Meet New BGS Director: Kelly Jordan-Sciutto, PhD
On a Mission to Open Doors, Expand Prospects for PhD

In February, Kelly Jordan-Sciutto, PhD, took the helm of Penn’s Biomedical Graduate Studies program. She manages her new role alongside her primary faculty appointment in the Dental School’s Department of Pathology, where she became full professor in 2013.

It is a great honor to be the new Associate Dean for Graduate Education and Director of Biomedical Graduate Studies. As with all faculty who participate in BGS, I am highly dedicated to graduate education in biomedical sciences. I’m looking forward to continuing the creative plans that Mikey Nusbaum put in motion during his tenure, to keeping Penn at the leading edge of graduate education, and to preparing our students for future careers in science. I’m also committed to ensuring access to an exceptional biomedical research education for as many people as possible.

I see many avenues for accomplishing these goals. In addition to ensuring a cutting edge curriculum in a rich research environment, I am hoping to prepare our students to be leaders in an array of careers to advance science.  To achieve this, I am looking to expand our interdisciplinary educational programs. Our students have such a phenomenal opportunity: being at a university like Penn that has 12 schools on one tightly-knit campus. What do we need more than scientists out in the world advocating for us in multiple fields?

We currently offer several certificate programs to our graduate students, including programs in teaching, public health, translational medicine, and environmental toxicology.  I envision providing other programs, too, such as certificates in management, business administration, publishing, and law. These opportunities will enhance the quality of applicants we recruit, and also increase the marketability of our graduates.

Another way to maintain the excellence of our graduate education program is through student and alumni networking.  With the advent of on-line networking, we want to provide the advantages of a voluntary network among our current students and alumni.  This powerful network can help students identify potential collaborators, explore a plethora of career paths by talking with people in those fields, and expand job opportunities by reaching out to our alums.  This type of networking can enhance career development for our current students and maintain connections with our talented alumni..

As career development is one of my top priorities, we have developed fantastic program aimed at shaping leaders in all aspects of scientific endeavor. Under the skillful guidance of David Manning, our Career Development program helps students think about the many scientific career paths they can pursue and outlines the skills they need to obtain for each career. Look for its website launch this fall. (You can read more about the program in this issue of The Dish.)

And finally, outreach programs are critical to making sure that programs like BGS are available to everyone. This goal is quite personal for me because I come from a small town in Pennsylvania coal country. I was the first in my family to attend college, and very few people from my high school go to college, let alone graduate school. My graduate education was a gift, and I firmly believe that it doesn’t matter where you’re from, if you love science, you should do it: that’s the message we want our students to relay to kids from kindergarten to high school. 

Our students already participate in an array of outreach programs for school children, including Franklin Institute Volunteer programs, Upward Bound, Elementary School Outreach, and Philly Science Festival.  We are improving outreach by coordinating it BGS-wide so that students can match their interests and skills with programs that need their expertise—and spread their energy and enthusiasm for STEM fields among our community’s youth. We will also enhance outreach for adults to educate people about current research, revise misconceptions about science in popular culture, and kindle interest in supporting research endeavors.

I’m thrilled to be leading the BGS— and would welcome your input or comments on what graduate education needs. Please keep reading, and I hope you're having a lovely fall!

Kelly

Kelly Jordan-Sciutto, PhD
Chair and Professor, Department of Pathology, Penn School of Dental Medicine
Associate Dean for Graduate Education, Director, Biomedical Graduate Studies, Perelman School of Medicine

Alum Spotlight: Olivia Tournay Flatto, GR’95
Mother Knows Best

Olivia Tournay Flatto, GR’95 President The Pershing Square Foundation

Olivia Tournay Flatto, GR’95
President
The Pershing Square Foundation

As a young girl, BGS alumnus Olivia Tournay Flatto, GR’95, got some good advice from her mom: “You should be a scientist when you grow up; this is the most noble profession in the world.” Luckily, she took that advice, and here, she reflects on the factors—including a life-threatening illness—that have shaped the journey from her childhood on the French seaside to President of the Pershing Square Foundation in midtown Manhattan.
 

