Connections that Count

This is how a career begins. At Hartwick.

Bryandt Stevens and Artist-in-Residence Steven NanniBryandt Stevens ’20 Found his Voice

Life changed for Bryandt Stevens ’20 the day he auditioned for Hartwick’s music program. The nerves he felt during his first college audition turned to panic when Artist-in-Residence Steven Nanni stopped him short.

“I thought he didn’t like my work,” Stevens recalls. “Instead he wanted me to find the real beauty of my voice.” Nanni chose different music and the audition began again. “We found his true voice that day,” Nanni says. “Bryandt is a bass, not a tenor as he had been told, and he has a strong instrument. The realization brought him to tears.”

Stevens will never forget that day, nor the teacher who has become his mentor. “Steven Nanni told me, ‘We don’t look for perfection, we look for potential.’ That has stuck with me.”

Four years later, Stevens says, “My voice wouldn’t be where it is without his guidance, and I wouldn’t be the man that I am. I feel comfortable talking with him about anything. He understands that I am a person, not just a voice.”

“I offer our students opportunities to develop confidence,” Nanni explains. “They need to feel safe enough to experiment and they need to trust that we believe in them.”

Smiling shyly, Stevens adds, “My mother is astonished by my growth.”

Mikaela Denisulk ’20 has Experience

With one thoughtful act, Sam Roods ’09 jumpstarted the career of a Hartwick student he had never met. Roods shared an internship offered by the Albany Damien Center, a non-profit that provides services for individuals living with HIV/AIDS. At the time he worked in development there; now he is a Policy Analyst for the New York eHealth Collaborative.

Sam Roods

Milaela Denisulk '20

Posting on Hartwick’s career services portal ( was “the least I can do for Hartwick,” Roods says. His move made all the difference to Mikaela Denisulk ’20, who landed the position that aligned perfectly with her interests. A public health and history major, she spent a J Term in South Africa, where HIV/AIDS is prevalent; has studied epidemiology with her advisor, Stephanie Carr ’06, PhD; and now has experience analyzing member demographics and presenting her findings.

The research made sense to Denisulk, who says, “We have to understand what our members need so that we can improve our programs. Numbers don’t mean anything; you have to talk to the population.” Presenting her results, however, proved a challenge for the up-and-coming professional who previously avoided public speaking.

“My experience at Damien was a skill builder in so many ways,” Denisulk explains. “I ran staff implementation meetings on electronic health records and presented new information on how programs affect members.”

“It has been really exciting to watch Mikaela develop,” observes Carr. “She is more confident in herself now and where her life is going.”

Kathy Fallon ’88 is on the Lookout for TalentKathy Fallon '88 and Elsa Bock '18

Student Showcase is aptly titled. This annual event gives young researchers, practitioners, and interns opportunities to present their best work. Turns out, it’s also a great forum for recruiting.

Trustee Kathy Fallon ’88 is always there: listening, learning, and watching. “I notice students who are confident presenters,” she says. “Their subject matter may not be applicable to my work, but I’m drawn to their charisma.” Fallon is a Practice Area Director in the Boston headquarters of Public Consulting Group, Inc. (PCG), which focuses on addressing challenges and advancing change in the public sector.

Elsa Bock ’18 caught Fallon’s attention at Showcase. “Watching her present, I saw someone who would be good in client meetings,” Fallon recalls. “I knew we could train her in subject matter, so I gave her my card and said, ‘We hire. Get in touch.’” She did, and an interview soon followed.

“Talking about PCG, Kathy and I saw how their work aligned with my skills,” says Bock, who is now a Business Analyst in the company’s Albany office. This ISP/health communications major is working in the company’s aging and disabilities section doing site assessments and making recommendations to providers and agencies. “PCG has a lot of great opportunities and I’m taking full advantage,” Bock says. “I know I will be able to effect change on a large scale.”

Fallon is more than satisfied with the results. “Elsa is the kind of hire we look for — curious, hardworking, and easy with people,” she notes. “You can’t overestimate the value of interpersonal skills.”

“A disposition of intellectual curiosity is so important.”

— Kathy Fallon ’88


Dr. Min Chung and Neiva Fortes '22Professor Chungs says, “Call me Uncle”

“When I see our students, I think of my own daughter in college,” says Mathematics Department Chair Min Chung, PhD. “She is very quiet and never approaches people. I wonder, ‘Who is taking care of her?’”

Hartwick parents need not be concerned when their children enter Multivariable Calculus, Linear Algebra, or other such challenging classes. Whether these young people are full of confidence or apprehension, “Uncle Chung” is ready.

