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Health Sciences Grad Receives Phi Kappa Phi Fellowship for Medical School


Favour Garuba recipient of Phi Kappa Phi fellowship

Favour Garuba ’19 is the recipient of a Phi Kappa Phi fellowship. She will be attending Washington University School of Medicine in the fall on a full scholarship.

Recent graduate Favour Garuba is the recipient of a fellowship from the prestigious honor society Phi Kappa Phi.  PKP awards the grants to members who are starting their first year of graduate or professional study.  Garuba, who received her bachelor’s in health sciences 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 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, 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.

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More than 200 Caldwell students present projects at Research and Creative Arts Day


Research Astrophysicist Presents on Science and Faith in Harmony: The Heavens Declare the Glory of God”

Caldwell, N.J., April 29, 2019 – More than 200 students presented their projects at Caldwell University’s third annual Research and Creative Arts Day. This year’s theme was “Ut in Omnibus Glorificetur Dei— That in All Things God May Be Glorified.”

The event’s opening featured a performance of “All Good Gifts” from “Godspell” by the cast of the Music Department’s Opera Musical Theatre Workshop.

President Nancy Blattner read nineteenth-century poet Gerard Manley Hopkins’s sonnet “God’s Grandeur,” which celebrates the “ever-present magnificence of God’s creation” and, she said, beautifully mirrored the theme of the research day. The challenge, said Blattner, is for “each of us in the audience to become more alive to God’s presence—whether that revelation be made to you through the beauty found in nature and art or through the discoveries revealed in the realm of science.”

Dr. Barbara Chesler, vice president for academic affairs, explained that the annual event provides an opportunity for students to display the work they have done throughout the year. The students are mentored by faculty and “go in as a novice and come out as an expert.” In the process, she said, they learn about communication, collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking, teamwork and time management.

The keynote speaker was Dr. Anton M. Koekemoer, research astrophysicist at the Space Telescope Science Institute, who spoke on “Science and Faith in Harmony: The Heavens Declare the Glory of God.” In introducing Koekemoer, Dr. Darryl Aucoin, an assistant professor in the Natural Sciences Department, said, “Dr. Koekemoer has worked to take us deeper into the universe than we have ever seen, and in doing so takes us back in time to the early days of the cosmos.”

Koekemoer, who has carried out scientific research with the Hubble Space Telescope for over 20 years with a focus on distant galaxies and black holes, presented a journey of exploration through the cosmos, highlighting exciting astronomical discoveries and images from the telescope that inspired beautiful artwork in The Saint John’s Bible. He pointed to the sense of awe and wonder expressed by ancient writers of Scripture—like the psalmist, who exclaims, “The heavens declare the glory of God”—and said this sense grows when viewing the universe with modern telescopes. Koekemoer’s presentation was part of the university’s “Year with The Saint John’s Bible.” The sacred work is the first handwritten, illuminated Bible of monumental scale in 500 years.

After the presentation, students displayed their poster presentations and projects to judges and visitors.

Amelia Biswas, a biology and psychology major, focused on the “Evaluation of Garlic and Thieves Oil as Treatments of Leprosy.” Growing up in Bangladesh, she saw many people suffering from leprosy. As a child, she wanted to do something to help people with the disease but could not. When the opportunity to do research arose in college, she said, “Let’s use this platform and try to do something.” It was her first research project. “I grew up through the process and gained a better understanding of scientific research.”

Jaclyn Berman, a senior in the School of Nursing and Public Health, researched the effect of music therapy on postoperative relief. Concerned about the opioid crisis, she wanted to do research on alternative therapies. She found that music therapy reduced pain and therefore reduced the need for pain medication. She hopes hospitals will implement similar plans for pain management after surgeries.

Stefanie Konboz and Romina Ghale, biology majors, looked at “The Study of Antimutagenic Properties of Emblica officinalis and Annona muricata.” They researched whether amla fruit and graviola would exhibit anticancer properties. Konboz thoroughly enjoyed the project work and appreciated all she learned from Aucoin and Associate Professor Agnes Berki. “I’ve always asked questions, and the research was a learning process every day,” she said.

Holly Reiter, a senior graphic design major, showcased her senior exhibition “Alive Again,” which featured her digital paintings, inspired by music. “It made me realized I want to be an illustrator for the rest of my life as my career.”

The keynote for the graduate section of the day was given by Humberto Humby Baquerizo on “Translating Leadership, Resilience and Community Service in Scholarship.” Baquerizo received a doctorate in education leadership from Caldwell and works at Rutgers Medical School in the Office for Diversity and Community Engagement.

