Celebrating the Class of 2019

Devin Lattuga: Ready to take on the marathons

Devin Lattuga is a long-distance runner. As the captain of the Caldwell University men’s track and cross-country teams during his senior year, he Devin Lattuga on his Graduation knows his sport helps form community. “With all the technology and the fast-paced world we live in, running provides a different kind of speed—a chance to enjoy nature and to enjoy friends.”

Lattuga, who received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Caldwell University on May 19, is proud that his team took first place his senior year at the Caldwell Cougar Chase home cross-country meet and that he won the individual first prize.

Soon he will turn his attention to training for marathons—marathons for athletics and the marathon of law school, at Columbus School of Law at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. for which he received a full tuition scholarship.

Lattuga, a resident of Denville, New Jersey, has known for a while that he wanted to pursue law, but his work in Campus Ministry at Caldwell inspired him to look at how lawyers can reach out to those on the margins. One of his favorite activities has been Midnight Runs when students pile into a van and drive into New York City to provide the homeless with warm clothes, soup and conversation. Lattuga has been involved in other Campus Ministry projects including Boxtown for which students slept outside to raise awareness of homelessness. Campus Ministry is a great way to “meet like-minded people,” and the director, Colleen O’Brien, “is so inspiring” and makes students feel at home, says Lattuga.

In the spring semester, Lattuga became a student docent when the university hosted the Gospels and Acts heritage edition of The Saint John’s Bible, the first handwritten illuminated Bible of monumental scale in over 500 years. This gave him a chance to talk with the guests viewing the exquisite sacred art and to hear a little about their faith journeys. “As a practicing Catholic, I love hearing other people’s stories.”

Lattuga transferred to Caldwell in the second semester of his freshman year and felt welcomed from the beginning. He recalls his first trip to the cafeteria when another track team member was behind him and said, “Sit with us.” She noticed Lattuga had a running watch and invited him to run with team members the next day. That caring atmosphere made him realize he was in the right place.

He appreciated the individualized attention he received from his “amazing” professors in the English Department, who “always wanted me to succeed.”

At Catholic University of America, law students are given opportunities to work in pro-bono areas of law such as immigration and veterans affairs something that interests Lattuga. “I’m going in with an open mind, trying everything, seeing what suits me best … and letting the Spirit move through me.” Pacing himself and planning will be the key, but he is up for the challenges. “In both the marathon of running and the marathon of law school, it is most important to be prepared. I know for both I need to work hard and be dedicated; if I can do that, I know I will reach my goals.”


Favour Garuba: Using her gifts and talents in science to serve others

The first time Favour Garuba volunteered at the Community FoodBank of New Favour Gabura on her GraduationJersey, she saw a banner with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. that said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘what are you doing for others?’” That thought has stayed with Garuba as she has contemplated how she can use her gifts in science and at the same time serve others.

Since that day at the foodbank, Garuba looked for opportunities to volunteer during her college career. She has appreciated how Caldwell has exposed her to what community service means and has helped her grow as a leader who understands the importance of philanthropy. In the Health Professions club, she enjoyed each fall when students would collect food for the “Halloween for Hunger” campaign. Garuba is proud that she was one of the founders of the African Caribbean Association, and that she and the other members fundraised for a literacy program for disadvantaged children in Ghana. As a student vice president of the prestigious honor society Phi Kappa Phi, she was excited that members held a drive this past spring and collected 336 books to promote literacy for children. She also loved working with children when she volunteered at the university’s Center for Autism and Applied Behavior Analysis.

An international student from Nigeria, she  received her bachelor’s in health sciences degree on May 19.   She is grateful to the faculty members in the Natural Sciences Department, who pushed her toward excellence and encouraged her in her research endeavors.  Last year at the Independent College Fund of New Jersey Research Symposium and at Caldwell University’s Research and Creative Arts Day, she presented on the antibacterial effect of cinnamon and peppermint essential oils. Natural Sciences Professor Agnes Berki has helped her learn how to become a thorough researcher. Garuba remembers the first time she met Berki. “I was with my mom, and Dr. Berki told my mom she would ride me hard.” It was true. Berki pushed Garuba not just to do research but to do it exceptionally well. “She is like a mother to me,” says Garuba.

