International Student Stories
Yaman Thapa: A Beautiful Mind
Yaman Thapa is smiling into her camera, Zoom connecting my home to her Caldwell University campus apartment. She is holding up a pink origami flower on the screen. It is tiny, intricate and beautiful. Thapa, a chemistry major and neuroscience minor, is explaining how her love of both creative arts and science is allowing her to pursue a fascinating career path.
“It’s all the same,” she says of the different avenues of study available to university students. “It’s all the study of the world. When we create these separations between disciplines, I think that limits us. There is math in aesthetics. There’s science in the arts. It’s all just knowledge to me. I feel like everything’s connected.”
She looks at the flower with a smile.
“This is art,” she says. “But there is a formula to create this.”
It is this creative mindset that has set Thapa, a junior, on the road to success at Caldwell University and sparked her interest in studying the human brain.
She was accepted into the highly competitive Bernard S. and Sophie G. Gould MIT Summer Research Program in Biology. The 10-week, research-intensive training program is offered to advanced science majors who have an interest in a research career. The program is extremely difficult to enter, and Thapa says it is even more competitive for international students, making her accomplishment all the more impressive.
At MIT, she will work alongside a professor who uses chemistry and biophysics to map the brain. Through this project, Thapa will expand her résumé and gain valuable lab experience. The MIT program offers the opportunity to work in a fast-paced environment in state-of-the-art research facilities. Over 85% of participants have enrolled in highly ranked graduate programs after the experience.
Long term, one of Thapa’s professional aspirations is to communicate her neuroscience findings to everyone, not just fellow scientists. Working with a variety of skilled faculty as well as students at MIT should give her an opportunity to sharpen her communication skills, as she will be asked to give a presentation on her research and submit a report summary at the conclusion of the program.
“One of my interests is to communicate to the general population,” she says. “My work is not going to be of any value if I just limit it to scientific journals.”
It is no surprise that Thapa has embraced this approachable mindset when it comes to her research. An international student from Kathmandu, Nepal, Thapa is proud that people in her homeland are known for their warmth and compassion. She discovered the same spirit on Caldwell’s campus.
When Thapa arrived at Caldwell, she was understandably disoriented. She was experiencing jet lag and the shock of arriving in a new country. On her first day on campus, a woman approached her and asked if she was an international student. When Thapa said she was, the woman welcomed her to Caldwell, told her the university was very happy to have her and offered her a hug. The woman turned out to be one of Caldwell’s vice presidents, and Thapa knew from that very first day that she had arrived in a place with good people who would provide her with a much-needed community. The three years that followed, including the season of COVID, have confirmed that conviction.
Like several international students, during the lockdown last year, Thapa was unable to travel home. It was an uncertain time. Thapa says a lot of students found banks back home were closed and many people unemployed, so it was difficult to receive money from overseas. The university stepped in to make certain that the students had food for all their meals, and the Cougar Pantry was set up outside the cafeteria. Counseling and residence life staff were also available whenever needed to ensure students felt connected and emotionally cared for. Thapa was able to continue her work with the Academic Affairs Department, creating a virtual orientation package for incoming freshmen.
In spite of COVID, Thapa has managed to keep her many connections and commitments on campus. She has also found time to pursue another passion: She is a writer and has recently completed a children’s book about a Tibetan boy who lives in the mountains and is adopted by a yeti. A skilled communicator with a winning personality, Thapa plans to bring her many interests together in her future work as a scientist. As she works to complete her degree, she is looking toward graduate school and continuing her work in neuroscience.
“We are so different as human beings,” she says, “and I account so much of that to our brain, to our memories and how we perceive the world.”
With her wide range of interests and accomplishments, Thapa’s future is bright. And, of course, she credits her success to the mind and its unlimited possibilities.
“I would emphasize that you might have a lot of talents,” she says, “but what makes you successful is hard work. Things are not going to happen. We need to make them happen. With a growth mindset, we can achieve anything.”
Reeya Callychurn: Mauritian Student Is Stepping Up and Stepping Out
When Reeya Callychurn arrived at Caldwell University, she was the first person from her country to attend the school. Mauritius, her home country, is an island nation located off the east coast of South Africa. Traveling by plane to the United States takes a full day. To some it might seem impossible that a high school student from Mauritius could find Caldwell University, let alone decide to attend. But Callychurn’s path is a testament to her hard work and the dedication of the staff at Caldwell.
