Outstanding Senior Profiled in University Record

By Maryann George
Apr 28, 2014 Bookmark and Share

LSA senior Sepideh Ashrafzadeh and her mentor, Sofia Merajver

Biomolecular major Sepideh Ashrafzadeh, left, connected with her mentor Dr. Sofia Merajver through LSA's Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program. (Photo by Scott C. Soderberg, Michigan Photography)

Recently awarded the Department of Chemistry's Alumni Outstanding Award for a Senior, Sepideh Ashrafzadeh is profiled in the April 28, 2014 issue of the University Record.

LSA senior has recipe to healthier diet

Food is at the center of Sepideh Ashrafzadeh's life.

As a teenager she watched her mother reduce fat, salt and sugar in her family's traditional Persian recipes and saw her grandfather's health improve. Impressed with the results, she collaborated with her mother and sister to revise 40 recipes and in 2012 published them as a cookbook, "Diet for the Educated," in her native Iran.

"I saw how pervasively health affects everyone," says Ashrafzadeh, who majored in biomolecular science, with a minor in international studies and global health through the LSA Honors Program. "My dad's father and uncles died of heart attacks by the age of 43. My mother showed us how to change our diets and now my dad is in his 50s and doing well. She has a husband and we have a father. Healthy behaviors can impact so many people."

Helping people understand the connection between diet and health has become Ashrafzadeh's life's work. After graduation she will begin a fellowship at Harvard University's School of Public Health, researching global dietary patterns, health policy and the economic benefits of healthy diets.

She plans to become a doctor and work on health policy in the Middle East, where diabetes and heart disease are rampant.

"Six of the top 10 countries with the highest rate of diabetes are in the Middle East," she says. "I hope to be one of the people who turn that around."

Coming from her hometown of St. Joseph, Michigan, to U-M in 2010, she was unsure of what to study. Through LSA's Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program, she connected with her mentor, Dr. Sofia Merajver, a professor of internal medicine and epidemiology and director of the Breast and Ovarian Cancer Risk and Evaluation Program at U-M's Cancer Center. She has worked in her laboratory for the last four years.

 In 2012, Ashrafzadeh won a grant to conduct diabetes workshops in Iran. Within two weeks of making dietary changes participants' glucose levels fell dramatically, she says. In 2013, she became the meal planner at her student co-op Henderson House and created a healthier menu.

"Sepideh is a creative, dedicated young scientist with the ability to understand the context of the work she does in the lab or the world of global health," Merajver says. "She is a leader with vision and passion."

Ashrafzadeh, a member of the Shipman Society and Phi Beta Kappa, is a frequent volunteer and recipient of numerous awards.

"I am involved in many things," she says. "But the common theme is nutrition, health and behavior. It ties everything together." 

University Record, April 28, 2014