Deanna Csomo McCool | May 12, 2018
A blend of dedication to the community and a joyful work ethic landed two science professors in the spotlight as they were inducted into the 2018 Michiana Forty under 40 class.
The inductees from the College of Science were Nancy Michael, assistant teaching professor and director of undergraduate studies, Neuroscience and Behavior; and Jenifer Prosperi, adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Notre Dame and member of Harper Cancer Research Institute, as well as assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, Indiana University School of Medicine–South Bend. A third inductee from Notre Dame was Regan Jones, the University’s director for military and veterans affairs.
The Forty under 40 program is in its 12th year, and recognizes the area’s most talented and dedicated young executives, professionals, and leaders who demonstrate career success and community engagement. This year’s class was honored May 11 during a reception at the Gillespie Conference Center in South Bend.
Nancy Michael’s down-to-earth, unique teaching style for classes within the College of Science—she takes students in her Intro to Neuroscience Lab class for a day of cardio at the gym, relating what they learned back to science of the brain—has endeared her to her students. “She makes each lesson relevant to the world at large,” said Meredith Hollender, a senior majoring in neuroscience and behavior.
After college, Michael did not attend graduate school immediately. Instead, she worked different jobs, pondering life in the community in which she grew up. She noticed that everyone had similar family situations, yet experienced various degrees of success by their late 20s…and some even died by suicide or drug overdoses. By the time she returned to school in 2008, Michael earned her doctorate in just four years from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. The program usually takes five years to complete.
“I did a lot of reading, and wondered, what is it about what people say and what they actually do? There’s often this huge void between the two,” Michael said. “In ‘neuroscience speak,’ it’s about the difference between motivated behavior, habit behavior, and decision making…and neural mechanisms that are involved in all those different components.”
She gives freely to the community when called upon to share her knowledge, said Sunny Boyd, professor of behavioral neuroendocrinology in the Department of Biological Sciences. Michael involves undergraduates with the Robinson Learning Center, the Juvenile Justice Center, and the South Bend School Corporation, and also holds public ‘brain awareness’ events for the public.
And it is the students who feed Michael’s passion.