “Pak4-Nampt Dual Inhibition as a Novel Strategy for Therapy Resistant Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumors.” Dissertation Advisor: Professor Asfar Azmi, Cancer Biology
Jessica Phillips, B.A. 2011, B.S. 2012, University of Michigan, M.S. 2018, Wayne State University. Dissertation: “Pharmaceuticals in the Environment: Health Implications and Environmental Toxicity.” Dissertation Advisor: Professor Tracie Baker, Pharmacology
Herson Cuevas, B.S. 2010, Universidad de Puerto Rico. Dissertation: “Spontaneous Transmitter Release at Individual Active Zones.” Dissertation Advisor: Professor Maria Bykhovskaia, Anatomy and Cell Biology
Deena Damschroder, B.A. 2016, Arcadia University. Dissertation: “Improving Mitochondrial Metabolism Restores the Exercise Capacity of a Drosophila Model of Barth Syndrome.” Dissertation Advisor: Professor Robert Wessells, Physiology
Danielle Meyer, B.A. 2015, Hope College. Dissertation: “Investigating Lifespan and Legacy Health Effects of Developmental Exposure to Environmental Toxicants.” Dissertation Advisor: Professor Tracie Baker Pharmacology
Kendall Muzzarelli, B.A., B.S. 2012, University of Michigan. Dissertation: “Biochemical, Structural, and Drug Design Studies of Coronavirus and Norovirus Proteases.” Dissertation Advisor: Professor Ladislau Kovari, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Cory Knill, B.S., B.A. 2007, University of Michigan, M.S. 2010, Wayne State University. Dissertation: “An Investigation of Uncertainties in Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy.” Dissertation Advisor: Professor Jacob Burmeister, Medical Physics
Tri Pham, B.S. 2015, Xavier University of Louisiana. Dissertation: “A Novel Role of HUWE1 in PDGF D Regulation of Bone Marrow Mesenchymal Stem Cell Differentiation.” Dissertation Advisor: Professor Hyeong-Reh Kim, Pathology
Justyna Resztak, B.S. 2010, M.S. 2012, Maria Curie-Sklodowska University, M.S. 2016, University of Florida. Dissertation: “Genotype-By-Environment Interactions in the Immune System.” Dissertation Advisors: Professors Francesca Luca and Roger Pique-Regi, Molecular Genetics and Genomics
Adrianne Wallace-Povirk, B.S. 2013, Oakland University. Dissertation: “Targeting Metabolic Vulnerabilities in Epithelial Ovarian Cancer via Folate Transporters.” Dissertation Advisor: Professor Larry Matherly, Cancer Biology
Qiuyun Xu, B.S. 2013, Inner Mongolia Agricultural University, M.S. 2015, Wayne State University. Dissertation: “The Advanced Applications for Optical Coherence Tomography in Skin Imaging.” Dissertation Advisors: Professors Kamran Avanaki and Ewart Mark Haacke, Biomedical Engineering
Master of Public Health
Master of Science
Anna Hua Hu
Master of Science in Basic Medical Sciences
Bridge Graduate Certificate in Public Health Practice