Garuba has also looked out for her classmates at Caldwell, always thinking, “What can we do for students?” She arranged for Health Professions Club members to watch a live surgery online at the Liberty Science Center where they communicated with the surgeon and other members of the surgical team. The goal was to expose students to as many health care fields as possible so they could make educated decisions about career goals, she says.

Garuba was an orientation leader, worked in the Academic Success Center and in the Accounts Payable Office where learning to be accurate with numbers, she says, will help if she becomes a physician.

She currently volunteers at Overlook Medical Center and has set her sights on improving health on a global level as a clinician and researcher. At a recent program of the National Society of Leadership and Success, Garuba was tasked with writing down her gifts. Her answers were “intelligence, charisma, problem solving and diligence.” She knows they are not gifts just for herself and she is particularly interested in using her abilities in preventive care, “much cheaper and less invasive than treatment.” She points to her native Africa where natural products can aid in health. It all comes back to that banner with the quote from MLK Jr.: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘what are you doing for others?’” And her answer? “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.”

Marisa Castronova:  Looking beyond the walls of the classroom

Marisa Castronova has always loved her job teaching Life Science at Robert L. Marisa Castronova on her GraduationLazar Middle School in Montville, New Jersey but she never really considered how she might expand her influence beyond the four walls of her classroom.  That was, until she became a student in the doctoral program in Educational Leadership at Caldwell University.  There, she and fellow cohort member, educator Jessica Shackil, were encouraged to develop their idea of STEM PALS, a cross-district and cross-grade program designed to get students excited about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). “The doctoral program helped us to take STEM PALS through to fruition,” says Castronova.  With grant monies from the NJEA Frederick L. Hipp Foundation, the two were able to expand the project and provide STEM access to even more students. Today, four years later, fourth-grade students from Parsippany work with seventh and eighth grade students from Montville on STEM challenges in real time.

Castronova, a resident of Nutley, New Jersey was selected to give the graduate student address at Caldwell University’s commencement ceremony on May 19.  She earned her doctorate last December and says she fully appreciated the model of the program that was designed for working adults.  “I looked forward to going to class on Friday night and Saturdays. I loved talking about educational issues with people who were also interested in teaching, reform and educational leadership,” says Castronova.   She grew as a researcher as her Caldwell professors encouraged her to dig deep, push theory forward and share findings with colleagues.  Her work caught the attention of others; she was accepted to present at the Northeastern Educational Research Association and was invited to speak at the RiSE Center’s STEM Colloquium at the University of Maine (Orono).

She misses not going to class on the weekends.  The classes were “intellectually stimulating and provided me with a rich perspective on different educational topics.”

The program has forced her to grow intellectually and ask ‘how can data help me?’ Now, she uses research more often to make decisions.  She sees that her initiatives as a science educator and as a researcher can influence others. “I feel that my work at Caldwell has led me to create positive educational change and reach people on a broader scale.”

Jennifer Mary Gates: “Prepared for My Encore Career”

When Jennifer Mary Gates came to class, she sat up front in the center, “raised Jennifer Mary Gatesmy hand all the time and kept the class late.” She was a graduate student in Caldwell’s master’s in business administration program and she was focused on getting the most out of her classes decades after receiving her undergraduate degree. “I needed to learn how to go to school. There was so much to get from each class,” said Gates, who was also juggling full-time work, family obligations, and transitions and teaching yoga.

Gates, who received her MBA on May 19, overcame the preconceived notions she had about going to college as a mature student.

Gates, who received her MBA on May 19, overcame the preconceived notions she had about going to college as a mature student.

“I was intimidated by Excel.” Now she knows its benefits. “Preparing for assignments enabled me to better execute research and analyze and produce reports.”

She was not sure what it would be like going to school in a younger culture. “Now I understand the younger workforce so much better.”

Gates was apprehensive about studying on the internet. “I was terrified of online classes but now I enjoy them. Many classes were challenging, but “they opened up opportunities,” she said.

Before starting her master’s classes, she needed to take seven prerequisite undergraduate classes, which turned out to be good introductions. “It got me into the student mode.”

