Dr. SuJean Choi receives university research and teaching awards

Paul Gasser

Dr. SuJean “Susie” Choi, professor of biomedical sciences, studies the neuro-scientific basis of feeding behaviors — what it is in our brains that makes us want to eat, and more specifically, to overeat.

“We know there are many factors that cause people to want to eat,” Choi says. “Aside from hunger, people have other motivations, including habit, boredom and pleasure. These are usually all wrapped together.”

Choi says that the reason losing weight and regulating diet can often be so difficult and confusing is because people need to consider that these multiple motivations are engaged continuously and are all driving their eating habits.

The goal of her work, and the scope of the research for which she’ll use the Way Klingler Fellowship Award — $50,000 for three years — is to learn how we can separate these motivations and regulate the need to fuel our bodies versus the desire to eat for potentially unhealthy reasons.

Choi’s lab will investigate natural hunger suppressing compounds in the body that signal the brain to cease hunger cravings, and why those compounds often don’t properly trigger signals.

Choi says the studies funded by the Klingler research fellowship are an important complement to ongoing experiments funded by an NIH grant.

“Our grants are often very prescribed; we often can’t go beyond their parameters,” Choi says. “Sometimes, a small bit of risk can yield large benefits, and this award is really important to bridge those gaps.”

Choi is also the recipient of the Rev. John P. Raynor, S.J., Faculty Award for Teaching Excellence, and says that her motivation for teaching is to prepare her students to be as successful as possible in their careers and their lives.

“I think the important thing is that everyone learns to think on their feet, and that’s what I emphasize in my class,” Choi says. “I teach basic critical-thinking methods and logical approaches to problems that will serve the students no matter what career they pursue.”

Choi says her teaching style comes from the struggles she had when she was a student.

“I remember what it was like to be on the other side of the classroom,” she says, “and I wish I had someone who would have helped make those connections and allusions for me. There are moments when light bulbs should click, and those came much later for me. Now as a teacher, I am motivated to find ways to address my students’ approaches to learning.”

Choi’s students appreciate her style, her attention to detail and her personal commitment to teaching. In Choi’s nomination packet, one student wrote: “Dr. Choi is able to captivate her class and draw in students; she inspired me to understand the material and to participate. Dr. Choi fuels fascination and inspires learning, even of the most challenging material.”

“As faculty — as teachers — we have a responsibility to these students who we put forth in this world, because they’re the ones who will lead us into the future,” Choi says. “I may not be directly curing diseases or working with patients, but I want to put forth students who can think on their feet and be problem solvers.”