McNulty Scholars Program Graduates First Class

Thursday, May 2, 2013

In the fall of 2009, Kim Nguyen, Corinna Noel and Maura (Molly) Southwell began their undergraduate studies at Saint Joseph’s. While each chose majors in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines, their individual passions and interests led them on diverging paths over the next four years. But the three young women had one constant in common: They all received scholarships from the John P. McNulty Scholars Program for Excellence in Science and Math.

Established by Anne Welsh McNulty to honor her late husband, former Board of Trustees member and alumnus John P. McNulty ’74, the program is on the leading edge of the University’s efforts to nurture the professional success of women. “McNulty Scholars are immersed in a challenging learning environment designed to inspire recipients to seek and assume leadership roles in STEM professions,” says Christina King Smith, Ph.D., professor of biology and program director. Given to three candidates each academic year, scholars are awarded a four-year, full-tuition, merit-based scholarship, and participate in an intensive research and mentoring program.

Members of the Class of 2013, Nguyen, Noel and Southwell comprise the first cohort of McNulty Scholars to graduate. Following in their footsteps are young women from each ensuing class, 2014 through ’16, which marks a full complement of scholars who are preparing to join leadership ranks in their chosen STEM field.

“McNulty Scholars dare to be the best,” says McNulty, a former managing director of Goldman Sachs. “Throughout his life, John sought to mentor younger associates and to challenge women to achieve their fullest potential. He exuded energy, creativity and ambition. Through this program, we hope to ignite the same extraordinary spirit in others.”

Kim Nguyen ’13 | Allentown, Pa. | Bachelor of Science in Biology

As a child, Nguyen spent a lot of time in doctors’ offices. “I was diagnosed with severe asthma at age five, and I also had terrible allergies,” she says. “I was always the kid who had to get nebulizer treatments before recess.”

With the help of her physicians, Nguyen outgrew her pulmonary troubles, but she isn’t sorry she went through the experience. By the time she was a high school junior, she knew she wanted to be a doctor so that she could help others. In four years, when she graduates from Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, she’ll be ready to start her residency. Though she hasn’t committed to a specialization, she mentions pediatrics or immunology as possibilities, two choices influenced by her childhood visits to the doctor.

Nguyen says her McNulty scholarship was essential to her medical school acceptance. “I applied for the scholarship because I knew the program was created to empower and encourage scholars to go beyond the conventional college experience,” she says. “I didn’t want to fly through my classes and just focus on achieving the grades that would get me into med school. I wanted to see the bigger picture.”

For Nguyen, the bigger picture involved a healthy dose of original research. Throughout her undergraduate education, she was constantly in a lab, either as a Summer Scholar, as a fellow of Saint Joseph’s Institute of Catholic Bioethics, or as an undergraduate research associate in the laboratory of biochemist Mark Reynolds, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry. Her work with Reynolds, which focused on an oxygen-sensing mechanism in a protein crucial in regulating biological processes like blood pressure, allowed her to present a poster at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Diego, Calif., last spring. “I was wide-eyed the whole time,” she says. “It was an incredible experience.”

Corinna A. Noel ’13 | New Paltz, N.Y. | Bachelor of Science in Mathematics

Fascinated by statistical analysis, Noel’s research led her to crunch the numbers on a wide variety of topics, from the potential power generation of hydroelectric dams to how slight color variation of applesauce affects choice in college students. “I love getting a huge data set, interpreting it, and then being able to say, ‘This is what the numbers mean,’” Noel says.

While she clearly excels in math, “Food always pulled me in,” Noel says. So much so that she thought seriously about attending culinary school. But ultimately, she decided to find a way to combine food with her love for mathematics.

Her search led her to the food science program at Cornell University. Noel was invited to participate in its Food Science Summer Scholars Research Program last year, where she conducted research on processing conditions and lethality of thermally pickled carrots. In the fall, Noel will begin the master’s in food science program at Cornell. She received a research assistantship to work in the sensory science lab, where she will study the neurological and physiological underpinnings of the taste system, discovering how taste works in both people and animals, and how it influences food choice. Noel says her background in math helped to distinguish her, especially with her lab placement. “Sensory science requires mastery of advanced statistical techniques,” she says. “The food science program was looking for someone who isn’t afraid of big data sets and results analysis.”

Noel points to her applesauce study, an original sensory evaluation experiment that she designed and implemented under the mentorship of Deborah Lurie, Ph.D., associate professor of mathematics, as a perfect merging of math and food science. She presented the study in symposia and colloquiums, and it is now her math department honors thesis.

For her part, Noel is grateful for the support and encouragement of SJU faculty and the McNulty Scholars Program. “I was accepted to a small and select graduate program,” she says. “The outcome of my education would have been very different without my experience at Saint Joseph’s with the McNulty Scholars Program.”

Molly Southwell ’13 | Philadelphia, Pa. | Bachelor of Science in Biology, Minor in Asian Studies

If Southwell had to decide today which animal she would study in graduate school, she would narrow her choice to two. “It would have to be either dolphins or meerkats,” she says. “When I was in grade school, I thought I would grow up to be a marine biologist, which explains my fascination with dolphins. And now, I’m totally captivated by the meerkats on ‘Meerkat Manor,’” she says of the small, burrow-digging mammal stars on the popular Animal Planet TV series.

Animals have always intrigued Southwell. As a McNulty Scholar, she indulged her curiosity daily in the biodiversity laboratory of Scott McRobert, Ph.D., professor of biology, where she was lab manager for more than 100 species of insects, fish, amphibians and reptiles. While her biodiverse charges kept her busy, Southwell also found the time to conduct background research on fish with a developmental disorder akin to autism; study Mandarin Chinese; work as a writing tutor; play rugby; study abroad in Rome; intern at the Devereux Kanner Zoo in West Chester, Pa.; and co-author published research in the journal Zebrafish about Fish Cam, an online tool developed by McRobert to introduce shoaling, which is grouping behavior in fish, to the classroom.

Though Southwell considered applying to veterinary school after graduating from SJU, she knows now that her career lies in animal behavior/zoological studies or wildlife ecology, and will spend the coming months researching and applying to graduate programs. She credits the work she did with her mentor McRobert and the McNulty Scholars Program with helping her to realize her true calling. “I found out that I really value doing research and working directly with animals more than anything else,” Southwell says. “Through the opportunities given to me by the McNulty Scholars Program, I have an amazing research background that will set me apart from the crowd.”

For more information about the McNulty Scholars Program, visit

www.sju.edu/int/academics/cas/resources/mcnultyscholars/meetourscholars1...

Contact Information

Patricia Allen, Senior Associate Director of University Communications, 610-660-3240, patricia.allen@sju.edu



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