Callychurn discovered Caldwell because it met several of her most important desires for a college. She knew she was interested in a school in the United States after two Mauritian students visited her high school during a break from their university studies in America and shared positive experiences. She also wanted to find a school that offered good merit-based scholarships. And if she was going to end up in the United States, she hoped to study in or close to New York City. When she entered her parameters into her online college search, Caldwell University popped up.
“There were other schools that I was considering, but the very first factor which determines what school to choose for an international student is affordability,” Callychurn says of narrowing down her search. “The next factor was a location. Location plays a big, big role.”
The fact that Caldwell provided significant financial aid along with a location that offered easy access to New York City sold Callychurn. Beyond that, she was blown away by the personal attention she received from the staff as she tried to make her decision.
“One person who helped me greatly through every step would be Jan Marco Jiras,” Callychurn says of the director of admissions. “If I’m here today, I would say it’s because of him.”
Once she arrived at Caldwell, Callychurn dove into her studies. As a freshman, she earned the C-Pin, an award given to exemplary students at honors convocation. She came from a very competitive education system in Mauritius and applied her work ethic to her university studies. Callychurn appreciates the opportunity to pursue her higher education in a caring, attentive environment, and this factor has driven her performance. “Caldwell is taking good care of me, and now it is my opportunity to give back as a good student.”
Caldwell’s emphasis on liberal arts stands out for Callychurn. She is studying biology and plans to pursue a career in pharmaceutical research. At the same time she is being exposed to a wide variety of subjects, like theology and more extensive literature studies. This is one of the ways the university has surprised her. She is also thrilled to discover that despite her worries, the Catholic college accepted her, a Hindu, and treated her with care and respect.
Even though Callychurn does not have the company of another student from her country at Caldwell, she has been able to form strong bonds that are bridging the gap and meeting her need for connection and support.
“I feel very valued and treasured,” she says of the Caldwell community. “The persons who brought me here were Jan Marco Jiras and Maulin Joshi. But if you look at the faculty and all the Sisters at school, if you need help, you reach out and they’ll be here. The school provides a very good support system.”
During her 18 months of study, Callychurn has gifted the school with her culture. She has placed the Mauritian flag in the Hall of Flags. She has brought her food to a schoolwide Thanksgiving celebration that was tailored to showcase the many backgrounds of students. Her presence has surely added to the tapestry woven from the diversity found on campus.
As for being a trailblazer as the first and only student from her country, Callychurn says it has its pros and cons. “Sometimes you don’t fit in the crowd, but sometimes it makes you stand out.”
—Nicole Burrell ’09
Healthcare administration grad is ready to respond to COVID-19: Anamika Sharma Paudel ‘20
Anamika Sharma Paudel ’20 is about to join the ranks of those responding to COVID-19. She’ll be working at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center as a care coordinator. She comes to the position armed with a passion for service to others and a resume filled with her many contributions to the Caldwell University community.
Sharma, who received her Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Administration with a minor in Communication and Media Studies on May 17, recalls how when she arrived at Caldwell as a freshman, she wasn’t so sure of her path. In those early days, Sharma wondered who she would meet and how she would grow. In a completely new environment, the future was filled with questions. The way she describes it, she felt like she was a seed being planted. It wasn’t long before she discovered that Caldwell is a nurturing place for a seed to grow.
Soon after arriving at Caldwell, she was surrounded by kind people, wonderful professors and cool things to do. She found that those kind people were willing to welcome her into their lives beyond the campus. “I still remember sitting in a long bio lab,” Sharma says, “and a girl came up to me and asked, ‘Do you want to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family?’” That student, Stef Konboz, would become one of Sharma’s dearest friends. She represented a larger community of people at Caldwell who nurtured Sharma during her time as an undergraduate student studying healthcare administration with a minor in communication and media studies. Dr. Barbara Chesler, Caldwell’s vice president for academic affairs, celebrated Sharma’s successes with her. Grace, a member of the cafe staff, took the time to learn her name and would speak to her every day. Sister Kathleen Tuite, O.P., vice president for student life, wrote her a note of appreciation for her work. President Nancy Blattner stopped to talk to her. Blattner took the time to get to know her and connect with her as she made her way through Caldwell. These people provided Sharma the fertile ground that allowed her to flourish.
