Featured Alum 2/16: Anna Birg, Biochemistry 2014

Anna Birg with fiance, Ryan, at her white coat ceremony.

Anna Birg with fiance, Ryan, at her white coat ceremony.

As a second year pharmacy student at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center here in Memphis, I am in the midst of my academic career and working toward my Doctorate of Pharmacy diploma in May, 2018. While the coursework can get a bit overwhelming at times, I have been utilizing the skills that I developed at Christian Brothers University ever since I graduated as a Biochemistry major in 2014, and I have been very active in several organizations on campus.

Of particular interest, I am one of the Chairs of a campus organization committee called Operation Immunization, in which pharmacy students go out into the community and immunize patients. Around this time of year, giving the flu shot has been our primary goal, and we have participated in many events around town, including retail pharmacies and hospitals as well as churches and health fairs. This committee has already been able to immunize over 4,000 people, and we’re working on many more! Being able to organize events like these remind me so much of CBU’s September of Service (SOS) initiative, in which CBU students, faculty, staff, and even alumni participate in a service activity every day during September. I was able to be an SOS leader during my junior and senior years of my undergraduate career, and I love being able to continue carrying out that CBU tradition in this unique pharmacy-related way. The involvement at I have obtained at CBU has significantly impacted how I viewed such opportunities at UT College of Pharmacy (UTCOP). Instead of being intimidated by the organizations, professors, and other coursework, I have been taking advantage of all that the college has to offer by being involved in the things that interest me most.

Although I still have over 2 years before I become a Doctor of Pharmacy, I have been thinking about what types of things I would want to do once I graduate. Last summer, I did my introductory rotations, an aspect of the UTCOP curriculum in which students are assigned to a site to work alongside a pharmacist who guides and explains aspects of their career. I particularly enjoyed my rotation at Methodist Hospital in Germantown, where I spent time with two inpatient pharmacists, who played an integral role in the management of anticoagulation therapy for their patients. I could also see that their duties to both their healthcare team and patients encompassed a wide array of responsibilities and knowledge, which served as yet another motivator for my future career.

Anna Birg wins the 2014 Dominic Dunn award!

Anna Birg wins the 2014 Dominic Dunn award!

As I reflect on my educational experiences and what will be next, I often find myself being thankful that I had the opportunity to attend CBU. Not only did I obtain a high quality education that prepared me for the great volume of work that is expected in graduate school, but I was shaped into a better person by my peers, teachers, and even the CBU atmosphere. I am now a more outgoing, passionate, and motivated person. These qualities have allowed me to succeed throughout pharmacy school thus far, and I hope they will continue to do so as I embark on my career in just a few short years.

Featured Alum: Patrice McKinney, Computer Science 2006

Patrice McKinney with her son

Patrice McKinney with her son

I graduated from CBU in May of 2006 with a major in Computer Science and a minor in Mathematics.  The summer before completing my degree, I had the honor of interning with the best company in the Memphis area, FedEx.  It was then that I learned my goal of one day becoming a VP with the company could be a reality.  So I worked hard to ensure that I would obtain my degree in spite of finding out that I was pregnant.  With the help and encouragement of teachers like Dr. Y, Ms. Cathy Carter (Grilli), Dr. Bedrossian, and Dr. Peacher-Ryan, I pushed forward with a zeal to not give up, but to finish what I started.  And exactly six weeks after giving birth to my son, I became the first person in my family to walk across a collegiate stage and to be presented with a degree.

Shortly afterwards, I was hired by a local company, by the name of Primacy Relocation, in their IT department as an Associate Programmer.  And one week before my three month contract was to end, FedEx posted a position in the Career center at CBU.  I immediately completed the application; and after a month long hiring process, I became a full time employee of FedEx.

While I enjoyed my job and career with FedEx, the economy was starting to change and as a company everyone took a 5% pay deduction.  I realized that I needed to do something different in order to sustain my family.  So I made the hard and challenging decision to leave the company of my dreams to work for a small startup, called DREAM Software.  While being a part of a much smaller development team; I experienced how to lead projects, negotiate with third party vendors, and conduct meetings with vendors, directors, and CEOs.

