TSRI Celebrates 22nd Commencement
Stem Cell Therapy Shows Promise for MS in Mouse Model
Special Proteins Guide Immunity Against Bacteria that Employ 'Glycan Camouflage'
Molecules in Motion: A Profile of Ryan Shenvi



TSRI Celebrates 22nd Commencement


In a colorful TSRI tradition, the institute’s President and CEO Michael Marletta leads faculty and students across the Scripps California campus to the Auditorium at TSRI, where family, friends and supporters wait for their arrival.


Jamie Williamson, dean of graduate and postgraduate studies, pays special tribute to Marylyn Rinaldi, the graduate program’s first administrator, for her many contributions in making the world-renowned program what it is today.


Commencement speaker Jack Dixon, an esteemed biochemist, told the graduates, “Do not underestimate the influence you can have on others. At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is what you do for other people—how you help them and how you inspire them.”


Graduate students advisors introduced their students individually and described their varied and impressive accomplishments. Here, Keary Engle (left) and Youngzee Song take the stage.


Associate Dean Phil Dawson congratulates Amanda Wolfe (left photo); Professor Dennis Burton embraces Devin Sok.


The ceremony honored graduates who worked on both TSRI campuses, including Sophie Sun (left) of Scripps California and Briana Weiser of Scripps Florida.

With the completion of this year’s ceremony, alumni of the TSRI graduate program now number more than 500, including Mingchao Kang (right).

Family and friends congratulate the graduates for a job well done.

Photos by Cindy Brauer.

By Madeline McCurry-Schmidt and Mika Ono

On Friday, May 16, The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) held its 22nd commencement ceremony to honor 38 graduating biology and chemistry students. The institute also awarded an honorary degree to biochemist Jack E. Dixon, a pioneering researcher in the field of cell signaling.

The ceremony, which was held in the La Jolla Auditorium at TSRI, recognized graduates from both the California and Florida campuses.

TSRI President and CEO Michael Marletta kicked off the ceremony by welcoming the families, friends and TSRI faculty who supported the graduating students through the hard work and focus required to earn their PhDs. He also noted TSRI is a uniquely impressive place, with unmatched breadth and depth of science, as shown by the students’ varied and remarkable accomplishments.

Jamie Williamson, dean of graduate and postgraduate studies, was next at the lectern, inviting the audience to welcome the graduating class with “unrestrained enthusiasm.” He also paid special tribute to Marylyn Rinaldi, who was the program’s first graduate program administrator until her retirement at the end of last year. Williamson noted that throughout her long tenure Rinaldi made an inestimable contribution to establishing TSRI’s world-class program.

The graduate program is now widely recognized as among the best of its kind in the nation, ranking seventh overall in chemistry and ninth overall in the biological sciences according to a U.S. News & World Report survey of department heads, deans, directors of graduate studies and other academics.

With the 2014 ceremony, TSRI has now conferred more than 500 doctoral degrees.

Embracing Challenges

Marletta then introduced Dixon, Distinguished Professor in Pharmacology, Cellular and Molecular Medicine, Chemistry and Biochemistry and Associate Vice Chancellor for Scientific Affairs at the University of California (UC), San Diego. Dixon is a pioneer in studies of the molecular basis of some of the world’s most devastating diseases—including the bacterium responsible for the “black death”— as well as enzyme function and tumor growth.

In his commencement address, Dixon encouraged TSRI’s graduating class to use the challenges in their lives as opportunities. He shared his story of dealing with undiagnosed dyslexia as a child—a challenge that motivated him to learn as much as he could from visual material, such as scientific figures, and memorization.

“Do not be afraid of ‘failure,’” said Dixon. “It is part of life, and failure can make you stronger and can influence your future path… It turned out that organic chemistry was great for me.”

He encouraged members of TSRI’s graduating class to do what they love and have a true passion for. He also encouraged them to find good mentors—and to become mentors and leaders themselves when the opportunity arises.

“We faculty are passing a torch to you, which we hope will help light the way through the next stage of your life’s work,” he said. “You should understand that TSRI graduates are among the very best in our nation and we have high hopes and great expectations for your future work.”

A Commitment to Science

After the commencement speech, the graduating students’ advisors stepped up to the lectern to speak about each of the students and his or her accomplishments—which included dozens of scientific papers, a quadruple undergraduate major, marathons and roller derby. Associate Deans Philip Dawson, Velia Fowler and William Roush assisted with the ceremonial hoods while Williamson handed out diplomas.

The TSRI program requires a year of class work, which students can customize based on their interests, and rotation through laboratories, which gives the students the opportunity to find the right fit for a mentor and research focus. Students then spent an average of five years to complete their research and write and defend their dissertations.

The graduating students this year contributed original research on topics ranging from tumor growth to HIV vaccine design.

Many of new graduates are already in the workplace at both academic institutions and industry. Employers include Harvard University, the California Institute of Technology, UC San Diego, Vanderbilt University, Johnson & Johnson, Calibr and Synthorx.

After officially conferring the degrees, Marletta invited the graduates and their families onto the patio for lunch. “It has been a great day,” he said, “and I’m sure it will only get better.”