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Updated 1:30 PM April 26, 2008




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Five outstanding seniors have stories to tell

Related story:
Special graduation celebrations offer individualized recognition of diverse groups >

Student draws upon experience abroad as she looks to future

Charlotte Gamble came to U-M knowing she wanted to be a doctor, knowing she wanted to make a difference. But her University years, including summers in Ghana and Cameroon, showed her challenges unknown to most Americans.
Charlotte Gamble on a trip with fellow U-M students to "Nzulezu" (village on water) in Ghana. (Photo courtesy Charlotte Gamble)

As an intern in Cameroon, she developed curricula to teach parenting skills and moral leadership to adolescent single mothers. In Ghana she conducted research on pregnancy complications at Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital.

"I worked with a team of five other students and numerous physicians to interview Ghanaian mothers about their pregnancy and childbirth experiences, and compile a database of deliveries and complications,'' Gamble says.

She is graduating from U-M with a bachelor's degree in brain behavior and cognitive science, and a minor in gender and health.

"I wanted to be at the intersection of social and biological science," Gamble says. "I came in knowing I was interested in medicine and being an OB/GYN, but health issues are rarely just physical or just psychological. It's usually a combination of both."

She minored in gender and health because of the numerous disparities she's seen in levels of healthcare, one the reasons she spent two summers abroad.

Donna Wessel Walker, associate director of the LSA Honors Program, can still remember meeting Gamble, when Gamble was coming to her first U-M orientation before freshman year, recalling her "infectious enthusiasm and high level of energy."

"You've got to meet her in person and see those eyes flashing," Walker says. "She is very talented and is just a delightful person in every way."

Besides earning a 3.7 GPA, Gamble also has been active in numerous organizations, including the Black Pre-Med Association and the Baha'i Club. She has been an honors resident assistant in South Quad for the past two years.

Born on the Caribbean island of Dominica, her family moved to Mount Pleasant, Mich., when she was 4. They now live in Jackson and she plans to return there after graduating while she selects a medical school and takes a summer job serving as a birth doula, a person who is an emotional support to women as they give birth.

U-M Medical School is one of the schools she is considering attending, she says.

"By understanding prevailing cultural ideals and values, those of us trained in medicine can work to empower and share resources where there is both a need and a desire," she says. "Providing sustainable, culturally appropriate medical care in resource-poor countries is an ever-present struggle for all those involved."

'Contagious vigor' moves mechanical engineering grad

She's been a morale captain of Dance Marathon, president of the College of Engineering (CoE) student government and co-director of a project to build orphan care centers in Malawi, Africa.

Merry Shao, 21, is mechanical engineering graduate with a past as bright as her future.
Mechanical Engineering graduating senior Merry Shao performs an experiment. (Photo courtesy Merry Shao)

In the fall she plans to start the U-M Master of Engineering in Energy Systems Engineering program, which is a switch of gears from her initial plan to become a doctor.

"I was pre-med for a little while, but I took two energy classes and I found the field to be so intriguing. It's shaping so much right now," Shao says. "I was drawn to that."

Shao now aims for a career that lets her work with policymakers and educate them about renewable energy solutions.

She has been a leader on campus. In addition to her post on the U-M Engineering Council, she was vice president of the CoE senior class.

For the past year, Shao has been involved with BLUElab, a student organization that works to find sustainable solutions to development problems at home and abroad.

As co-director of the Malawi project, she recruited and organized a 15-student team that is helping to design several orphan care centers. The centers will serve as schools where the teachers could also live, Shao says. The team is working with Leap Frog Partners, a local nonprofit, to devise a way to cook food at the centers without burning wood and to develop systems for cleaning and heating water, as well as sustainable lighting systems.

The team has made a prototype solar oven, Shao says. She will lead the effort to raise enough money for students to travel to Africa next summer and implement the plans with the Malawi people.

"Merry has brought a contagious vigor and enthusiasm to the BLUElab," says Steve Skerlos, associate professor of mechanical engineering and faculty advisor to BLUElab. "She has worked beyond the traditional boundaries of engineering, representing the best our students have to offer."

As morale captain of Dance Marathon, she was responsible for "making sure there was a lot of energy at events," she says. Dance Marathon, one of the largest student-run organizations on campus, raises money for children in need of rehabilitation. Participants gather pledges to stand on their feet for 30 hours.

Shao, whose mother is from China, speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese.

Desire to help others led student to nursing career

In a roundabout way, sports helped shape the career choice of School of Nursing senior Jacqueline Dufek, daughter of former U-M football star Don Dufek Jr.
Jacqueline Dufek says, "Nursing is the place to be. ... They keep the wheels turning." (Photo by Jillian Bogater)

To be more precise, sports-related injuries nudged Dufek toward a career in nursing.

In seventh grade, she ended up in the hospital for a week after a figure skating injury led to surgery, followed by a blood infection. The next year, she broke her leg playing basketball.

Accident-prone and subject to an unusually high number of childhood illnesses, the young Dufek spent a lot of time around doctors and nurses.

"I had a lot of weird ailments as a child, and it was the doctors and nurses who helped me through the hard times," says Dufek, 21, who will graduate Saturday. "That's when I decided I wanted to do the same — to be with people during their hardest, most difficult times and to help them get through it."

Jacqueline grew up mainly in Ann Arbor, where her father, uncle and grandfather were standout Wolverine football players.

Her grandfather, fullback Don Dufek Sr., was named Most Valuable Player of the 1950 team and the MVP of the 1951 Rose Bowl game. Her uncle, Bill Dufek, was an All American tackle at U-M in the mid-1970s who was later drafted by the New York Jets.

