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The Biologists

Challenging Students

Gary Lindquester
Chair, Rhodes Department of Biology

Gary LindquesterProfessor Gary Lindquester by a DNA model in Frazier JelkeRhodes students today are constantly challenged, and they constantly rise to that challenge. This, says Gary Lindquester, Biology Department chair, is one of the reasons that teaching at Rhodes is so rewarding.

“It happens in the classroom with rigorous course material and complex ideas, it’s in the teaching laboratory where we develop exercises that train them in the scientific method and in various techniques … and it carries over into the research laboratories for students who work there,” he says. “The students are highly competent, they are interested and they have a good work ethic.”

Lindquester received his undergraduate degree from Furman University, his Ph.D. from Emory and conducted postdoctoral work at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. He has been with Rhodes since 1988. Over that time, he says, the department has mainly changed in terms of added personnel and expanded curriculum. In fact, Biology is now the most popular major at Rhodes. The addition of interdisciplinary majors in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Neuroscience and Environmental Sciences has also factored into an overall expansion. “We’re busting at the seams now,” Lindquester says of the department’s underground location in Frazier Jelke.

Two primary groups of students entering Biology are those who know they want to be Biology majors and are attracted to the sciences, but are unsure of what they want to do with it after graduation, and those who have medical school or the health professions in their sights. However, the department also attracts students interested in becoming scientists themselves.

Those who aren’t science majors take Biology I, Introduction to Environmental Sciences or a Topics in Biology course as a Foundations Curriculum laboratory class. As a result, they are “gaining a way of thinking in a particular field,” says Lindquester. “We introduce the scientific method in both theory and practice, and students come to see how science is done and how information that comes from scientific research is validated. All of that builds a viewpoint in the students’ minds to help make them better lifelong learners and better citizens.”

Lindquester’s own interest is in Immunology and Virology. He continues his research at Rhodes and in collaboration with a group at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, studying the role of a protein known as interleukin 10 (IL-10), which is produced by the human pathogen Epstein Barr virus (EBV). He has generated recombinant murine gammaherpesviruses containing the EBV IL-10 gene to study its effects on infection, latency and pathogenesis in a mouse animal model.

Rhodes’ relationships with St. Jude and other institutions such as the Baptist Hospital system, along with resulting internships, give Rhodes
students a distinct advantage over their peers at many other liberal arts colleges.

“It’s ideal, it’s perfect and I think that’s one of the reasons we have such a huge draw for premedical and research-oriented students,” Lindquester says.

Changing Course

Anahita Rahimi-Saber ’13

Anahita Rahimi-Saber was born and raised in Denmark and moved with her family to the United States, and Memphis, in 2000. She attended Lausanne Collegiate School and considered other colleges when the time came to make that important decision.

“I thought I wanted to study outside of Memphis, that I knew it too well and had outgrown it by the age of 18,” she says. “But when it came down to what I wanted to study, and finances and everything, Rhodes just made the most sense. It was the best decision I’ve ever made. I realized how important it is to have a family close by, and when I moved to campus it was kind of eye-opening and refreshing to learn how great Memphis really is and how much it has to offer.”

Rahimi-Saber began her college career in International Studies with designs on becoming a human rights lawyer. But this daughter of a physician took Biology her first year and realized she “enjoyed my Bio class more than my International Studies class.”

This revelation, along with a visit the following summer to family in Iran, where she was able to shadow a doctor specializing in pulmonology, sealed the deal.  “I got to see health care firsthand in a third-world country,q and it was absolutely inspiring; I realized that this is where I belong.” 

Working with advisers and mentors such as Biology professors Carolyn Jaslow and Laura Luque de Johnson, plus being a Rhodes Student Associate in the Biology Department, has given her the hands-on experience and deep understanding of science that it takes to build a foundation for medical school. Her liberal arts education, she says, has helped her see how not only biology, but many other factors affect the world.

This fall finds Rahimi-Saber in England and Europe for a study abroad program. Life after graduation will include a year off with time spent working at that hospital in Iran before entering medical school, hopefully at the University of Tennessee-Memphis, where Rhodes has established a great relationship. “They know what a Rhodes student is capable of,” she adds.

“Memphis,” says Rahimi-Saber, “is a great place to be a student.”

