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Good Chemistry: Seven Friends Find Support and Success at the Mount

Katherine Stohlman Pieters, C'19

seven women stem students in the lab

These seven women have found success in their academics and research work at the Mount and beyond, with support from each other and their professors. (Rita Anoh, who was attending the annual conference of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, is not pictured.)

“Small but mighty” is a phrase that often comes to mind when students and alumni describe the community they found at Mount St. Mary’s University. The phrase has come to life in the rooms of the Coad Science Building—particularly in the stories of a group of seven friends who, with the encouragement of their professors and each other, have achieved tremendous success in their studies.

rita-anoh-5-in-text.jpgRita Anoh, C’23, has been accepted to seven doctoral programs, including ones at MIT, Harvard, Yale, Penn and Caltech. Victoria Tavernier and Naomi Leno, both juniors, will be participating in summer research programs at MIT. Jillian Berko, C’24, will be doing summer research at AstraZeneca. Efosa Omorogbe, also C’24, will do her summer research at Penn State University, and Nana Acheampong, C’24, will be at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Valerie Delss, C’24, will be conducting research at W.R. Grace for the summer. Anoh spent her past two summers conducting research at Caltech and MIT, respectively.

Varied as their summers and futures will no doubt be, these women have similar fields of study and a bond formed in the many classes and lab experiences they’ve shared. Anoh, Delss and Tavernier work in the lab of Assistant Professor of Chemistry Patrick nana-acheampong-in-text.jpgLombardi, Ph.D., and Acheampong and Berko are part of the lab of Assistant Professor of Chemistry Sarah Krueger, Ph.D., C’17. Science Department Chair and Professor of Biology Dana Ward, Ph.D., C’97, has Leno and Omorogbe in her lab, and Leno also works in the lab of Christine McCauslin, Ph.D., dean of the School of Natural Science and Mathematics and professor of biochemistry. They’ve credited their science professors, and each other, with providing the encouragement and opportunities that have carried them so far.

naomi-leno-in-text.jpg“We’re all very aligned as far as what we want, and determined to accomplish our goals, which makes it so easy to help each other out,” shared Leno, who’s triple majoring in biology, biochemistry, and chemistry with minors in math and music.

Acheampong, who’s majoring in biology with a chemistry minor, echoed Leno’s thoughts, noting that her circle of friends has been a major source of motivation. “STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] is hard—these women have definitely been a support system for me,” she exclaimed.

efosa-omorogbe-in-text.jpgOmorogbe even shared that Berko was the one who sent her the application to Penn State’s summer research program, where she’ll study cardiovascular disease, and encouraged her to apply knowing that Omorogbe plans to become a cardiologist.

Studying at a university like the Mount was also a part of what helped these young women succeed. Berko spoke of how tight-knit the students and professors studying STEM are, calling them “one jillian-berko-in-text.jpgbig family” and noting that this closeness is what allows the students to learn so much from the faculty. Originally from Ghana, she plans to take the foundation she’s received at the Mount and one day open a research hospital in a lower-income country.

valerie-delss-in-text.jpgDelss received similar guidance, explaining that when she joined Lombardi’s lab sophomore year, she had never worked in a lab, or taken as many classes as the other students on the subject. But Lombardi welcomed her into the fold, taking time to walk her through new concepts and experiences. Delss noted that the Mount is unique in allowing inexperienced students to join a lab, yet it’s this very experience that gives them a competitive edge in applications for internships, research programs and graduate schools. She’s looking forward to researching in an industry setting, as opposed to an academic one.

Tavernier, who’s double majoring in chemistry and biochemistry, shared that this was an unexpected advantage to attending a smaller university. While it can be easy to think a smaller school equals less notoriety and opportunity, she’s found the opposite.

“There’s lots and lots of experiential learning opportunities, plus a good foundation and mentoring system from the professors. They can get to know you, help you find your passion and find the right victoria-tavernier-in-text.jpgthings to apply for.” She’s looking forward to being able to network and conduct cancer research in Boston this summer.

For their part, the friends’ professors aren’t at all surprised by the acceptances that rolled in for these women. Lombardi noted that all seven of them are stellar academics and researchers, who are always willing to help each other, and somehow still find time to serve the Mount community through tutoring and peer mentorship. “It’s no wonder that they have been so successful in applying to graduate programs and internships,” he stated.

As these seven young women move closer to graduation and go on to lead lives of significance, they can be assured that they made the most of their time, talents and relationships at the Mount. Anoh, who will graduate this year with degrees in biochemistry and French, said it best: “I have been fortunate to be a part of this group of friends who are passionate, hardworking, service-oriented, and dedicated to making an impact on others, and a campus where faculty are clearly committed to student success. This has been a space for me to thrive and I feel blessed to be a part of it.”

Katherine Stohlman Pieters, C'19