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Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Wichita State alum discusses moving from Lebanon, advising Canada through pandemic

Monique Bever
Mona Nemer gives a speech at the Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame induction on Feb. 6 in Wiedemann Hall.

When the pandemic hit Canada in 2020, Mona Nemer was largely involved in the country’s response to COVID-19. The Wichita State graduate put together an expert panel that provided scientific evidence and updates to the government.

“My take on the pandemic is that we have a long way to go in terms of building trust and building understanding about science,” Nemer, Canada’s chief science adviser, said. “In fact, I believe science is essential for democracy.”

Nemer was inducted into the Fairmount College Hall of Fame on Feb. 6. She has been Canada’s chief science adviser since 2017, guiding the prime minister and cabinet on public policy issues related to science — including during the pandemic.

Nemer compared guiding people through the catastrophe to being in a burning building they could not teach people to calm down while everything was on fire. 

Nemer advised the Canadian government to provide scientific evidence to help the population understand. 

“The lesson was to empower people so they could make decisions for themselves based on evidence,” Nemer said. “I think people need to be able to make decisions for themselves, but they need to be able to trust the sources of the information.”

Nemer had a long career path before serving as chief science adviser. Throughout her various roles in scientific research, Nemer published over 200 scientific reports. 

In high school, Nemer was interested in many subjects she found math beautiful and history and literature intriguing. Before university, Nemer wanted to be a journalist. 

“Journalism and science have a lot in common — it’s about facts, it’s about digging, it’s about informing,” she said.

From Lebanon to Kansas

Born in Lebanon in 1957, Nemer began her education at the American University of Beirut in her home country. The Lebanese Civil War began in 1975. Nemer said that “things went from bad to worse.”

She lived in the residence halls on the American University campus but had to leave because of bombshell firing. 

“We ended up not being able to have classes, and (we were) living in the sub-basement of the medical faculty,” Nemer said.

Even though her parents lived eight miles away from American University, Nemer lost all contact with her family due to the shells. She left the university and moved to Kansas to finish her education. 

“I actually had to be part of a convoy with journalists to be able to cross without being shelled,” she said.

In 1977, Nemer graduated with a bachelor’s in chemistry from Wichita State. From there, she went on to earn a doctorate in bioorganic chemistry from McGill University in Montreal. 

“I didn’t intend to spend the rest of my life in North America, but I think that’s what happens a lot for international students if they come from parts of the world where things don’t get better, and then they just don’t feel like they can really contribute,” Nemer said. 

Throughout her career, Nemer has tried to foster more connections between North America and Lebanon. She said these connections pave the way for more understanding and open-mindedness toward different countries and cultures.

“I deeply believe that these scientific and academic collaborations are actually a great way for the people to connect,” Nemer said.

Research and discoveries

After her doctorate, Nemer set her sights on studying pharmacology to develop new medications. 

She conducted her postdoctoral research in molecular biology and genetics at the Montréal Clinical Research Institute and Columbia University. Her research primarily focused on gene expression of cardiac cells. 

During Nemer’s postdoctoral research, her team made a prominent discovery. They found that mutations during the GATA4 gene’s encoding process led to heart problems. Nemer has since helped develop diagnostic tests for heart failure.

Following her successful postdoctoral work, Nemer considered a different career, such as going to law school or pursuing the other subjects she liked in high school. 

“It was the only time when I said, ‘Is this really what I want to do for my entire life?’” Nemer said. 

She went on to become a professor of pharmacology at the Université de Montréal and directed the Cardiac Genetics Unit at the Montréal Clinical Research Institute.

Later, she became a professor at the University of Ottawa. There, she worked as the vice president of research at the university and director of the school’s Molecular Genetics and Cardiac Regeneration Laboratory. 

Nemer said her path to where she is now wasn’t “linear.” She was not always sure that she wanted to work in a lab — let alone study chemistry. 

Nemer emphasized that she built her career, not by dreaming and planning, but by waiting until the next best opportunity. 

“If you had told me when I entered the university that I would be working on the heart, I would have said, ‘I don’t know what you’ve been dreaming,’” Nemer said. 

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About the Contributors
Loren Amelunke
Loren Amelunke, Reporter
Loren Amelunke is a first-year reporter for The Sunflower. She is a sophomore at Wichita State, currently pursuing a psychology major. She loves to write poetry and hopes to publish a poetry book in the near future.
Monique Bever
Monique Bever, Reporter
Monique Bever is a first-year reporter and photographer. She is a freshman majoring in philosophy. Monique has lived in Wichita for most of her life. She loves film, fashion, and her cat.

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