Meet Desmond and Katie Anne

Thersea Akoto

Desmond Moronge

  • Hometown: Nairobi, Kenya
  • Area of Research: Acute Kidney Injury prior to pregnancy and its effects on baby
  • Why is your research important? My research is important because for a long time a history of acute kidney injury was not recognized as a risk factor for adverse pregnancy outcomes such as low birth weight babies and hypertension.
  • Why did you choose your degree program? My decision to choose this degree program was heavily influenced by my mentor as well as Dr. Sullivan, my dean. Being that this is a PhD journey, it is not really about the name of the program rather the mentorship you receive to build on for later stages of your career. I believe I was very fortunate to get great mentors who made me love this current degree program.
  • How does this program impact your career goal? My ultimate career goal is to become to be an independent extramurally funded tenure-track scientist who applies cutting edge research in aiding the understanding of pregnancy related complications. As such this program is building my “toolbox” with the very much needed skills that I may need later in my career such as grantsmanship, scientific presentations, developing hypothesis driven questions and applying the right techniques to answer the questions. 
  • What is the greatest lesson you have learned from your mentor? “Do not wait for the right time to start doing anything. There is never going to be a right time.  Just start it and send it to me. I will provide input, so don’t let yourself get bogged down by it.”  This is something we have shared in lab numerous times so it's a paraphrase basically reflecting not delaying the start of something to wait for a "perfect" time.
  • What have you found most beneficial about your program? My program is just the right size for what I need. I never feel overwhelmed or deficient. It is just perfectly sized to ensure very close contact with professors and access to facilities. We have many core facilities that we get to use the various equipment and get specialized training. Its honestly the best.
  • What words of advice do you have for someone considering this program? I would highly recommend it because other than being well known in the US, the Physiology department is very student focused. We have student driven summer trainee series whereby we get to present our research. We also have a very unique seminar series whereby world experts in Physiology are invited to give a seminar and we get to have lunch with them and share experiences. I really have found that to be very helpful and I have made numerous networks though such a forum.
  • Have you been involved in any AU organizations? Yes, I am a member of the Graduate School Student Council whereby we get to serve as a liaison between the graduate school and the students. The positive experience is that we get to share exciting opportunities about the many events that the graduate school has planned for the students. We also share on any areas that can be improved as well as providing feedback on what the students need.
  • What have been some of your most rewarding moments while in your program? Oh! It has to be the trip to conferences and meeting other great scientists. So far, I have been to Experimental Biology in Philadelphia and will be traveling to San Diego for the American Heart Association, Hypertension Conference.
  • What are your career goals? My long-term career goal is to be an independent extramurally funded tenure-track scientist who applies cutting edge research in aiding the understanding of pregnancy related complications. I desire to be a career researcher who inspires the next generation especially minorities who suffer health disparities especially related to pregnancy complications.
  • What courses in your program curriculum stand out as most helpful for your career goals? The first year classes stand out to me since they bring everyone on board and on the same page. We all matriculate into the program with different majors and the 1st year classes really form the bridge and make a good foundation for later, so I found this very helpful.
  • What AU resources have been most helpful? I frequently use the gym at the Student Center and in the summer we have rented kayaks to go down the river; it's all thanks to the student wellness center and Campus Recreation
  • What is your Favorite AU memory? My whole 1st year cohort being invited to Dr. Sullivan's house to celebrate finishing our first year classes. It was very memorable and we enjoyed it as a class.
  • What do you do for fun? Play soccer, go to the gym, playing chess.