Administering Medicine

Veronica Lawson Gunn ’91, M.D.
Vice President of Population Health Management, 
Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin

“I felt smarter when I stepped on campus,” Veronica Gunn says as she reminisces about her first visit to Rhodes. Though laughing, she insists there is some truth to that. “My visit at Rhodes was what undoubtedly convinced me that that is where I needed to go, and not to any other place.”

Not only did the aesthetics of the campus and the academic curriculum draw her in, but the professors—including Alan and Carolyn Jaslow in Biology, with whom she remains friends—“are examples of the faculty’s commitment to students, their full development and their full potential.”

There was no question as to what her major would be. Gunn says she had known she would be a doctor since the age of four. But Rhodes, and its liberal arts education, “required me to develop other aspects of my being, which I find I use on a regular basis—the arts, my knowledge of, and application of, the humanities and history.”

Those skills are used today in her current capacity as vice president of Population Health Management of Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. The new division serves as a center for research and development of best-practice programs, services and resources to prevent illness, improve wellness and manage health needs of unique populations over time, according to a recent press release from the hospital.

Despite her administrative title, Gunn says she will continue seeing patients for as long as she can. But the position and her education have helped her to recognize “that what influences the health of an individual or a population is far more than the health care they receive; it is where people live and the influences of their family members.”

Before joining Children’s as chief medical officer of Community Services in January 2011, Gunn was chief medical officer for the Tennessee Department of Health. She also was medical director for the Tennessee Governor’s Office of Children’s Care Coordination. In 2002, she joined the faculty at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, where she was an active clinician.

After graduating from Rhodes, Gunn says she felt “absolutely prepared” for medical school at Vanderbilt, followed by residency at Johns Hopkins. It’s preparation she wants for current Rhodes students. In fact, as part of the Rhodes alumni volunteer effort, she has written letters advocating the benefits of a liberal arts education that the college sends to accepted students who have expressed an interest in medicine. Recognizing her accomplishments and connection to students, Rhodes invited Gunn to deliver the Baccalaureate address at Commencement ’10.

“That broad educational perspective really allows people to be the whole person they can be and bring that value into whatever field it is in which they work.”

The Business of Medicine

Brian Wamhoff ’96
Vice President of Research & Development, 
Co-Founder, HemoShear, LLC
Associate Professor of Medicine & Biomedical Engineering, 
University of Virginia

Brian WamhoffBrian Wamhoff ′96 after receiving the Distinguised Alumnus Award at Homecoming 2011Brian Wamhoff points to the atmosphere, the opportunity to play soccer and chiefly to members of the faculty such as Jay Blundon and Dee Birnbaum when asked what led to his interest in Rhodes College. It was these professors’ respective departments—Biology and Business—that would build the foundation for his life’s work.

Having attended the University of Missouri-Columbia for graduate school before the University of Virginia for his fellowship, Wamhoff recently took a path of entrepreneurship and biotech, while balancing life as an academic professor.

“I always thought I was going to go into medicine in one way or form,” Wamhoff says. He began taking Business courses (he would eventually gain a minor in Business Administration) and conducting research at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital his sophomore year. “I think it was the economics associated with research and the ability to touch human health in a different way, other than through academic medical research, that excited me.”

He started his first company during his fellowship and now has three biotech companies under his belt, including HemoShear, which concentrates on preclinical drug safety and efficacy assessment, and helps its pharmaceutical partners understand whether a drug will have a positive or negative effect once it goes into a human.

This career, this blending of science and industry, is one in which his liberal arts foundation has played an important role. In fact, Rhodes honored him in 2011 with the Distinguished Alumnus Award at Homecoming.

Wamhoff sees the medical field as wide-open to opportunities for helping people beyond being a physician, and if he had to give advice to a first-year student, it would be to “start understanding your options now. It’s exposure to those exciting opportunities—taking risks and exploring them on your own—that I know gives people a competitive advantage.”

Wamhoff is not one to lie dormant. Admittedly, he has “about a two- to three-year attention span with any new project.” It’s what has kept his career, and his life, exciting and moving forward. In much of that time, he’s used his gut and instinct to guide him, yet credits Rhodes with teaching him “to ask the obvious questions: ‘Why are you doing it? Why is it important, or what is important?’ You have to start asking those questions pretty early these days to differentiate yourself from the millions of people who graduate today. Learn to work well with people and take risks.”