Senior

Student Spotlight: Nick Pullano

Senior, Nick Pullano, from Mundelein, Illinois, will be graduating this May with a bachelor's degree in Biochemistry. Nick has the heart of a servant and can always be found going above and beyond what is asked of him. After graduation, Nick plans to attend medical school, with the long-term goal of finding a cure for Type 1 Diabetes - a cause close to his heart.

What did you do last summer? 

This past summer, I spent my time working at a local golf and country club as well as volunteering as a research assistant at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Illinois, which is one of the top research hospitals in the state. While I was at Lutheran General, I had the wonderful opportunity to work with two Family Practioners, one of which specialized in the genetic disorder of Down Syndrome. I was able to assist them in their research projects, which focused on reducing the cost of healthcare for both the providers and patients of down syndrome treatments, based on medical status. By working alongside these physicians, I was able to understand the dire need for affordable healthcare in America and think creatively to work toward a solution for the future.

What do you want to do when you graduate?  

After I graduate from Ave Maria University in May, I will be under review for medical school acceptance. During this time, I will be utilizing my Biochemistry degree by working as a chemist in a research lab either in Illinois or Florida. 

Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 

Five years from now, I see myself completing my education at one of my top medical school choices and applying to a residency program as the next step in my healthcare career. 

What are you plans for this year to get closer to your goal?

I am currently devoting twenty-five to thirty hours per week to my online Kaplan course, which is designed to help me prepare for the MCAT examination. Additionally, I will be finalizing my applications for medical school.

Why did you choose the career for which you are preparing?

I chose the medical field because I have always wanted the opportunity to bring joy to others by serving them. Before attending Ave Maria University, I was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes. While it was initially difficult to adjust to this sudden lifestyle change, I believe that it was God’s way of calling me to the medical field; specifically, to work towards a cure for Type 1 Diabetes.

How have you coped with your diagnosis?

Coping with Type 1 Diabetes is, and will aways be, a challenge for me, but I was referred to a phenomenal Endocrinologist down here in Naples by the name of Dr. Todd Brodie. He and his assistants have given me the most up to date information on how to manage Type 1 Diabetes, since I am still a newbie to this disease. The key to managing it, for me, has been to exercise regularly and stick to a healthy diet. Dr. Brodie’s insight on taking the correct amount of insulin and consistently making sure that I test my glucose 4-6 times a day has given me a tremendous blood glucose level (A1C) of 6.9!

What have you learned from participation in extracurricular activities?  

Through my participation in extracurricular activities, I have learned that it is essential to get along with others in order to create strong relationships with teammates and reach a common goal. In addition, by participating in baseball throughout my four years at Ave, I learned that time management is key in order to maintain balance in everyday life. 

Who are three people in history you admire most and why? 

I admire General George S. Patton for his bravery and extensive military knowledge while leading our country in WWII, Saint John Paul II for helping to bring an end to communism in Europe, especially his home country of Poland, and Michael Jordan for his tenacity and killer instincts which helped to lead the Chicago Bulls to six championships. 

What is the most memorable phone call you have ever received?

The most memorable phone call that I ever received was from one of my close family friends who happens to be former Cubs 3rd basemen, Ron Santo. During this phone call, Mr. Santo personally invited my cousins and I to go see him at the radio booth in historic Wrigley Field. As many of you know, I am a die hard Cubs fan, so this phone call was one of the most exciting moments in my life... besides, of course, when the Cubs won the World Series! It was great to listen to what he had to say about his life, because, like me, he is a type 1 diabetic who plays baseball. He gave me lots of encouragement to keep doing what I love, and told me to always pursue my passion.

What is the one thing you have always wanted but still don’t have? 

As the only child in my family, I have always wanted to have siblings. I always wonder what my childhood would have been like if I had had an older sibling to look up to or a younger sibling to take care of. 

What things are most important to you now? Why?  

My relationships with family and friends, my faith, striving to be the best person I can be, and helping others become the best person they can be. 

How have your dreams and goals changed throughout your life? 

