As a youngster, Tilmira Smith (BS18) dreamed of becoming a doctor. Her passion for math and science, along with a curiosity about how the human body works, led to Eastern Michigan University, where she earned a degree in Biology with a minor in Chemistry.
“I embraced being a nerd as I was growing up,” says Tilmira, who graduated Magna Cum Laude and received her diploma at EMU’s 2018 winter commencement ceremony on April 21. “When I came to Eastern, I knew right away I’d major in Biology. I not only earned my degree, I’m the first in my family to graduate from college.”
Tilmira is one of more than 4,500 students who earned a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree from Eastern during the 2017 academic year. That’s an increase of 7.5 percent from 2008, according to EMU figures. Over the past 10 years, the number of undergraduate degrees awarded at Eastern has increased 13.5 percent.
Eastern’s steady growth in graduates has contributed to its high rank among State of Michigan performance metrics. EMU is tied with one other university for highest score in the state.
Along with this high ranking are exceptional opportunities awaiting many Eastern graduates. In July, Tilmira will enroll in a combined M.D.-Ph.D. program at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. She’ll earn dual degrees while continuing her involvement in medical research, which she began pursuing at Eastern under the mentorship of Assistant Professor of Biology Hannah Seidel.
“I began working in Dr. Seidel’s lab during my junior year,” says Tilmira, who was an Honors College student and received several academic awards, including a Symposium Undergraduate Research Fellowship Award. “I knew I wanted to incorporate research in my undergraduate degree and Dr. Seidel helped me explore my options.”
Tilmira’s research centers on the cycle of stem cells and cancer cells. At Eastern, she studied how stem cells in the reproductive system replicate their genomes more quickly than other cells. Tilmira also attended a summer 2017 research program at Northwestern University, where she studied the cell cycle of cancer cells in leukemia patients. She discovered a link between two proteins that helps explain why children with Down Syndrome are at elevated risk for leukemia.
“I’d like to become a research physician in molecular biology or oncology,” says Tilmira, who’s one step closer to realizing her childhood dream. “I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do when I entered Eastern, but my faculty mentors helped me figure out my future plans.”
Like Tilmira, Ethan Smith (no relation) was initially uncertain about his career path. But a stint in the United States Marine Corps helped guide him toward Eastern and a degree in Information Assurance and Cyber Defense. Ethan graduated Summa Cum Laude and received his diploma at the 2018 winter commencement ceremony.
“I was happy to serve for five years as a Marine,” says Ethan, who earned the rank of sergeant. “But I didn’t feel I’d stay there the rest of my life.”
Ethan was stationed in Okinawa and served as a military policeman. During his deployment, he helped the Naval Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS) and Japanese police create an interactive crime map of the city. This led to increased patrols in targeted areas.
“That project helped me see what could be done with computers on the cyber security side,” Ethan says. “That really intrigued me.”
Following his discharge, Ethan initially pursued a criminal justice degree but decided to switch to cyber security and transfer to Eastern.
“I can see why Eastern’s program is certified by the National Security Agency,” Ethan says. “The small class sizes allow professors to help students individually. Students can easily transition from a lecture to a hands-on learning experience. I learned what real-life cyber security is like. The department even had a career fair just for us. All those experiences were very valuable and the reason why I earned a 4.0 grade point.”
Through the career fair, Ethan obtained a summer 2017 cyber security internship at General Electric’s Van Buren Township plant. Now, he’s pursuing a full-time job at G.E. and a master’s degree in Cyber Defense from the University of Detroit-Mercy.
“I’ve always wanted to focus my career on helping people,” Ethan says. “As a military policeman, I helped stop situations like domestic violence. Now, I can help multitudes of people through cyber security. The threats may not be as physically violent as domestic assault, but a cybercrime can damage many more people on a bigger scale.”