Her father, Don Dufek Jr., played football and ice hockey at U-M, where he was a co-captain and an All American on the 1975 football team. He went on to a nine-year career as a safety with the Seattle Seahawks.

Jacqueline spent the first three years of her life in Seattle, before the family moved to Ann Arbor. She will return to Seattle in July to start a nursing job at Seattle Children's Hospital. After gaining a few years of experience, she plans to go back to school to earn a master's degree and become a full-fledged nurse practitioner.

"Nursing is the place to be," Dufek says. "Sometimes nurses don't get the respect that they deserve, but they are the core of the health-care system. They keep the wheels turning."

Dufek served as president of the U-M Student Nursing Association and won the Outstanding Student Leadership Award from the U-M chapter of Sigma Theta Tau, a nursing honors society. Her U-M grade point average is 3.7.

"We recognize her as one of the leaders and the best in the School of Nursing's senior class of 2008," says Edward Maki-Schramm, assistant director of development and external relations at the School of Nursing.

"She energized the Student Nursing Association, and her infectious laughter makes her a magnet to other students."

Vehicle for homeless combines practicality and idealism

Intended or not, Stephen Mills is turning the tenet of capitalism on its head.
Stephen Mills has designed a shelter on wheels, which he calls the Homeless Utility Vehicle (HUV). (Photo courtesy Stephen Mills)

Mills has researched, created and tested a product for marginalized Americans who fall through tears in the proverbial societal safety net.

The School Art &Design senior has designed a shelter on wheels, which he calls the Homeless Utility Vehicle (HUV). Fueled by foot power, the modest mobile home is made from bicycle wheels, plywood and metal, encased in pliable plastic covering. Sort of a modified hot-dog stand on wheels meets a European eco-friendly solar car.

The aim of the HUV, however, isn't solely innovation design.

"While the HUV is functional, it's also a provocative display of activism," says Mills, an industrial design major from Concord, Mass. "It calls into question society's concept that all members of society should be supplied with some form of shelter."

His project intends to expose the underbelly of a capitalistic, market-driven society that fosters a survival-of-the-fittest mentality. But Mills' style isn't a harsh critique of an economic system created to breed affluence and often overlooks those left behind.

"Stephen's work combines a social conscience with the practical needs of those who could use the vehicle," says Bryan Rogers, dean of the School of Art & Design. "The result is a compelling and compassionate piece that forces viewers to think — and feel."

Inside the HUV, there are spaces for two plastic shopping baskets to hold returnable bottles and cans, and a metal tin to keep laundry. On the lowest level — inches above the ground — is a narrow one-person space to lie while protected from the wind and rain.

Mills stressed that the HUV is by no means an idealistic attempt to "cure" homelessness.

Rather, he said it's his stark look at the day-to-day needs of people who have chosen not to turn to homeless shelters; the people eking out existence, meandering the Ann Arbor streets and urban areas around the country.

During the testing phase in March, Mills pushed the HUV through the downtown streets. He sought feedback from homeless people, and integrated some of their suggestions into his design.

The experience, he said, "helped him understand the life of a homeless person." The project is documented on a Web site,, which includes Mills' photographs, essays and illustrations.

In the next few months, Mills will grapple with how to heat the HUV.

A student athlete changes tracks, follows entrepreneurial inspiration

As a high school student, Mark Thompson was a track and field force to be reckoned with. He won the New York state triple jump twice and ranked in the top 10 in the nation by his senior year.
An injury knocked Mark Thompson off track, but his business skills prevailed. (Photo by Scott Galvin, U-M Photo Services)

U-M recruited him for its track and field team, and it appeared he had a promising athletic career ahead of him.

But then fate stepped in when Thompson injured a hamstring, forcing him to rethink his collegiate plans, including his choice of academic major.

Motivated by his successful high school enterprise — a video yearbook business that took his school by storm, netting him more than $10,000 in profits in one year alone — Thompson decided to turn his attention to entrepreneurship and the Stephen M. Ross School of Business.

"The idea worked so well at my high school, I wanted to see if it would work at other high schools," he says. "I knew I had to take entrepreneur classes to see what a professor would think."

So Thompson applied to the BBA program in his sophomore year and took advantage of all it had to offer, especially the Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies. While in the program, he was able to pursue his business plan through entrepreneur-focused classes, as well as an independent study with Professor Len Middleton.

"Using the video yearbook idea I had in high school, I combined it with social networking capabilities and molded those ideas together to go on and compete in national business plan competitions," Thompson says.

Not only was he successful in those competitions, but Thompson's idea also won him the BBA Entrepreneur of the Year Award from the Ross School.

When he wasn't busy competing with his business plan, Thompson immersed himself in everything that the University had to offer. He became a member of the business fraternity Alpha Kappa Psi, vice president of the Couzens Active Multi-Ethnic Organization, a member of the Peers Utilizing Leadership Skills for Education, a peer advisor for the Michigan Community Scholars Program and a member of the Michigan Entrepreneur Club.

Self-improvement wasn't the only motivating factor in Thompson's involvement in so many activities. He also hoped to pave the way for others to be successful, as his peers had done for him.

"I think one thing I learned through my activities and the BBA program is that you have to realize that it's not about you, it's about the people who came before you and the people who are going to come after you," he says.

After graduation, Thompson will work at Lehman Brothers, an investment-banking firm, where he plans to learn more about finance while pursuing his original business idea of making video high school yearbooks available at schools across the country.

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