One person who made a lasting impact was Dr. Agnes Berki, an associate professor of biology in the Natural and Physical Sciences Department. Not only did Berki provide comfort while Sharma navigated a change in her major, but she also helped her secure her dream job, working at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. While Sharma was an intern there, her supervisor often forgot she was not a full-time employee. Like so many other Caldwell students, she was told that her strong interpersonal skills made her look like a seasoned professional. It is no accident that so many undergraduates and graduates of the university hear something similar. Sharma credits her experiences at Caldwell with making relationship-building a natural part of her work life.
She was extremely involved with campus life, honing those strong interpersonal skills during her time at Caldwell. She worked as a resident assistant, helping students and organizing self-development programs. Serving as an orientation leader, she guided freshmen as they navigated the same challenges of adjusting to a new atmosphere that she had experienced. She also served as president of the International Student Organization. In that role, she worked with other students to organize the first Global Thanksgiving Day, celebrating the 33 countries represented on campus, an event that is now held annually. Adding to her impressive resume, Sharma served as a member of the Student Government Association, as student representative to the Board of Trustees for Academic Affairs and as a founding member of the Nepalese Student Association. The NSA hosted the consulate general of Nepal at Caldwell University on the occasion of Tihar: Festival of Lights, strengthening the relationship between the Nepalese embassy in the United States and Caldwell University. During the pandemic, the NSA has reached out to Nepalese organizations that helped approximately 80 students with groceries and medical supplies.
At the virtual honors convocation on May 7, she received departmental honors for healthcare administration. She plans to bring everything she has learned at Caldwell to her job. After an experience that has allowedher to stretch herself and grow strong, she is ready to go into the world and flourish. “I am honored to join the front lines of health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. I have found my purpose, and I will be fulfilling it with my heart and soul.”
Commencement Livestream Brings Celebration Around the Globe
Caldwell, N.J., – Sept. 24, 2020 – Commencement is typically a time when graduates’ families travel from around the country and the world to Caldwell University to share in their loved ones’ memorable moments. Although this year’s pandemic prevented that, family members of Class of 2020 graduates or graduates themselves who could not travel to New Jersey, were thrilled to be able to view the ceremony via livestreaming.
Seven-hundred twenty-two unique viewers tuned in on Sunday, Sept. 20 from all over the United States and 22 other countries from as far away as Nigeria and Qatar. Most viewers from outside the U.S. were Italy, Nepal, Jamaica, Ecuador, and Peru.
Anamika Sharma Paudel ’20 was grateful that her family in Nepal could hear her name announced and watch her walk across the stage to receive her degree from President Matthew Whelan. Paudel’s parents had planned to travel to New Jersey but due to COVID restrictions could not. The stream was the next best thing. “My whole family was up at night because of the time difference and [they] were extremely happy.”
Her father told her, “We remember sending our little daughter, Anamika, at Nepal’s airport with heavy hearts. Watching you on stage as a confident woman completing your education with the highest honors in such a wonderful institution was one of the most beautiful moments of our lives. We weren’t there with you in person, but one hundred percent in spirit.”
Paudel, who earned a Bachelor of Science in Health Care Administration, is currently on staff at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, where she is a care coordinator for patients with cancer and COVID-19. She said the ceremony, which had been delayed four months due to the pandemic, was “the most sought-after event for a long time!”
Huong Nguyen from Vietnam was on the phone with her mother and brother before and after the ceremony. They watched her walk via the livestream, recorded it on video, and shared it with friends and family. “My mom and my brother even went out for dinner and had some wine after the livestream to celebrate my graduation,” said Nguyen, who earned a Bachelor of Arts in Marketing and Communication and Media Studies. She currently works at Audigent in Manhattan. “It was sad that my family could not be there with me at this meaningful moment but I feel very grateful that the school made it possible for my family and many other international students’ families to watch the graduation virtually.”
