He Left a Full-Time Job to Pursue his Dream

Author: Notre Dame ESTEEM

Derek Athy is a current ESTEEM student and a gradute of the University of Illinois.

A little under a year ago, I was spending my time working as a clinical research coordinator at the University of Chicago Medical Center, while also working in an evolutionary/developmental biology lab at the University. I enjoyed the exploratory nature and the science involved with these positions, however I began to realize that this work was ultimately not fulfilling the goals I had set for my career. I began to consider applying to medical school, for an MBA program, or for a job in healthcare/pharmaceutical consulting.  Yet, ultimately I was unsure of what would be best for my future aspirations.

I wanted to learn how I can impact the world right now, and I felt my research positions were not helping me achieve this goal regardless of our success. I considered an MBA program to add business skills to my already deep STEM background, and then one day I saw a flyer which led me to look into ESTEEM.

ESTEEM student Derek Athy stands in front of the Golden Dome

At first, the ESTEEM Graduate Program seemed too good to be true.  It aligned perfectly with what I believe needs to be done to achieve my goals. With 18 hours of graduate business hours, 9 hours of graduate science & engineering courses, and a 9 hour capstone thesis project that consists of developing a business plan around a University of Notre Dame research project, I felt that ESTEEM could provide me with the necessary business and entrepreneurial skills I sought without having to abandon my interest in the STEM fields.

I was hesitant at first as the program is relatively new and is decidedly unique, but upon meeting with the program staff my concerns dissipated. I was able to speak with the Assistant Director, Sunny Shah, not only about his extensive research experience but also of his experience in designing business models and commercialization plans for engineering research projects. During my interview with the other Assistant Director Lynette Prezyna, I was able to learn of her career experience with nine different startups and early business ventures. I was impressed that Sunny and Lynette would be working directly with us - day-in and day-out - throughout our thesis development.  And of course, the ESTEEM Program's Director David Murphy’s background is as impressive as they come and it was his unheralded experience - particularly in social entrepreneurship that drew me most to his leadership. 

Hailing from Chicago, I was very fortunate to meet with the ESTEEM staff both in Chicago and at Notre Dame, and after learning of their backgrounds and successes in such a wide variety of projects and ventures I confidently decided to pursue my M.S. in Engineering, Science & Technology Entrepreneurship at the University of Notre Dame.

I am very excited for the year ahead.  I have just completed the summer term of the program and have begun to delve into my thesis project. I am working on a project jointly through the ESTEEM program and the Office of Technology Transfer at the University of Notre Dame, and am working underneath the guidance of both Gaylene Anderson (a Senior Innovations Officer at the Cleveland Clinic) and with Sunny Shah as my thesis adviser.

With this team, we are building a business plan to commercialize a risk scoring system used to determine the likelihood of breast/colon cancer relapse, through the analysis of tumor biopsy microarray gene expression levels. This test is able to distinguish which cancer patients will benefit from chemotherapy treatments in addition to surgery and hormone therapy, and which patients can safely forego chemotherapy and avoid the risks and side effects that come with the treatment.