Putting Graduate Students' Dreams Within Reach

Challenge Gift Honors Microbiology Professors and Mentors Tom and Sally Parsons

For Anthony Rossomando, having strong mentors during his doctoral studies at UVA helped him launch a successful career in biotechnology research and development.

“Mentors put graduate students on the right path,” says Rossomando, who earned his PhD in 1991. “They teach you everything from how to seek out the information you need to how to set up the right experiments. They offer advice, and it stays with you throughout your career.”

To express his gratitude for his UVA mentors, Rossomando made a gift of $110,000 to support the Tom and Sally Parsons Fellowship in Microbiology. He challenges other doctoral students to join him in honoring the now-retired microbiology professors for their dedication to teaching and their significant contributions to cancer research.

Both of the Parsons, along with Rossomando’s mentor Michael Weber, professor of microbiology, immunology and cancer biology, served as his thesis advisers—a team he affectionately calls PWP, or Parsons Weber Parsons. Weber has also made a significant contribution to the Parsons Fellowship to help UVA attract and retain bright young scientists interested in basic biology and human disease. 

“Tom and Sally Parsons made significant contributions to cancer research and brought recognition and new talent to UVA because of their excellent work,” says Kodi Ravichandran, current chair of the department. “It’s inspiring to see how they have mentored young scientists and to see the generosity of Tony Rossomando.”

Rossomando, only the second person in his family to graduate from college, knows the difference fellowships can make for graduate students. As a young, married father with a toddler in the late 1980s, he wasn’t sure he could afford graduate school. A presidential fellowship award put his dream within reach.

After graduating from UVA, Rossomando completed postdoctoral studies at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. He has worked for a number of companies, including Bayer Pharmaceuticals, Biogen, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, and Synageva BioPharma Corp., recently acquired by Alexion. Rossomando currently works with Alexion, which has made a matching contribution to the Parsons Fellowship. The author of numerous publications, Rossomando also developed a molecule that has now been commercialized in several countries.

Rossomando hopes the Parsons Fellowship will soon be fully funded at $250,000 for promising graduate students with financial need—a fitting tribute to a couple whose dedication to science inspired their students.

“Tom Parsons had a sign in his office that read, ‘You snooze, you lose,’” Rossomando says. “I took that to heart, realizing you have to work hard to be successful. And I saw that in Tom. Sally was a big influence because she really cared for students. She was smart and capable, contributing to our work and offering support in thesis committee meetings. I wanted to give to the Parsons Fellowship to express gratitude for my time at UVA, and for the fellowship that made my education possible.”