Catholic Colleges and Universities Student Profiles

Freelance Writer; Teacher

A Catholic education combines rigorous study and discipline with exploration of the great ideas in the humanities and sciences throughout history. At the same time, students are challenged to confront, discuss, and come to grips with the universal ethical and moral questions of our time. Graduates of Catholic colleges and universities enter the world well prepared for life in the 21st century.

Kathleen (Kate) Cullion, Assumption College

An M.D./Ph.D. and now a second-year resident at Yale Medical Center in New Haven, Connecticut, Kate views the past 10 years of her life as both intense and exciting.

When she was growing up in Cumberland, Rhode Island, Kate was always busy—running, riding bikes and horses, swimming, skating—“you name an activity and I had to at least try it.”

At Cumberland High School, Kate excelled at track & field and was a member of the rowing club. During her junior and senior years, she increased her focus on academics, though she managed to find time to stay active in sports and work part-time in a local ice cream parlor. “My parents say I started talking about college when I was four years old. The only variation to that daydream was whether I would be curing people or animals. My stuffed animals and dolls were my patients. College was always the expectation for me—especially if my dream of becoming a doctor was to be fulfilled.”

When Kate began looking at colleges, a walk through Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, plus meeting students and professors, made a huge difference. She says the close-knit community and the possibility for a more personalized education at Assumption was the right fit for her.

“Really, it is the people at Assumption who really make the college so special, and they are what I enjoyed most about my college experience,” she says. “And that’s not just my very close group of friends, but also my neighbors, my teammates, my professors—the entire Assumption community.”

Kate majored in biology with an emphasis on biotechnology. During sophomore year when she discovered an interest in scientific inquiry as well as medicine, one of her professors helped her get a summer research internship at the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS).

Kate says she knew what she wanted for a career, and she had guiding hands at Assumption all along the way. Small class sizes and the community contributed to her success. Mentors took the time to “discuss, debate, and problem-solve, and really help me carve out my life plan,” she says.

After graduation Kate applied for a research fellowship at the National Institutes of Health, where she learned about a combined M.D./Ph.D. degree (called “bench to bedside”) designed for physicians who also want to pursue academic/research careers. She ap-plied to and was accepted at UMMS in the combined program. During her Ph.D. work, Kate studied childhood leukemia, working on molecularly targeted therapies for the disease. Upon completing her degrees in 2010, Kate began a pediatric residency at Yale Medical School.

For the future, she looks forward to a fellowship in an academic setting—as well as having a family with her husband, Trevor, whom she married in the Assumption College chapel as an undergraduate. Then, she says, “I’ll really have it all!”

Joseph (Joe) Henley, Sacred Heart University

Joe says he wasn’t the most academic student in high school, but was very laid back and got along with everyone. However, even at a young age he loved to read: his favorite book in high school was Moby Dick.

Brought up in Kent, Washington, Joe has a large extended family, all still living within 30 minutes of each other. “When I needed a push, my teachers and family headed me in the right direction,” he says. “I had a solid foundation, and my family was always in my corner, whether it was giving me that kick when I needed it—sometimes literally” or moral support.

Joe started thinking about college in the eighth grade. His older brother was at the University of Washington, which piqued his interest in college, but he worried because his high school GPA wasn’t that great and his SATs also left a little to be desired. “I had to do a lot of changing to reach my goal,” he admits, “but I think I did a pretty good job.”

An all-state basketball player at Kentridge High School, Joe also played football and ran track. His athleticism bolstered his academic record, he says.

Sacred Heart University (SHU) in Fairfield, Connecticut, caught his eye. He applied and was offered a full athletic scholarship for basketball.

Majoring in business management, Joe says his favorite classroom activities at SHU were projects involving marketing and proposals for developing a company. Pledged to Omega Phi Kappa, a multicultural fraternity, Joe was also involved in an inner-city program to promote education. “We had a program called Real Men Read,” he says. “We would go around to different elementary schools in Bridgeport and read to classes and let them know that it’s cool to be a good student, to be educated.”

Though he was 3,000 miles from Washington State, Joe says the coaches and staff at SHU made him feel at home. This sense of community was particularly evident in sporting events, such as the year SHU was in the NEC championship. Joe played forward, and although the team came up short in the final minutes, Joe was pleased. “The guys I played with worked really hard. I thought that was a good step for SHU because it brought the whole school together; we were all as one.”

Graduating in 2007, Joe entered the SHU master’s program in education. After he received his master’s degree in 2009, he played basketball in Germany and Iceland. Off-season, he began substitute teaching in his hometown of Kent. “Even though I am a basketball player now,” he says, “I know one day that chapter of my life will close, so I’m preparing myself for a career in education.”

Daina Sanchez, University of San Diego

A Zapotec American, Daina was raised by a single mother in Los Angeles. She spoke Spanish at home and learned Zapotec from listening to her mother and her mother’s siblings talking.

Although attending a religious college wasn’t initially an important factor in making her choice, because she had attended Catholic schools since the second grade, the idea was comforting. “I didn’t think about it, but it might have made the transition from high school to college a lot easier. Attending a large public university with a different curriculum would have been a drastic change,” she says.

So, though she had been accepted at several schools, Daina chose the University of San Diego (USD) where she was offered a full scholarship. “I’m glad I made that decision,” she says. “If I hadn’t, I’m not sure I would be where I am today.”

She recalls that it was hard leaving home for the first time. And there were a few cultural adjustments at USD because at that time, she didn’t yet think of herself as a Zapotec American. But life became easier when she met other Latinas in classes (like Chicano literature) and organizations (such as the Association of Chicana Activists).

She also found a mentor, Dr. Michelle Camacho of the sociology department, who guided her at USD, then during her junior year abroad, and finally in selecting a graduate school and program. “She opened a whole new world for me from the moment I met her. In our first class, she discussed her research, which was based in Oaxaca, the state my parents emigrated from,” Daina says. “Before that, I had no idea anyone studied people like us!” Then, during Daina’s junior year abroad at St. Clare’s College, Oxford University, Camacho e-mailed her, encouraging her to apply for USD’s McNair Scholars program, which seeks to encourage underrepresented students to enter doctoral programs.

While she was abroad, Daina encountered another kind of culture shock. “The ‘locals’ didn’t understand that I was American. Because I was not white, had indigenous features, and a Spanish surname, I didn’t fit their idea of an American. That’s when I realized that the idea most foreigners (and even Americans) have of the United States and its inhabitants is not the same as the one I experienced growing up in Los Angeles among diverse groups of people,” she says. “I became aware that a main factor in the confusion was the reality that people like me did not usually have the means to study abroad, much less travel abroad.”

Graduating with a B.A. in ethnic studies and history in 2011, Daina entered the University of California, Irvine, in a Ph.D. program “studying trans-national experiences of second-generation indigenous migrants—my generation—with origins in San Andrés Solaga living in Los Angeles.”

Since it’s a five-year program, Daina still has plenty of time to contemplate her future.

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