After one year, I decided that I had gained  enough knowledge and new skillsets to apply for higher positions within FedEx.  I received a phone call about a contracting position within the company’s Airline Technology organization.  And after several phone interviews I was hired for a contract-to-hire position.  And subsequently working a 6 month contract, I was hired again as a full time employee with the best company in the Memphis area, with a job title of Programmer Analyst Advisor.  I have been an intern, a contractor, and an employee with this company, but the ultimate goal is to become a VP.  While receiving several BZ awards with the team, I have also been inducted into the IT Hall of Fame.  Since completing my undergraduate degree, I have completed the Dale Carnegie Course of Leadership and currently taking training courses to obtain my PMP certification.

In December of 2013, I walked across a collegiate stage for the second time to receive my MBA.  My son, who is now 9, has been my biggest fan every step of the way.  And he motivates me to aim for stars, because landing on the moon is better than never taking off at all.  While I am not a VP today, the ultimate goal still stands.  And I will continue to work hard, be the best, and encourage and motivate those around me to do the same.

Featured Alum: Meghan Foard, Natural Science 2009

Meghan Ford at work

Meghan at work in the field

I am a Ph.D. student in the Environmental Science program at The University of Idaho, Moscow, and I have an M.S. in Environmental Science from Arkansas State University, Jonesboro.  I graduated from Christian Brother’s University (CBU) in 2009 with a Bachelors of Science in Natural Science and a minor in Biology.  Christian Brother’s University was a crucial element in preparing me for graduate school; the coursework was challenging but there were many resources at my disposal, the teachers were enthusiastic and engaging, and they were more than just teachers, they were mentors and friends.

When I started at CBU I was accustomed to high school and community college courses – where the material was relatively simple and much of the substance was out of date.  The first classes I took were Dr. Ross’s Comparative Vertebrate Analysis and Brother Edward’s Botany.  I was surprised at how comprehensive and challenging the coursework was, however, the courses were well organized and the labs were hands-on, allowing me to fully experience these subjects and to wholly understand them.  The professors augmented the courses, provided thorough explanations, and mentored students to ensue a solid foundation for any career in biological sciences.  This high quality instruction continued throughout the rest of my CBU education, and much of the knowledge I learned from the CBU courses is applied regularly in my graduate career.

Meghan at work in the lab

Meghan at work in the lab

In addition to the ample resources and excellent teaching, the instructors were always available to help me outside of class.  Furthermore, they helped me find my passion for plant ecology and teaching.  I did not know exactly what I wanted to do for my career when I started as CBU, I only knew that it would have something to do with biology.  Therefore, I took an array of plant and animal biology courses and through those I realized my goal – to research forest ecology and eventually become a professor.  I was unsure how to move forward, luckily Lynda Miller, Science Lab Coordinator, explained to me the processes and benefits of graduate school.  Furthermore, she sent me the advertisement for the graduate position at Arkansas State University, for which I was ultimately selected.  She and other professors frequently went above and beyond what is typical of undergraduate instruction, and I now know precisely the kind of teacher I want to be – just like them.

Meghan in the field

Meghan in the field

After receiving my bachelor’s degree from CBU I was accepted into the graduate program in Environmental Science at Arkansas State University advised by Dr. Travis Marsico.  In my master’s thesis research I investigated the mechanisms and consequences of the invasion of the woody shrub Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense Lour.) in bottomland hardwood forests – an ecosystem I became familiar with in Ecology at CBU.  My overarching research question was, What drives invasive species success? As a result of my research I am the first to supply empirical evidence that, 1) Chinese privet seeds are dispersed by water (hydrochory) in riverine wetlands. 2) Long term inundation of Chinese privet fruits greatly reduces their viability and germination rates, and 3) Chinese privet accelerates tree mortality in hydrologically altered riparian forests.  I concluded that Chinese privet initially invaded habitats adjacent to channelized portions of the Wolf River, resulting in drier conditions – a “novel niche.”  The long distance dispersal mechanism of hydrochory allowed Chinese privet to quickly colonize these “novel niches.”  Once established, Chinese privet competed with native oak species and reduced tree growth, ultimately leading to an early death of the native oaks.  You can read my full thesis at sites.google.com/site/meghanfoard.

I completed my Master’s in 2014 and immediately began pursuing my Ph.D.  I was accepted to the University of Idaho’s Environmental Sciences Program, and am advised by Dr. Phil Higuera in the Paleoecology and Fire Ecology Laboratory. My dissertation work is funded in part by the PalEON project, an NSF funded network that focuses on “assimilating long term data into ecosystem models.”  My research emphasis is on understanding growth-climate relationships of black and white spruce in floodplain boreal forests of central Alaska. If not for my education and relationships with professors at CBU I would have struggled to progress academically.  To this day, I continue to value the connections that were forged with my mentors and professors at CBU.

