Distinguished alumnus to share his Dragon pride in SAC keynote address

Alumni often stay connected with their alma mater in one way or another. Tomi Sawyer has not only stayed connected to the university, but has also returned to MSUM multiple times. This year he will be a keynote speaker at the 23rd Annual Andrew B. Conteh Student Academic Conference (SAC).

Sawyer received a bachelor's degree in chemistry from MSUM and a doctorate from the University of Arizona. He's worked with many esteemed companies in biotech and pharma, drug research and development, and entrepreneurial ventures throughout his career. Such include his work at Merck Research Laboratories as Distinguished Scientist, Founding Chief Scientific Officer at Aileron Therapeutics, Senior Vice-President of Drug Discovery at Ariad Pharmaceuticals (recently acquired by Takeda), and Senior Director at Pfizer Research Technology Center.

Sawyer is now retired but continues to support peptide drug discovery as a Chief Drug Hunter and President at Maestro Therapeutics. He is using his 40 years of knowledge and experience to advise startups and early-stage biotech and says he's "having a blast."


Before embarking on an esteemed career, Sawyer was heavily involved at MSUM. He served in several student leadership capacities, and as a student advisor he mentored first-year students. Sawyer appreciated the skills he developed in his many roles at MSUM and his connections with classmates, faculty and staff.

Sawyer is still engaged as an advisor to MSUM’s Chemistry and Biochemistry Department as well as serving as a mentor to a student in a semester-long course offered through the School of Business. He served six years on the MSUM Foundation Board of Directors and has been honored with both the Outstanding Young Alumni Award and the Distinguished Alumni Award.

"When I walk on campus, it's like I go back in time," he said.

Because of Sawyer's many accomplishments, experiences and valued connections to MSUM, he was invited again to this year’s Student Academic Conference. As a proud Dragon, he’ll talk about his MSUM experiences and how they paved the way for a scientific career in drug discovery that has been unwavering on providing hope a reality.

"When you are an alum from Moorhead State, that's a big deal, Sawyer said. “I have a sense of loyalty to Moorhead. It's not where you come from, it's who you are, and it helps if you come from a school that cares about you a lot.”

Sawyer's keynote address will take place on Tuesday, April 20 at 11:55 a.m. via Zoom. The full schedule and list of student presenters can be found on the Student Academic Conference website.

Read more about Sawyer's career as a drug hunter in the article, Distinguished Scientist Inspires Next Generation of Researchers.

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