A. O. Smith Fellowship Scholars Program: The Heart of Cardiovascular Research
Innovation and discovery are at the heart of the A. O. Smith Corporation’s 50-year partnership with the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW).
The journey began in 1972 when Lloyd B. (Ted) Smith, former A. O. Smith chairman and CEO, joined the MCW Board of Trustees. Smith co-chaired the fundraising committee to expand MCW’s research and educational missions by moving the institution to the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center campus. He also shaped the future of MCW through his leadership on the inaugural board of the Cardiovascular Center (CVC) and his company’s generous contributions, including the purchase of a sophisticated piece of testing equipment named “Lucy” in honor of his wife. As directors of the A. O. Smith Foundation board, Ted’s sons, Bruce and Roger Smith, continue to steward the foundation’s support of the CVC in remembrance of their parents who both had heart attacks.
Six years ago, the A. O. Smith Foundation partnered with the CVC to create a new postdoctoral fellowship program.
“As a pinnacle of innovation, the A. O. Smith Fellowship Scholars Program brings together the best of academic medicine, inspiring research and diverse talent to advance new treatments and procedures,” shares Bruce. “Our partnership with MCW fosters new innovations in cardiovascular care by launching the careers of tomorrow’s pioneering researchers. Many of their projects result in important findings, which are translated into everyday medical practice to keep our community healthy.”
Bridging Cardiovascular Research and Academic Medicine
With federal funding for six postdoctoral trainees per year, the A. O. Smith Fellowship Scholars Program offers multidisciplinary mentorship, robust professional development and comprehensive research support. Since 2017, the program has appointed 11 postdoctoral fellows, four of whom belong to underrepresented groups in science and medicine. All five program graduates have secured federal funding to further their research and are on track to become independent investigators in their own research labs within three to five years.
Currently in the second year of his fellowship, Tyler Buddell, PhD (pictured right), is studying the Hdac7 gene and its role in regenerating heart tissue after injury.
“Cardiovascular disease is the top cause of death in the world,” shares Dr. Buddell. “Research is a game changer for making strides to help a ton of people.”
Dr. Buddell applied to the fellowship program for the opportunity to spend three years refining his techniques and research skills in a collaborative environment led by world-class faculty. “The generous support from A. O. Smith allows us to focus and innovate more freely in our research,” he says. “With these funds, I can take classes and attend conferences.”
Focusing on Mentorship and Inclusion
Dr. Buddell’s colleague Janée Terwoord, PhD, joined the fellowship program in 2020 to work alongside MCW faculty David Gutterman, MD, and Andreas M. Beyer, PhD – two world-renowned experts in human microvascular research.
“My research is investigating the effects of anti-cancer therapies, such as chemotherapy, on arterial health. I hope to discover new ways to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease for cancer survivors,” Dr. Terwoord shares (pictured left).
Both Drs. Buddell and Terwoord are grateful for the fellowship’s focus on mentorship. “We work with a team of professors and mentors to create individual development plans for our careers – what we want to do, what skills we need to have, what grants we should be applying for,” shares Dr. Terwoord. “We have a lot of people invested in our success.”
The emphasis on diversity and inclusion is also a major highlight. “We’ve participated in a variety of trainings focused on soft skills and making the work environment more inclusive,” says Dr. Buddell. “We’ve discussed ways to lift up researchers who don’t come from typical scientific backgrounds and recognize areas of conflict in the workplace. I find this training to be very important, and it makes me proud to be a part of the A. O. Smith Fellowship Scholars Program. These efforts have been donor dollars well spent.”
After a year of refining their research techniques, Drs. Buddell and Terwoord are ready to start testing their own ideas, which will lead to preliminary data for federal grant applications and publications. “It’s huge professionally to have your own funding,” shares Dr. Buddell. “These opportunities will help launch our careers.”
Looking to the future, Dr. Buddell aspires to lead his own lab focused on genetics at a medical school or health care institution. With her mentors, Dr. Terwoord is exploring career options that align with her diverse interests. “I really enjoy research and teaching and could see myself working as a professor in academia,” she says. “I’m also interested in biomedical communication and helping others to convey their research. Whatever path I choose, I plan to focus on cardiovascular physiology.”
The A. O. Smith Foundation recently renewed its five-year commitment to the fellowship program, paving the way for more physician-scientists and researchers like Drs. Buddell and Terwoord to improve cardiovascular health.
“I’m so grateful for their support,” shares Dr. Terwoord. “This gift allows us to make meaningful contributions to the field without worrying about stable funding or having to switch projects.”
Dr. Buddell echoes her sentiments: “Ultimately, I would like to thank the foundation for their generous contribution. This training sets us up for great success.”