Q&A with Amanda Bryant-Friedrich, new dean of the Graduate School

Dr. Amanda Bryant-Friedrich assumed her new position as dean of the Wayne State University Graduate School on Aug. 1.

Bryant-Friedrich came to Wayne State from the University of Toledo, where she served as dean of the College of Graduate Studies, vice provost for graduate affairs, and a professor of medicinal and biological chemistry in the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. She earned her master of science in chemistry from Duke University in 1992 and her Ph.D. in pharmaceutical chemistry in 1997 from Ruprecht-Karls Universität in Heidelberg, Germany.

Bryant-Friedrich sat down with us to talk about her career, her vision for graduate education at Wayne State, and her love of Prince.

What do you hope to achieve in your new role as dean of the Graduate School?

My entire idea about education is providing access to anyone who wants to get a degree. I’m going to bring that to the very unique population that entrusts Wayne State with their pursuit of a degree. I want people to see Wayne State as their first option for graduate education and to actually understand the unique opportunities that are available to them by attending a very urban institution in a great city.

What appeals to you most about Wayne State University’s location in the heart of Midtown Detroit?

It’s an amazingly diverse group of individuals that make up the city of Detroit. I lived in Detroit back in the early 2000s. There was always a little element of chaos that came with being in the city—this incredible feeling that there was always something that was going to be new, different, and amazing. Little changes happened back then. Now big things are happening and I’m excited to be here to see it.

What do you enjoy most about working in academia?

The students. Academia has a lot of exciting opportunities as well as challenges but the driving force for me is to always remember who I work for. I work for the students to make sure they can achieve their goals.

Tell us about your research interests.

I am a medicinal chemist by training. My lab at UT had an interest in anything that has to do with naturally and synthetically modified nucleosides and nucleotides in the determination of disease etiology and drug design and development. Now, in the age of COVID, the development of antiviral compounds has taken front and center in what we do. I’m bringing that research to Wayne State and will have a laboratory in the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences where we’re going to continue our work.

Besides my laboratory research, I also do quite a bit of work centered around mentoring underrepresented minorities and understanding the challenges that are involved in gaining higher degrees past high school.

What would the name of your autobiography be?

For Real (laughs). My life has taken some very interesting turns, so I think when people read my autobiography, it would be a lot of “For real?!”

What is something people might be surprised to learn about you?

I am a huge Prince fan.

Did you ever see him live?

Seven or eight times. Once was at the State Theatre in Detroit. I actually have a very odd piece of memorabilia from the State Theatre—his music was so loud and so rich that a piece of the building fell on me. I have a piece of mortar from the State Theatre that fell on me while I was at a Prince concert.

How do you spend your free time? Any passion projects?

Family is pretty much how I spend my free time, because I have so little. I have a 9-year-old daughter and an 18-year-old son, who—he’s going to kill me for saying this—is going to be a freshman at Wayne State in the fall. My husband’s also a professor, a chemistry professor at the University of Detroit Mercy, so we even get to talk about science at home. He has been at UDM for about 10 years, commuting from Toledo to Detroit, so he’s very happy that I’m making this move.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

A friend of mine told me that if you’re going to a different place, you have to be ready to leave the place you are. So, I have always kind of thought about what that looks like—being ready to leave. It’s not just about being ready to go somewhere else, but also about leaving things behind.

The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Interviewed by Kristy Case and Nick Mattar

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