Q:  Do you remember when you first became interested in science?

A:  I grew up in the south of France, in a small town on the Mediterranean Sea. Observing nature was a passion of mine from my very early years—from the snails in the garden, to the earth worms in the ground, the butterflies, bees, and dragonflies. I spent hours outside observing animals and organisms from any species, fascinated by their stories, shapes, behavior, diversity, and more importantly, their journey of how they became who they were.

But my interest in even smaller organisms, genes, and medicine came from when I was five years old: I had a rare disease called Guillain Barre where my own immune system was attacking my peripheral nervous system. I was suddenly paralyzed, and my life was in danger as the disease was progressing—one of the biggest fears was that I would have to be put on a respirator.

This early health trauma remained part of my life as I was growing up, yet my exposure to the mysteries of the human body and its complexity also fostered my curiosity. So I always felt drawn to a profession where we could cure disease.
 

Q:  You received your PhD in Molecular Biology and Genetics at Penn. What was your Biomedical Graduate Studies experience like?  What made it special?

A:  We were a small cohort, coming from diverse backgrounds and countries. I remember how much I enjoyed the quality of the class, was looking forward to becoming more proficient in the molecular biology language, and how great it was to rotate in different labs to get the practical experience. My professors and mentors were making history happen.
 

Q:  Frank Rauscher at Wistar was your mentor -- what impact did he have on your education? On your career?

A:  I was Frank Rauscher’s first graduate student in 1990.  I was excited when he moved to the Wistar Institute, and he had just published a fascinating work about a specific protein interaction in the body which has a profound effect on gene regulation.

Frank had a contagious energy and spirit. He taught me how to ask questions, to know which the important ones are. He was a role model in having an incredible work capacity, and he had a determination and focus I never forgot. He never lost his passion, nor his kindness and support for my career choices.

Also, Hilary Koprowski (renowned virologist who served as director of the Wistar Institute from 1957 to 1991) was an incredible force in my life, gave me a whole new perspective, and instilled in me the desire to tackle issues bigger than me. I am very fortunate to have spent time with Hilary as a friend and mentor, and his belief in me changed the course of my life. He deserves special thanks.
 

Q:  And so you chose a career path outside of the academic setting, but draw directly on your scientific training in so much that you do. Tell us about your professional journey and why you chose it?

A:  I met my husband while at Penn; he was attending Wharton. When we got married, I moved to New York in 1991. I was working then in Robert Benezra’s lab, looking at a different family of proteins than my time with Frank, and living in this extremely rich ecosystem in New York—being exposed every day to business, science, and art. It became so apparent to me, though, that researchers were living in their own academic world; there was not a lot of connection between them and the business world. 

Through a friend of mine, I was given this incredible offer to run a small foundation, the Emerald Foundation―funding worthy charitable, non-profit organizations that focus on education, youth, and healthcare research. I was suddenly on the other side of the bench. This was the perfect opportunity to use my knowledge of the discipline and my deep understanding of a young scientist’s journey to identify the future leaders of the field and help fund their science.

Because of this earlier investment in these young researchers, they did become leaders in cancer research. So when I was given the opportunity by Bill Ackman―CEO and founder of Pershing Square Capital Management―to be on the advisory board of the Pershing Square Foundation, it was natural for me to call on these scientists as I created the Pershing Square Sohn Cancer Prize.
 

Q:  Among your responsibilities as President of the Pershing Square Foundation, you are helping to bridge the worlds of business and science to advance innovative biomedical research.  What have you learned in building these bridges that might be of interest to students and alums of the BGS program?

A:  These bridges are built by the very individuals who are making important discoveries every day. The scientist and the philanthropist can have a lot of similarities and common goals, and as president of Pershing Square Foundation, I am in a unique position to facilitate natural connections and play an important role as a sort of catalyzer.

I have a deep desire and need to help organizations and individuals achieve their goals for the common good by understanding their journey. Each journey is different, but determination, resilience, and finding the right partners are key. To build a team with the right expertise, it is important that each partner identify one’s weakness and strengths. Innovative ideas are great—but they will not last if they are not executed properly.