My childhood dreams and goals were greatly influenced by growing up in Illinois and being a huge Chicago Bulls fan. Because I saw Michael Jordan leading the bulls to many championships, I always envisioned myself being a professional basketball player. I also had an interest in meteorology because I was so fascinated by thunderstorms, hurricanes, and tornados. While I do not specifically wish to pursue a career in meteorology anymore, I believe this early interest influenced my choice to pursue a science degree at Ave Maria. When I was diagnosed with Diabetes prior to attending Ave, my ultimate dream and goals evolved into a desire to work in the medical field to find a cure for Diabetes. I want to help other individuals, like myself, live a more enjoyable life.

Where in the world would you like to get lost?  

I am interested in traveling to so many places, but I think I would ultimately like to get lost in Spain. I’ve always wanted to spend time in Spain because it looks like such a beautiful country and is so rich in history. 

Do you have any good study habits to pass on?  

Throughout my four years at Ave Maria University, I have found that it is essential to establish relationships with your professors and regularly meet with them for help with material that you do not understand. After learning first hand from your professors, you can then help others understand the material better as well. This will not only help them with their studies, but also help you to solidify your own knowledge. 

If you could interview anyone, who would it be and what would you ask? 

If I could interview anyone in history, I would want to interview Jesus Christ. Not only is He the most interesting figure in history, but also our Lord and Savior. It would be absolutely incredible to hear an account of salvation history through the words of Jesus Christ Himself.

Student Spotlight: Ana Franco

As a graduating senior, Ana Franco is very mindful of the clock that is ticking on her undergraduate career. She frequently refers to the “3 months we have left", but her usage is hopeful, as though she is waiting expectantly for the changes that will occur over that time...and she is preparing for it well. She is a personable, outgoing individual who enjoys speaking with people and makes conversation easily. As she summarizes her goals, it is not hard to believe that this is a young woman will soon leave her mark on the world.  

How did you first come to Ave Maria? 

The first time I visited Ave, it was the day after Spring Formal. At that point in time, I was completely set on going to a state school. My top choice was Northeastern University in Boston. I really, really wanted to go there for Psychology, but God knew what I needed. I can still remember my visit to Northeastern. I went over the summer and I just loved it! However, I did not know what I would be getting myself into. I remember the first time I came to Ave, I left crying! It was not an open house and there were barely any students around. I told my parents, “If you are going to bring me to this school, just read me the Bible, keep me at home, and put me in a long skirt, because that would be the same thing!” I do remember, though, that during that visit, we also came and saw the church and I thought it was so beautiful. I remember sitting in a pew looking up at the cross and saying “You know what God, only you know. If this is the place that you want me to come, bring me back here.” And I visited a second time and I just fell in love with Ave. 

And what are you wearing now? 

*laughing* Not a long skirt! Although I have to admit, I actually like them! And I do read the Bible for fun! So a couple of things came true.  

What did you do last summer? 

Last Summer, I worked with the USCCB – the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops – in their Catholic News Service. They published a lot of different articles and they have a newsletter that they send out. It was really great; I actually stayed within walking distance of where I worked. I only knew about three people that lived in the city, so I was going completely out of my comfort zone when I took that job. I think I took a lot to heart, like where God leads you, you should go. I know that what I learned at USCCB, and the people I came in contact with there, have helped to lead me to know what I want to do next.  

What was something about your internship that surprised you? 

I think one of the biggest challenges was that it was very different from what I expected an internship to be - where you walk in and they have a lot of work predetermined for you to do. They definitely had a lot of work for me to do, but they wouldn’t necessarily tell me—I had to go see what there was to do for myself. Sometimes my supervisor would assign me tasks, but not all the time because they are so busy—they don’t always stop their work for you. I think a lot of people don’t realize that going into an internship; they think it revolves around them and what they’re learning. But I think it is what you learn from these people that you’re working with. One thing I would say to whoever goes into get an internship or a job is to really get to know the people you’re working with, because these people have also had their own experiences and can help you. There was this gentleman, his name was Dennis, and we met because he worked at the computer across from me. We became such good friends. He is an older man with white hair and hipster journalism glasses that I would always make fun of (because I wanted a pair myself), but he was someone who gave me really great advice. He is an amazing editor. I only sent him two pieces in the six weeks that I was there, but from what he corrected in those pieces, I learned so much. 

