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Biology students selected for summer premedical program

Biology students Shanice Edwards and Roksana Korbi were selected for the Premedical Urban Leaders Summer Enrichment Program.
Biology major Shanice Edwards and Director of Caldwell’s Educational Opportunity Fund Andrei St. Felix. Edwards is showing her research project for the Premedical Urban Leaders Summer Enrichment Program.

Biology students Shanice Edwards and Roksana Korbi learned about urban health through the Premedical Urban Leaders Summer Enrichment Program at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University.

PULSE gives undergraduate students interested in healthcare exposure to the medical professions. The six-week forum provided academic, clinical, research and service learning opportunities.  “I was honored and privileged to be accepted into such a rigorous and prestigious program,” said Edwards.

“My favorite workshop was the suturing workshop and the simulation labs where we pretended to be doctors,” said Korbi.

Edwards said it was especially rewarding to learn about Camden and help the city through volunteering at the non-profit organization Ronald McDonald House where she did activities with children ages 16 and under.

Korbi volunteered at The Neighborhood Center, a non-profit organization aimed at helping  families get out of poverty.  She and her group did research on the urban farm located at the back of the center.  “Our goal was to increase awareness so people could go and get free fresh food from the farm and live  healthier lives,” said Korbi.

The program culminated with a symposium where students highlighted their research for family, friends and guests.

Korbi and Edwards found that PULSE provided them with good information on the steps they would need to take to plan for medical school.

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Koumudi Thirunagaru – The dream of attending medical school becomes a reality

Koumudi Thirunagaru started thinking about becoming a doctor at a young age. She volunteered at Stanford Children’s Hospital near her home in San Ramon, California, and she took AP biology at Homestead High School and found the subject constantly stimulating.

Caldwell has been her home away from home. She began college at Caldwell as a biology major. “I became involved in everything that had to do with the medical field my first year including being an officer for the Health Professions Club.” The idea of pursuing a career in medicine “turned from a fantasized” dream to a realistic goal.” During the summer between her freshman and sophomore years, she went on a medical mission to Nicaragua, an eye-opening experience that spurred her to pursue a minor in Spanish.

Thirunagaru will be taking a step closer to her goal of becoming a doctor when she begins her studies at George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, D.C., in the fall. The faculty at Caldwell have helped her in the process. “I received a lot of guidance from Dr. William Velhagen. The professors are easily approachable. They are not just teachers but also mentors—inside and outside the classroom.”

She received her bachelor’s in biology with minors in chemistry and Spanish at graduation on May 21. She excelled during her undergraduate years, receiving departmental honors in the Department of Natural and Physical Sciences and being involved in a number of activities including holding leadership positions in the Health Professions Club, playing tennis all four years, tutoring in the Academic Success Center and working as a scribe at a hospital in Newark. She appreciated being given opportunities for community service ranging from planning the annual Halloween-for-hunger drive to attending Midnight Runs for the homeless in New York City and volunteering at the annual Caldwell Day.

Thirunagaru finished her coursework last December and taught grammar school children math and English at an after-school center and privately tutored in art. Her artwork appeared in this year’s edition of Calyx, a Caldwell student journal of literature and art. Caldwell has been her home away from home, especially since her family lives on the West Coast. The university’s cohesiveness makes it special for her. “It’s a circle, a family.” Thirunagaru advises incoming students to get involved quickly. “Students make the school. Take advantage of what you have, and never lose sight of your dreams, regardless of the daily battles.”

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Alumna, physical therapist encourages STEM exploration

Credits tuition aid grant program with giving her the stepping stone for her education

“Rewarding” does not begin to describe the feeling Caldwell University alumna Monique Pineros  has every day when she heads out the door to work as a physical therapist. “Bringing back a human body to its normal functions with one’s hands is truly an art,” she says.

Pineros remembers her days at Caldwell and how her exposure to the liberal arts and to the diversity of campus life helped prepare her for the dream of entering the medical field. After receiving her doctorate in physical therapy from Quinnipiac University in 2016, she began to practice physical therapy and teach as an adjunct in Caldwell’s Natural and Physical Sciences Department.