Jhoanna Marquez, an academic advisor at Caldwell, did research on students placed on academic probation. Her research focused on the extent to which semester meetings with advisors increased the motivation to improve academic standing as perceived by students on probation. Since she has been working with this population for some time in her position at Caldwell, she was pleased to see that the connection with the recovery advisor improved the outcomes for students in areas such as study habits and awareness of campus resources and also helped with retention.

Marjorie O’Connell, a graduate student in the Education Division literacy program, focused on the question “Can the Use of Brain Games Improve Working Memory and Reading Comprehension for Students in a Middle School Special Education Setting?” She teaches study skills in a resource room for seventh- and eighth-graders and was very pleased to see from her study that executive functioning, which are self-regulation skills, as well as behavior and reading comprehension improved for this population with the games. “I can’t wait to hit the ground running with it next year,” she said.

Courtney Kane, Christopher Colasurdo and Shariq Khan, graduate students in the applied behavior analysis program, looked at “Vocational Skills Assessment for a Young Adult with Autism Spectrum Disorder.” “This was right up my alley,” said Kane, a graduate assistant in the Center for Autism and Applied Behavior Analysis, who wants to work with young adults with autism spectrum disorder when she graduates. They replicated a previous study to determine the vocational skills that their learner had in his repertoire. In future work, they plan to teach the skills he did not demonstrate.

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Research on a natural mosquito deterrent earns CU student Independent College Fund of New Jersey award

CU students Lamar receives Independent College Fund of New Jersey award

Student Lamar-Shea Chang was honored at the Independent College Fund of New Jersey Undergraduate Research Symposium . He is pictured here with Natural Sciences Department professors, Dr. Darryl Aucoin and Dr. Marjorie Squires.

Caldwell, N.J., April 10, 2019 – Premedical student Lamar-Shea Chang was honored March 18 at the Independent College Fund of New Jersey Undergraduate Research Symposium for his research titled “Convert every human into a natural mosquito deterrent.” Chang, who is also majoring in computer information systems with a concentration in business systems and minoring in chemistry, received honorable mention for his research, which focused on the growing problem of mosquitoes in many areas of the world and how humans are being exposed to some of the diseases the insects carry.

Chang pointed to scientific models such as the Coupled Global Climate Model and the Community Climate System Model that predict mosquitoes are progressively moving more north and more west in the United States and Canada. With the guidance of the faculty in the Natural Sciences Department, he tested plant oils to see how they could affect the general behavior of mosquitoes and if they could act as a deterrent. The oils he used were azadirachta indica (neem), andrographis paniculata (rice bitters) and aloe vera. His data revealed that when the mosquitoes were exposed to the oils extracted in the lab, they adjusted their behavioral patterns, no longer moving away from the area where the extracts were located.

He presented his findings at the Independent College Fund event at the Liberty Science Center; the event encourages students in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. It was a thrill for Chang when he learned of his recognition. “I said, ‘Did they really call my name?’” Then he looked at the faces of his professors, including Dr. Marjorie Squires, his advisor, and knew by their smiles that he was in fact receiving the award.

Chang, a junior from the island of Jamaica who started his college career with several AP classes, is grateful that the Caldwell Natural Sciences Department provides students the opportunity to do research as undergraduates. He says his professors walked him through every step of the process.

Next semester Chang will be analyzing the economy of Jamaica for his CIS business systems concentration. He has set his sights on pursuing medical school, perhaps becoming a cardiothoracic surgeon. As he says, “More to come.”

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From the time Dr. William Velhagen was a child growing up in the Philippines, he thought of teaching as a way to make the world better. “For me it was a way to improve humanity, to ease suffering… I loved learning and was always curious. I wanted a career as a scientist.”

Today, as an associate professor and the chair of the Natural Sciences Department, Velhagen encourages his students to look at how science can benefit the lives of others and to be eager to learn. “In many ways, I’m an idealist. Excellence for its own sake matters. If you really love what you are learning, you will stay up late to learn more. You’ll read books and news articles,” he says.

As advisor for Caldwell’s pre-professional programs, Velhagen wants his students to appreciate what it means to work hard toward their goals. Koumudi Thirunagaru, a science alumna now in medical school at George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, benefited from being challenged in Velhagen’s classes. When she was a sophomore she took his physiology class and was instantly engaged by the way he taught. “He pushed our boundaries to think outside the box and challenge ourselves.”

