Excellence for the sake of something greater
Santa Clara University’s prestigious alumni look back on what it means to be a DeNardo Scholar
When Katherine Bercovitz, DeNardo Senior Prize recipient of 2013, was asked for the defining moment in her college career that steered her onto the path she walks today, her answer came easily. “I heard the quote from [international relations and comparative politics] professor Greg Corning: ‘You can go a lot of places and be excellent for the sake of being excellent, but at Santa Clara University you will be excellent for the sake of something else.’ That’s when I knew to choose SCU.”
The goal of the DeNardo Science Scholars program -- a division of the DeNardo Lectureship in the Health Sciences funded generously by Drs. Gerald and Sally DeNardo -- is to cultivate scholars who recognize that their own excellence can be a vehicle for positive change, and that the achievements of one person can be translated into benefits for all of humanity. For ten years, the DeNardo Scholars program has awarded outstanding undergraduate students stipends that allow them to work with a faculty mentor and complete extensive research projects throughout the academic year and over summer.
These students all share the desire to excel in the field of health sciences, and the DeNardo Science Scholar program has produced alumni pursuing careers in a multiplicity of health-science-related fields, including medicine, biotechnology, and academia. As the program enters its second decade, twelve DeNardo alumni returned to campus to speak about how the program shaped them.
Completing research projects as an undergraduate is significant for students applying to medical school, Ph.D. programs, or pursuing opportunities within the fields of biotechnology and biological research. What sets experiential learning at SCU apart from other universities is the fact that all research projects are completed solely by undergraduate students, as opposed to competing for lab space with graduate students.
The DeNardo Scholars took advantage of opportunities that pushed them to work on their own, choosing projects that not only augmented what they were learning in the classroom, but also kept the ideals of Jesuit education in mind. It became second nature to DeNardo Scholars to frame their research within achieving the greater good and never to stop asking how their discoveries can ultimately help people.
A resounding sentiment echoed by the entire panel was how the DeNardo Scholar program gave them an overwhelming sense of community. It was evident that each scholar developed a unique and deeply personal relationship with their faculty mentor. Michael Hayes, M.D. was one of the first ever DeNardo Scholars and was awarded grants to complete research at SCU from 2008 to 2010. As he prepares to complete his final year of residency in Internal Medicine at Oregon Health & Science University, he looks back and reflects: “Being in a small institution resulted in more attention on each of us. The DeNardo award gave us support that let us do work that we were ultimately very proud of with the help of our mentor. It was an incredibly unique experience having that support starting from my undergraduate career.”
Other alumni were thankful for the DeNardo Scholar program for giving them an outlet to think independently. Being a part of the program involves proposing a unique research project. When Hayley Raquer, recipient of the 2016 DeNardo Senior Prize, was asked how independent research prepared her for her career, she confidently stated, “You don't realize what a gift it really is to be asked to think for yourself. When you get into the real world, not everyone is going to ask you what you think. You can't teach someone how to think or give someone the confidence to use their own voice. I think being a DeNardo Scholar didn't teach me any other way of learning than to think for myself and express those opinions, and to be able to say why it matters to me.” Haley is currently a research fellow at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease and will enter a Ph.D. program in immunology at Stanford University this fall as one of the inaugural Knight-Hennessy Scholars. This multidisciplinary scholarship program aims to develop innovative and collaborative global leaders---a natural move from the DeNardo Scholar program.
By investing in the advancement of the sciences while incorporating the ideals of Jesuit education, the DeNardo Science Scholar program is responsible for developing exactly the type of scientists needed for today’s changing world. DeNardo Scholars understand that scientific advancement itself isn’t enough to solve unmet medical needs---it takes an ethical approach, exploring the curiosities of the mind, and always maintaining the pursuit of being excellent for the sake of something greater.