Were there any struggles during the internship? 

Being here at Ave, we only learn APA and Chicago Manual Style of writing. The USCCB office used AP style, which is the journalistic style. I had to start writing in a completely new way. The thought of that would really have made me kind of nervous before I took this internship. In order to work through this obstacle, I would stay after hours and read through a pamphlet on AP style, or I would take it home and skim it over.  Learning is something we can’t tire of doing - otherwise we just stay stagnant. My supervisor, Julie Asher, would leave some nights, and I would still be there reading that pamphlet. At the end of the internship, she gave me feedback, which was a really good meeting to have, and she said to me that one of the things she noticed and appreciated about me was how much work I put into my writing, and how much it showed that I cared. She noticed that I would stay after hours and go beyond what was expected of me.I really pursued the work and realized that if this is something I love, I have to put in as much work as I can!  

How did you discover the internship? 

My advisor here, Dr. Hunt, has helped me more than I can say… I remember that before Christmas break of Junior year, she told me to start job-searching, and I decided I would really like to work for a Catholic organization. I put “Catholic news” into Google, and this organization popped up: USCCB Catholic News Service. I saw the name of the person listed, so I called and asked “Do you have internships?” And they said yes!  

Do you think that it is a good strategy for people to employ in their own job or internship search? 

Yes, I think you need to be really proactive in finding jobs and internships because a lot of people who have succeeded in life have been successful because they go looking for opportunities to be successful. If you find something that you want and desire, why not go for it? Get out of your comfort zone and try to discover what you are supposed to do. You can’t just sit around waiting for things to happen. 

What do you want to do when you graduate? 

I would love to go into Marketing, Public Relations, or Event Coordinating. After working for USCCB this summer, I also realized that we all have talents that God gives us, and I really want to put them to good use. I say that without trying to sound pompous or something. It is just so important that whatever job we go into, we use all that we have been given.  

My talents lie not only in my writing, but also in the way that I love people. When I am in a group and have to say a "fun fact" about myself, I always say that I’m a people person. I could just sit and talk with someone for hours about their life and I would be the happiest ever! A way to use both gifts for me would be in Public Relations and Marketing, because I love being with other people and also communicating through written word. I have really loved learning about marketing by interning here at Ave – shout-out to Ave Marketing! 

What do you plan to do this year in order to get you closer to your goal? 

I have already started applying for jobs for next year, and while I do that, I am interning here in Marketing. Doing that has really helped me towards my goal by allowing me to discover my vocation. Over these next three months, I am going to try to really process what I have learned here and how I can apply all of it when I go out into the world. I love our Ave bubble, but I think that one of the things that Tom Monaghan and President Towey want for us is to take what we have learned here, and go out into the world to share it!  

Similarly, where do you see yourself in five years?  

Wow… 

Are you going to be in Boston pursuing your long-lost dream? 

Haha, teaching at Northeastern? That would be hilarious. I’m not sure, I really want to be working somewhere that I feel I am being true to myself and what I have learned. Maybe I will have a family too. I know that is more personal, but it is the truth. What is so great about Ave is that it really tries to make you think about your discernment while you are growing, and I am so grateful for that. Hopefully I end up working for a company that I love, and have a big family. I would love waking up and being a mother but I would also love to go to work everyday. Even though there will be hard days and some “not-so-great” days, ultimately I will be doing what I love. 

Do you have any hobbies or interests that you pursue in your spare time? 

I was actually a ballet dancer for 16 years. I was in Art's Ballet Theatre of Florida, which is a ballet company that I joined when I was 14. I stopped dancing when I came to Ave, so I try to dance when I can! I actually have taught Pilates classes for a year at the Karate School in town, and I really enjoy doing that in my spare time. I also love to run or to have tea with people and talk about life! I am thinking about working to get my Pilates and Barre certifications so that I could do classes for high school and college girls, and be able to give back in that way.  

