Edrees (Eddie) Rashan has been selected for the 2021 cohort of the Edward A. Bouchet Graduate Honor Society. Rashan is a graduate research assistant in the Department of Biochemistry and doctoral candidate in the Integrated Program in Biochemistry (IPiB).
The Bouchet Society commemorates Edward Alexander Bouchet, the first self-identified African American to earn a doctorate degree from an American university. Scholars are chosen for five qualities that exemplify the spirit of Dr. Bouchet: scholarship, leadership, character, service, and advocacy for students who have been traditionally under-represented in academia.
“Eddie is a remarkable scientist and a model lab citizen,” said David Pagliarini, Rashan’s primary mentor, and Professor and BJC Investigator at Washington University. “Through his diligence and passion for science, he is constructing a beautiful thesis on atypical lipid metabolism; through his advocacy, he is helping establish a more diverse and equitable scientific community from which we will all benefit.”
Rashan’s commitment to empower excellence in students with disadvantaged backgrounds is driven by the challenges he witnessed and experienced as the child of immigrant parents. His Cambodian mother and Afghan father fled their respective countries to come to the US in the 1980s. They escaped the violence, poverty, and war of their home countries, but met new challenges in the US, navigating barriers to education, employment, and stability for themselves and their son.
“At a young age,” said Rashan, “I helped my parents navigate the job application process, such as editing resumes and helping them practice for interviews. As their only child, I realized the importance of using the privileges and skillsets I had to empower and manifest opportunities for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.”
As a graduate student in the IPiB program, Rashan has helped organize interdepartmental talks to better serve BIPOC and other underrepresented trainees. He serves as a SciMed GRS Peer Mentor, and IPiB representative at the National Conferences for SACNAS (Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science) and ABRCMS (Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students).
During the Covid-19 crisis, Rashan volunteered as supply chain manager for the New York Biomedical Technician Rapid Response Team (NYBTRRT), where he coordinated acquisition of essential supplies such as PPE and RT-PCR kits between NYBTRRT and donors across the country. This work ultimately contributed to the development of an affordable saliva-based COVID-19 testing method being used across the US.
Rashan’s research focuses on characterizing the enzymatic activities and functions of under-studied mitochondrial proteins, particularly those implicated in lipid metabolism. In collaboration with several groups across campus, Rashan and his co-researchers are investigating whether these enzymes can protect cells from harmful lipids and determine how their degradation impacts human health.
“With aspirations of leading my own research lab in the future,” said Rashan, “my goal is to implement high standards of science as well as utilize my activism to solve institutional issues that could impede under-represented STEM scholars from reaching their full potential.”
By pursuing basic metabolic research, Eddie hopes to discover disease interventions for patients from a range of backgrounds and to learn more about how genetics and diet influence disease and how nutrition impacts patients of diverse populations.
“In his pursuit of scientific questions,” said Judi Simcox, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and Rashan’s co-mentor, “Eddie is fearless. His charisma, scientific insight, and community focus have transformed my laboratory for the better. Through his advocacy for under-represented minority researchers, Eddie has enriched the UW-Madison Campus by increasing diversity and inclusion.”
Rashan and his cohort will be inducted and present their work at the National Bouchet Graduate Honors Society Conference at Yale University on April 8-9, 2021, which will be held virtually this year. Eddie can be seen in the induction video, on the Bouchet Graduate Honor Society website, at minute 17:47.