Dr. David Rogers, the First Tennessee Endowed Chair of Excellence in Clinical Pharmacy at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, has been named the SGSHS Alumnus of the Year.
Dr. David Rogers, the First Tennessee Endowed Chair of Excellence in Clinical Pharmacy at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, has been named the SGSHS Alumnus of the Year.
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Grad school names clinical pharmacist Alumnus of the Year

Published on Monday, October 29, 2018

By: Amanda Markow

With a career that combines clinical pharmacy, teaching at the graduate level and leading a team researching antifungals, among other things, Dr. David Rogers is a natural choice for this year’s University of Mississippi School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences Distinguished Alumnus of the Year award. He accepted the honor and spoke to a group of graduate students, faculty and alumni gathered in the Norman C. Nelson Student Union on Friday, October 26 for the school’s annual alumni event.

Rogers holds the First Tennessee Endowed Chair of Excellence in Clinical Pharmacy, is professor of clinical pharmacy and translational science, and pediatrics at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Pharmacy and serves as the Vice Chair for Research for the Department of Clinical Pharmacy and Translational Science, the Director of Clinical and Experimental Therapeutics, and Co-Director of the UTHSC Center of Excellence for Pediatric Experimental Therapeutics. Though he’s grateful for the path his career has taken, he admits he never dreamed this is how it would look.

Rogers speaks with Dr. Joey Granger, dean of the School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences, during Research Day.

After completing his undergraduate work at the University of Memphis, he realized a deeper interest in clinical pharmacy and earned a Pharm.D. degree from the University of Tennessee, and then M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Microbiology and Immunology from the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

Rogers now leads a research team of 10 people and lectures to and works with graduate students at UTHSC. The research program centers on antifungal agents and ways in which to treat severe fungal infections. “Specifically, we’ve focused the bulk of our work on understanding how resistance to antifungal agents emerges and understanding the molecular and genetic basis of that clinical problem,” he said.

Rogers is quick to brag on the team he has at UTHSC, but humbly downplays his contribution, something that his department chair, Dr. Richard Helms, disputes. “Dave Rogers is among the best professionals I have ever met. Quietly accomplished, respectful, never a braggart, he sees value in all of those around him.

Helms added, “Dave has built a mycology team now with new targets for drug development, which may revolutionize the way fungal infections are treated. This translational approach to fungal pathogenesis will support our Center for Drug Development.”

This research has roots in a topic that Rogers first got interested in while doing his graduate work at UMMC.

Ciara McKnight, a Ph.D. student in cell and molecular biology, presents her work to Rogers.

“You know the saying, ‘Everything you’ve learned that’s of importance, you learned in kindergarten,’ well everything I learned that’s of importance in my academic career seems to all stem back to the 5 or 6 years I spent in Jackson with that particular group,” said Rogers. “The whole time I was there had a profound effect on my career. The Department of Microbiology was very important, and it sounds almost trivial to say they played a crucial role in the way I think about the world as a scientist.”

Rogers’ professors also had a profoundly significant impact on his approach to leading a graduate program, three in particular.

“Dr. John Cleary recruited me to Jackson to train with him in the Infections Diseases Pharmacy Residency and Fellowship program that he created and directed. He made it possible for me to pursue graduate education while training there, and so that I could continue my Ph.D. training after I joined the faculty there,” said Rogers.

“Also, Dr. Stan Chapman carried enormous influence and he did it in such a positive way for the good of others, and he provided opportunities for individuals training in research in his lab but also on the clinical side,” said Rogers. “This might have been the most important thing I learned at UMMC—academic servant leadership.”

Dr. Stanley Chapman is professor emeritus in the Department of Infectious Diseases. A long time professor at UMMC, Chapman even has a Research Day award named in his honor, the Stanley Chapman Young Investigator Award.

Rogers said that he is also forever grateful for having worked with Dr. Donna Sullivan, professor emeritus of infectious diseases, who was his Ph.D. mentor. “On a day-to-day basis she provided instruction, opportunities, resources, advice, and forgiveness when I broke things or made mistakes,” he said.

“Dave is, was, always will be one of the most remarkable people I have ever worked with,” said Sullivan. “He was such a go-getter as a student, I could barely keep up! Dave generated his own research funds, planned experiments that I only tweaked, and I was amazed at his writing skills.”

