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Dealing with disparities

Amanuel Zewdie plans to use his science background as a springboard to addressing the healthcare needs of underserved communities.

College of Biological Sciences undergraduate Amanuel Zewdie was among a handful of U of M students to receive a 2013 Scholarly Excellence in Equity and Diversity Award (SEED), which recognizes diverse students doing outstanding work to advance equity and diversity. Born in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, Zewdie and his family moved to Minneapolis when he was six. He talks about what attracted him to the U of M and the biological sciences, and how equity and diversity intersects with his future plans.

Q. Why did you choose to study the biological sciences?

Although math and physics were my forte, I chose to study the biological sciences because of my curiosity about the origins and development of life. I initially majored in biochemistry because I wanted to understand the mechanisms that sustain life at the most fundamental level. I decided to major in genetics, cell biology and development as well after my research in the Seelig Lab helped me to understand the interplay between the principles of biochemistry and genetics. Under Professor Burckhard Seelig and Dr. Misha Golynskiy, I investigated how artificial proteins catalyze biologically relevant reactions within E. coli. I found the project interesting because it allowed me to explore the enzymatic versatility of proteins and the characteristics of primordial-like polypeptides.

Q. You received a 2013 SEED Award. Can you talk about your involvement in advancing equity and diversity?  

I am currently the president of the Ethiopian Student Association, a U of M student group that promotes understanding of Ethiopian culture and history, and works to address the health deficiencies present in Ethiopia. I also tutored alongside an incredible set of instructors over the summer at the Goodwill FATHER Project, a program designed to help adults obtain their high school equivalence degree and acquire stable jobs. In addition, I have volunteered with the dedicated staff at the Sheridan Clinic to inform patients about its many free programs and to help set up a more reliable and expedient prescription system.  

Q. One of your professional goals is to address health disparities. What inspired that interest and how does it intersect with your post-graduation plans?  

I plan to attend medical school and pursue an MD/MPH. I hope to use my understanding of medicine and public health to address health disparities in an urban setting. Through my experiences with the Minnesota Future Doctors program and the Sheridan Clinic, I have been able to observe firsthand how cultural misunderstandings or one’s education, economic status and ethnicity can become a barrier to good health care. I want to address these factors as a form of preventative medicine that would notably increase the quality of life of underserved communities.