In the classroom, Velhagen’s zeal for science inspires his students. Thirunagaru says his enthusiasm gave her a passion for a subject “as bland as histology” and trained her eye to look at pathology slides in medical schools. When it came time for her to apply to doctoral programs, she was grateful for his guidance. “He was extremely supportive and prompt with everything I needed and wanted so I could put my best foot forward.” After starting her studies at George Washington, she saw how her undergraduate background connected. “The clinical cases and clicker questions Dr. Velhagen did during his classes tied everything in and put it in perspective, making it easier for me to think about clinical cases as I began my journey in medical school.”

Velhagen believes it is important to keep the bar high for future doctors. “I know what it is like out there… I know what it takes to get into medical school.” He recalls how he attended medical school for over two years in his native Philippines—“those were great times”—before realizing he was being drawn to a different field.

The seeds of academic excellence were planted by his parents while he grew up in a family of six boys. They lived in the capital region of Manila—that “wonderfully, crazy, chaotic, cosmopolitan city”—where he attended La Salle Green Hills grammar and high schools run by the Christian Brothers in which studies and community service were emphasized. “The school as a whole gave me a great education.” He was a voracious reader, constantly taking books out of the school library or from his parents’ library. “I always loved science for its own sake… I was always inquisitive.” While studying as an undergraduate student at the University of the Philippines, he was invited to become a member of the selective, all-discipline, century-old honor society Phi Kappa Phi. Two years ago, he was honored when he was asked to be a founding member and the first president of Caldwell’s Phi Kappa Phi program. “It is a great way to bring faculty and students from different disciplines together.”

Velhagen first came to the United States for graduate school at Duke University. For his thesis, he was drawn to an understudied area of research focusing on the intersection of evolution and development of reptiles. “I don’t like following the crowd; even as a scientist I wanted to do something that is a little different.” It was “pure intellectual curiosity,” not utility, that led him to research snakes. The project—funded by the National Science Foundation—led to a competition against other students who today are accomplished scientists; he received the prestigious Stoye Award for Best Student Presentation in Genetics, Development and Morphology.

Velhagen’s career took him to teaching positions in science departments at universities in the United States including James Madison, Longwood and New York University. After experiencing large and small institutions, he appreciates the size of Caldwell where he can teach students throughout their four years rather than in only one or two classes during their college careers. “I see them grow from their first year to their fourth years… so that is gratifying.”

Velhagen considers himself the luckiest department chair in the university. “My colleagues are among the most proactive and collegial at Caldwell.” Velhagen and his colleagues begin guiding students in their freshman year as they prepare for medical, dental, veterinary or other professional schools. They teach them how to present themselves to admission officers and potential employers, how to prepare for mock interviews, how to put together a CV and how to study for the MCATs and other tests. During the time Velhagen has been overseeing the pre-professional programs, the department has greatly increased the number of students who have realized their dreams of being accepted into graduate and medical schools. He cites several reasons: “the students we are bringing in, my colleagues, the groundwork laid by others.” Still, it is clear that the numbers have gone up while he has been at the helm.

In addition to encouraging preparation for the health professions, the Natural Sciences Department encourages student research; the department is working to interweave more throughout the curriculum for all four years. Many science students have displayed their projects at the university’s annual Research and Creative Arts Day, which is aimed at promoting STEAM—science, technology, engineering, arts 
and math.

For Velhagen, a busy father of two teenage girls, effective learning always comes back to that word “curiosity.” If educators want their students to be curious, he believes, they have to model it themselves. “A big problem with how we teach is that we make it appear that what is known is set in stone and final, but it is always growing,” he says. “There is so much we don’t know… being interested in something helps you go a long way.” He strives to stimulate a love of learning in his classroom by encouraging questions and breaking up his lectures with interesting tidbits. “Sometimes it’s medical” or sometimes it is “how an animal does a thing in a weird way,” he says. Other times he will have students take out their laptops and phones in class and answer questions via an app for their participation grade. “It helps keep them active. It gets them to work together,” explains Velhagen. This spring semester, Velhagen is teaching a new honors course, “Evolution’s Lessons,” for students in all academic programs. “It will be great to bring in perspective from the humanities and the social sciences,” he said. “Beyond the science of evolution, I have to think, ‘What is the historical context and what are the cultural implications?’”

Velhagen firmly believes that knowing about science is foundational to a good liberal arts education and to the betterment of society. “Altruism and science” go hand in hand. “It’s about making things better for the greater good, for society as a whole… It’s about giving students the ability to go to good schools, to acquire the skills and knowledge they need to get work.” Every educated citizen should know how science works, because it has the potential to create inventions to make new discoveries that will help the rest of humanity, he says. Education works, he stresses, when people can use their talents, when the economy is working because people have the skills they need. “Directly or indirectly, education helps us all.”  


