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Humans of the U: Roundup

Sharing compelling stories from the heart of the U's campus.

“I am a professional Bharatanatyam dancer. I started learning this traditional dance when I was 5 years old. I’ve been continuously learning for 10 years, participating in annual dance programs, church Christmas celebrations, school programs and even being featured on two of the leading television channels in Sri Lanka during Diwali and Thai-Pongal festivals. I’ve also performed for Indian celebrities and at the Holy Family Church’s 150th anniversary, held at one of the grand hotels in Sri Lanka.

Bharatanatyam is an Indian classical dance. But the dance that I performed at this year’s International Night was a semi-classical dance, which combines classical and stylized dance steps. Classical dance itself has a lot of depth in it. Each facial expression and hand gesture has a specific meaning. The reason that I chose to perform a semi-classical dance was to make the audience understand and enjoy my cultural performance. I edited and mixed the songs and choreographed the dance using the knowledge that I’ve gained over the past 10 years.

I came to the U.S. in 2013 from Sri Lanka when I was 16. I started high school as a junior and graduated with an honors diploma from East High School.

I couldn’t get into the U right after high school because I had only been in the U.S. for two years and I had to show a lot of documentation from Sri Lanka. At first, I was so upset but then I realized that Salt Lake Community College would prepare me well for higher education because English is not my first language. I graduated with an associate biology honors degree in 2017 and got accepted to the U.

This was my second time performing at the U’s International Night. I also performed at the event in November 2017, three months after I began attending the U.

I didn’t have a lot of friends at that time. I wasn’t sure if anyone would like my performance. I thought only my parents would be there to support me because no one really knew me. But what happened was very surprising to me. By the time I stepped on the stage, everyone was welcoming me, taking pictures with me and cheering for me. I felt so blessed.

Thank you, U, for welcoming me and my culture and showing it to everyone here. I am truly grateful to be here at the University of Utah and thankful for all the opportunities U gave me.”

Collin Vijenandan, a pre-med student majoring in biology, minoring in chemistry and pediatric clinical research, graduating in Spring 2019

“I was born in Salt Lake City to immigrant parents from Greece. My father passed away during the Great Depression when I was 12 years old. My uncle had a drug store in Salt Lake City and I was employed there for eight years. After graduating from East High School in 1945, I enrolled in the University of Utah Air Force ROTC program and a year later in the newly established College of Pharmacy. In 1949, I was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the Air Force and spent two years as the pharmacy officer at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines during the Korean conflict.

Upon my return, I was employed at Professional Pharmacy, Medical Arts Pharmacy and lastly as a civilian pharmacy officer at Hill Air Force Base hospital. In 1961, I opened Mountain View Pharmacy in Bountiful, Utah.  At that time all grocery stores were incorporating pharmacies. I could see that the corner drug store could eventually become extinct. When the pizzeria adjacent to my pharmacy left, I thought I would take it over and put in a Greek-Italian restaurant, but my Italian counterpart decided not to undertake the restaurant. Here I was, a full-time pharmacist. How could I run a restaurant?  At that time there was no Chinese restaurant in Bountiful. We were fortunate to find a couple from Vernal that started off as the first chefs at the Mandarin. Then it was up and down, up and down. . . .It was unbelievable what we went through. Here we are now, 41 years later, well established. I walk around here at night greeting people and everybody is happy, versus the people who came into the pharmacy who were always sick. But it’s a great profession being a pharmacist with the close contact I had with my customers. They look upon you as if you are their doctor.  People would say, ‘Oh, you were my pharmacist.’”

—Gregory Skedros, graduate of the first Air Force ROTC class of 1949 and the first class of the College of Pharmacy in 1950.
Owner of the Mandarin restaurant, Bountiful, Utah.
Full interview by Jacqueline Scheider, U College of Pharmacy, available here.
Photo used by permission from Salt Lake Magazine

This is Daniel Sovelius, a custodian for the U’s Department of Mathematics, as told in part by his brothers Paul and Brace and his coworker Della Rae Riker.

Daniel came to the U thanks to an enlightened University of Utah guideline aimed at supporting work opportunities for special-needs individuals.

Brace: “Daniel really loves the U. I saw him after he interviewed for his job and he was jumping up and down and saying, ‘I got the job, I got the job!’”

Paul: “Daniel, it seemed, just took a little longer to process what comes naturally for most. Ignoring professionals who said it would not be possible for him to take care of himself, let alone graduate from high school, [my mother] and Dan proved them wrong.”

