Tell us about your academic journey.
I always knew I wanted to be in the field of science. My dad was a chemist with the city of Detroit and I loved being with him in the lab. I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do; I thought about biology and sports medicine and then psychology hit me. I really enjoy listening to people talk; in psychology, you do less talking and more listening. I still wasn’t sure about psychology until studying behavioral neuroscience. I loved learning about the workings of the brain and how that is translated into behavior. That led to wanting to study learning and memory, and disorders that cause deficits. That’s when Alzheimer’s came into the picture …
... which led to your second master’s degree and Ph.D.?
Yes, I wanted to move further into the science of pathogenesis. I sought out renowned scientist Peter Davies, and that’s what led me to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
After your time with mission work and middle school teaching, you came back to Michigan.
[Dr. Gary Dunbar], a friend, mentor and executive director of Field Neurosciences Institute, asked if I was interested in working on an Alzheimer research project, which led me to FNI and back to Michigan. In 2011, the opportunity to join SVSU presented itself. I wanted to be at a small university, one where I could be doing the research I wanted to do. My greatest personal educational experience was someone really teaching me, so SVSU was perfect — I could do research and mostly work with students while maintaining collaboration with FNI.
Talk about your research.
We’re currently examining the role of dental infection as a cause of or exacerbation factor for Alzheimer’s. A 2006 study showed that 45 percent of all Alzheimer patients had no teeth; the earlier that loss, the more susceptible the person was to the disease. Our theory is that a bacteria [enterococcus faecalis], involved in serious dental infections, could be a factor. One of the theories we’re testing is that if we find the bacteria in the human brain, we need to find the entryway to the brain; that could be the upper palate, which is close to the olfactory bulb. One of the first symptoms of Alzheimer patients is a loss of smell, so this could be a promising path to explore. Our plans include collaborating with Rush Presbyterian Medical in Chicago as providers of human tissue for us to do more infection research.
And SVSU students are doing this type of research?
Absolutely, and much of the credit goes to Dr. Jeffrey Smith [The Malcolm & Lois Field Endowed Chair of Health Sciences]. He has made sure our facilities are state-of-the art and has encouraged and mentored students, many of whom are now in doctoral programs around the country. SVSU really supports student research. Many science projects are funded through The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Student Research & Creativity Institute. At the November  conference of the International Society for Neuroscience in San Diego, we had students presenting at a session on traumatic brain injury and recovery.
How would you describe SVSU students?
Most are hardworking and very dedicated to their studies. Our students don’t have a sense of entitlement, so they don’t take things for granted. I have really enjoyed interaction in the classroom; it has been rewarding and insightful and has helped me as an educator. Our [geographic] diversity is so interesting. We have rural students who don’t understand urban students (and vice versa), and getting the differing backgrounds together helps us all better understand things.