Howenstine earns Ph.D. while recovering from transplant

ANGOLA, Ind. – There's keeping busy, and then there's the schedule of a Trine marketing professor who had a lofty to-do list for 2012: get a promotion, earn a doctorate and undergo an organ transplant.

Julie Howenstine hit two of the marks last year and checked the third piece off her list in January. It wasn't the pancreas transplant that kept her from meeting her deadline; she had to move back the date of her dissertation, scheduled for Dec. 12 (she still has 12-12-12 on a memo board in her office), to January because of a scheduling conflict.

Why, some might wonder, would a person put together such as list. Well, she was already working on her doctorate and aiming for a promotion. She had been diabetic for 38 years and the time had come for a transplant – she didn't pick the time, the disease had dictated that, Howenstine explained without hesitation.

On Jan. 15, Howenstine earned a doctorate in higher education with a marketing minor from the University of Toledo. She joined Trine as an assistant professor of marketing in 2005 and was promoted to associate professor in February, just a week before she underwent a pancreas transplant at University of Michigan Health System.

Howenstine earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Oakland University in 1991 and a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Saint Thomas in 2002.

"I am thrilled to announce that Julie has successfully defended her dissertation," said Scott Fergusson, dean of the Ketner School of Business. "Julie has been an invaluable member of the business school team and we look forward to her continued success."

From doctoral candidate to transplant candidate

The Coldwater, Mich., resident had been on an organ transplant list for 18 months when she got the call for the transplant last February. She was told it would take 12 months to 24 months to secure a pancreas when she was added to the list at the University of Michigan Health System, Ann Arbor, Mich.

"I had diabetes for 38 years, I had been diagnosed when I was quite young," she said. "My kidneys are still good, so I didn't need kidneys, just a pancreas and I'm having great success with the transplant.

"I feel so much better, the difference is amazing," she said. "I'm more confident in the classroom because all of my attention is focused where it should be, on the students and the material." She could not sense or predict when her blood sugar might rise or fall, thus she had to be mindful of her condition. Plus, for 20 years she had depended on an insulin pump. The device replaces injections by delivering insulin continuously throughout the day, according to the American Diabetes Association.

The transplant cured her of diabetes in exchange for anti-rejection drugs, so her body won't resist the organ, the rest of her life. "It's a couple of pills, no big deal. It's much easier than the pump," she said.

However, Howenstine nearly missed the opportunity to improve her health.

"I almost went off the list because I was so close to finishing my doctorate," she said. After discussing it with the transplant coordinator, Howenstine decided to remain on the list and a week later she got the call that a pancreas match had been found.

"It's just amazing how it worked out," she said, adding that she was promoted at Trine a week before the transplant.

The transplant call came on the heels of when she had finished collecting data for her dissertation on whether recruiting strategies influence the enrollment of females in engineering programs. Trine was among the 21 institutions she sampled for her study.

'Incredible gift'

"I'm just giddy. It's such a joy – what a blessing," she said of the transplant. "It's an incredible gift that someone gave to me. My whole world changed because of somebody's generosity. I can never, ever say 'thank you' enough. I wish I could thank them to say how much they changed my life."

One needs visit with Howenstine for only a few minutes to learn the enthusiasm she shows for her transplant is a characteristic she had even before the life-changing event.

Howenstine has sent a thank you to the family through the organ donor program and has indicated on her driver's license that she will "donate everything."

Howenstine reports her blood-sugar levels have been great and that she routinely visits Cameron Hospital in Angola to have the levels checked. She receives her quarterly follow-up care through Indiana University Medical Center because of the convenience of seeing a doctor in Fort Wayne versus driving to Ann Arbor.

While Howenstine is quick to point out she was never held back by her diabetes, she's grateful for the ability to enjoy life without having to plan. An avid automobile buff, she also enjoys swimming, boating, fishing, gardening and golfing.

"I'll keep doing these activities and hopefully I'll have time for more," she said. "Now that I'm done with the doctoral program I can relax a little bit and have more fun."

Howenstine began her career in the corporate arena in marketing, working for General Electric, Pepsi Americas and the Kellogg Co. During her years at Trine, her professional contributions have been an integral part of the classroom experience she provides to students.

She prides herself on helping her students develop necessary skills to take into their careers.

"I like teaching at Trine because I can watch students grow and help prepare them for future success," she said. "Caring about students and guiding them is all a part of being a professor at Trine."

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