“It all would never have been possible without that first stepping-stone, which was Caldwell University, along with the help of TAG,” she says. TAG is a New Jersey  need based grant program that  helps lower income students achieve their dream of receiving a college education.

“When I stand behind the podium in the classroom or evaluate and treat my patients in the clinic, I am constantly reminded that everyone has the potential to become their very best. The trick lies in becoming the individual’s first pusher in order to tap into it.”

Having been “fortunate enough and blessed to be on that receiving side,” Pineros wants to give back. “I too want to be on the other side to help that individual, whether student or patient.

“Coming from a family with financial hardships, I realized I required all the help necessary in order to make my dreams of a college education a reality. TAG was able to provide me with the financial bridge I needed to fulfill my academic studies at Caldwell University.”

Caldwell exposed her to a liberal arts foundation and to a diverse student body. “As a practicing physical therapist, I am able to clearly see the connections from the classroom theory I was given at Caldwell as well as the wealth of knowledge I gained from the interactions with my former peers to that of my current patient population. Not only was I given the academic foundation to pursue graduate studies but also the foundation to interact with patients in the clinic from all ages and walks of life.”

Having the opportunity to interact one on one with her professors at Caldwell and to create trusting relationships made her comfortable with the exchange of ideas at the professional and personal levels. “This was and is quintessential to my everyday life, in and outside of clinical practice.”

Pineros wants to help others who have talents in the STEM fields to be forward-thinking and passionate. “Marrying my love of physical therapy and clinical practice to that of teaching is what I aspire towards because not only do I want to inspire the generations after me in the classroom, I want to ignite a fire and thirst for never-ending exploration for the sciences, health and our future innovations.”

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Science Students take top prizes at ICFNJ Undergrad Research Symposium


Caldwell, N.J. March 7, 2017 – Caldwell University science students took first and second place prizes at the Independent College Fund of New Jersey’s Undergraduate Research Symposium. Deborah Balthazar and Amanda Surujnauth received the first place Outstanding Poster Presentation award for their project “What is on your toothbrush? Are you brushing with fecal matter?” They focused on assessing toothbrush microbial contamination from toilet aerosols and on offering suggestions for storage and decontamination. They wanted to engage in something practical that would interest people and that “people deserve to know,” said Balthazar.

Student Gianna C. Klucker received the second place Outstanding Poster Presentation award for her project “Creation of a Novel Deodorant Using Essential Oils.”

Five other students in Natural and Physical Sciences faculty Dr. Agnes Berki’s research, conduct and composition biology class presented their projects at the symposium at Liberty Science Center, where they heard from leading New Jersey professionals in the STEM fields who gave them professional advice and insight.

ICFNJ began the symposium in 2014 to offer new undergraduate grants to its member institutions. The grants connect students with peer and faculty mentors who are engaged in research.

Also on display was Won Seok Choi and Steven S. Han’s project “Investigation of Microorganisms on Smartphones.” They found an alarming number of microorganisms and showed that smartphones can serve as a source of infections, underscoring the need to sterilize phones.

Han says doing the research gave him the chance to “put into practice the science method and see how it plays out when doing research.”

The symposium is the culmination of months of hard work by students, said Berki. “It solidifies their STEM training and prepares them for the world.”

The projects gave the students the chance to work outside the classroom or the lab and learn to work one-on-one. They develop professionally, academically and personally and learn about teamwork and public speaking, explained Berki. In addition, they “play off of each other’s strengths” and enhance their critical thinking skills, said Dr. Darryl Aucoin, assistant professor of chemistry, who worked with student Daniel Outo-Acheampong on his project “Optimizing the Growth Conditions for a Cellulose-Producing Bacterium.”

Science students Yara Abdelnabi and Michael James presented on “Optimization of Human DNA Detection in Unclean Teeth.”

Dr. Barbara Chesler, vice president for academic affairs, said doing undergraduate research is very valuable for students because they look at the reason for what they are learning and it makes them more marketable for graduate school. “It helps their chances of competing against other students for graduate school admissions,” she said.