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Students Intern With Professional Scientists

Shreyoshi Hossain received first-place in the poster competition at her internship site at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center Summer Undergraduate Research Program.
Roksana Korbi took part in the Premedical Urban Leaders Summer Enrichment Program at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University
Marina Schlaepfer had a summer fellowship at the University of Colorado Cancer Center, Anschutz Medical Campus.
Foujan Moghimi interned at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. She was chosen to participate in the JH Bloomberg School of Public Health Diversity Summer Internship Program. She is pictured here with Dr. Barbara Detrick, an alum, and professor of pathology at Johns Hopkins.
Joy Choi interned at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, the research branch of the Northwell Health enterprise in Manhasset, New York.

Caldwell, N.J., Aug. 21, 2018 – Several students in Caldwell’s Natural and Physical Sciences Department spent the summer interning with professional scientists.

Shreyoshi Hossain, a biology and chemistry major, received the first-place prize in the poster competition at her internship site at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center Summer Undergraduate Research Program. She focused her poster on the research she did investigating the absorption of a compound that could be a cure for blindness, skin disorders and seizures for newborns and people of different ages. “It was fascinating to work hands-on looking for discoveries that can improve people’s health,” said Hossain. She is grateful to her mentor, Martin-Paul Agbaga, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Ophthalmology and the Dean McGee Eye Institute at Oklahoma University, and to the other personnel in the lab.  “It is so important to have a good lab mentor,” she said.

Marina Schlaepfer, a biology major and a member of the women’s volleyball team, had a summer fellowship at the University of Colorado Cancer Center, Anschutz Medical Campus. She researched colorectal cancer, focusing on a targeted therapy drug with chemotherapeutic agents in a project funded by the Infinite Monkey Theorem wine company. Schlaepfer, a sophomore, was thrilled to be able to engage with the oncologists, research assistants and all the “brilliant scientists” dedicated to researching cancer or caring for the patient. Some of the drugs she helped research will be used in phase one of a colorectal cancer clinical trial, and she was happy she could meet some of the patients. Schlaepfer said she learned that it takes a good deal of dedication to the research or clinical aspects of health care to be successful. “The journey to become a doctor is tough, but the fellowship has made me want to work even harder.” She is especially grateful to her mentor, Dr. Todd Pitts, assistant research professor at the Division of Medical Oncology at the University of Colorado, and to the staff of the Messersmith and Pitts Laboratories.

Foujan Moghimi interned at the world-renowned teaching and biomedical hospital Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. She was chosen to participate in the JH Bloomberg School of Public Health Diversity Summer Internship Program. A biology and psychology major with a chemistry minor, Moghimi worked with alumna Dr. Barbara Detrick, professor of pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and professor at the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Moghimi   worked on a project titled “Evaluation of Cytokines in Hepatitis E Viral Infection” with Detrick and Dr. John Hooks.  The internship helped her appreciate the public health field and how she could combine that area with her interests in medicine. Dr. Detrick  formed the partnership between Caldwell and Johns Hopkins a few years ago.

For a second summer, Roksana Korbi, a biology major and chemistry minor, took part in the Premedical Urban Leaders Summer Enrichment Program at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University to learn about urban health. In phase two of the program, she shadowed a physical therapist, a neurologist, a radiation oncologist, a hematologist and other health professionals. The most exciting experience was observing a live hysterectomy performed by Dr. David Warshal, head of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at Cooper University Health Care. She observed how he used the cutting-edge technology of the DaVinci robot for the surgery. “The program coordinators were invested in allowing us to grow personally and professionally as future health professionals,” said Korbi.

Joy Choi, a biology major and chemistry minor, interned at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, the research branch of the Northwell Health enterprise in Manhasset, New York. She researched a drug that could delay the blood cancer lymphocytic leukemia. “What was most meaningful to me was knowing that I am somehow contributing to treat a terrible disease.”

Several of the internships provided workshops so students could prepare for the MCATs, graduate school and careers.  The students said the Caldwell biology and chemistry lectures gave them good foundations for their internships. “The program and professors in Caldwell’s Science Department have challenged me to go further and really enjoy science,” said Choi. “It was very important for me to know how to calculate concentrations. Thank you, Dr. Squires,” said Schlaepfer.

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Steven Han: The Dream of Medical School Becomes a Reality

Steven Han Caldwell University Graduate receiving his degree on Bachelor's of Arts in Biology from the president of Caldwell University Dr. Nancy Blattner.

