Meet Mara Rendi, 2007-2008 Syversten Fellow

Mara Rendi, PhD, DMS‘08 has been selected as the 2007-2008 Syvertsen Fellow. In June 2007, Rendi and five of her classmates were chosen by the Syvertsen Scholarship Committee to receive the annual distinction of Syvertsen “Scholars.”  The endowed awards honor the memory of Rolf C. Syvertsen, a former professor of anatomy, long-time dean, and beloved mentor of several generations of medical students at Dartmouth, who died in 1960.

In selecting the Syvertsen Fellow, the Syvertsen Scholarship Committee uses criteria that reflect what Syvertsen worked so hard to foster in the students of his day and what “Sy” himself embodied: academic excellence, breadth of human concern, community spirit, selfless mentoring of other students, and a deep love of medicine and of sharing their knowledge of it. Read our profle of Mara Rendi below and learn why she so richly deserves the special distinction.

Syvertsen Fellow is both Student and Teacher
Mara Rendi is not your typical fourth year medical student, and not because it will have taken her 10   years to complete medical school when she graduates in June. The Denver, Colorado native describes herself as “a teacher, a mountain climber, a triathlete, a wife, and a mother.” Add to that, PhD.

After her first two years at DMS, Rendi, a joint MD/PhD candidate, reluctantly watched her classmates go on to their third year of medical training, while she went into the lab to begin work on her PhD in pharmacology. “There was not a single day of my PhD that was not a challenge,” recalls Rendi. But eventually, she began enjoying the bench work and could see that her research with Dr. Michael Sporn on two promising breast cancer drugs was yielding valuable results. While a PhD student, Rendi was awarded the Susan B. Komen Foundation Fellowship for breast cancer research and was named an American Cancer Society Scholar in Training for excellence in graduate program research.

During her final year of PhD work, Rendi was invited to give a few lectures in Cells, Tissues, and Organs (CTO) for first year medical students. “I was scared out of my mind,” says Rendi. But this marathoner and triathlete who has also climbed Denali, North America’s highest peak, is not one to shy away from a challenge. The morning when she gave her first lecture set her on a new professional path. “Never did I have so much fun as when I was standing in front of the podium, lecturing. I knew immediately I wanted more of it,” she says.

Soon after finishing her PhD, Rendi and her husband Paul Farris (DMS’02) gave birth to their first child, Karsten. For the next two years, she pursued her new passion, teaching CTO to first year medical students at Dartmouth and physiology to undergraduates at Middlebury College, her alma mater.

“The best part about teaching is seeing the light in the students eyes when they get it,” says Rendi. “It’s challenging because no two students are going to get it at exactly the same time or for the same reason. Having to find different ways to explain something tests not only how well I know the material, but how creatively I can present it.” Of her teaching at DMS, Rendi says, “I feel like I’m really contributing to their education as a doctor, helping to give them the base that’s going to help them take care of patients.”

But Rendi knew she wanted to finish her medical degree. “I wanted the clinical training so I could be a better teacher,” she explains. So last fall she returned to DMS as a student, joining the third year class. In her chosen specialty of pathology, she has found work she loves that will also allow her to practice medicine while teaching both in the clinical setting and in the classroom.

During a recent hematology/pathology rotation, Rendi describes becoming so absorbed in her work that she missed an important appointment. “I realized that I’d really found something that I was just totally engrossed in,” she says. “I love looking through the microscope. It’s really beautiful to look through and see and understand what’s going on with the cells and tissues. And when you come up with a diagnosis, you know you’re having a big impact on the patient. That’s very satisfying.”

As both a student and a teacher, Rendi appreciates the medical school’s small size and its culture of support for students. “Both Paul and I have loved it here,” she says. “The faculty know the students and they’re very accessible. It’s more personalized here.”

Of being named this year’s Syvertsen fellow, Rendi says, “The fact that his students are still taking the time to honor him and how important he was in their lives – that’s extraordinary. It’s a great honor to feel that maybe the selection committee felt I could have a similar impact. And the past Syvertsen scholars and fellows are incredible people. It’s an honor to be with them, if I can live up to it.”

But for now, Rendi is busy on the home front, following the birth of her second son on November 8. “I’m sure he and his older brother have plenty yet to teach me,” she says.