The projects were not only educational but fun, said Han. “Dr. Berki was a great help. The students give each other moral support and helped each other out.” The research brings a “practicality to the lectures,” said Surujnauth.

The students are looking forward to displaying their work on campus at Caldwell’s research day April 26 when the university will showcase student, faculty and staff research projects across all disciplines.

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Science Students Present at Biologists’ Conference


Caldwell, N.J. Nov. 1, 2016 –Five students and an alumna from the Department of Natural and Physical Sciences participated in the 49th Annual Metropolitan Association of College and University Biologists Conference Oct. 29 at State University of New York at Old Westbury, N.Y.  The theme of the conference was “The Dance of the Genes: From Cancer to Conversation.”

Two students from a current research class—Won Moses Choi and Daniel Otuo-Acheampong—and one interested freshman-Anika Sanjana participated to learn and observe the conference atmosphere.

Students Pamela Marte and Juan Garcia and recent graduate Christina Blonski-Cupo presented the work they completed as interns at the JH Bloomberg School of Public Health Diversity Summer Internship Program.

“They all have done a wonderful job of explaining their findings to their peers,”
said Dr. Agnes Berki. associate professor of biology. “The conference featured exceptional speakers including Dr. Jill Bargonetti (professor of biological sciences at Hunter College and cancer researcher) who made the audience dance a correct p53 “DNA dance” and a mutated p53 “DNA dance”. We had much fun participating.”

Marte received a second prize award in the category of Microbiology/Immunology for her poster titled: Evaluation of Cytokines in Autoimmune Retinopathy that she completed working with Dr. Barbara Detrick, a professor of pathology at the JH University School of Medicine.

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CU Science Students Intern at Johns Hopkins


Caldwell, N.J., September 16, 2016 – Two Caldwell University science students and one recent alumna were selected to intern at the world-renowned teaching and biomedical hospital Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.

Students Pamela Marte and Juan Garcia and recent grad Christina Blonski-Cupo were chosen to participate in the JH Bloomberg School of Public Health Diversity Summer Internship Program.

Marte was “honored and humbled” to be working in the building with so much science history. She was assigned to the cytokine research lab in the clinical immunology lab, working directly with Dr. Barbara Detrick, a professor of pathology at the JH University School of Medicine. Detrick, a Caldwell University alumna, formed the partnership between Caldwell and Johns Hopkins, which was offered for the second year in a row.

Garcia and Blonski also had the chance to meet Detrick. “She is an inspiration,” said Blonski-Cupo ’16.

Marte’s assignment, “Evaluation of Cytokines in Autoimmune Retinopathy,” looked at the cytokine levels in patients with a very rare eye condition called autoimmune retinopathy or AIR.

Blonski interned in the infectious disease laboratory run by Dr. Petros Karakousis, associate professor of the Medicine Division of Infectious Diseases. Her project was titled “Evaluation of Mycobacterium smegmatis as an in vitro Model for Viable but Non-Culturable (VBNC) Bacteria.”

Garcia interned in the lab of Dr. Zhibin Wang, assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences in the Bloomberg School of Public Health.   Garcia’s project was titled “”The Role of CHD4 on Histone Recognition”. The experience was “fun, exciting, competitive and hard work,” he said.

“It was a demanding program” but definitely rewarding, said Marte.

Blonski-Cupo said she especially appreciated being able to meet and work with accomplished researchers.

Although they worked very hard, “there was a good balance of work and play,” said Marte. She enjoyed discovering Baltimore and taking the Amtrak to Washington, D.C. It was “great meeting new people”  and going to events and food tastings, said Garcia.

At the culmination of the internship, the students gave a poster, paper and PowerPoint project presentation. “I grew as a person and a professional,” said Marte. “This experience definitely confirmed my decision to pursue a career in research,” said Blonski-Cupo.

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CU Student Chosen for NJ Governor’s STEM Scholars Program


Alumna and current post-baccalaureate student Jessica Binkiewicz was chosen for the 2017 NJ Governor’s STEM Scholars program.

Caldwell, N.J., Sept. 14, 2016 – Caldwell University alumna and current post-baccalaureate student Jessica Binkiewicz was chosen for the prestigious 2017 New Jersey Governor’s STEM Scholars program.