Steven Han’s first exposure to medicine was when he fainted in kindergarten.  There were other sign markers pointing the way towards a career in healthcare.   His grandfather was a doctor; he excelled in science and math in high school and he had an interest in biology. “A culmination of experiences led me to believe that a career in medicine was the only job fit for me,” said Han, who received  a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology from Caldwell University on May 20.

This summer Han takes a big step in that journey towards becoming a doctor when he begins attending Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University.  Being accepted validated his undergraduate efforts and he is happy that his medical school will be close to Caldwell.

During his undergraduate years, he learned the value of research and presented at the Independent College Fund of New Jersey and at Caldwell’s Creative and Research Day.  He is grateful to Dr. Agnes Berki, associate professor of biology, mentoring him on his independent research  for topics such as “Investigation of Microorganisms on Smartphones,” (basically the gross stuff on your phone) and “The Use of Fecal Microbiota Transplant in Treating Inflammatory Bowel Diseases.” The professors at Caldwell are what made his experience incredibly special.

“My mentors here not only taught me how to excel in my studies but went far and well beyond their role as just teachers and guided me to develop professionally,  said Han who is from Reisterstown, Maryland.

He appreciated Caldwell’s Catholic Dominican foundation which gave him the ability to thrive in an environment dedicated to helping him see the value of service. He participated in Midnight runs to reach out to the homeless in New York City, which he says was “a unique, humbling experience,” and he was grateful for Caldwell’s commitment to embracing diversity. “I was able to expose myself to a number of cultures which will undoubtedly help me in the real world after graduation.”

Han was involved in community service as a member of the campus Circle K club and served on the Student Government Association Academic Affairs Committee.   At honors convocation he  received the C-Pin award for the senior class. The award goes to an exemplary student who was nominated by his or her peers.

Through his many experiences and his studies, his interests and passion for medicine were reaffirmed.   Caldwell helped him  reflect on his purpose as a student and his place in the world.  He looks forward to determining his medical specialty and “eventually settling down to start a family.” Most of all he is grateful to his peers, professors and faculty. “It has been the best four years of my life.”

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Michelle Eng ‘18: I have grown to be a leader

Michelle Eng, 2020 Caldwell University graduate , standing and smiling with her Bachelor of Arts degree in biology.

The aptitude tests at East Brunswick High School started Michelle Eng thinking about occupational therapy as a field. She shadowed occupational therapists during summers and saw how happy the patients were and how welcoming the therapists were to the clients.

Upon entering college, Eng was not sure if she should major in psychology or biology. After taking her first biology class with Dr. William Velhagen, chair of the Natural and Physical Sciences Department, she felt motivated to keep going. “I’ve never felt so much support, except from my family, as I have with the faculty (here),” she says, reciting the names of the science department professors. “I’m thankful to the faculty for all they have given me.”

Eng graduated from Caldwell University May 20, earning her Bachelor of Arts degree in biology in just three years since she entered Caldwell with AP credits and worked hard. Besides her academics, she has learned about herself during her college career—about who she wants to become. “I’ve grown to be a leader.” And the Caldwell community endorsed that status when at honors convocation she received the Excellence in Leadership Award and departmental honors in the Natural and Physical Sciences Department.   She served as president of the Circle K Club, as vice president of the Health Professions and Earth clubs and as secretary for the Anime club. Eng also worked as a lab assistant and in campus safety at the desk in Rosary Hall.

“I’ve learned to stand up for myself more, to be more ambitious. I have had many firsts here.” That includes applying for her first scholarship, with the help of Dr. Agnes Berki, associate professor of biology. That award was the Independent College Fund of New Jersey’s Becton Dickinson Scholarship for Students Pursing Careers in Health Care. “It was my first outside of a school scholarship.” Other scholarships followed. “It empowered me to go for any opportunity available so that I can truly see how far I can go.”

Eng cherishes the friendships she has made at Caldwell including her international student friends. “So many people from so many places,” she says. “It is hard to leave because I have built such a place here.” Yet she is looking forward to the next great adventure in life—excited to be attending graduate school in the fall to work on her master’s in occupational therapy.   “Because of Caldwell University, I have a future in occupational therapy that I have been looking forward to for three years.”

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Coincidence or Destiny? For this Caldwell Graduate, Unexpected Turns Lead to a Career in Medicine

Bryan Broderick Caldwell University Graduate (2011) outside John Hopkins Hospital.

“When one door closes, another opens.” It’s an expression we often lean on for encouragement when things don’t turn out the way we hope. For Bryan Broderick, the sentiment carried something far more profound.

