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Biology alumni share lives and love of Carolina.

Kevin Satisky and Judy Thorn
Kevin Satisky and Judy Thorn

Now they are married and living in Galesburg, Ill, with successful careers, a son, Sam, and three “mostly well-mannered” dogs. But at one point, both Judy Thorn and Kevin Satisky were talented biology students at UNC-Chapel Hill. Thorn and Satisky have fond memories of Carolina – they actually met in Fordham Hall. Both also are strong supporters of The Graduate School’s Summer Research Fellowships and have enabled four doctoral students to continue their research, without interruption, over a summer.

Thorn, who grew up in eastern Iowa, received her bachelor’s degree in biology from Grinnell College and her doctorate in biology at UNC-Chapel Hill. After serving a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences and a year as a lecturer in developmental, cellular and molecular biology at Duke University, she joined Knox College in 2000 as an assistant professor of biology. She is now a professor of biology at Knox.

Kevin Satisky, who grew up in Fayetteville, N.C., received his bachelor’s degree in biology from UNC- Chapel Hill and went on to attend medical school at East Carolina University. He completed his residency in psychiatry at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. He is a staff psychiatrist for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and an assistant professor in the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria.

What are the most significant aspects of your work?

Thorn: My graduate and postdoctoral research focused on early frog (Xenopus laevis) development.

While a graduate student at UNC, I had the opportunity to take and teach a lot of classes and seminars related to dog training and dog behavior, associated with the Animal Protection Society of Orange County, where I adopted my first dog. As a faculty member at a liberal arts college, I have had opportunities to work with students who were interested in pursuing research ideas outside of my area of research – some were interested in veterinary medicine and animal welfare (how to make shelter dogs more adoptable through training or advertising) and others were interested in genetic counseling (what factors influence a decision to have prenatal genetic testing).

Most recently, after a college-sponsored trip with some Knox colleagues to Greece, I started looking at ancient Greek vases with dogs as part of the painting. The description of one of these vases seems to conflict with what we know about dog posture and behavior, perhaps influencing how scholars have interpreted the action and/or emotional state of the humans on the vase. I will have the opportunity to present this idea this March at the Classical Association of the Middle West and South meeting.

Satisky: The majority of my work is centered on providing mental health care for veterans in our area. I also spend time teaching psychiatry residents at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria.

I work with veterans from different generations, ranging from veterans in their 20s to veterans in their 90s. Many of the veterans I work with deal with PTSD and PTSD-related symptoms. I also work with veterans who suffer from other conditions such as major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, dementia, substance abuse and other mental health issues.

One of the more challenging aspects of what I do is trying to develop an accurate diagnosis (as symptoms can overlap among various conditions) that helps guide treatment and then develop a treatment plan that best meets the needs of the individual (given the diversity of the people I see, including the individual’s values). It requires the building of trust with the veterans and creating an environment that allows for trust and for the veteran to be able to engage in treatment. In our clinic, we have four primary care providers, a psychotherapist, social worker, dietician, physical therapist, substance abuse counselor and many nurse case managers. We work as a team coordinating care between the primary care providers and the mental health team.

In reflecting back at your years as undergraduate and graduate students here at Carolina, what are your favorite memories of being students here at UNC-Chapel Hill?

Satisky: I have so many fond memories from UNC (too many to choose from). I remember the feeling that on any day something really interesting could happen. I enjoyed spending time in the Pit between classes with friends. I enjoyed the conversations and diversity on campus.

Thorn: I spent a lot of my time on campus walking my dog, Sullivan (when not in the lab). I miss the mockingbirds and the magnolia trees outside of Coker Hall.

Are there any specific examples of support – fellowships, mentoring, other – that helped you advance your academic goals?

Thorn: I received an incredible amount of support from a lot of people at Carolina. Other students (graduate and undergraduate), support staff and many faculty. Some of the faculty are still at Carolina, including Jean DeSaix, Ken Harden, Albert Harris, Bill Kier and Mark Peifer. My graduate adviser was Brian Kay, who is now at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

In addition, I was fortunate to receive a Tanner Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching and travel awards from The Graduate School that allowed me to present at scientific conferences. Both of these helped to credential me as a scientist and as a teacher, while boosting my confidence and morale.

Satisky: I was fortunate to spend time working in the lab of Dr. Patricia Pukkila for my undergraduate honors thesis. It was a great exposure working in the lab. I learned much about myself and about research. It was a great growth experience. Dr. Albert Harris was also a great teacher at UNC. He was good at challenging the way that I look at things in science. I also need to note that there were many graduate students who were a significant part of my growth. I had some classes taught by grad students and I also would work with them during my research. They were very accessible and good at relating concepts.

What has inspired you to contribute so generously to current UNC-Chapel Hill graduate students through the Summer Research Fellowship program?

Thorn: I remember anxiously sitting in the biology department seminar in the spring semester of my first year of graduate school, calculating how much money I would need to cover my living expenses for the summer if I were unable to find a TA position or a lab that had funds for a rotation student. I also remember talking with a history graduate student working in the deli meat case at the Carrboro Harris Teeter. It is hard to focus on your research when you are committed to doing some other job at the same time. All graduate students and perhaps some (or all) undergraduate students deserve the opportunity to immerse themselves in research for at least part of their time while in school.

Satisky: I have always wanted to give back to the school. Traditionally, we would give to various programs at the school (the Department of Biology, General Fund, Botanical Garden, etc.). The Summer Research Fellowship program is a great opportunity to be able to do more, as the donations are matched. In that respect, it really wasn’t a difficult decision. It is also nice to be able to see how the money is directly used to benefit a graduate student, instead of just being part of a larger fund.

Do you have advice or thoughts to share with current UNC-Chapel Hill graduate students?

Satisky: Graduate students were an integral (and positive) part of my UNC undergraduate experience and may not realize how much of a positive effect they can have on students.

Thorn: At the end of my first year as a graduate student, I was horrified to hear a faculty member say that his years in graduate school were the best years of his life. I have had some pretty good years since graduate school, so I cannot say that I completely agree, but being a grad student at Carolina was an essential part of making me who I am. And every year when I put my academic regalia on for Knox College commencement, I miss being a graduate student at Carolina. Get the best you can out of your studies and yourself – and enjoy your time as a Carolina graduate student as much as you can.

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