The goal of the competitive program is to educate the best and brightest students about science, technology, engineering and math opportunities in New Jersey and to encourage the Garden State’s economic development.

Binkiewicz, the first Caldwell student selected for the program, was thrilled to learn that she was accepted and is looking forward to networking with professionals in New Jersey STEM fields, learning from prospective mentors and meeting other similar-minded young adults who share a passion for STEM.

She was selected to lead a research team for a project she created focusing on determining the inhibitory effects of Thieves oil on E. coli to explore new natural therapies for bacterial infections.  “I chose this topic because I believe it is crucial to look beyond allopathic treatments as they can cause pathogenic resistance, hence the formation of superbugs, and can also be expensive and cause adverse effects.” Binkiewicz hopes the findings can make a difference. “As a future physician, I understand how important scientific research is because it advances medicine and directly impacts people’s lives.”

A West Caldwell resident, Binkiewicz graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Caldwell in 2014.  She is now in the pre-medical post-baccalaureate program at Caldwell and plans to attend medical school.

While a post-baccalaureate student, she took an independent research study course with Science Professor Dr. Agnes Berki and presented her findings at William Paterson’s 10th annual research symposium and at Caldwell University’s Scholars’ Day.

Binkiewicz volunteers in the Emergency Department at Mountainside Hospital and is an active member of the Alpha Chi, Psi Chi, National Society of Leadership and Success, and Delta Epsilon Sigma honor societies.


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Science Student Presents at Undergraduate Research Symposium

Eva Suchar and her father Daniel Suchar at the symposium

Caldwell University biology major Eva Suchar presented her research findings at the third annual Independent College Fund of New Jersey’s Undergraduate Research Symposium at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City on March 7.

The conference features outstanding science, technology, math and engineering independent projects by students at New Jersey independent colleges and universities.

Suchar reported her findings on the “Optimization of Fluoridation using Streptococcus sanguinis and Streptococcus salivarius for Better Oral Hygiene” in the form of a poster presentation.

She began work on the project in September with her adviser Dr. Agnes Berki, associate professor of biology. There were some late nights in the lab, sometimes until midnight, but the work paid off, and it was especially nice to present to people who were “genuinely interested,” said Suchar. It was a “full research experience” because of Berki’s guidance. “She is absolutely brilliant, and I truly cherish every moment we worked together. We make a wonderful team.”

Senior biology major Christina Blonki accompanied Suchar as a co-author along with freshman biology majors Michelle Eng and Foujan Moghimi. The students “represented the university with exemplary professionalism,” said Berki.

For Suchar, one special aspect of the symposium was being able to have her father, Daniel Suchar, attend. He leaves in April for Kabul, Afghanistan, where he is a protective security specialist for the U.S. Embassy. “My dad has always been supportive of my work, which has brought out my confidence. If he can go into combat every day, I can certainly give a presentation to a bunch of fellow scientists.”

Suchar received a $1,000 research grant from the Independent College Fund of New Jersey, earning her the opportunity to participate in the symposium.

She was also featured in a Fios 1 News piece. To view the story go to this link.


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Faculty and Students Meet Nobel Laureate Kurt Wüthrich at Eastern Analytical Symposium and Present Poster

In front of poster (left to right) Dr. Berki, Dr. Commodari, Jen (Dohe) Han (Biology, Freshman), Marli Pimenta (presenting author, B.A., Biology, 2015), and Nikayla Goldenberg (Chemistry, Freshman)

Students meet Nobel Laureate Kurt Wüthrich (left to right) Dr. Fernando Commodari (Assistant Professor, Chemistry & Physics , Natural & Physical Sciences Department), Tulaja Shrestha (Junior & double major, Biology & Chemistry), Dr. Wüthrich, and Romina Ghale (Freshman, Biology

Freshmen, Jen (Dohe) Han (Freshman, Biology) and Nikayla Goldenberg (Freshman, Chemistry) visit exhibition that included over 400 Analytical Sciences vendors.