The truth is, Broderick didn’t really see Caldwell University in his future. His older brothers were already well-established at Caldwell by then, both on and off the soccer field. Broderick envisioned something different. He was, at the time, being recruited by Bucknell University for their soccer program, and he was pretty sure he was on the right path.

Until he wasn’t.

“The cost of attending Bucknell was way out of my family’s range. I wasn’t sure what to do. All I really knew was that I wanted to play soccer.”

As chance would have it, not only did the head soccer coaches at Bucknell and Caldwell know each other, they were brothers. It took only a few phone calls to land Broderick a spot as midfielder on the Caldwell Cougars, with enough scholarships to make his undergraduate education possible.

Choosing a major was another matter. Broderick drifted into the business program. “A good 75% of my teammates were business majors, so I figured that’s what I should do too. But you know how important the liberal arts are at Caldwell, and that was a good thing. Early on, I was introduced to a wide variety of subjects. In the spring semester of my freshman year, I took an anatomy and physiology course for non-biology majors. I just loved it. I couldn’t study enough for this course.”

Broderick’s anatomy and physiology professor quickly saw his potential. In addition to teaching this particular course, the professor was the university’s pre-med advisor as well. Still, he didn’t quite believe her when she first suggested he could have a career in medicine.

Before he knew it, Caldwell was helping to arrange introductions to faculty at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School (NJMS) and the Northeast Regional Alliance (NERA). He enrolled in NERA’s MedPrep Program, a three-year summer enrichment program for underrepresented and economically disadvantaged students interested in the medical professions.

Broderick graduated magna cum laude from Caldwell in 2011, with a B.A. in biology. The honors he earned along the way reflect his love of both the sciences and soccer. In 2010 he received the Frederick W. Neumann II Award for meritorious work in the sciences. His project, “Analysis of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” was awarded credit “with distinction.” For four years running, Broderick earned Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference All-Academic Team honors as well as the Division II Athletics Directors Association Academic Achievement Award.

His years at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School were equally distinguished. He was a four-year recipient of the Riverview Medical Center Lester Simon, M.D. Scholarship, and in 2017 he earned the NJMS Dr. Harold J. Jeghers Future Internist Award, which honors a fourth-year student for academic excellence, skill, dedication, and interest in the pursuit of the field of internal medicine.

Broderick graduated with his M.D. in 2017. His career quickly skyrocketed when was accepted into the residency program at Johns Hopkins. “I couldn’t believe it. The program is so competitive. I’m thrilled to be part of such a well-respected institution.”

Broderick is grateful for the support he has received over the years from mentors, scholarship programs and—of course—his family. He has spent plenty of time,  “paying it forward,” volunteering to provide food, clothing, and holiday gifts for needy families in Monmouth County; organizing Caldwell University’s Midnight Run to deliver food, blankets and other items to people living on the street in New York City; and working at the Student Family Health Care Center in Newark, a student-run free clinic for the uninsured. These days, he is mentoring other hopeful future doctors.

By choosing internal medicine as his focus, Broderick will be able choose from a wide range of sub-specialties. “I’m liking cardiology and pulmonary critical care,” he notes. There’s a good chance that whatever door opens for him now will be the right one.

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Agnes Berki: Expanding Research Efforts and Inspiring Students

 Dr. Agnes Berki with the students in a Biology Lab

Enjoying a roller coaster ride at Six Flags with your professor might not be what students are expecting when they decide to study science with Dr. Agnes Berki, yet that is exactly the kind of unexpected adventure that awaits them. “We tried many rides and screamed together on many of them. We all had a great time!” recalled Berki, as if a day of laughter at a theme park is routine for biology students. Yet for Berki, who regularly treats her students to excursions like field trips or dinner, all the screams and laughter are for a serious purpose. “These outside activities are important. Those experiences transform the class into a team, and later, into a true research team.”

For Berki, an associate professor of biology in the Natural and Physical Sciences Department, inspiring her students to take on new challenges together is critical to success. At first glance, these extracurricular activities may not seem necessary, but Berki emphasizes the important role they play in forging a bond among her students and transforming them from simply classmates into a team. “This transition happens every year, sometimes quicker, and sometimes it takes a longer time, but it happens eventually, and that is the point when students become one team. They feel freer to help each other, to ask advice, to give or accept constructive criticism.” It is important, she says, for students to realize that research is a team effort –“that in a team we all work for the same goal, and we all matter; all of our opinions are valued. The fun activities make the class more enjoyable, and they also help to build friendships.”

