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The science of being human

Scholarship honors the memory of beloved MD Anderson UTHealth Graduate School professor

From left to right: Auinash “Nash” Kalsotra, PhD ’05; the late Henry W. Strobel, PhD; and Sayeepriyadarshini
Henry W. Strobel, PhD (center), smiles with his former students Auinash “Nash” Kalsotra, PhD ’05 (left), and Sayeepriyadarshini "Sayee" Anakk, PhD ’05 (right).
Robert “Bob” Ku, PhD ’85 (left), with his father (right).
Through his gifts to the Henry W. Strobel, PhD, Endowed Scholarship, Robert “Bob” Ku, PhD ’85 (left), wanted to honor his father, Roland Ku (right), who supported him throughout his education.

Students, colleagues, and friends of the late Henry W. Strobel, PhD, still envision him three-stepping through the labs of MD Anderson UTHealth Graduate School in his clerical collar, toes tapping as he skips toward another meeting. In the years since his passing in 2019, his delightful footsteps and guiding words still echo.

“Dr. Strobel didn’t just teach us how to be scientists,” says Auinash “Nash” Kalsotra, PhD ’05. “He taught us how to be human beings.”

To former Strobel mentees (who refer to themselves as Strobelians) like Nash and his wife, Sayeepriyadarshini "Sayee" Anakk, PhD ’05, Strobel was more than a teacher—he was a role model, parental figure, and trusted confidant. In addition to his faculty appointments at the graduate school and McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, he was an ordained Episcopal priest. Former students lovingly called him “Father Doctor Strobel.”

A few months after a chance meeting with Strobel at a scientific conference in New Delhi, India, Nash and Sayee earned admission to the Biochemistry and Cell Biology PhD program at MD Anderson UTHealth Graduate School. Strobel became their faculty advisor and guided their education at the graduate school by cultivating their knowledge, curiosity, and determination.

Among his most important lessons, Strobel taught Nash and Sayee to celebrate the little wins and enjoy their journeys in science.

“At the end of our busiest days in the lab, Dr. Strobel would take us to dinner at his home or some amazing restaurant where we would eat seven courses and talk for hours,” says Nash. “He always wanted to recognize our efforts and bring his students together.”

After graduating, Nash and Sayee eventually decided to follow in their mentor’s footsteps to pursue careers in academia. In 2012, they joined the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where they are both associate professors.

“In everything we do, we try to pass on the values that Dr. Strobel gave us and create opportunities for our students,” says Sayee. “We frequently invite our students to our home for dinner where we enjoy the same kind of seven-course meals we had with Dr. Strobel. Our office is always open, and our students know they can come to us with questions on science or life.”

As Nash and Sayee’s careers were taking off, Strobel’s health was deteriorating. The couple returned to Houston in the summer of 2019 to spend time with him and take him to his favorite restaurants. A few months later, he passed away.

Many of Strobel’s former students and trainees came together at his funeral to say farewell. As the Strobelians shared their fondest memories, an idea came to Sayee.

“I thought we should establish a scholarship to embody Dr. Strobel’s spirit in science,” says Sayee. “Everyone loved the idea, and we decided to start a crowdfunding campaign.”

With Nash and Sayee leading the effort, 28 supporters gave more than $25,000 to establish the Henry W. Strobel, PhD, Endowed Scholarship at MD Anderson UTHealth Graduate School. Aligning with the Many Faces. One Mission. fundraising campaign’s commitment to training the next generation of health professionals, the scholarship will provide financial assistance to outstanding graduate students, furthering Strobel’s legacy of recognizing and celebrating the successes of his students.

Among the scholarship’s many supporters, Robert “Bob” Ku, PhD ’85, made multiple commitments to help establish the scholarship. Strobel was part of his faculty advisor committee, and Bob deeply admired his cheerful and encouraging attitude during classes.

“Dr. Strobel made a positive impact on so many people, and I wanted to honor his memory through my gifts,” says Bob. “Additionally, I wanted to honor my father for the role he played in my education. He worked exceptionally hard to provide for my family and enable me to get my PhD, and I hope this scholarship opens doors of opportunity for other students to achieve their dreams.”

Every gift played a role in helping to establish the Henry W. Strobel, PhD, Endowed Scholarship. This competitive scholarship will forever carry Dr. Strobel’s spirit by providing resources to outstanding students and empowering them to pursue their passions in science.

“Graduate school can be challenging, and funding for research and education is becoming increasingly difficult to earn,” says Nash. “I hope this scholarship reminds students to take a moment to celebrate accomplishments and cherish the journeys they are on.”

The graduate school looks forward to naming the inaugural Strobel Scholar in the 2022 – 2023 academic year. Friends and supporters who would like to help grow the Henry W. Strobel, PhD, Endowed Scholarship can make a gift at go.uth.edu/StrobelScholarship.

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