“Students don’t have to stress in my classes; I want ‘wrong’ answers,” Chung asserts. “I tell them, ‘Be brave. Say what you think.’” Quietly, individually, he adds, “Don’t worry. I will be your uncle.”

“I’d never had Professor Chung for class before taking Multivariable,” says mathematics and economics double major Neiva Fortes ’22. “It’s not an easy course, but he made us comfortable in making mistakes.” Soon the entire class, mostly non-majors, settled down.

“And we started showing up — in Uncle Chung’s office,” Fortes remembers. “We talked about everything, shared our music, and learned about each other.” Months after the course ended, they still have lunch together in the Commons. Chung calls these gatherings “family reunions” that often include friends.

Fortes lives in Massachusetts and has no family nearby. In class or out, “Uncle Chung is there for me every time,” she says, smiling at the value of this gift. “Someday I want to be a math professor. I want to be an ‘auntie’ for my students.”

“Students are changing. Mentoring should be changing, too.”

— Professor Min Chung

Emma Aleksandrovic ’20 Found her Focus

Emma Aleksandrovic ’20 gained skills, experience, and confidence working for the Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC, last summer. Her mentor was Patrick Hanley ’06, PhD, Director of the Cellular Therapy Laboratory in the Center for Cancer and Immunology Research of Children’s National and an Assistant Research Professor of Pediatrics at The George Washington University.

Emma Aleksandrovic '20

Patrick Hanley '06

“Emma worked with our process development team, pursuing a new idea and testing a new tool,” Hanley explains, noting that her work was part of recent developments in cancer therapy through the Program for Cell Enhancement and Technologies for Immunotherapy (CETI). “She made things work with very little oversight, knew when to ask for help, and in the end, her experiments worked. She had far and away more data than any other summer student; I was very impressed.”

The opportunity helped Aleksandrovic outline her future. “That’s what I wanted from this experience — to find out if I can and if I want to do this,” she says of cancer research. “Now I know I can, and I do.”

Once uncertain about graduate school, Aleksandrovic now has the confidence to apply to some of the nation’s top MD/PhD programs. “Patrick offered to write me a letter of recommendation,” she says, still amazed. “I didn’t even have to ask.”

Hanley offered encouragement, and attention, throughout her internship. “Patrick is the director, and he travels the world, so he was rarely in the lab,” she recalls, noting that her supervisor was Dr. Chris Lazarski. “But Patrick often checked on me and my work. He was very interested in teaching me as much as he can — not just about lab techniques, but also about immunology.”

It was at Hartwick that Aleksandrovic’s general interest in biology developed into a focus on biochemistry. “I wasn’t sure I was smart enough to do it,” she recalls. “Now I know that with hard work I can do almost anything I want.” Her Hartwick experience is proof. Aleksandrovic is a biochemistry / pre-med major and a John Christopher Hartwick Scholar; she’s done research with Professors Eric Cooper, Catie Minogue, Andy Piefer, and Stan Sessions; and she’s gaining experience as a laboratory technician in Hartwick’s Center for Craft Food & Beverage (CCFB).

This spring Aleksandrovic will present her Children’s Research Institute work at the American Society for Biology & Molecular Biology (ASBMB) national conference; Hanley has already given her feedback on her poster. “It’s one thing to go in the lab, do the work, then regurgitate,” he observes. “It’s another thing to be able to present your results so that the audience understands. Presenting in front of peers and mentors is really challenging.”

Their connection began last spring, when Professor Stan Sessions invited Hanley back to campus to make a presentation on his work. “I talked with some promising young students, including Emma,” Hanley recalls of the introduction that led to the internship. “I had no idea she would be so successful. Emma doesn’t see what she does as exceptional, but it is.”

“Emma is striving to be the best.”

— Patrick Hanley ’06


Jan Mitchell ’71 Opened a Side Door

A political science major, Brianna McKenzie ’16 was contemplating law school when she met Hartwick trustee Jan Mitchell ’71. The two bonded quickly and continued to meet whenever the Board was on campus. Now, Mitchell says, their “lasting connection has turned into a nice friendship.”

Brianna McKenzie '16

Jan Mitchell '71

McKenzie recalls their first meeting. “Ms. Mitchell said, ‘Look me up, I know lawyers.’ She put me in touch with her network of friends — attorneys in different aspects of the field. I’m so thankful for those informational interviews and the knowledge these professionals shared. They helped me answer my question: ‘How can I help people move through change?’”

It turns out law school was not next, though she still plans to earn a graduate degree before age 30. Instead, McKenzie embarked on a career of service. As an officer with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services of Homeland Security, she processes immigration benefits and documents. And so much more.

