Amazing Students

Raymond Swetenburg, III

Ph.D. student Raymond Swetenberg enjoys sharing science with others and is passionate about his transformative biological research using stem cells to understand more about spinal cords.

Hometown:

Charlotte, North Carolina

High School:

Charlotte Latin School

Degree objective:

Ph.D.

Other degrees:

B.S., Sewanee: The University of the South

Expected graduation:

2017

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:

While pursuing my doctorate at UGA under the direction and mentorship of Steve Stice as a part of the Regenerative Bioscience Center, my research has been funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation as part of a larger Science and Technology Center — only 13 of these centers exist in the country. Ours, titled “Emergent Behaviors of Integrated Cellular Systems,” or EBICS for short, includes about 30 faculty and 60 trainees, and is spread out over 11 institutions from Boston to San Francisco. Through UGA and EBICS, I have had the chance to do transformative biological research with a strong bioengineering slant with some exceptionally smart people in a collaborative setting.

I was selected for the EBICS Student Leadership Committee where I used my position to drive collaboration and increase communication among students — no small task in a center that is so dispersed. We’ve had EBICS students come to UGA on multiple occasions so I could teach them the stem cell science we are pioneering, and I have traveled to other institutions to learn their techniques and bring them back home. I am part of the team that composes our site-wide Ethics Modules, exploring topics ranging from human enhancement to collaborative research to terrorism. EBICS had a contest among all trainees to propose Design Principles for our research: to define the underlying rules that form the basis of our research. Though this contest seems (and was) tailor-made for the engineers at the three lead EBICS institutions — MIT, Georgia Tech and the University of Illinois — I still came out on top! If there is one thing I’ve learned at UGA, it’s that it’s always nice to beat Tech, particularly at their own game. Friendly rivalries aside, EBICS has given me the opportunity to see the future of science — as a team effort comprised of mixed disciplines working toward a common goal — and has allowed me to do my part to bring the University of Georgia to the forefront.

Sharing science with others is the best part of my job. What we do at the Regenerative Bioscience Center is really cool and I want people to know that. Our overall goal here is to regrow or replace the parts of your body that can’t do it for themselves, particularly after injury or disease. Specifically, I use stem cells to understand how spinal cords form, how they work, how they might break, and ultimately how we can fix them. I love giving lab meetings — discussing and defending my work with colleagues. I love impromptu conversations in the hallway that end up with a whiteboard full of drawings two hours later. I love going to hear scientific talks from the excellent local and national researchers that we host here at UGA. I love explaining to my friends and family what I am doing, why I am doing it and how it will help people. I love making science fun and have taken advantage of opportunities the RBC has given me to teach young people about our work.

One of my favorite memories here is teaching a workshop for the LISSELL-B program through UGA’s College of Education to introduce our research to kids with English as a second language. We also hosted students and families from Burney-Harris-Lyons Middle School here in Athens to get them more interested in STEM disciplines. Those were easily the most intimidating and challenging audiences I have ever faced, but also the most rewarding. Another way I get to share my work is through undergraduate mentoring. I have worked with three outstanding undergraduates in my time here, and doing my small part to help them grow as researchers, and more importantly as people, is something I am very proud of.

Current Employment:

Graduate Assistant, Animal and Dairy Science Department, College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences

Family Ties to UGA:

I am the first of my family to attend UGA, though my father will never let me forget he was born and raised in nearby Gainesville (the chicken one, not the one in Florida).

I chose to attend UGA because…

I was really drawn to the overall quality of science in the Stice lab and the collaborative approach to research in the Regenerative Bioscience Center.

My favorite things to do on campus are…

… tailgating and running.

When I have free time, I like…

… to hang out with my wife and sons. And run. And go backpacking and canoeing. Also, I have no free time.

The craziest thing I've done is…

… had my first child, then another one, all while trying to get through graduate school.

My favorite place to study is…

… my office. It’s the only place I can find any quiet.

My favorite professor is…

… my advisor, Dr. Stice. His boundless energy, approach to mentoring and unending patience make him a wonderful teacher and fabulous role model.

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with…

… my wife and kids.

If I knew I could not fail, I would…

… start curing diseases.

If money was not a consideration, I would love to…

… endow my own professorship at UGA. I would teach classes and have my own lab. There would also be a lot of running, skiing, backpacking, canoeing and family time.

After graduation, I plan to…

… pursue a postdoctoral position and continue doing research. Ultimately, I’d like to return to UGA to have my own lab.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…

… the birth of my children. Not directly related to UGA, but I’m proud to say they were both born here in Athens!

Published Monday,