Phylicia Allen

Katie Anne Fopiano

  • Hometown: Peachtree City, Georgia
  • Area of Research: Microvascular changes in cardiac and cerebral diseases. I am currently studying functional and structural differences in the microvasculature due to diseases such as Heart Failure with a preserved Ejection Fraction (HFpEF) and in Alzheimer’s disease. Both of these diseases are prevalent around the world but unfortunately do not have many therapeutic options. Research focusing on the underlying mechanisms behind the pathogenesis of these diseases could help lead to novel therapeutics.
  • Why did you choose your degree program? How does this program impact your career goal? I chose the Biomedical Sciences program here because of the collaborative nature and the overall environment of the program. I could tell from my first day here that they want to encourage and teach their students and that they truly care about each of us, which as a whole helps students to succeed in their chosen career goals. I chose the Physiology department because I fell in love with my laboratory when I first rotated and then after experiencing the department, there was no doubt that it was where I belonged. I really admired how the Physiology department collaborates, strives to accomplish new and exciting research and how the faculty collectively teaches and guides students to be their best.
  • What words of wisdom have your mentor shared with you? The most important thing that I have learned from my mentor is to be excited about research. Once I joined my laboratory I saw how excited he was about his research and how that drove him (and the laboratory) to work hard and to keep in mind why we do what we do. He is always excited but also understanding and wants us to become great scientists. He is encouraging and pushes us to move forward. I am happy that I joined his lab for my graduate training.
  • What have you found most beneficial about your program and research at AU?  What I have found most enjoyable about the Physiology program and the research here is the vast amount of opportunities. If there is a technique that I want to learn, professors within and outside of my department have been willing to teach me.  And, if there is a new experiment I want to try in the laboratory, I am encouraged by my mentor. I think it has taught me a lot about being a scientific researcher, allowing me to learn many valuable techniques but also how to independently pursue a hypothesis and problem solve within the laboratory.
  • What words of advice do you have for someone considering this program at AU? Choosing your graduate program is a big decision, but I could not be happier with the choice I made to come to Augusta University. This school has exceptional research, with a caring and collaborative research environment, which really is so special to have. Coming into graduate school I almost completely decided against pursuing academic research as my career, but while this school has taught me to become a competitive academic candidate, it has also taught me to appreciate the opportunity I have to do biomedical science, and now I am looking at pursuing an academic research career. I would highly recommend anyone to join the graduate program here at Augusta University.
  • Have you been involved in any Augusta University organizations?  I have served as the Biomedical Student Association’s Secretary, Editor, and now Vice President. I was also recently chosen to represent the graduate school as the liaison for the GaBio Emerging Leadership Network. Being involved has allowed me many wonderful opportunities to meet with people outside of and within the graduate school. I also have the opportunity to speak on topics important to my fellow students here and represent them. Being able to serve in these leadership roles has allowed me to become closer to students in different departments and years as me and has allowed me to give back to the graduate school community and the Augusta community in meaningful ways.
  • What have been some of your most rewarding moments while in your program? The Biomedical Graduate Program hosts undergraduate students for a summer internship through the STAR program. For the past two years, my laboratory has hosted one of these undergraduate students, and I have been fortunate enough to train them in the laboratory and help them with their presentations and understanding of the research. In both years, I can remember ‘the moment’ when they either performed an experiment or grasped a scientific concept in their project. It is like when a light bulb goes off; those are some of the most rewarding moments that I have had while in the program; being able to better myself in my teaching skills (and technical skills) helps me in developing my career, but seeing someone having ‘the moment’ and being equally as excited about science, hopefully encouraging them to continue in a career within science themselves, is rewarding.
  • What are your career goals? My short term goals are to defend and obtain a competitive post-doctoral position successfully. This will help me in my long term goal of becoming an independent academic scientist within translational research. I not only love the inherent curiosity within scientific research, but I also love teaching students and I want to hopefully relay my excitement about the biomedical science field to the next generation.
  • What courses in your program curriculum stand out as most helpful for your career goals? All students in the Biomedical Sciences graduate program take a set of classes as part of the core curriculum. The one that was most helpful to me was the Integrated Systems class; it focuses on teaching students about body physiology in a comprehensive way rather than focusing on one specific area. I think that laying a foundation in this class of understanding physiology helps us better to understand our more specific chosen areas of research.
  • What AU resources have been most helpful? The graduate school’s core staff. Though there are many wonderful resources available here to help students in science, writing, or with mental health, the graduate office is always there for their students and will help in any way that they can. One of the reasons I came here is because of the first-year mentor at the time; she was energetic and excited about research and always willing to connect students to others or to help students herself. She works within the graduate office alongside other individuals who have all been there for me through good and bad times with encouragement, understanding, and advice. So, I would have to say that the graduate school staff themselves have been the best and most helpful resource that the students here have.
  • What is your Favorite AU memory? I became close with some other students within my class during our first year; we have a yearly meet-up to celebrate another year in the program, we studied together in the library as first-years, and we even went on a trip to Charleston together. With them, I have had many memorable moments during my time at AU.
  • What do you do for fun (hobbies etc.)? I like hiking, reading, and traveling.

Former Student

Mahmoud Abdelbary

"My mentor, Dr. Jennifer Sullivan, always repeats “Data is data”. She never becomes frustrated with students for getting negative results in experiments. She is supportive and teaches us how handle such stress."

Mahmoud Abdelbary >>