At Garden State Exposition Center. Somerset, NJ with Caldwell University students: Favour Garuba (Sophmore, Health Sciences), Rira Lee (Sophmore, Health Sciences), Tulaja Shrestha (Junior & double major, Biology & Chemistry) and Romina Ghale (Freshman, Biology)

Left to right Tulaja Shrestha (Junior & double major, Biology & Chemistry), Romina Ghale (Freshman, Biology), Professor Fernando Commodari (Natural and Physical Sciences), Favour Garuba (Sophmore, Health Sciences), and Rira Lee (Sophmore, Health Sciences), waiting for the plenary lecture to start.

Caldwell, N.J., Feb. 2, 2016 – Science faculty and students had the thrill of meeting Nobel Laureate Kurt Wüthrich at the Eastern Analytical Symposium in November.

Biology Professor Agnes Berki and Chemistry and Physics Professor Fernando Commodari, along with nine students in biology and chemistry, attended the conference held in Somerset, New Jersey. They presented their peer-reviewed work, “Antibiotic Effects of Essential Oils: Clove and Oregano Oils, on Cariogenic Bacteria as Studied by Microbiological and NMR Techniques,” as poster 199 in the Bioanalysis II session on Nov. 17. Marli Pimenta, who received her bachelor’s degree in biology in 2015, presented the original research findings showing that oregano-essential oil and clove-essential oil inhibit cariogenic bacteria more selectively than good bacteria.

Several students attended a plenary lecture on Nov. 16 on “NMR: From Man to Molecules,” given by Nobel Laureate Kurt Wüthrich. Berki said Wüthrich recounted how original ideas in science don’t immediately have obvious applications that directly impact humanity. “There have been several Nobel prizes awarded in the area of developing nuclear magnetic resonance methodology long before the now-familiar MRI images that we all recognize in clinical diagnostic and research medicine/science.”

After the talk, some of the students were introduced to Wüthrich by Commodari, who almost 25 years ago was invited to do his postdoctoral studies using nuclear magnetic resonance at ETH in the Wüthrich lab. “I was delighted to introduce our students to a guru of mine, Professor Wüthrich, who spoke with them about graduate research now underway in his group at Scripps, La Jolla, California,” said Commodari.

Junior Tulaja Shrestha , who is majoring in biology and chemistry, said she appreciated the opportunity to meet “such a humble genius.” It was “especially great to be able to pick a Nobel laureate’s brain and learn more about his contribution to chemistry.” Wüthrich received the Nobel prize in chemistry in 2002.

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Science students present at ICFNJ undergraduate research symposium


Caldwell, N.J., April 21, 2015 –

Caldwell University Science Students presented their research at the Independent College Fund of New Jersey Undergraduate Research Symposium “Investing in Students Investing in New Jersey” on March 30 at Liberty Science Center.  Led by their professor, Dr. Agnes Berki, Caldwell students Laura Prioteasa, Jaimie Peter, and Tulaja Shrestha joined their peers from other colleges and universities to share their poster presentations with a panel of judges made up of professionals from New Jersey’s leading top industries, ICFNJ member institutions, and trustees.

Dr. Berki said the symposium “provided a wonderful opportunity for our students to practice the final steps of scientific method and share the results of their findings. All three of our students exhibited preparedness and professionalism.”

Prioteasa, a biology and secondary education major, won an Outstanding Presentation Research Symposium award for her research project on “Investigation of the Quantity of E. coli in Relation to Other Bacteria on Computer Keyboards in University Settings.”

Shrestha, a biology major with a chemistry minor, conducted research on the “Study of a Natural and Innovative Antifungal Treatment for Athlete’s Foot.” She was grateful to Nature’s Pavilion in Pompton Plains for providing the test material, Bioessence Antifungal Oil.

Shrestha and Prioteasa are ICFNJ undergraduate research symposium grant recipients.

Peter, a biology major with chemistry and business administration minors, researched “The Effects of Dental Hygiene Products on the Growth Properties of S. sanguinis in the Health Oral Flora”.  Peter was a recipient of the Novartis Science Scholarship and the Schering-Plough Undergraduate Research Scholarship.