And Daniel continues to prove them wrong as he recently celebrated 30 years of working at the university—10 years more than his brother Brace.

“I just love working . . . custodian work,” Daniel said.

Asked how he feels about beating his brother in years of service at the U, Daniel looked at Brace, smiled and said emphatically, “Good!”

Della Rae: “Daniel knows the names of everyone in the building and is always asking faculty ‘Are you going to teach now?’ and asking students ‘You going to class now?’”

“Sometimes I shake hands with people or bump knuckles or elbows,” Daniel said, rattling off names of people he interacts with daily.

Daniel takes UTA to-and-from work and enjoys riding as far south as Payson and up to Brigham City.

“I like to take the bus,” Daniel said. “I’ve been riding the bus a really long time.”

This past spring, Daniel received special recognition from the Department of Mathematics for his three decades of service, which presented him with a certificate signed by his supervisor and President Ruth V. Watkins.

How did it feel?

“Good,” Daniel said.

—Daniel Sovelius, 30 year U employee, Department of Mathematics custodian

“When I first came to the U, I didn’t have much discipline or respect for myself or others. I was fortunate enough to find both in the Navy and Marine Corps. After a year I realized I wasn’t quite ready for college even though I was a pretty good student in high school. So, I left.

I was looking for a challenge and became a certified commercial diver and a diver medic. I didn’t know then the combination of deep water and medicine was foreshadowing my future and what would make me who I am today. I joined the Navy in 2010 and became a corpsman. I really engaged with my training and became a distinguished graduate from both the Navy Hospital Corps School in Great Lakes, Illinois, and Field Medical Service School at Camp Pendleton, California.

In 2011, I was assigned to Golf Company “Joker” Second Platoon in 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment–The Magnificent Bastards–at Camp Pendleton. A month later I was deployed to Afghanistan. My Marines—who I miss all the time—called me “Doc.” We were assigned to an isolated Forward Operating Base in a notoriously dangerous area of operation in the mountainous area of the Helmand Province.

My platoon and I conducted hundreds of dismounted patrols over a seven-month period. In that time, I treated both wounded Marines and countless local nationals-even saving the life of a wounded enemy combatant. And I had the privilege of teaching first aid techniques to Afghan soldiers. Passing my knowledge on to them.

After my two-and-a-half-year tour I realized I had found my passion for medicine. I returned to the U in 2015 and majored in biology with minor in chemistry. Because of my background in emergency medicine, I’ve looked largely at continuing that training and would like to become a trauma surgeon. That being said, I know enough about medicine to know that I’ve barely grazed the surface and am still keeping an open mind about the exact course in medicine I’ll be taking.”

—Craig L. Hanson, hospital corpsman second class, U.S. Navy, premed student

“The strangest thing I’ve ever done for science was milked a bat. Let me explain.

Some species of bats can delay their pregnancy. Right when they start getting the placenta, there’s this pause, sort of like suspended animation. The species that I studied for my doctoral dissertation can do that for a couple of months, which is pretty impressive and also really rare—only a handful of species, mostly bats, do it.

What’s really interesting is that every year, all the females in the population that reproduce have both a delayed and a regular pregnancy that’s much shorter. It’s a nice natural system to compare what’s going on during the two types of pregnancies. One of the driving questions of my research is, ‘Why might those have evolved?’

I looked at whether or not females change their diet during the two pregnancies. The bats basically eat figs, but scientists in the 70s found this really nice pattern where the lactating females peaked twice a year, and it coincided with when the most figs were available. They assumed the bats timed the pregnancies to give birth when figs were plentiful because producing milk is really demanding.

I actually tested what their diets look like. They mostly eat fruit but will supplement their diets with insects. My working hypothesis was that females eat insects when they’re lactating. But I found something unexpected; they supplement with insects when they’re pregnant, but eat insects and no figs during one of the lactations. I also looked at their milk quality and didn’t see any differences between the two pregnancies, it seems like they’re able to maintain that level of quality no matter what, which is what you would expect to see if they used the delays to maintain quality milk production for their young.

That’s why I milked a bat.”

—Teri Orr, postdoctoral researcher, bat enthusiast, School of Biological Sciences

[bs_well size=”md”]We’ll be featuring Humans of the U and sharing their stories throughout the year with the university community. If you know someone with a compelling story, let us know at[/bs_well]