Facing challenges, embracing change and keeping an upbeat outlook have been themes throughout much of Berki’s life. Born in Hungary, she grew up with Russian troops everywhere. The atmosphere was oppressive. “You couldn’t say anything. There was no freedom of speech.” This lack of freedom was driven home when her father, who had been a successful lawyer, refused to sign an execution order for political prisoners. “They said okay, you will not wind up in Siberia but you cannot practice. So he changed his career and went into business.” Berki’s curiosity drove her to question her father about the political situation, but he would respond, “I can’t tell you because even the walls have ears.”

Despite the presence of troops, Berki recalls her childhood fondly, noting that her father, “one of the greatest influences of my life,” bought her a piano and taught her how to take care of herself by learning useful skills like fixing her bike. He encouraged her to have confidence in her intelligence and her ability to learn. The only time she brought home a bad grade, Berki came to her father crying. “He said to me, ‘You can stop crying. I’m not going to punish you. You see all the marks you ever get in life, you get for yourself. You’re not getting it for me. So if you get a good mark, it’s to your credit. And if you get a bad mark, it’s your fault. It doesn’t matter for me whether you get good or bad marks. I will still love you. You study for yourself.’ From that time on, I was never afraid.”

Berki’s father found great success in business, the career forced upon him. The family moved frequently, and Berki attended two kindergartens before changing schools several times more. Just before the eighth grade, the family moved again, this time a half-hour from her previous school, but when it came time to start a new one, Berki put her foot down. “I told my dad, ‘Okay, I am not going to a new school for the eighth grade,’ so I traveled on the bus every day so I didn’t have to go to a new school.”

Moving frequently as a child helped Berki when it came time for her to move to the United States. “We moved so many times that it prepped me for a big move over the ocean.” She was just 26 years old and six months away from finishing a Ph.D. program in neuroscience when she relocated to the U.S. The move was difficult since she did not speak English. She had to restart all her studies. Without the support of her family and friends, it would have been a struggle to adjust to her new country.

“Coming here was a big shock for many different reasons. The windows open differently; the faucets work differently—I burned myself many times. For the first three months, I wrote a letter to my mom every day.” It took Berki a year to learn English, helped along by watching the movie “Mrs. Doubtfire” daily. America was completely different from her homeland. “We grew up in an environment where you always have to watch out. And then you come here, and compared to there, it is a vacuum. You can say anything. You can think anything. It’s a big shock culturally and politically.”

She began working as a special volunteer in the neuroscience lab at the National Institutes of Health. “I worked there for three months, and I was lucky because in the lab where I worked there was a Hungarian lady, so she taught me.” Berki learned polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, a method used for the Human Genome Project. “I had a great relationship with them. I got recommendation letters from them.” After leaving the NIH, she got a job at the University of Maryland at Baltimore School of Pharmacy as a lab technician, preparing the lab for experiments. She continued studying English and took the GRE.

“After two years, I started to realize the beauty of the United States and the beauty of freedom and free speech.” While only six months away from finishing her Ph.D. back in Hungary, Berki began the incredible challenge of starting over again at the Maryland school of pharmacy. Majoring in molecular biology with a minor in pharmaceutical sciences, Berki finished her Ph.D. The initial setback of starting over “made me a stronger person. I don’t shy away from challenges.” When anyone doubts her ability to achieve a goal, she becomes even more determined. She recalled how someone once told her she would never receive a hefty—and very competitive—nationwide scholarship, so she set out to prove the person wrong and wound up being awarded a significant portion of the scholarship. “I only applied because someone said I could never get it.”

In 2006, Berki became a senior scientist at Schering-Plough Research Institute where she oversaw research, development and improvements of assay methodologies. In 2010, she became senior scientist and virologist at Gibraltar Laboratories, Inc., handling composition and submission of laboratory reports to clients. Also in 2010, Berki came to Caldwell and immediately began to make her mark. “I am fortunate to teach at Caldwell University. The same ideology of developing well-rounded individuals in a nurturing and supporting environment, which was the inspiration of the founding Sisters of St. Dominic almost a century ago, is still the heart and soul of our institution today.” After crossing an ocean to start anew, Berki says, “I think I am where I am supposed to be.”

In only a short time, Berki has become a guiding force in the university’s goal to expand its research efforts, starting with inspiring her students to embrace Caldwell’s challenges and benefits.

Berki does independent research with students, helping them to select the best focus from a list of 10 potential topics and then guiding them through the process of writing a proposal for money. “Our greatest supporter is the Independent College Fund of New Jersey. It’s a wonderful thing because it’s a students’ idea and it’s funded by an outside source to be completed. It looks awesome on their résumés.” Known for staying late on campus—sometimes until midnight—to work with her students on their research, Berki has inspired many to strive for the highest standards. As recent biology graduate Eva Suchar says, “When I presented my research, it really felt like working with Dr. Berki was prize enough.”