Gates appreciated the faculty members in the School of Business and Computer Science. “I learned so much from each and every teacher, even if their style was not my style.” She found that they were more than willing to help. “They understood what the students need,” said Gates, who is a bank commercial loan officer in corporate risk. “In graduate classes everyone is engaged,” she said. “I was taught how to present to an audience, and now I have the tools to be confident in my presentation and delivery.”

Along the way, Gates adjusted according to her needs, taking a semester off, enrolling in summer, Saturday and evening classes and learning to manage her time effectively. She took advantage of the short-term study-abroad course, run by Business Professor Bernie O’Rourke, focusing on industry in Ireland. She enjoyed singing and laughing with the other students as they traveled through Ireland’s different counties and scenic countryside, going to and from the corporations, speaking to business leaders and learning their operational processes.

Gates received her undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina–Greensboro and previously worked as a real estate agent and in retail in family-run small businesses. Her MBA has prepared her for her next “fulfilling encore career.” “I refreshed myself. It opened up everything for me.” She wants other adult learners to know they can do it too. “Have the confidence to know your opportunities are unlimited.”

Jessica Noel: “Life is precious”

Jessica Noel knows one thing for sure: She does not want to “just live”; she has Jessica Noel on her graduation to live for others too. Her experiences at Caldwell University have solidified her determination to reach out to those on the margins.

“This whole college experience has opened my eyes,” says Noel, a resident of Union, New Jersey, who received a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology on May 19.

In clubs and programs, Noel took advantage of just about every opportunity presented to her.  When volunteering with the Educational Opportunity Fund at a soup kitchen, she learned to appreciate the Catholic Dominican tradition and its charism of helping others. In attending Student Government Association meetings, she came away encouraged to be involved in her community. In Black Student Union and Latin American Student Organization meetings, she realized the importance of being aware of the needs of others. With the Gamer’s Guild Club, she learned how to play a game; “something I never knew growing up with two sisters—I learned technology and it was fun,” she says. In her courses, she appreciated being exposed to world issues.

Noel, who came to the United States from Haiti when she was a year old, has a heart for helping others; it was born out of her life experiences. When she was starting sixth grade, she was diagnosed with cancer, medullobalastoma. “A minor aspect of my life” is how she describes it.   Her experience with cancer made her realize how fragile life is. “I survived,” Noel says, but she saw other children who did not. She emerged from that challenging time this difficult time knowing “life is precious,” she says.

The Educational Opportunity Fund has been an important part of Noel’s experience at Caldwell. She started classes in 2015 in the EOF summer program. “I knew I loved it here.” Throughout college, Noel had a work study job in the EOF office, learning about the business world with the guidance of Director Andrei St. Felix and the other staff members.

Noel is considering graduate school to pursue social work, but first she would like to explore other occupations that would allow her to help others. She is concerned about kids and young people caught in horrific situations like human trafficking. “I want to empower kids to know who they are … I want to grow and help others.”

She is inspired by Matthew West’s song “Do Something” and points to the lyrics: “God, why don’t you do something?” He said, ‘I did, yeah, I created you.’” The song  makes her think about the bigger picture as she maps out her steps after graduation. “So much to do. I want to save the world.”

Justice Baskin: Teaching the next generation the importance of leadership  


Justice Baskin is looking forward to teaching social studies to high school students so they can be encouraged to become productive citizens. It is the reason he switched his major to history when he was a sophomore. “I want to educate inner-city people about the need to vote,” says Baskin, who received his Bachelor of Arts degree in secondary education and social studies on May 19 from Caldwell University. Baskin, who grew up in Jersey City, believes it is imperative for young people from urban environments to become leaders. It is the reason he wants teenagers to see more African-American men as educators in their classrooms and why eventually he would like to become a school principal.

Justice Baskin on his graduation

Baskin was recognized for his own leadership skills during Caldwell University’s honors convocation. He received the “C” Pin, awarded to an individual in his class who portrays the qualities of an exemplary Caldwell University student, and he took second place in the Golden Eagle Award for Excellence in American History.