Shweta Sapkota and Sudeep Khadka, Nepal
Caldwell University science students took home a number of awards from the New Jersey Academy of Science (NJAS) virtual research competition in July.
Shweta Sapkota ’20 won first place in the 2021 senior academy health or medicine category. She was also awarded a grant from the Independent College Fund of New Jersey (ICFNJ) for her research. Sapkota, who received a bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in chemistry from Caldwell on May 17, is grateful to the ICFNJ and her professors. “I cannot thank the university enough for providing students like me with an appropriate platform and all the required materials to broadcast our talent in the form of research projects.”
Sapkota discovered her interest in working with cells and microorganisms when she was a student in Caldwell’s science department. The courses and clinical lab experiences prepared her for her current work as a medical technician in a microbiology lab with Quest Diagnostics. “I was trained to use most of the equipment used in the real world.”
In the ecology, environmental or marine science category, Sudeep Khadka ’21, a biology major, came in second, and Madison Perry ’21 , also a biology major, received the third-place award. Students Venisse Abanilla, Kriti Sitaula, Yaman Thapa and Saliha Ulgur earned honorable mentions.
The NJAS is a nonprofit organization with a mission to preserve and promote the advancement of STEM-related fields in the New Jersey scientific community.
William Velhagen, Ph.D., associate dean of Caldwell’s School of Natural Sciences, says he is delighted that Caldwell University was well represented among the awardees. “The success of our students is a testament to their intelligence and hard work and to the excellent mentorship by our faculty.”
The faculty members are very proud of the students. “It was a privilege to witness the unfolding of the students’ research and how they mastered the scientific method while developing valuable professional and excellent presentation skills,” says Agnes Berki, associate professor in the School of Natural Sciences.
Students had the chance to network and to share scientific ideas. More than 100 high school, undergraduate and graduate students participated in the event. They were given the opportunity to present original scientific research, to compete to have their research abstracts published and to participate at a higher level.
The Department of Natural Sciences was renamed the School of Natural Sciences effective July 1; it has become one of the largest academic units at Caldwell. Velhagen says he and his colleagues are proud that growing numbers of science majors have been accepted into internships and into Ph.D. and health profession programs at prestigious institutions. “Students and faculty have also been awarded several grants to conduct research and to support scholars. I am grateful to the university cabinet for recognizing the accomplishments of our faculty and students.”
Aarion Romany, Trinidad and Tobago
Aarion Romany, an international student from Trinidad and Tobago, a senior majoring in chemistry and minoring in marketing, found it challenging to find a research program that would accept an international student. After applying to several programs, Romany was accepted for the summer undergraduate research fellowship program offered by the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
“There I was assigned a mentor who was a funded principal investigator,” Romany said. “The lab I joined studies a protein called human DNA helicase B (HELB). It is a protein that is involved in repairing our DNA as it’s damaged.”
Although this was his second internship, Romany said it was the first time he had conducted research at an R01 institution, one that receives large research grants from the National Institutes of Health. Romany said that the internship “was a wonderful experience” and that he plans to go to graduate school.
Romany advised other international students who are looking for research internships not to give up or to “limit the scope of where you look for research opportunities.” He encouraged exploring possibilities throughout the United States because that’s what led him to Arkansas, but he said the best place to start is at Caldwell University’s independent undergraduate research program. “Through this program I was prepared for conducting research, troubleshooting, thinking, and even giving presentations,” he said.
Favour Garuba, Nigeria
Recent graduate Favour Garuba is the recipient of a fellowship from the prestigious honor society Phi Kappa Phi. PKP awards grants to members who are starting their first year of graduate or professional study. Garuba, who received her bachelor’s in health sciences on May 19, will be entering Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis in the fall on a full scholarship.
Garuba was active in community service during her undergraduate years including spearheading the Phi Kappa Phi book drive for Autism Awareness month in April where students collected over 300 books for The Learning Center for Exceptional Children in Clifton, New Jersey.
She was thrilled when she found out that she was selected for the fellowship. “Once I read the email, I felt grateful, honored, and humbled,” and she felt like a load was lifted off her shoulders, “All I could really say was ‘thank God.’”
