In its 160 years, La Salle University has traditionally served a predominantly undergraduate student population. That stands to reason, with more than 44 innovative undergraduate majors and minors to meet the academic interests of students and the professional needs of employers in industry.
What sets La Salle apart, however, is the number of students who earn selection into and complete doctoral-degree programs—some at nationally renowned universities. They span academic courses of study, as well, from chemistry and biochemistry, to public health, nursing, and the languages.
“One the most important aspects of faculty mentoring is to encourage our students to pursue post-graduate degrees,” said Shivanthi Anandan, Ph.D., provost and vice president of academic affairs. “La Salle University has a long and successful tradition of doing this. Our students are highly accomplished and intellectually very capable of postgraduate studies.”
Here, four alumni share where they continued their education, what drove them to pursue a doctoral degree, and how their time at La Salle shaped their next academic journey.
Sulianie Mertus, MPH ’17
Mertus is studying adolescent sexual health in her public health education doctoral program at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. “This specific research area is important or inspiring to me because it is such a large component of development for adolescents that goes on to impact their health into adulthood,” she explained. One of the biggest misconceptions of her research area is that many think teaching children and adolescents about sexuality will encourage them to have sex. “Sexuality education goes beyond the act and is more focused on ensuring holistic healthy development for this population,” she said. Her time at La Salle provided the necessary skills that have helped her thrive in a Ph.D. program, including conducting independent research and producing publications, and professional presentations. “I also gained a great deal of leadership skills that have allowed me to gain leadership roles in national health associations and organizations,” Mertus said. “The program at La Salle allowed me to become a wellrounded public health professional.”
Jacob Garwood, ’20
At La Salle, Garwood studied the chemical composition of honey bee propolis with William A. Price, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. That experience provided Garwood, who’s been a beekeeper since middle school, with a strong background in organic lab skills to support his organic chemistry Ph.D. studies at The Ohio State University. “I think it’s really important to pursue what you love and what you find interesting—that will help drive you far,” Garwood said. Many people are surprised to hear that he doesn’t take lecture classes at OSU, he said. “My program uses research-based training, so I only had classes in my first year, and the rest of my credits are fulfilled by working fulltime in the lab running reactions and trying to make exciting new discoveries,” Garwood said. A large part of his work includes presenting research to the team every week. It’s in these meetings where he taps into his La Salle education. “I use a lot of the critical reasoning and thinking skills I developed in my classes in the Honors Program and the leadership and global understanding minor now as I think through challenging chemical problems,” Garwood added. “The public speaking skills I honed as a campus tour guide and the writing skills I gained through The Collegian (student newspaper) have really helped me develop my skills as a science communicator.”
Gwendolyn Damestoit, ’17, MPH
As a public policy Ph.D. student at University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), where her work concentrates on emergency medical services, Damestoit is looking to enhance her knowledge regarding disaster response and recovery. At La Salle, Damestoit realized her passion for studying vulnerable populations and learning about general environmental health impacts and outcomes through her work at La Salle. Currently, Damestoit is working on a project that examines environmental injustice in Haiti. “This project is particularly important to me because I am a first-generation Haitian, and almost everyone I love is Haitian. Contributing research to this field is ultimately important because it has potential to influence several areas of infrastructure in Haiti,” she said.
Katie Hummel Sandoval, ’14, PH.D.
In an English language and literature doctoral program at the University of Michigan, Hummel Sandoval studied literatures written in English in places like West Africa and South Asia. By examining these texts, she explored how colonization throughout the 20th century contributed to contemporary environmental issues. After earning her Ph.D., she pivoted her career to instructional design—a field where she incorporates many practical skills from her program into her field today. She’s proudest, she said, of a project she completed in the summer of 2019. “I led a team of undergraduate interns in an archival history project to organize, interpret, and repurpose the archives of the Ecology Center of Ann Arbor for a public-facing website, in honor of the center’s 50th anniversary in 2020,” she said. “The experience gave me tremendous insight into how college students can benefit from hands-on learning, which I was able to bring to my current
workplace by helping design a new intern program that we’re launching in January 2023.” Hummel Sandoval credits translation exercises in Spanish classes at La Salle and her background in the humanities for providing invaluable skills. “Studying literature requires being open to multiple interpretations rather than being satisfied with one concrete answer. And, at the end of the day, it is vital to know how to communicate, to write effectively in your own authentic voice, and to stand in your convictions with evidence to support them.”