Who are three people in history that you admire, and why? 

Can they be a saint? I would say Pier Giorgio Frassatti. I think his story is amazing. He wrote about how his parents did not know that he wanted to be Catholic, because I don’t think his family was. He would have someone at 4:30 AM tug on a rope that was attached to his leg, and they would pull it to wake him up so that he would go climb on a mountain and get back in time for 7:30 AM mass. Did you know that? It is amazing. Being a young person myself, and wanting to understand what I am supposed to do, he’s someone I really admire. Also Saint Josemaria is one of my favorites! He really has a beautiful perspective on sanctifying your daily work. Sonia Sotomayor is also someone that I look up to. She was the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice. I cannot even imagine coming from her background and ending up as one of the first Supreme Court Justices in the United States. 

What gives you the most joy? 

I was actually just talking with someone about this yesterday. Contrary to my parents, I really love being in nature. I love being at the foot of a mountain and looking up. I love sunsets and sunrises. I love running here in the fields behind Ave and just looking out over the plains and saying "wow". 

I also really love teaching people. Teaching is beautiful because you are able to see where they started, and celebrate with them when they have learned. Being with people also brings me joy. I am an introvert-extrovert; sometimes I need my space, but having good conversation where people can truly be themselves brings me so much joy. 

What brought you joy when you were a child? Do any of the things you just mentioned differ from when you were a child? 

I think being with family. Also, one thing that brings me so much joy is serving others. My sophomore year I told myself that even if none of my friends were going, I would go and do something as a service project. Service makes you feel so whole. It is so easy to get caught up in yourself and what you want—especially in college—that you forget about others. That is something that we should focus on all of our lives. When I was little, my mom would always go and serve. I think that is another reason it gives me joy. Even though I did not go with her all the time, just seeing that she was going to do that gave me a lot of peace.  

My birthday also brings me joy. My dad always bakes me a cake, called the “Better Almost Impossible” cake, because there is nothing better than that cake. My dad works very hard, but he is always take off time to make me feel special. That is what it reminds me of. The cake is this three-layer chocolate cake with dulce de leche inside, vanilla cream on top, and sprinkles. 

What do your parents do? 

My mom is back in school. She did interior design for a while, then became a stay-at-home mom. My dad he says that he is an entrepreneur... at least that’s what he likes to be called. 

How have your dreams and goals changed through your life? 

I think that once you grow up, you realize that some things are not very easy to achieve. When I was little, I wanted to be a doctor. I even got a First Aid kit for Christmas one year because I wanted to be a doctor so badly! As I started taking classes though, I realized that as much as I loved the idea of being a doctor, it wasn’t something that I would be good at. That was kind of disappointing. After that, I realized that you have to ask yourself “What are the goals I can achieve doing something else? What can I keep striving for"? There are lots of people who have dreams, but they become goals when you realize that you can achieve them. 

What advice have you received that has had an impact on your life

Do you know Fr. Dunn? He was my spiritual director last year and is just an amazing person. One thing he said to me was, “Ana, do not settle. Do what makes you happy.” And I think that, subconsciously, I’ve tried to follow that in my life. 

If you won $1 million tomorrow, what would you do with the money? 

I think that I would donate some of it to Ave...  

Great! How much of it? 

Well let’s see, not half of it… Like three quarters of it! 

Oh, wow you’re so generous! 

I think I would donate to some kind of religious order, like the Missionaries of Charity. I worked with them this summer so they are really dear to me. Also, I would probably donate to orphanages in the United States. I would want to give a lot of it away. 

And some for me obviously, but I would still want to work. I would not want to sit around all day, that’s so boring! I probably would travel as well. Europe is my favorite part of the world, so I would probably travel there.