“My parents were immigrants, so I know I’m changing people’s lives,” she says. “That gives me instant gratification.”
A year with Americorps Vista working to prevent juvenile delinquency gave McKenzie “a foot in the door” of government service, she says. Further discussions with Mitchell’s network led to two job interviews and an offer — opportunities “that wouldn’t have happened without Ms. Mitchell.”

Mitchell brought more than her contacts to the mix; she also lent guidance and insights from her own varied career as a commissioned Army officer who became a leader in corporate training and development. Now retired, she continues to be a Hartwick woman of influence.

Kevin Blake ’17 Channels his MentorsProfessor Mary Allen, Professor Susan Navarette and Kevin Blake '17

Doctoral student Kevin Blake ’17 connects two worlds. The English and biology major is now pursuing a PhD in plant and microbial biosciences at Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL). He’s also written about microbiology for the WUSTL news site, The Source, and the American Society for Microbiology blog, Small Things Considered.

“My very different majors forced me to use both sides of my brain,” Blake says. “While the challenges were additive, the benefits were synergistic.”

At Hartwick, Blake says, “I saw that science writing was the perfect way to combine my interests into a unique professional niche.” Biology Professor Mary Allen was “the perfect guide for my first explorations,” he remembers, noting her use of popular science books as teaching tools.

“Kevin continuously pushed me beyond my own knowledge and my own experience,” Allen says of supervising Blake’s directed study in science writing. “I like it when students move me in a new direction.”

English Professor Susan Navarette first worked with Blake in her upper level course on Bleak House, a novel that “shows Dickens’ rigorous understanding of small pox,” she says. “That spoke to Kevin and presented a confluence of his interests. He wrote a brilliant essay that showed his ability to analyze.”

“Dr. Navarette helped me take my writing to the next level,” Blake explains. Now he does the same for his students at WUSTL. As a teaching assistant for a writing-intensive biology course, he says, “I try to channel both Dr. Allen and Dr. Navarette.”

Louise Hecker ’00 Pays it ForwardLouise Hecker '00 and Professor Stan Sessions

It’s been more than 20 years since Louise Hecker ’00, PhD, mustered the courage to ask Biology Professor Stan Sessions, PhD, if she could join his lab to undertake a research project. “I was never the best classroom student,” she says, explaining her trepidation. He met her request with reluctance, but agreed to what became a pivotal experience.

“The research changed me,” Hecker asserts. “It gave me an opportunity to excel and be unique.”

The first steps toward what has become an exceptional career were unsteady at times. “Not everything I did worked by any means,” Hecker says of her early research. That was especially true of her senior thesis with Sessions’ guidance in his area of expertise: regeneration in amphibians. He designed a new study that required surgery on frog tadpoles’ limb buds. “When her first batch of tadpoles died, she cried; then started again,” Sessions recalls. “Louise was determined.”

“I stuck with it and by the end had developed a body of work,” Hecker says. “That motivated me to do more.” So did taking first place when she presented her research at the Beta Beta Beta Biological Honor Society regional and national conferences. The results led to two publications with Sessions as well as Geffrey Stopper ’00, PhD, and Adam Franssen ’99, PhD. One of their papers took the cover of the Journal of Experimental Zoology.

“Undergraduate students with their names on publications get into graduate and professional schools, and get the jobs,” observes Sessions, thinking of Hecker’s first position out of college. “Binghamton University’s lab wanted someone with a master’s, but Louise had the experience and the publications, so she got the job.” The University paid her to earn her master’s in biological sciences; she went on for a master’s in cell and developmental biology and a doctorate in applied physics from the University of Michigan.

Advanced research followed, including a postdoc in lung injury-repair responses at Michigan. Soon Hecker was producing breakthrough results in her own lab at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where she paid it forward by hiring two Hartwick undergraduates as research interns. (Kayla Murphy ’14 is now a PhD candidate at Drexel University; Grace Mele ’14, DO, is a resident at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital.)

Hecker’s work was “getting a lot of attention,” Sessions says with pride, and soon she was being “heavily recruited” by other universities. She chose the University of Arizona College of Medicine — Tucson. A tenured associate professor, she has brought in more than $7 million in research support in just five years. “Louise is working on Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, an insidious disease,” Sessions explains. “At Arizona she’s been able to conduct research on her own terms: she only accepts undergraduates.”

“That decision came directly from my experience at Hartwick,” Hecker says. “I invest in my students just as Stan invested in me.” She recently invited her mentor to present to her colleagues at the University of Arizona where, he says, “she rolled out the red carpet.”

“Having done well enables freedom,” Hecker explains. “That includes continuing to collaborate with Stan; he energizes me.”

“Stan has been there for every jump in my life. Ups and downs, he’s still the one I reach out to.”

— Louise Hecker ’00

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