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For Physiology Alumnus Stephen Rapundalo, Science and Politics go Hand-in-Hand

Wednesday, March 15, 2017   (0 Comments)
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Growing up in Canada, Stephen Rapundalo, PhD’83 (PHIS), says he was raised to give back to the community. It’s a value he brought with him to the MCV Campus, where he served as student government president, carried forward as a city council member in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and continues today as president and CEO of MichBio, an organization driving industry growth and advocacy for the biosciences.

In politics, Rapundalo says, he likes bringing a scientist’s analytical viewpoint to the table. “I look at things that are problems seeking solutions. It doesn’t matter if you’re left or right. Your focus is just to get things done. Science certainly shaped my approach to bringing real analytical assessment and solution development.”

Case in point: while serving on Ann Arbor’s city council from 2005-11, he instituted a peer review system for citizens applying for grants through the human and social services committee, and required standardized materials from all applicants — techniques he learned from years of applying for National Institutes of Health grants and serving on study sections.

“The city benefitted from much better returns on grant success and people who utilized the programs, along with better accountability,” he says of the system, which is still in place today.

Rapundalo’s first foray into politics came as president of the MCV Campus Student Government Association. He worked closely with then-VCU President Edmund F. Ackell, M.D., D.M.D., and was instrumental in lobbying for a student representative on the board of visitors.

“That was my legacy,” Rapundalo says. “I still have the VCU newspaper article from it filed at home.”

At MichBio, he alternates much of his time between the Michigan Capitol in Lansing and Washington, D.C., lobbying legislators for support of Michigan’s bio-industry.

“Michigan is home to the first two pharmaceutical companies in the country and world-renowned research centers,” Rapundalo says. “We get more federal R&D funding than the Research Triangle in North Carolina. We need an industry like ours to offer career opportunities to keep STEM talent in our state and develop a sustainable biosciences workforce for the future.”

Prior to joining MichBio in April 2006, he spent almost 20 years as a senior research scientist, project manager and group leader with Parke-Davis Pharmaceutical Research and then Pfizer Inc., primarily in the area of cardiovascular drug discovery. He says he owes much of his success to his time on the MCV Campus.

“I was able to work with some true pioneers in the field whom I revered,” says Rapundalo, mentioning his co-advisors Joseph J. Feher, Ph.D., professor emeritus, and F. Norman Briggs, Ph.D., former chair of the Department of Physiology and Biophysics.

“Had it not been for the foundation that I got in learning at MCV, the rest of my career just wouldn’t have happened. I wouldn’t have located where I did, worked with who I did and succeeded in the roles that I fulfilled. It all traces back to MCV.”

It’s also where he met his wife, Anne Stiles Rapundalo, an alumna of the School of Allied Health’s medical technology program. He fondly remembers their days living in Bear and Cabannis Halls, crab-picking mixers at friends’ homes, dates in Shockoe Slip and concerts at the Mosque. The couple has four adult daughters.

Rapundalo, who became a U.S. citizen in 2000, enjoys trips to Virginia to visit family, occasionally stopping in Richmond to speak to current graduate students and young department members.

“He embodies the active citizenship that Thomas Jefferson envisioned for our country,” says former advisor Feher. “He enjoys policy making and the role of government in setting science policy. Our university should be proud of him.”


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