Student Spotlight: Josie Hartney

Josie Hartney, a senior at Ave Maria, is the definition of southern belle. With her contagious laugh and sweet drawl, Josie is a joy to be around. During her time at Ave Maria, Josie has taken the most difficult science classes that are offered, played many intramural sports, participated in a variety of clubs, and devoted her time and talents to the students as a Resident Assistant. This past December, Josie was accepted into Augusta University’s occupational therapy program and plans to begin her studies there, in her home state of Georgia, this fall. 

Advice for juniors/seniors applying to graduate school?

For me, getting experience in the field that I was interested in was invaluable in helping me figure out what type of graduate school I wanted to attend. When I was a freshman, I started exploring what was available in the medical field. A family friend advised me to create a master document to keep track of all of the experiences I would have over the upcoming years, both shadowing and working. She told me to note how I felt after each experience, so that a few years down the road, I could remember what I did or did not like about it and the different things I saw. It was really nice to have that record, especially when I was applying for graduate schools and determining my vocation. As someone going into healthcare, it was really important for me to be able to log all of my experience and count the patient care hours that I had completed. Employers and graduate schools want to know if you have seen the broad spectrum of the field that you are going into. By having accumulated experience, it shows them that you have been thinking about your future for a long time.

How did you make the decision that you wanted to go on to graduate school?

I think my field is unique because I knew even before I got to Ave that I wasn't going to stop learning when I got my bachelor's in Biology. I knew that it wouldn't be the finish line, because it is just a stepping stone that is going to get me to where I want to go. I looked at juniors and seniors in my major and got as much as advice from them as I could. I also weighed the options of what I could do with a bachelors degree, versus what I could do if I furthered my degree. The classes you take greatly impact what you are able to do in my particular field, so that had to be thought out. There are so many prerequisites to fulfill if you want to go on in the sciences, and many may not be included in what your major requires that you take. Early on, I looked at the prerequisites required for all of the graduate programs that I was interested in, and took those classes. That is really important to do, otherwise you will graduate and have to enroll in a community college to take a few more courses before being able to start grad school. 

What advice do you have for someone that is interested in applying?

Talking to your friends and family is really helpful because they notice things about you that you either do not notice or will not admit about yourself. There really is value to be gained from other people’s opinions. I am lucky to have a family who is medically oriented because they could both speak to my interests and help me throughout the application process. Being self-aware has really helped me to know what I like, what I don't like, and what my weaknesses and strengths are. Recognizing my capabilities allows me to know that I will be able to tackle grad school. I love to learn, and I know I will excel. I am not burnt out quite yet.

Do you think it is advisable to tell people to understand what their goal is in going to graduate school?

I definitely think it is important for people to have a goal going into graduate school, especially because going to grad school is likely going to introduce you to a lot of debt. I would not want to invest years of my life, and thousands of dollars, into something that I was not confident that I wanted to do. When you think about going to grad school, it is not just a program, it is a season of life that you are going to be in. Not only do you have to evaluate the program based on it’s credentials, you are also discerning if you are going to be able to do well with your faith, be in a good community, and be able to live out your vocation while going there. Also, what is going in your immediate family is important. Do you have siblings or family members that you want to be able to watch grow, or are you willing to move far away and miss that? In addition, if you are in a serious relationship and about to get married, that may impact your decision process as well. There are so many non-academic factors that have to be weighed, but for me, the biggest three were faith, finances, and family.

How did you choose Augusta University?

I had to decide how much I wanted to pursue a career in occupational therapy, and how much I would be willing to sacrifice to do that. Personally, my decision was driven by finances. It is so much more expensive to go to school out of state, and right now, I do not have anything that is drawing me out of state worth spending that much more money on. Among the OT programs I have looked into, there are a few great ones close to my hometown, and right now, my family is my base.

What kind of research did you do when you were looking at graduate programs? On what details did you focus your search?

I searched schools in Georgia and found the basic list, then I asked friends of mine who had gone to occupational therapy school about what they knew about those schools and their reputations. I also was interested in knowing about the student body. For example, one of the really good schools I was looking at had a student body entirely made up of girls. That steered me away from that school because I want to be around all kinds of people. I also chose schools in a certain location because I know the kind of area that I want to be living in for the next two years. In addition, of course, I looked into the financial side. For example, of my top schools, one was private, one was public. Those have very different expenses.

