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Changing the World, One Fellowship at a Time

Graduate students are at the core of what makes academic dream teams click.

Lauren Aitch

Changing the World, One Fellowship at a Time

If you were charged with assembling a dream team to solve a critical problem, no doubt you would look for great thinkers and experts to help lead the effort. But you also would want to inject fresh perspective with motivated new stars eager to help lead in bold, new directions

A collaborative environment, where emerging scholars are shaped and put to the test by experienced faculty, is perhaps a university’s greatest asset when it comes to generating new ideas and innovation.

And graduate students are at the core of what makes such academic dream teams click.

Beyond earning degrees in preparation for their own careers, MSU’s graduate students are often the driving force behind new investigations. They work alongside faculty, enabling the research that helps teams translate their creative ideas for both the academic and business marketplaces. In fact, outstanding graduate students are essential to attracting the most talented faculty to join team MSU.

Students at the graduate level also are critical to the education of undergraduate students.

Moreover, when you mix all these energetic, high-aspiring people into a dynamic learning environment focused on solving big problems, nothing short of magic starts to happen.

“The advanced education that our students receive in their graduate programs is put into practice in every sector of society,” says Karen L. Klomparens, associate provost for Graduate Education and dean of the Graduate School at MSU. “Similarly, the research that is conducted by all doctoral students and many master’s degree students, along with their faculty advisors, results in important improvements in K-12 education, food and health, agriculture, nursing, social work, engineering and business processes, environmental and energy concerns, our understanding of ourselves and of our society and culture, as well as all the other research areas at MSU.”

As the magic within faculty research and teaching continues to grow, so must the university’s graduate programs. That’s why providing more graduate fellowships to attract and retain the best graduate students is a high priority at MSU. The following MSU graduate fellows are but four examples to illustrate how private support is making a difference in bringing the very best to MSU—and in building a brighter future for us all.


Derrick Stobaugh, a neuroscientist and highly skilled data analyst, believes the work he’ll do as a graduate student at MSU will help define him as a health care researcher—which in turn will allow him to have a direct impact on how medicine is practiced.

Derrick is the first Krueger Fellow at MSU, and has entered an interdisciplinary College of Social Science and College of Business doctoral major in MSU’s top-ranked Industrial and Organizational Psychology program.

Two MSU alumni, Blake (’75, Honors College, Business) and Mary (’77, Natural Science; ’79, Engineering) Krueger of Grand Rapids, created MSU’s first donor-funded University Distinguished Graduate Fellowship.

Professor Steve Kozlowski was impressed with Derrick’s research and scholarly leadership, and the strong recommendations of former teachers and mentors. He saw numerous ongoing projects at MSU where Derrick’s research interests and experiences would be invaluable. He also knew that a student like Derrick would be heavily recruited by other institutions.

“The strength and reputation of our program—that we are ranked number one, not only in the U.S., but internationally—helps us to recruit top students,” Kozlowski says. “However, given his distinguished record, other top-tier programs were likely to offer substantial funding packages. The Krueger Fellowship definitely enhanced our advantage in successfully recruiting Derrick to our program.”

Derrick’s career in neuroscience started in research to help curb drug addiction. That led to a position analyzing FDA data from millions of patients to clarify the safety profile of some very potent, but also beneficial new medications, he says. It was important work, but he felt detached from patient care.

“Just because I published my discoveries didn’t mean it was going to change practice, or that attention would be paid to the literature,” he says.

A position on the Clinical Analytics Team at Chicago-area North Shore University Health System changed all of that.

“I was given the opportunity to evaluate how medicine was being practiced and my findings were being put into practice, directly helping patients,” he says.

Graduate school was the next logical step on his journey to make a difference in people’s lives.

“Leveraging my background to help people and to work on very pressing and fascinating problems is a dream come true,” Derrick says.