Caldwell University was a part of his life from a young age. His father is an alumnae, and Baskin remembers fondly coming to campus with his dad. The pleasantness of the staff, faculty and students is something unique, stemming from the Catholic Dominican foundation, says Baskin.

Looking back at his college career, Baskin is proud of pushing forward conversations and initiatives on diversity and inclusion and of taking part in the Educational Opportunity Fund. He says staff and other students in the program were there for him “every step of the way.”

Baskin was a member of the track and cross-country teams and a founding member of the dance team. He worked through college as a Caldwell resident life assistant in the dorms and at Fordham in the Bronx at night in merchandising and design for a campus store.

Energetic with excellent communication skills, Baskin says he also learned “to be quiet” during his college years. He knows there is a gift in listening that is linked with leadership. Listening helped him learn, he says. “It helped me in family and in work.”

As he leaves Caldwell, Baskin takes other life lessons with him. He has learned to be more open-minded and that “it is okay to make mistakes and bounce back and keep going.” He has become more resilient too, although he says with a smile that he already knew that—“I learned it in Jersey City.” He is grateful to his Caldwell professors, “every single one of them,” and is excited to begin a career that will allow him to help young people engage and to become productive citizens. It is an imperative, he believes, for a healthy society. “The students of today will be the leaders of tomorrow.”

Kathryn Marano: Women Business Faculty Members Inspired Her to Lead

It was the women faculty members in Caldwell University’s School of Business Kathryn Marano delivering Commencement Speechand Computer Science who especially inspired Kathryn Marano during her college years. “There are so many influential women, lawyers, women with other advanced degrees that have guided me. From the minute I walked through the door, it was one of the reasons I knew Caldwell was right for me.” The female faculty members were role models who pushed her “in a good way,” and that helped her become a leader. Marano was chosen to give the undergraduate commencement speech at Caldwell University’s graduation May 19. The Nutley, New Jersey, resident has also led by finishing college in three years and by taking on roles such as vice president of the Women’s Leadership Initiative on campus.

The importance of women supporting each other and being at the helm is something she heard quite a bit about growing up. Marano attended high school at St. Dominic Academy in Jersey City where the slogan was “Empowering women for leadership since 1878,” and an aunt, Caldwell Dominican Sister Maureen James, was a positive influence on her life. Marano entered Caldwell with AP classes, and this summer she will receive her Bachelor of Science degree in business administration with minors in small business entrepreneurship and marketing. She has been in the dog grooming business since she was 12 years old and has worked through college. She hopes to become an entrepreneur and to run her own dog grooming business.

As a commuter, Marano did not think she would have much of a college experience, but she was pleasantly surprised to find out she was wrong.  She made friends and became involved—so much so “that I sold Caldwell to my younger sister who is now a student here,” she said.  Marano hopes to return to campus someday to tell other young women about her journey and the importance of finding their own voices and leading. “I love women supporting women.”

Liam Kearney: Discoveries from “long sprawling conversations” on campus

It was the conversations that enriched Liam Kearney’s time as an Liam Kearny on his graduation undergraduate student at Caldwell University—conversations inside and especially outside the classroom with other students. “You have a responsibility to take what you learn in class and test it outside,” said Kearney, who graduated May 19 with a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration and a minor in communication and media studies.

Caldwell’s beautiful 70 acre campus provided many places “to nab at the end of the day” to have meaningful conversations. “What astonishes me is how quickly people will talk about what they are passionate about—in five minutes—if you are genuinely interested in them,” said Kearney. At the core, a meaningful exchange is something people are looking for, he contends, even if they do not know it. The “modern truth-seeking platforms we use, like social media, prioritize conflict and polarization over healthy dialogue,” he said. Most people, Kearney said, are interested in a wide range of things. “If you meet them well, they are willing to talk about their interests for a long time.” Those “long sprawling conversations,” he said, can become messy, but there are opportunities to find common ground and they can bear fruit.

Kearney also appreciated the dialogue in the business classes and how the “practical” was applied by the faculty members who had a wealth of experience Liam Kearney receives his degree from his great aunt, Sister Mary John Kearneyin business or law. “I could trust what they would say,” said Kearney. “We would take abstract ideas and apply them to something concrete; there was more utility to it.”

