'77 - Finding Universal Well-Being
Many medical and scientific
researchers pursue a dream of discovering the cures to myriad malignant
conditions and debilitating diseases that plague the human body. For some
researchers who are Christians, that pursuit is not born of selfish ambition,
but rather springs from a desire to achieve universal well-being.
"All Christians have the
duty to help our fellow man," says Dr. Derk Bergsma '77. "Through pharmaceutical
research, I have the opportunity to help millions."
Bergsma is the vice president
of the expression genomics department at GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals.
His mission to help millions through scientific exploration is one reason
he was named the 2003 Trinity Alumnus of the Year.
"I was humbled when I was
notified," Bergsma says. "I don't feel as if I deserve it. I'm kind of
a private guy who doesn't like to have a big fuss made over him, but I
was also honored to have been given this distinction."
Scientific research has stimulated
Bergsma mentally and academically since he was a biology major at the College.
Immediately after graduating in 1977, he enrolled at the University of
Illinois at Chicago Medical Center, where he completed his doctorate in
microbiology and immunology five years later.
"Studying the variety of
scientific disciplines and trying to understand the complexity and beauty
of God's creation gives me the greatest joy," he says. "The challenge of
looking for answers to humanity's medical dilemmas motivates me and fuels
my passion for research.
"I like the discovery aspect
of science because it has a lot of room for creativity. Not only do we
learn what other researchers have done, but we also get to discover new
information and add it to that pool of research knowledge."
Born in Sioux Falls, South
Dakota, Bergsma moved with his family to Chicago, the Netherlands, and
Michigan. They returned to the Chicago area when his father, Derke, accepted
a theology faculty position at the College. Bergsma became closely familiar
with the community that eventually would help shape his professional life.
"The size of the College
invited a lot of one-on-one interaction," he says. "I learned to appreciate
the difference that made when I went to UIC. The classes were huge, and
sometimes they were led by teaching assistants. The accessibility to professors
was not nearly as open as it was for me at Trinity. I got to know (professors)
Gary Van Dyke and Harry Cook very well, and their direction had big influences
After graduating from UIC
in 1982, Bergsma spent five years conducting biological research at the
Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. He and his family then moved to
Pennsylvania when he joined GlaxoSmithKline (formerly Smith Kline &
French Laboratories) as a scientist in the molecular genetics department.
He moved into his vice presidential role last year. In that position, Bergsma
supervises the work of 77 scientists in the United States and the United
Kingdom in their efforts to discover new medicines to treat human diseases.
"In expression genomics,
we study whole genomes and their products at one time," Bergsma says. "By
exploring the human genome and cloning human and animal genes, we want
to identify and validate gene targets to support our company's development
of potential remedies for conditions like heart disease, cancer, diabetes,
and other diseases that have no cure."
Nominations for the Alumnus
of the Year were submitted by Trinity alumni, staff, and faculty through
January. Each nominee must meet three criteria: have made significant contributions
to their field of endeavor, which could benefit fellow alumni; have recognized
by their associates for outstanding achievements; and manifests a Christian
commitment that reflects honor upon the College.
The alumni board's communications
committee received eight nominations and recommended Bergsma to the remainder
of the board members. The board unanimously approved his selection and
has tentative plans to present the award to Bergsma in the fall.
"Derk's passion for his work
is one example of the type of commitment Trinity is pleased to see in its
graduates," says Dennis Harms '89, director of alumni relations. "It is
encouraging to witness our alumni apply in their professional lives the
principles and worldview that help define the College. The kind of service
Derk renders may yield far-reaching benefits, and it undoubtedly pleases
Bergsma and his wife, Cheryl,
have three daughters, Kelley, Suzanne, and Emilie. The family lives in
Berwyn, Pennsylvania, and attends Church of the Savior in Wayne, Pennsylvania.
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