Blake Krueger graduated as a member of MSU’s Honors College in 1975 with a B.A. in business administration. He currently serves as chairman of the Board, CEO and president of Wolverine World Wide, Inc. Mary Krueger received B.S. degrees in 1977 and 1979 from the MSU colleges of Natural Science and Engineering, respectively. She is a retired engineer from the State of Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality. Both Kruegers are active volunteers in the West Michigan community.

“It is our hope that this fellowship endowment will allow MSU to attract graduate students that they would not have otherwise been able to bring to study at Michigan State,” says Blake. “It is important for us that our alma mater continues to be able to compete at the highest levels in graduate education.”


Young alumni are not commonly thinking about the possibilities they hold for giving back to the world through funding a graduate fellowship. But, Lauren Aitch (’09, Communication Arts and Sciences) is very uncommon.

A standout center on the MSU women’s basketball team, Aitch turned pro after college, taking her game to Europe. She also founded a women’s clothing line, Lady Aitch, and earned her master’s degree at MSU.

Lauren used the competitive drive that she developed on the basketball court to take on a much larger opponent: cancer. She started the Aitch Foundation after six members of her family were affected by various forms of the disease and three of them died from it. Though it’s less than five years old, the Aitch Foundation is providing annual support for an advanced graduate student at MSU and ultimately--Lauren hopes--the ability to detect and cure cancers.

Dan Hollern, a graduate student in the College of Natural Science studying cell and molecular biology, has been named the first Aitch Fellow. Lauren has high hopes for the work he pursues.

“To help such a young mind develop is so exciting. I feel very blessed to have him in our Aitch family and the MSU family,” she says.

At MSU, Dan has been using cutting-edge technology in breast cancer research in the laboratory of Dr. Eran Andrechek, assistant professor of physiology in the College of Human Medicine. Dan mastered the use of microarray technology, which allowed him to study the expression of more than 14,000 genes in a tumor sample.

Dan then used sophisticated mathematical methods to uncover information about the genes that may cause differences in cancer progression in different patients. His work, which analyzed data from more than 1,000 preclinical models and equal numbers of human breast cancer tumors, was recently published in Breast Cancer Research.

He is now using a cross-disciplinary approach to study the process of how breast cancer cells spread to other organs of the body.

His computational analysis on a large database of breast cancer patient data led to the identification of a gene known as E2F1.

“In my experiments, I found that this gene allowed cancer cells to invade blood vessels and allowed tumors to grow in distant organs such as the lungs,” Dan says. “Importantly, by comparing genes that changed when we removed E2F1, I found how E2F1 controls tumor cell spreading. For example, I found that E2F1 controls blood vessel recruitment to the tumor, which allows tumor cells to get into the blood stream.”

Dan’s research mentor, Assistant Professor Eran Andrechek, says that Dan’s contributions to the lab have been extensive, including findings that have directly led to new research directions and have contributed to successful grant applications, resulting in significant research funds coming in to the lab.

“Lauren Aitch is to be commended for her investment of time and energy into generating support for graduate students,” Andrechek says. “These fellowships have impacts not only on the research being done at MSU, but also are a key component of the development of students.”

Now nearing completion of his dissertation, Dan believeshis MSU experiences have prepared him for the next step of his career as a cancer researcher.

“The investment in my training by Dr. Andrechek, MSU, and the Aitch Foundation will echo in the new research goals I will pursue as a postdoctoral researcher. It has been truly a blessing to pursue my graduate degree with meaningful cancer research made possible by their support.”


Ronald Jackson hopes to shed new light on the contributions of African American entertainers involved in the anti-apartheid struggle of South Africa, thanks to a gift from financial services organization TIAA-CREF.

A doctoral candidate and instructor in MSU’s Department of History, Ronald is using the TIAA-CREF Ruth Simms Hamilton Graduate Merit Fellowship to explore the role of race within the cultural boycott of South Africa by entertainers during the mid-20th century. He will conduct research in the United States and South Africa.

He believes studies that examine the intersection of popular culture and social movements have a way of generating interest in history among people that otherwise may not be intrigued.