If you’d like to learn more about Dr. Flatto’s work and organization, please visit www.psscra.org and www.pershingsquarefoundation.org.

BGS Career Development:
Charting a Course, Making an Impact

For Penn PhDs, there are plenty of job opportunities beyond the traditional lab setting.  BGS Career Development helps students consider and navigate these choices by outlining skills needed for a given field, advising on the range of job opportunities, and providing resources for career exploration.  A new website, slated to debut this fall, will further enhance its services.

One recent grad, Lindsay McKenna, has launched her career at McKinsey & Company: working at the intersection of science and business—inspired by a presentation at Wharton—where she says many skills that she learned as a scientist have been invaluable. 

“What I loved about BGS at Penn is what I love about my career today: I learn more every day, whether it’s trying to understand the scientific explanation for a mechanism behind disease or optimizing the design of an organization,” she shared. “And like Penn, I get to work with a dynamic and energizing group of colleagues. I’m proud of the communities that I’m a part of.”

“Career Development opens our students’ eyes to possibilities in all areas,” says new BGS Director Kelly Jordan-Sciutto. “Our students are spectacular, and we want them to find what they love and feel passionate about.”

We’d love to know your story, too. If you’d like to share it, please contact Mercury Meulman at mercury@pennmedicine.upenn.edu

Upcoming Events

BIOCHEMISTRY AND MOLECULAR BIOPHYSICS GRADUATE GROUP:

BMB Friday Research Discussions
All seminars are Fridays @ 3:30 p.m.
JF Library, 248 Anatomy-Chemistry Building
Happy hour follows immediately after seminar

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November 17
Laboratory of Jeremy Wilusz | Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics
"Unexpected ways that RNAs are processed, regulated, and function"

 

 

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December 1
Laboratory of Kenji Murakami Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics
Title TBA

 


 

Click here for the full Friday Research Discussions calendar.
 

IMMUNOLOGY GRADUATE GROUP:

Immunology Colloquium Seminar Series | Fall 2017
All seminars are Tuesdays @ 4:00 p.m.
Austrian Auditorium, Clinical Research Building

November 14
Dana Pe'er, PhD
Chair, Computational & Systems Biology Program, SKI, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
Title TBA


 

November 28
Yasmine Belkaid, PhD
Chief, Mucosal Immunology Section, NIH/NIAID
"Host microbiota interactions: context and consequences"
 

 

December 5
K. Mark Ansel, PhD
Principle Investigator, University of California, San Francisco Medical Center
"RNA Regulation in the Immune System" 

 

 

Click here for the full Immunology Colloquium Seminars calendar.
 

NEUROLOGY GRADUATE GROUP:

Neuroscience Public Lecture Series

The Fall 2017 Penn Neuroscience Public Lecture entitled "Hijacked: The Addicted Brain" will be held on Wednesday, December 6th at 6:30pm!

This FREE lecture features 15 minute TED-style talks from 3 leading Penn researchers Drs. Mariella De Biasi, Heath Schmidt, and Peggy Compton. Check-in and demonstrations will begin at 6pm, with a reception following the talks with snacks and refreshments.

Please register using the link https://www.upennglia.com/publiclecture

 

 


PHARMACOLOGY GRADUATE GROUP:

Department of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics Seminars

All seminars are Mondays @ 12 p.m.
Room 10-146, Smilow Center for Translational Research

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December 4
Joseph Bass, MD, PhD
Professor of Medicine of the Feinberg School of Medicine
Chief, Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Molecular Medicine
Northwestern University
Title TBA

 

December 18
Wei Guo, PhD
Professor of Biology, University of Pennsylvania
“Targeting BRAF and MEK Resistance in Melanoma”

 

 

Click here for the full Fall 2017 SPATT Seminar calendar.

Click here to view the full Pharmacology Graduate Group calendar.

 
 
If you would like to learn more about Penn Biomedical Graduate Studies, contact Torren Blair at torrenb@upenn.edu