Lynne Alleger, an associate faculty member in the Academic Success Center and president of Caldwell’s chapter of PKP, worked closely with Garuba on the project. “Even with mid-terms looming and graduation quickly approaching, Favour was always ready and willing to meet, make suggestions, and coordinate with our book drive recipient.”
Alleger is also proud of the other student leaders, Chennelle Lawrence, Roksana Korbi and Anwar Khalil for “their diligence in getting the book drive off the ground in a very short period of time and securing a very grateful recipient…all of the young women were more than motivated to meet with me and get the ball rolling on our agendas.”
Garuba, an international student from Nigeria, is grateful to the Phi Kappa Phi Chapter at Caldwell for nominating her, to the professors in the Natural Sciences Department who wrote recommendation letters and to “the countless other individuals” at Caldwell who helped her achieve her goals. She is looking forward to starting her medical studies so she can use her gifts to help those in need. “I would like to dedicate my services as a physician and researcher to improve health in a way that reaches every community, including those in disadvantaged areas.”
Watch News 12 New Jersey’s feature with Favour as Viewer of the Day. Watch it here.
Keith Kyewalabye, Uganda
Keith Kyewalabye, a junior majoring in biology and minoring in music, who is an international student hailing from Uganda, also had difficulty finding research opportunities.
Over two summers, Kyewalabye applied to more than 40 programs and finally was accepted to two for the summer. He chose the summer undergraduate research program held at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas.
“I was doing cancer research. More specifically, the project I was working on was helping to understand this gene called ATM,” he said. “I was studying the effects of a mutation on this gene [and] its expression.”
ATM, or ataxia telangiectasia-mutated, plays an important role in fixing damaged DNA by releasing a protein to repair mutations. However, Kyewalabye explained that some cancers might mutate the gene, causing it to release a “defunct protein” that cannot repair DNA well. The Food and Drug Administration, he noted, has approved drugs that target the mutated ATM, shutting down its ability to repair cancerous DNA, thus causing cancer to die.
Kyewalabye said some people who have the mutated ATM gene, and who are expected to respond well to the medication, do not respond as anticipated, because not all mutated ATM genes produce a defunct protein.
“I was trying to understand what types of mutations result in defunct proteins and what types of mutations leave proteins working.”
Kyewalabye found his internship experience insightful, and he realized that one can work in a clinical setting and in research. He hopes to become a neurosurgeon and is considering applying to M.D.-Ph.D. programs.
Kofi Mireku, Ghana
Kofi Mireku, a senior, also conducted his research at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus as part of the cancer research summer fellowship program at the campus’s Cancer Center.
Under the supervision of Dr. Medhi Fini, a doctor-researcher and assistant professor at the Anschutz Medical Campus Center of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Diseases, Mireku conducted his research in the field of breast cancer.
“We began a pilot study on xanthine oxidoreductase and ROS [reactive oxygen species] tolerance on E0771 breast cancer cells,” Mireku said.
Before this experience, Mireku had never worked with animals or in vivo techniques. Inoculating the mammary glands of premenopausal and postmenopausal mice with the E0771 breast cancer cells, Mireku measured for tumor growth in both groups.
While collecting data, however, he and Fini accidentally found that the genes that code for XOR—an enzyme that generates ROS, a molecule believed to encourage cancer growth—appeared to have been removed from the tumor growth in postmenopausal mice.
This led Fini and Mireku to hypothesize that XOR plays a significant role in controlling the function of fibroblasts found in the breast.
Though the research is ongoing, Mireku said he finished the first phase and shared his data with the academic community in a poster presentation on campus.
Thanks to this internship, Mireku said he fulfilled his goal of understanding the dynamics of being both a medical professional and a researcher, which cemented his conviction to pursue a career in medicine. He was also able to network with other professionals, which led him to another opportunity over the summer that exposed him to clinical experiences.
Ngima Sherpa, Nepal
Right across the street from where Kyewalabye was conducting his research, Ngima Sherpa, a biology and chemistry major who is set to graduate in December 2019, was conducting her research as part of the summer biomedical research internship or SMART program at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) in Houston.
“I did not know her before, but a mutual friend of ours told me she was in Houston as well, working in a hospital across the street from me, and we eventually got into contact and connected over the summer,” Kyewalabye said.