Rogers has applied what he learned from Cleary, Chapman and Sullivan in regard to his team at UTHSC, which is the career accomplishment he’s most proud of thus far. 

“It’s a tight knit, connected, collaborative group, and the power of collaboration or power of critical mass of individuals working on similar but not the same things that can play off each other and interact within one another. We’ve kind of created on a larger scale what I feel like I experienced in Stan’s lab with Donna - that environment where it’s very grad student driven,” said Rogers.

He insists he doesn’t really deserve much of the credit for that. He’s just happy to be a part of it. 

“He always gives credit to his team, but the direction of his team is always under his watchful eye. He gently keeps all focused and moving in a common direction,” said Helms.

Over his career, Rogers has noticed a few practical applications of his education that he shared with students on Friday during the annual Research Day Luncheon.

First, he told them to expect to be lifelong learners. “Biomedical sciences now sort of all interconnect. There’s going to be new techniques, new principles, new ideas that come about, and you’ve got to stay on top of that.”

Collaboration is also key. “If you can’t do a technique yourself, go find the best person in the world that does that, and convince them that your question is important.”

And lastly, stay open to all possibilities. “You’re at the beginning of your career. You have all these doors open to you, don’t close any of these doors until you absolutely have to. You don’t know you don’t like it until you’ve tried it on,” said Rogers.  

Dr. Joey Granger, dean of the School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences, is excited about Rogers’ being the alumnus of the year

“This is the highest award given to our graduates from the SGSHS. He joins the list of accomplished and nationally and internationally recognized alumni from our graduate school,” said Granger.

Rogers was both surprised and humbled by the award. “I feel like I was just there, how can it be time for this? I hopefully have at least 20 more years to go and a lot more to accomplish. You look at a place like UMMC and this is where the likes of Arthur Guyton once roamed the halls and many scientists of that caliber, so it’s a grad program and health science center to be reckoned with, and to be recognized by them is an honor.”

Carolann Risley, right, a Ph.D. in nursing student, explains her work to Dr. Susana Salazar Marocho, assistant professor of biomedical materials science and poster presentation judge, during Research Day.

Research Awards

The Distinguished Alumnus lecture is held in conjunction with the SGSHS’s Research Day. This annual event highlights the research conducted by the school’s Ph.D. students, postdoctoral fellows and instructors. It provides these early-career scientists with an opportunity to share their work through oral and poster presentations.

At the end of the event, the following individuals received awards for their presentations:

Graduate Students:

Jared Cobb, Biomedical Materials Science

Sonja Dragojevic, Cell and Molecular Biology

Jason Engel, M.D./Ph.D. – Physiology and Biophysics

Sid Gaikwad, Neuroscience

Mary Darby Jackson, Microbiology and Immunology

Tyler Lomax, Physiology and Biophysics

Kenji Maeda, Experimental Therapeutics and Pharmacology

Ciara McKnight, Cell and Molecular Biology

Marcelo Sakiyama, Pathology

Olivia Travis, Experimental Therapeutics and Pharmacology

Walker Wiggins, M.D./Ph.D – Neuroscience

Austin Zamarripa, Neuroscience

Among those receiving awards for best graduate student poster presentations include, from left, Mary Darby Jackson, microbiology and immunology; Ciara McKnight, cell and molecular biology; Marcelo Sakiyama, pathology; Austin Zamarripa, neuroscience; Walker Wiggins, neuroscience; Olivia Travis, experimental therapeutics and pharmacology; Sid Gaikwad, neuroscience; and Sonja Dragojevic, cell and molecular biology.

Postdoctoral Fellows and Instructors:

Dr. Lais Berro, Psychiatry and Human Behavior

Dr. Pallabi Pal, Biomedical Materials Science

Dr. Kiran Soni, Physiology and Biophysics

Dr. Erin Taylor, Physiology and Biophysics

Dr. Edgar Torres Fernandez, Cell and Molecular Biology

Among those receiving awards for best postdoctoral fellow and instructor presentations include, from left, Dr. Pallabi Pal, biomedical materials science; Dr. Erin Taylor, physiology and biophysics; Dr. Lais Berro, psychiatry and human behavior; Dr. Edgar Torres Fernandez, cell and molecular biology; and Dr. Kiran Soni, physiology and biophysics.