Katie DeFonzo is a graduating senior in the current Honors class who is incredibly involved on and off campus. Double majoring in History and Spanish and minoring in Medieval Studies, Katie works as a research assistant for The Bronx African American History Project through Fordham’s history program. She also gives tours of the Fraunces Tavern Museum in Manhattan, acts as an ESL tutor at St. Rita’s Immigration Center, works on both the Copy Editing and Peer Editing staffs of the Fordham Undergraduate Research Journal, leads retreats through Campus Ministry, plays second violin in the orchestra, and sings in the Schola Cantorum. Finally, she has been involved with the Honors Service and Social Justice Committee since its beginning and has become one of the committee’s chairs, passionately helping to plan events that allow Honors students serve their community.
I had the chance to speak with her about Honors, her role in the Service and Social Justice Committee, and her post-graduation plans.
From your time in Honors, do you have a favorite event or a favorite thing about the program in general? I really like sophomore year, being able to go to the [AJCU] Honors Conference. In terms of my favorite part about the program in general, I like how cohesive it is and how you can see a lot of continuity between classes; I love when something we are talking about in literature comes up in my history class. I’m really looking forward to the Last Lecture tomorrow and I love the community and the events we have, like the Christmas party and the barbeque. I like how it’s more than just a learning community — it’s a community of friends in a lot of ways.
So you mentioned that you’ve been a chair of the Service and Social Justice Committee basically since its beginning. How did you become involved with that project? Sophomore year when Dr. Keller became the director of the [Honors] program and started the Student Advisory Council, she asked us what we wanted to see, which was really nice. Someone put forth the idea that there should be a committee for service and social justice and that seemed really interesting to me so I put my name on the list. My junior year I became a chair [of the committee] and started to help plan the events that we do. It’s been really rewarding and I’m happy that I became involved with that subcommittee in particular.
What is your favorite event that you’ve done with that group? We’ve done a lot of different things, but I really like one program we did earlier this year, which involved distributing food to residents in an apartment complex in the Bronx with Meals on Wheels. That was really special because we got to meet and deliver food personally to each resident so we could see immediately where our help was going.
What are your post-grad plans? I’m going to Catholic University in Washington, D.C. for their dual Masters degree program in history and library science. I chose [that program] really because of the internship I had over the summer at the Museum of American History in D.C.; I realized how important not only a knowledge of history is, but also how being able to make that history accessible to people really matters. I think that this dual Masters degree program will be a great way to do that.
Jennifer Rutishauser, a pre-med double major in biology and history, will be graduating in the spring as the Valedictorian of the Class of 2017 and is planning on working in the realm of pediatric oncology. I had the opportunity to talk with her about her favorite moments in the Honors program, the research she has done for her senior thesis, and her plans for after graduation.
Q:What are some of your favorite things about Honors? Do you have a favorite memory?
Jenn: I really like the social community you get with Honors; obviously, freshmen and sophomore year you’re in the same class with all the familiar faces but it also establishes who your best friends are. For me, all of my best friends that I have now are people that are in Honors even though we don’t have classes together now. It established my group for college. I also just really like how Honors set me up to do better later in college; it gave me a really good foundation in terms of it being strenuous but giving me good writing and foundational skills.
My year of Honors we played a game of Assassin sophomore year. At our interdisciplinary seminar it was down to three of us and we had this rule where if you were holding a spoon you were safe; so I was holding my spoon and one of my friends, Dom, who was also still in, was holding his spoon and Dr. Keller, who didn’t know me because I hadn’t been in her class, came up and we were explaining it to her. She was like, “Oh so if I take Jenn’s spoon you win, Dom?” and he told her yes so all of a sudden she came up behind me and started attacking me to get the spoon. This was basically my first interaction with Dr. Keller so that was pretty great. It’s so hard to pick one favorite memory because I feel like there’s so many but that’s one that sticks out.
Q: What is your Senior Thesis about?
Jenn: I’m examining the role of a particular protein in the process of cell differentiation. So differentiation is a process through which a cell becomes committed to a certain phase, and so I’m looking at skin cells. The cells that we see as skin are terminally differentiated and I’m looking at the effect that this protein called PYK-2 has on differentiation. The main way that I’m doing that is that I’m looking at a cell line that has this protein and then at another where this protein has been removed and then you differentiate the cell lines in tandem and see what the differences are between the two.
Q: What are your post-grad plans?
Jenn: I’m applying to medical school this June so I’m not going straight in but I definitely still feel very strongly and passionately about going into medicine. I just recently got accepted into a gap-year program at Kuchnir Dermatology & Dermatologic Surgeon (KDDS), which is a private practice outside of Boston that has developed a program specially intended for students on their gap year between college and medical school. I’ll be acting as a medical assistant, basically doing anything that you can do without a medical degree, so assisting the doctors and gaining clinical experience. I’m really excited about that; I’ll be there from June through July 2018 so the idea is that’s what I’ll do while I’m applying and going into medical school.
Monica Sobrin, a Women’s Studies and English double major with a minor in history, was initially drawn to Fordham because of its focus on being “men and women for and with others.” The emphasis that the university and its professors put on social justice and improving society strongly influenced her career path, allowing her to become the impressive advocate that she is today.
CO-FOUNDING THE STUDENTS UNITED ORGANIZATION During her sophomore year, Monica was very involved in anti-sexual violence activism on campus. in the middle of the fall semester, she joined student activists from all over New York City to found the Students United Organization. This group collaborated with government representatives to change and advocate for the Enough is Enough legislation, which was passed in July 2015 with aspects of all four of the Students United Organizations’ main additions.
MENTORING OTHERS THROUGH IT’S ON US After being inspired by the students she met through Students United, Monica went on to become one of 28 Student Advisory Committee representatives for It’s On Us:
“I just had so many amazing mentors who were juniors and seniors, mostly from Columbia [University]. They mentored me and helped me build my network and my confidence about things that I was really passionate about. I wanted to be this mentor for others.” As the sole representative from New York and one of six in the northeast, Monica acts as a liaison between students, government offices, and national partners in order to help individuals enact change on their own campuses.
WORKING WITH SENATOR KIRSTEN E. GILLIBRAND More recently, Monica worked in the New York office of U.S. Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, handling casework and interacting with constituents to aid them in connecting with federal agencies. She noted that her work in the office was bittersweet, being that they were able to save lives in some cases, but were also acutely aware of how many people they would not be able to help.
Looking forward, she is going to miss her time at Fordham, especially after looking back on fond memories of apple picking with Professor Jude Jones and Dr. Keller and attending the last interdisciplinary symposium in prom attire. However, Monica is also eager to start making a difference on a larger scale: “I feel ready to move on. Given the current socio-political climate, we need as many people on the ground as possible and I’m excited to go in and give my all to these issues that I care about at such an important time. It will be a tough fight, but I feel like my time at Fordham prepared me for it and I am ready.”