Going, going, gone — Catawba students prepare for their futures

  • Posted: Thursday, April 18, 2013 1:09 a.m.
Ashley Acken
Ashley Acken

SALISBURY — As the 2012-2013 academic year comes to a close, Catawba College students are thinking about their futures. For some graduating in May, a next step — graduate school — is on their minds. For those with a year or so before they earn their undergraduate degree, thoughts are on how to enhance their future opportunities and make themselves ready for the next steps.

Graduate school

Leah Constan-Tatos of Johannesburg, South Africa, will graduate May 11 and will attend graduate school at the University of Notre Dame in August. With her double major in accounting and economics and finance, she’ll pursue a master of science in accountancy degree.


“I want to become a CPA (short term) and CFA (long term), and knew I needed to go on to grad school to do this,” the Honors student said. “I applied to N.C. State University, University of Southern California and to the University of Notre Dame. It was a very, very difficult decision for me to make, but one reason I chose the University of Notre Dame was because of its global recognition — it’s known at home in South Africa as well as in the States. They only admit about 80 students a year into the program and that weighed into my decision in addition to the scholarship offer. Those factors, coupled with the culture and tradition of the school made me want to go there.”

This international student, recruited to Catawba as a swimmer, has been pondering her future for years.

“Having a double major has given me a broad background into a lot of different fields,” Constan-Tatos explained. “Accounting has so much versatility and can open so many doors — you can go into business for yourself or work for big corporations. My degrees will give me a lot of flexibility in terms of jobs.”

Constan-Tatos feels well-prepared for graduate school. “We have a lot of interaction and one-on-one with professors here and they prepare us well for the future. I’ve been very happy with my faculty and how they’ve taught us important concepts.

“Back home there are no liberal arts universities, so here taking classes in a liberal arts setting I think has helped me, as it has broadened my knowledge base. I took public speaking, physiology and anatomy and enjoyed them — they were really fantastic, I must say.”

Senior Ashley Acken of Marietta, Pa., who double majored in psychology and sociology at Catawba, is headed to Duke University this fall to pursue a master of divinity degree. Thanks to an interdisciplinary program that Duke offers with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she hopes to also earn a master’s of social work degree.

She credits Catawba for making her grad school ready. “I applied to Wake Forest and Duke and if neither of those had worked out, I had some seminary choices that were on my radar. I was accepted at both really fantastic schools. But, I wouldn’t have gotten into those schools if it hadn’t been for the experience I had at Catawba.”

Acken believes that it was her dual major at Catawba that set her apart from other candidates at either Wake Forest or Duke.

“I think they appreciated that I came from a different background. My path to divinity school was a little different than that of others — my background was in psychology and sociology. I want to continue experiencing different perspectives like I have in the liberal arts setting that Catawba offered and hear different perspectives from many different people.”

Several of Constan-Tatos and Acken’s Catawba classmates will also be heading to graduate school, including Elizabeth “Lizzle” Davis of East Bend who has been accepted in UNC-Wilmington’s creative writing poetry MFA program; Maura Pantone of Pittsburg, Pa., accepted into the PsyD program at LaSalle University for child clinical psychology; and Blake Rushing of Indian Trail, accepted at East Carolina University for biochemistry at the Brody School of Medicine. Two political science students, Joe Peterson of Chestertown, Md., and Rob Bius of Parkton, are headed to law school. Bius has been accepted at St. Mary’s and Peterson, at both Campbell University and Charlotte Law.

Enhancing future opportunities

Some Catawba students who won’t graduate this May are making plans they hope will improve their position for future opportunities. Junior Frank Villa of Kannapolis is majoring in chemistry and minoring in biology at Catawba and would like to go to medical school.

At the prompting of his professor of chemistry, Dr. Mark Sabo, Villa is taking steps toward that ultimate goal. Sabo encouraged Villa, a First Family Scholar, to apply for a variety of summer National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (REUs) internships at universities all over the country. Villa did, sending in applications to the University of Iowa, Georgetown University, Purdue University, Colorado State University and University of South Alabama.

Villa was the first Catawba student to be accepted into several of these REUs. He chose to participate in the program offered at the University of South Alabama’s Mitchell Cancer Institute. “They’re working with ovarian cancer and early detection methods for that,” he explained. “I went online and watched a video about their work and it just called to me. I had great options and for some reason I just felt that South Alabama was where I needed to be.”

Villa also credits Sabo with giving him the information and the nudge he needed to move forward. “If it hadn’t been for Dr. Sabo, I would never have found out about these REUs if he hadn’t set me down last year in his office and told me I needed to apply. I have friends who go to bigger institutions and I asked them what they’re planning to do for the summer and they said, probably coming home to work.

“I feel like my advisers and professors are preparing me for the next step better than they do at bigger institutions,” Villa said. “I’ve always wanted to go to med school — that was my original plan, but now I want to see how my REU turns out.”

Linda Castillo of China Grove is a classmate who is also looking forward to a research-filled summer experience. Majoring in chemistry and minoring in biology, Castillo, like Villa, applied to multiple REU programs. She was accepted to several, including a UNC Nanoscience REU, a University of Alabama Crime REU, and one offered at the University of Kentucky. She chose to attend the University of Kentucky and notes that she will be studying calcium signaling in the heart.

“I hope that my summer will be a great learning experience and that someday, I may use the information I learn and help discover for the benefit of my future patients,” she said.

Her long term plans may include medical school or a physician assistant program. “I am unsure of which of those to do, but I am very passionate about medicine, so both would suit me.”

Ask Sabo how these summer research experiences can enhance students’ future opportunities and he has plenty to say: “Catawba has some really great students who are enhancing their liberal arts education by engaging in education and research opportunities outside the classroom. Undergraduate research, whether at Catawba or another facility, allows students to utilize state-of-the-art instrumentation and learn modern laboratory techniques. Students gain content knowledge as well as develop professionalism, networking, and oral and written communication skills. Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, they learn how to apply that knowledge to the problem at hand and think independently, creatively and critically.”

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