Edson College alumnus stands out for all the right reasons

May 26, 2020

Realizing dreams is something Graham Sawicki has become an expert at. When the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation alumnus decided to pursue nursing he did so with gusto.

Sawicki methodically worked his way up the health care ladder, starting out as a nursing assistant and then becoming a registered nurse. His most recent accomplishment? Earning a Family Nurse Practitioner, DNP. Graham Sawicki poses with a white NP coat, stethascope and throws the pitchfork Graham Sawicki graduated with a Family Nurse Practitioner, DNP from Edson College in 2019. Download Full Image

“This program helped me build my confidence in my ability to be a provider and reassured me that I can do this,” said Sawicki.

Despite his status now as an expert dream achiever, how he got here was not exactly the stuff of fairytales. 

Sawicki’s interest in nursing was first piqued as a pre-teen. He was diagnosed with cancer when he was just 13 and ended up spending a lot of time in the hospital. It’s not a place any kid wants to be.

While he didn’t know it back then, those visits and stays planted a seed for his career today.

“The nursing staff made a significant impact in my life, always making me laugh and just feel like a kid, rather than a patient,” he said.

Eventually, he went into remission but that wouldn’t be the last time cancer wreaked havoc on his family. A few years later, Sawicki’s mom, who was a nurse, died from the disease.

After losing his mom he realized one of the best ways he could honor her was by following in her footsteps and becoming a nurse.

“I suppose that was a great gift she left me with, direction and a sense of purpose.”

Those personal experiences were the catalyst that helped Sawicki decide on nursing as a profession to pursue and in doing so, he found himself standing out. In the beginning, his literal presence was enough to draw attention.

As one of just a handful of men in both his classes and in his various health roles over the years, he attracted a lot of questions and assumptions.

“Going in as a male nursing assistant, I noticed my patients always asked if I was going to be a doctor after this, even though they could tell that I loved my job. And I was always like, maybe but my plan is to go into nursing.”

Then, when he became an RN, he says there were several occasions where patients or family members assumed he was the doctor on the team, even though he was clearly dressed in nursing scrubs and introduced himself as a nurse.

For his part, Sawicki isn’t surprised by the fact that he attracts interest and believes most people are well-intentioned. After all, the societal norm is that nursing is a female-led industry and it is often categorized as a feminine career.

“People seem to think nursing and caring for others is strictly a maternal or female thing,” he said. “I’ve always been pretty progressive in my way of thinking and universally I just want to help people. In nursing, I have the best opportunity to do that.”

He’s perfectly happy smashing stereotypes and providing excellent care along the way.  And, as his career went on, he found himself living his dream, working as a pediatric oncology nurse.

“I hadn’t made a plan for after that, honestly that old adage ‘if you love what you do you never work a day in your life’ is totally true and that’s where I was at,” he said.

Still, he knew he could do more for his patients. That’s when he found Edson College’s Family Nurse Practitioner, Doctor of Nursing Practice program, and decided to enroll.

Three tough years later he graduated, achieving his ultimate dream of earning the highest nursing degree and becoming a nurse practitioner. 

“The DNP I earned here, truly makes me feel empowered and I’m eternally grateful to all of the staff and instructors who made this dream a reality.”

With all of the knowledge and experience he’s gained he’s put it to good use, advocating for his patients, community and his alma mater.

Throughout his time at Edson College, Sawicki was an active volunteer and he continues that now as an alumnus. He is a member of the college’s recently established alumni board and pre-pandemic he was a fixture at every event from Homecoming to Open Door.

In the video below, he shares more about what motivates him to volunteer and stay engaged with Edson College.

Amanda Goodman

Senior communications specialist, Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation


Cancer gets a 'bad' rap

Cell meets song when rap musician and cancer scientist connect to create new music video

May 26, 2020

When it comes to helping understand cancer, Athena Aktipis wants to get her point across — not just to other researchers, but to anyone who will listen.

A cancer researcher at Arizona State University, Aktipis is also co-founder of the Arizona Cancer Evolution Center (ACE) at ASU, launched in 2018 with a grant of $8.5 million from the National Institutes of Health National Cancer Institute. ACE is one of 13 international hubs for helping researchers understand cancer through the lenses of evolution and ecology.  Athena Aktipis is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Arizona State University and director of ASU’s Cooperation and Conflict Lab. Professor Aktipis studies cooperation across systems from human sharing to cancer. Download Full Image

Aktipis is also associate faculty at ASU’s Biodesign Institute  and an associate professor of psychology. As scientific director of ASU’s Interdisciplinary Cooperation Initiative, Aktipis' research focuses on how evolution shapes cooperation and conflict at the level of genes, cells, groups and whole societies.

But Aktipis doesn’t leave science at the laboratory door — or in the halls of academia.

“I see science itself as a creative expedition,” she said. “We can’t make progress in science without expanding our minds and looking at things from different perspectives. Science and artists have a lot in common — we all are trying to understand and make sense of the world and then share that with others.” Aktipis is also the host and producer of the science and humor podcast “Zombified.” 

One creative collaboration resulted in the creation of a new rap video, “Revenge of the Somatic.” Aktipis worked with internationally known rap music artist Baba Brinkman to tell the story of how cancer connects to evolution. Brinkman released the song “Revenge of the Somatic” on his 2015 album, “The Rap Guide to Medicine.”

The recent publication of Aktipis’ book, “The Cheating Cell: How Evolution Helps Us Understand and Treat Cancer,” presented a new opportunity for Aktipis to meld her interests with Brinkman’s talents. Working with animator Dave Anderson, they brought to life the world of a cell that rebels against the multicellular body, transforming into a cancer cell and then growing and dividing as the cellular rebellion grows.  

Video courtesy Baba Brinkman. Note: Some of the lyrics are mature in nature.

“As a middle-class white Canadian, I’ve always been a fan of politically radical rap music but never really had the kind of firsthand experience with oppression that the artists articulate in their lyrics,” Brinkman said. “So when Athena reached out and told me about cancer as a form of cellular rebellion, my first thought was ‘This calls for some rebel music!’”

Working with veteran U.K. producer Mr. Simmonds, Brinkman crafted a “freedom song” with a twist, making the protagonist a cancer cell yearning for the freedom of its wild ancestors who didn’t have to conform to the oppressive “corporate system” of the multicellular body.

Baba Brinkman is a New York-based rap artist and award-winning playwright, originally from Vancouver, Canada.

“I can honestly say that Baba's creative way of presenting the challenges of cancer through the eyes of a cancer cell affected how I thought about cancer as I worked on subsequent research papers and my book,” Aktipis said. “This is a brilliant case of science influencing the arts, as well as vice versa.”

According to New York Times science writer Carl Zimmer, “Baba Brinkman's song about cancer is blisteringly clever, summing up complex biological concepts in irresistible rhymes.”

“Revenge of the Somatic”

Watch on YouTube: https://youtu.be/80vc4G0ipi8     

Listen on iTunes: https://apple.co/2T6aqAC        

Listen to Brinkman’s "Rap Guide to Medicine"

Written by Dianne Price