Berki guides the students through conducting research and then creating the posters for their presentations, which requires working all the way through Saturday and Sunday. They then spend the week before their conference practicing presentations. “That’s another long day because they take turns so one will give a presentation, and then we give pointers and feedback and they practice again. We do it as many times until we say, ‘Okay, that is good.’” Berki motivates her students to embrace the hard work and challenges, to seek knowledge to better themselves, much in the same way her father taught her so many years ago, when she tearfully brought home a bad grade, to be unafraid to fail.

She has been chair of the university’s Research Task Force, which held the first Caldwell Research and Creative Arts Day this past April. Berki hopes the annual research day will increase visibility inside and outside the university and highlight all the outstanding research being conducted at Caldwell. She is always emphasizing to her students how important it is to become engaged in research, as they will learn teamwork, interpersonal skills, troubleshooting and analysis, which graduate schools and prospective employers highly value.

Berki has very high hopes for her students. “We have more and more students who are interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in different fields of science. My very first honors student is focused on going into a Ph.D. program. And now I have a freshman who wants to get a Ph.D. in neuroscience.”

But Berki wants her students not only to stand out in their fields, but more important, to be upstanding human beings. “I truly hope they will always remember that paying attention to details, hard work and integrity will always pay off no matter what careers they choose and what they will do in their lives.” Her father chose to start over again rather than be a part of something unjust, and in the process he became a successful businessman and an inspiration to his daughter. Berki too has had to unexpectedly start over again, only to achieve success and joy that she cherishes. It’s no wonder there is so much wisdom in her advice to students. “I hope they will keep in mind that life is not a straight march.”

One day over the summer, Berki came in to her office to work, only to find an envelope from a recent graduate taped to her door. Written on it were the words “Legjobb Tanar”—Hungarian for “the best teacher.” Indeed.  n

—By Sara Courtney

Things you might not know about Agnes Berki

Her favorite book is “The Ingenious Nobleman Mister Quixote of La Mancha” by Miguel de Cervantes. Berki is inspired by Don Quixote and his ability to see the good in each person he meets. “He is also able to make people realize their own value and help them embrace it, touching their life for the better.”

She sings with the Caldwell Music Department’s choir. “I love to sing and I sang all my life. I was always a part of church choirs in every church I’ve attended. Sometimes I was a part of two choirs.” While in Baltimore, she attended the historic St. Alphonsus Church and was a member of the regular English choir and the Latin choir.

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Biology student interns at Johns Hopkins

Veronica Guirguis and Dr.  Barbara Detrick, Caldwell alumna and a professor of pathology at the JH University School of Medicine.
Caldwell Biology student Veronica Guirguis with John Hopkins Diversity Summer Internship Program director Jessica Harrington.
Caldwell Biology student Veronica Guirguis (2nd from left) at her internship poster presentation at Johns Hopkins.  She is pictured with her mentors and colleagues.

Biology student Veronica Guirguis spent the summer interning at the world-renowned teaching and biomedical hospital, Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.

Guirguis, a sophomore, was grateful to have the chance to work with “brilliant people” including Dr. Christopher Heaney, associate professor in the School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins, and Dr.  Barbara Detrick, a professor of pathology at the JH University School of Medicine, and a Caldwell University alumna.  Guirguis also appreciated the introduction to virology provided by John Hooks, Ph.D. of the National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health.

Guirguis was on a team that researched “Detection of IL-6 in Hepatitis E Virus Infection.”   “We found that IL-6 is upregulated in HEV infection which participates in inflammation,” she said.

Caldwell University’s Natural and Physical Sciences Department prepared her well for the internship.  When she started working with petri dishes at JH she said, “I”ve got this.  I’ve been prepared for this,” recalling how she had learned about plate pouring techniques in Caldwell Science Professor Agnes Berki’s labs.

The internship, she said, gave her a “confidence boost” and she appreciated being able to network with professionals. She says she has a clearer vision of the steps she will need to take to pursue immunology studies as part of a combined M.D. /Ph.D. program.

In addition to the studies, there was time to discover the city of Baltimore, it’s “beauty and history”, she said, and enjoy dinner one evening on the famous Inner Harbor with the other students and faculty.  “Everyone was so nice. They made you fall in love with the campus and Baltimore.”

It was the third year that Caldwell students were selected to participate in the JH Bloomberg School of Public Health Diversity Summer Internship Program. Dr.  Detrick formed the partnership between Caldwell and Johns Hopkins.