He grew up in Oceanport, New Jersey, and came to Caldwell with credits from AP and from a partnership he took part in between his high school, Marine Academy and Science and Technology, and a nearby college. He will continue at Caldwell in the fall, studying for his MBA and aiming to finish the combined degrees in four years.

His interest in learning about people’s lives extends to his talents in music as a singer, composer and musical artist. Music is a vehicle for interaction and communication and he enjoyed when a group of university students would get together to jam, play their instruments and sing. “I would typically be the facilitator, making sure everyone was getting along. You have to give it structure.”

This past year, Kearney attended the Spirituality and Leadership Institute retreat in the Poconos, which focuses on developing young citizens who promote public justice and seek the common good. Again, it was the conversations that were fascinating. “I wish I had found the program earlier,” he said. In his senior year, he took the spring break study abroad course, “Vienna-Experiencing Austrian History and Art”. This coming fall, he will serve as treasurer of the business honor society Delta Mu Delta.

Seeking out the interests of others came from growing up with “a great family structure” that taught him “what you don’t know is always more important that what you know.”

That sentiment, Kearney admits, is “not a normal resting space” for humans and requires “a muscle that has not been flexed” but is certainly one worth discovering. He invites other students to look closely for the truth, beauty and discoveries that can arise from simply engaging in a conversation with another member of Caldwell’s campus. “Don’t have contempt for the small opportunity. It can quickly grow into an experience which is deeply and unexpectedly meaningful.”

Graduate Students Confront Real World Issues in the Field of Trauma and Abuse

How does a student learn to develop “thick skin?” For Jana Nieman and Maureen Duguid, both graduate students in mental health counseling, it was their shared experience of working with survivors — and perpetrators, of sexual abuse and domestic violence.

Jana Nieman

Jana Nieman

Through an internship at JBWS in Morris County, New Jersey, a nonprofit organization providing support services and solutions that bring balance and renewal to their clients, Nieman and Duguid were face to face with the depths of pain and suffering caused by sexual abuse and violence.

Duguid provided survivors of abuse with individual and group counseling, helped clients prepare for legal counsel and accompanied them on visits to the Morris County Justice Center. Nieman co-facilitated group and individual counseling sessions and coordinated the intake process with perpetrators –“a challenging population,” she says. These experiences helped her focus on “finding the good in people.”  Since she had never imagined herself working with those populations, the experience was both eye opening and mind broadening.

Juli Harpell-Elam, director of abuse prevention at JBWS, says that since 2015, the staff of her organization has welcomed Caldwell’s mental health counseling student interns. Coming into their internships, she says, these students evidence proper foundational training. Harpell-Elam supervised Nieman and was impressed with her ability to remain calm while creating a safe, supportive environment for her clients. Nieman worked with “mostly mandated clients” who were “feeling judged, feeling punished,” and not necessarily coming into the program on their terms, explained Harpell-Elam.

Maureen Duguid

Maureen Duguid

“Caldwell equips its students,” says Marianne McCrone, director of the Morris Family Justice Center, who was Duguid’s supervisor. “They arrive with a “big knowledge base and good clinical skill set, which translates into hands-on here at the site,” she added.  She described Duguid as an empathic “team player” who is calm in a crisis, committed to the safety of her clients, and professional in her interactions with police officers, attorneys, judges, and court staff.

On May 19, Nieman and Duguid each received a Master of Arts degree in mental health counseling. They are grateful to their supervisors and the faculty members in Caldwell’s Psychology Department. “I could always go to my professors for help and feedback,” said Duguid.  The Caldwell professors were “highly resourceful,” and there was “great supervision,” said Nieman.

Dr. Emma Kendrick, the coordinator of the graduate programs in counseling, takes pride in all that Caldwell’s mental health interns contribute to valuable community programs like JBWS. “Even before graduating, our students can start serving the needs of a diverse population within the local community. The work that the interns are doing is beneficial not only to the clients but to their ongoing professional development as counselors.”

The fieldwork at JBWS has prepared Nieman and Duguid for their next career steps. After all, “You don’t learn how to be a counselor from a textbook,” said Nieman.