Augusta is a really good school with a great program, and a well accredited faculty and staff. I went to an open house there this summer and I learned so much about their values, as well as all of the mission trip fieldwork opportunity that they offer. It is very clear that they have a strong emphasis on service and compassion, which after going to Ave, I found very attractive. I knew that if I went there, I could live at home for free, which would save me from taking out thousands of dollars in loans. I applied to Augusta just because everything was pointing in that direction. For me, it had the best program that I had seen, it was the most affordable, and I would be able to be with my family. I prayed about the decision a lot and I felt like the Lord was opening all these doors for me, leading to Augusta.

If you were to have gone into an academic masters program, for example, a Ph.D in Biochemistry, instead of a professional masters program like you have decided to pursue, how do you think your discernment would have been different? 

Dr. Barbosa tried to talk to a few of the people in our Organic Chem class about going on to become biochemists, and I thought about it for a quick second. However, I realized that there is a difference between what you enjoy learning, and what your goals are for the future. For me, I enjoy learning simply for the sake of learning, but my long-term goal is to be able to use what I have learned to help people in the field of medicine. 

I think that if I had had the goal of going into an academic masters program, I would have sought out a school with the top professors in the field I was interested in, and looked into the connections that university could have offered me. It would also be very important to know if they had up-to-date labs and equipment for the kind of experience that I needed. Top-of-the-line technology is crucial in the sciences. If you are pursing academia, I do think that you have other things to consider. 

Do you have any advice for application process itself?

Check all of the deadlines for the programs that you are interested in. Make sure that you know what standardized tests you need to take, and how far in advance you need to take them in order for them to meet the application deadline of the schools you plan on applying to. You need to think about how long before those dates you need to start studying for the tests as well. Your timeline is huge. Also, if you plan to ask professors for letters of recommendation, you need to ask for those way in advance. You want to be respectful of the people that you are asking and give them plenty of time, because they are all so busy.

What would an ideal application timeline look like?

You should be creating a timeline during your junior year, and making sure that everything you need is going to be accomplished by the deadlines. A huge realization for me, was that you don't have until May of your senior year to decide what you want to be when you grow up. You need to be thinking of that long before, and I think so many people don't realize that. If you are a freshman or a sophomore, you should still be looking into these things and doing everything that you can to prepare. This is not like high school where grades during your freshman and sophomore years don't really matter, everything counts. Get involved! Do some service. Run for SGA. Go on mission trips. Study abroad. We have so many awesome opportunities here at Ave…do not miss out on them.

When you look back on your own experience at Ave Maria, are you happy with the way that you’ve done things?

Yes, but I think I would still change the way I did some things if I could. I did not realize until my senior year that it is okay if you don’t go straight into things. I sort of wish I had cut myself some slack, in all honesty. I think that it is really important to enjoy your college career, and if you get too caught up in getting a 4.0, you’ll let it slip by. I do care a lot about my grades and my involvements, so I am very fortunate that I have friends that call me out when I’m being antisocial. I just trust that where I am right now is where I'm supposed to be, and God is going to use it for the best.

What is your view is on gap years? Do you have a general philosophy as to when to take one?

I think gap years are very situation based. Personally, I think they are abused because many people don’t put in the preparation that they should in order to move on after college, and it is for that reason that they take a gap year. I don't think you need to take a gap year, but you shouldn't write people off as being failures if they take one. There is a lot of wisdom to be gained in a gap year, and in this time of life when we are growing so much, some people can get so much out of one. Having another year of experience isn't a bad thing, and it can help you in the long run. You don’t want to jump into something before you know that it is what you want to do. You don’t need to be a full blown adult when you are 22. 

Any final thoughts?

Don’t let fear of the future keep you from living in the present. Satan tries to make us fear to keep us from what we are called to be doing and experiencing. If we let him control our thoughts, we will miss the moment that we are in.