Mari Hopper, PhD, jokes that she started college at 18 and now—years later—still hasn’t left. Maybe it’s having the curiosity of a college freshman that keeps Hopper so engaged and relatable to her students. As an associate professor of cellular and integrative physiology at Indiana University School of Medicine-Evansville she is just as at ease discussing physiology with first-year medical students in the classroom as she is researching how to improve medical education across the state with her student co-investigators.
Hopper’s students celebrate her commitment to their success. Megan Carroll, a third-year medical student on the Evansville campus emphasized Hopper’s passion and mentorship.
“On the first day of class, Dr. Hopper shared with us, ‘No one cares more about your education than I do, except maybe your own mother,'” Carroll said. “Not only does [Dr. Hopper] open a number of professional doors, she also consistently inspires all of us to grow and develop as learners and individuals to ensure a more fulfilling personal journey. She simultaneously embodies the aspects of a teacher, a mentor, and a cheerleader with a contagious enthusiasm for education. Her passion for knowledge and innovation is a trait I hope to emulate in all future endeavors.”
Working in medical education also gives Hopper the opportunity to grow along with her students.
“I love to be creative in my job and look for ways to expand my personal knowledge and skill set,” Hopper said. “In addition to working on materials for IU School of Medicine’s new curriculum, I’m currently in the process of developing electives that address a few of my passions. I love to travel – and I’ve developed an elective course that includes travel to Italy: ‘The Cultural History of Art and Anatomy in Medical Education in Italy.’ I’m also working on electives to provide the opportunity for students to engage in research and an online course addressing obesity.”
Students as Collaborators
Hopper is also the director of student research and scholarly work on IU School of Medicine’s Evansville campus. In this role, she helps students find experiential learning opportunities throughout their academic career. Many students even choose to collaborate directly with Hopper in her medical education research, something she very intentionally makes possible.
“Throughout my career I have always looked for ways to include students in my research,” Hopper said. “My studies, by design, include students not only as subjects, but also as co-investigators. In fact, all my publications over the past seven or eight years have included student co-authors.”
One of Hopper’s student co-investigators is Sarah Islam, a third-year medical student. Islam enjoys having a direct impact on educational experiences at IU School of Medicine through her research with Hopper.
“Dr. Hopper is always looking for opportunities to improve medical education with the input of students when it comes to her research,” Islam said. “She takes the time to understand our perspectives and welcomes our suggestions and insights . She provides necessary guidance but allows us to take complete ownership of our tasks as well. It is wonderful to work with her. I am looking forward to progressing in our research together!”
All in the Family
As a physiologist married to a research veterinarian, Hopper loves working with animals. She says it’s not unusual for her and her husband to bring their work home. Even if that means discussing rat urine at the dinner table. While a graduate student trainee, Hopper measured racehorse oxygen consumption (notably while battling morning sickness). Now, Hopper and her husband are excited to begin training a puppy to become a service dog.
While following her husband across the country for his career, Hopper successfully achieved tenure at three different institutions, something that is no easy feat. Luckily, their travels led Hopper to IU School of Medicine in Evansville. About to enter her fifth year with the school, Hopper shows no signs of slowing down. Whether it’s the satisfaction of hitting the submit button on a manuscript or collaborating with students and colleagues across the state, Hopper simply loves her job.
“Within my career – everything is of interest to me,” Hopper said. “I often think I want to enroll in many of the classes offered by my colleagues. I’m actually a bit jealous of the medical students, and if it were a paying job – I would want to be a medical student.”
Hopper may never become a medical student. However, she will eagerly continue to shepherd medical students through their training.