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Tuesday, Jul 29, 2014

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Mich Hein

Photo courtesy of: University Advancement

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Mich Hein helps fund research apprenticeships


Mich Hein said that he was "fundamentally bored" with his first-year classes and he considered leaving college to explore other opportunities. When he joined Honors Tutorial College (HTC) as a sophomore, however, he found the rigorous material, intimate relationships and engaging research opportunities that sparked his scientific career.

Recently, Hein made a donation to help fund the HTC Research Apprenticeship Program. He wanted to ensure that current students have the chance to build faculty relationships and engage in research and creative projects.

"I wouldn't have finished school if not for HTC," Hein said. "It's important to preserve the opportunity for others."

During his undergraduate days, Hein immersed himself in tutorials with Emeriti Plant Biology Professors Ivan Smith, John Mitchell and Jim Cavender. They analyzed the intersection of biochemistry and plant physiology.

When he was not hunched over a textbook, Hein hiked, fished, collected fungi and devoured novels.

"I spent a lot of weekends in the woods looking at the region's ecological problems," he said.

Hein graduated with a degree in botany and then received master's and doctoral degrees in plant physiology from the University of Minnesota. He then began his career working for industrial giants Monsanto and PPG Industries. In 1989, he returned to academia as a researcher at the Scripps Research Institute studying how plant proteins influence animals' immune systems.

After a seven-year stint at Scripps, Hein delved into the pharmaceutical and biotechnology startup world. He founded Epicyte Pharmaceuticals and Heliose Corporation, served as president and CEO of Chromatin Inc., and is now a managing partner of Nidus Partners, a venture capital firm specializing in biotech startups.

His penchant for finding real world applications of scientific concepts drew him to a career in industry.

"It doesn't take long to find out what a practical application might be," he said.

The skills Hein developed through his HTC studies have been crucial in his professional life. Tutorials helped him overcome his fear of asking questions. They provided his curious scientific mind unlimited access to professors. He learned how to form a sound hypothesis and the importance of intellectual honesty as an undergraduate researcher. Challenging material stretched his supposed academic limits.

"The bar was raised a bit higher," Hein said about his HTC experience. "I have always used what I learned from HTC to approach problems and solutions that appear out of reach."

Through his gift to the Research Apprenticeship program, Hein hopes current and future HTC students will have meaningful research experiences and form close bonds that will shape their future.

"It is something that is well developed and honed in our students," he said. "I enjoy interacting with the faculty, Dean Webster and the students. This is an easy way for me to stay in contact and [is] a selfish endeavor."