Named after longtime MSU Social Science Professor Ruth Simms Hamilton, who died in 2003, the fellowship supports doctoral students whose research is related to the African diaspora. For decades, Hamilton worked with MSU graduate students to investigate the international presence and societal status of African descendants. In addition, she served as an executive board member for TIAA-CREF, also sitting on the board’s corporate governance and social responsibility committees.

Ronald hopes his work will align with the popular culture component of Hamilton’s scholarly activism.

“TIAA-CREF is honored to recognize the contributions and the life of Dr. Hamilton through this fellowship, and to see her legacy carried on through the work of students like Ronald,” says Jerome Miller, senior vice president and chief diversity officer at TIAA-CREF.

In 2005, TIAA-CREF established the Ruth Simms Hamilton Research Fellowship at TIAA-CREF. The fellowship supported students throughout a six-year period, awarding fellowships to one or more graduate students studying the African diaspora at an accredited U.S. college or university. By establishing the new endowment at MSU last year, TIAA-CREF brought the fellowship back to Hamilton’s home university.

“No words can truly express how thankful I am for the support of TIAA-CREF,” says Ronald. “Your generosity and selflessness have greatly assisted me in my efforts to achieve a dream that for many years appeared to be unattainable.”

At MSU, Ronald also has carved out time to serve as a mentor in the My Brother’s Keeper Program, working with middle school students from Paul Robeson, Malcolm X Academy in Detroit. He says volunteering gave him a respite from dense theoretical graduate class discussions and gave him a clearer perspective of how history is understood.

“Communicating with these younger students motivated me more than ever to find more innovative ways to make history appealing to undergraduate students,” he says.


Since 2003, alumni, faculty and friends have contributed to the Edward J. Petry Endowment in Support of Graduate Fellowships, named after the first individual to receive a Ph.D. (1926, Botany) from Michigan State. Gifts to the fund are invested as principal, and a portion of the annual interest earned provides fellowship support to outstanding graduate students.

Susan Wiers (’81, BS; ’99, MSN, Nursing) of Romeo, a family nurse practitioner, is one of the 2014 recipients.

She returned to the MSU College of Nursing for her doctoral degree more than 30 years after earning her first degree.

“The high cost of acquiring my doctorate was my only reservation about returning to school,” Susan says. “My husband and I value education and invested heavily in the education of our children; I deferred my personal goal of pursuing a doctoral degree until they finished college.”

Receiving funding from the Petry Fellowship was an unexpected gift.

“I will be forever grateful to those who value education enough to have supported me,” she says.“It is my goal to honor this support by using my degree to improve the lives of others.”

Susan is taking advantage of her clinical practicums to learn about the diagnosis and treatment of urinary incontinence in women. Over the past 15 years in her practice, she recognized that urinary incontinence is a highly prevalent and undertreated condition that negatively affects quality-of-life for many women physically, psychologically and socially.

“Primary care providers need to be on the forefront of addressing this prevalent and distressing condition,” she says. “However, most primary care providers lack awareness of the condition and do not possess the knowledge and skills to treat urinary incontinence.”

She plans to develop a business plan to implement an incontinence program within her practice and hopes to teach aspiring nurses.


Graduate students at MSU are accomplishing much to improve lives. And MSU is committed to continuing to create a cadre of outstanding graduate students who make a difference as they work alongside faculty in teaching and research. Private support for graduate fellowships is an important part of ensuring progress.

“We are tremendously grateful to Blake and Mary Krueger, Lauren Aitch, TIAA-CREF and all those who contribute to graduate fellowships,” says MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon. “Fellowships help us attract and retain the best and brightest graduate students to work and study at MSU. Graduate students conduct the research and scholarship with faculty that ultimately drives our ability to be innovative in ways that contribute to the economic development of Michigan, the country and the world.

“We expect these students to change the world. And donors who support fellowships are part of that future.”

For more information on making a gift to support graduate education at MSU, contact Senior Director of Development Jennifer Bertram at or call (517) 432-7345.