Growing Scientists

By Marcia Faye
Growing Scientists Image
Photo: Michael Goss

While Robert Dawe (BME ’06, Ph.D. ’11) was an IIT student, he felt that his research on Alzheimer’s disease could have a potential impact one day. The most common cause of dementia among older individuals, the irreversible, progressive illness may affect as many as 5.1 million Americans, according to the National Institute on Aging. But Dawe says the significance of his work became more tangible while he was an Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) Foundation Scholar.

“As part of the graduate student experience, you are working on small tasks a piece at a time and it’s easy to lose sight of the possible benefits the work as a whole might bring,” Dawe explains. “In attending ARCS functions a couple of times a year, I was reminded of those benefits. Almost every ARCS member I talked to would say, ‘My mother had Alzheimer’s, so this is important work to me—thank you,’ or something along those lines. I believe it really provided a morale boost that actually translated to my increased productivity.”

Now an assistant professor at Rush University Medical Center, Dawe continues the research he began at IIT at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center, where he is part of a team examining characteristics of postmortem brains affected by Alzheimer’s or at high risk for the disease. New ARCS Foundation Illinois Chapter President Pat Anderson says Dawe’s steady progression from talented and focused student to accomplished and dedicated professional is what makes ARCS—the “ultimate grassroots organization”—so important to her and its other 64 members.

“We come together to work hard for a cause without the benefit of obtaining either monetary reward or prestige,” Anderson says about ARCS, whose mission is to advance our nation’s competitiveness by strengthening the United States’ capacity for scientific and technological innovation. “What we do get is the sense of doing something that is beneficial to individuals and to our country, and the satisfaction of having done our job well. To be positioned for the future, we have to make supporting the sciences a national priority.”

“To be positioned for the future, we have to make supporting the sciences a national priority.” —Pat Anderson

Now in its 36th year, ARCS Illinois is one of 17 autonomous chapters of the national ARCS Foundation and operates under a common National Board. Through 2012–13, the chapter has allocated cumulative awards of more than $2.5 million to 407 students at five ARCS-sanctioned universities—IIT, Loyola Stritch School of Medicine, Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Since 1985, 34 IIT students have received the merit-based awards, which are renewable and can be used at the student’s discretion.

Nurturing scientific minds comes naturally for Anderson, who began her two-year term as ARCS president in July. A Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Kappa Phi mathematics and physics graduate of the University of Delaware, where she met her future husband, IIT President John Anderson, she worked as a computer programmer, trainer, and consultant for more than 20 years.

Anderson’s agenda for ARCS Illinois includes strengthening the advisory board, improving communications within the organization, increasing outside awareness of ARCS and its mission, and further refining the ARCS message. She also intends to focus on tracking former scholars like Dawe and promoting their outcomes.

“ARCS has been a strong voice in recognizing the need for our best young minds to consider research in engineering and science for many decades,” says former IIT ARCS liaison Ali Cinar, director of IIT’s Engineering Center for Diabetes Research and Education. “We are fortunate to partner with ARCS to recognize and reward the excellent research that our doctoral students are conducting at IIT.”

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