“We bonded quickly,” Sherpa said. “It was really nice to meet someone from home in a new town.”
During her nine weeks at BCM, Sherpa worked at the Center for Drug Discovery in the lab of Dr. Nihan Ucisik and Dr. Martin Matzuk.
“I was new to the lab’s research area of drug repurposing through computational chemistry, given my previous background in biological research, but my mentors were very instrumental in helping me learn the concepts of computational chemistry and different cheminformatic techniques,” Sherpa said.
BCM “is an incredible hub for cutting-edge scientific research, providing the perfect environment for thriving young scientists,” she said. Because of her research experience, Sherpa decided to pursue a Ph.D. She will be giving a presentation on her research in Hawaii this fall.
Ole-Anders Wendlborg, Norway
Most people in Drammen, Norway, have never heard of Caldwell, New Jersey. And vice versa. But at the Ernst & Young offices in this port and river city in eastern Norway, a young professional carries with him the foundation he was given in the business classes at Caldwell University. Alumnus Ole-Anders Wendelborg ’18 has been an auditor at the big four accounting firms for the past year.
Leveraging his undergraduate degree in business and his MBA, he has worked closely with partners at E&Y locations in Norway, helped managers with clients overseas and locally, provided translation and assisted co-workers with information on international laws and regulations. “I cannot thank the Business School at Caldwell enough. Being the only new employee with an international degree gave me certain advantages,” said Wendelborg. “I came into work well prepared, organized, and excited to start.”
Wendelborg credits Caldwell Professor Alvin Neiman’s accounting classes for sparking his interest in accounting and auditing as a career path. In Professor Virginia Rich’s courses, he learned “business lingo” and “how to approach clients and co-workers in a professional manner.” Professor Bernie O’Rourke’s integrated strategic management seminar gave him the hands-on experience to learn the ways businesses operate and develop during changing times and trends. The small classes, led by professors who “push you further academically,” said Wendelborg, encouraged and supported participation from students.
A native of Drammen, Wendelborg transferred to Caldwell in his sophomore year and played on the men’s soccer team for three years. He was happy that there were direct flights from Newark to Oslo, which is 40 minutes from Drammen. That made visits from family and friends doable, and he was able to get home a few times a year.
As an international student, Wendelborg felt welcomed by the campus community, and he cherishes the friends he made at Caldwell. “We’re all like a big family. I still stay in touch with several of my old teammates and roommates. We meet up regularly, and I’ve already planned several trips for the coming fall.” He would like his fellow Caldwell alums to experience Norway’s unique landscapes, cuisine, attractions, and culture. “You can, in the span of 15 minutes, go from a fairly large modern city like Oslo to the wilderness. I enjoy skiing and we offer some of the best slopes around.”
Wendelborg plans to keep growing professionally in Ernst and Young, and perhaps “one day I’ll be able to work in the United States for some time,” he said.
As an alum, he knows that the journey he made halfway around the world for his education is already proving to be a foundation for professional success. “I have landed a great job, which has opened several doors for the future.”
Shreyoshi Hossain, Bangladesh
Fellow senior Shreyoshi Hossain, a biology major minoring in chemistry and business, participated in a summer internship at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island where she worked on a computational biology project.
“I was quite nervous for a couple of reasons, firstly because this was the first time I would be working with a programming language and second because I would be working in the institution ranked number one in academic research worldwide by the scientific journal Nature,” Hossain said.
Luckily, with the support of her mentor, Dr. Hannah Meyer, Hossain was encouraged to learn through trial and error, and by the end of her internship, she had mastered a new programming language called R, written a 20-page paper titled “Literature Mining for Human Pathogens” and presented her research to experienced scientists.
“Although it was an intense few weeks, I am so grateful for the experience,” Hossain said.
In addition to conducting research during their internships, students attended seminars where they met professional researchers and learned about their fields. In some cases, they had an opportunity to shadow physicians.
Among the other students doing research this summer were Amelia Biswas, who worked at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and Prasad Gyawali, who interned at the Henry E. Riggs School of Applied Life Sciences at the Keck Graduate Institute in California as part of the Bioprocessing Summer Undergraduate Internship Training and Education Program.