Featured Alum: Manish Patel, M.D., Biology 2005

Dr. Manny Patel

Dr. Manny Patel

I could remember as if it were yesterday,  my eyes transfixed upon a screen where many slides were flashing across my face.  The first slide would be something about the glomeruler filtration rate and the next about the loop of Henle.  These were one of many memories forged into my brain from my time at Christian Brothers University.  I graduated from the University in 2005 with a degree in Biology and entered into medical school at the University of Tennessee.  I came to an early realization on how much my education at CBU prepared me for the next step of my career.  Whether it was tutoring my medical student classmates about the intricacies of Histology taught to me by Dr. Ross, or relaying the highlights of the citric acid cycle, I have come to appreciate the dedication and effort each faculty member at CBU took to plan their lectures.

I would be re-missed if I did not mention the many activities and research opportunities I participated outside of CBU.  I was blessed and fortunate to spend a summer abroad researching the pharmacological effects of an anxiolytic drug on rats in an elevated plus maze while enjoying the beautiful weather in Florianopolis, Brazil through the MHIRT program.  The next summer, I participated in the pediatric oncology program (POE) at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.  However, the most rewarding experience I had at CBU was my summer abroad in Uganda again with MHIRT investigating the health disparities of individuals in a war torn region in Northern Uganda.

Dr. Manny Patel at work.

Dr. Manny Patel at work.

I spent several weeks traveling the Ugandan landscape, working amid the perils of a long drawn war that ravaged and laid waist to a country once known as the “Pearl of Africa.”  I worked long hours speaking with many individuals who were affected first hand by the war.  Accepted in many “homes” of many Acholi families, I learned first hand about their culture and way of life.  My time in Uganda did not end in Africa.  When I came back, I met with the officers of Beta Beta Beta,  and with the help of Dr. Ogilvie, started the annual “Bowling for Uganda” fundraiser for a non profit organization called Hope North which continues each November supporting various non-profits.

After completing my four years of medical school, I entered into a Diagnostic Radiology residency at the University of Alabama in Birmingham.  Five years later, I find myself typing this letter near completion of my musculoskeletal/sports radiology fellowship at UAB.   I have accepted a position with a Radiology practice in Nashville, where I will start the next chapter of my life.

However, my story could not have been written without the experiences I had at CBU.  Whether if it was studying countless hours for Dr. Fitzgerald’s Neuroscience course or working in a round house in Uganda, my experiences have taught me many things.  I’ve learned to live each day of my life by the simplistic notion that the content of a person’s character and beliefs are manifest during each waking moment, including those moments on even the best and worst days.  My appreciation for life and passion for patient care was fortified by my time at CBU.  I will never forget the opportunities afforded to me by the University to work with talented people and make both lifelong, personal relationships and personal friendships.

Manny -

Featured Alum: Binoy Shah, Pharm.D., Chemistry 2010

Binoy Shah

Binoy Shah

Binoy Shah, Chemistry 2010, graduated with a Pharm.D. from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and earned a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Memphis. He will soon be working as a Pharmacy Manager for Walgreens.  Binoy was at the health fair at CBU where he was part of a group that provided influenza, pneumococcal and tdap vaccinations to the CBU staff.  Below is from Binoy:

“First off, I would like to sincerely thanks all the professors and faculty that played a vital role in molding me into a successful professional. I would like to give special thanks to Drs. Merat, Dawson, Condren, and Busler for continuous support during my tenure at CBU. The rigorous chemistry program taught me many things one of which is prioritizing my tasks. Aside from the rigorous curriculum, I was also served as a resient assistant for Rozier Hall, where I further developed my leadership, teamwork, and communication skills.

“While attending UTHSC, I worked at Walgreens and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (SJRCH). At SJRCH, I was in charge of making chemotherapy for all the patients.”

Featured Alum: Dr. Jeff Brown, Biology 1997

This article is based on an e-mail to Dr. Malinda Fitzgerald from Dr. Jeff Brown, Biology 1997.

Dr. Jeff Brown

Dr. Jeff Brown

Dr. Fitz!

Hey good to hear from you.  I am glad you are teaching still at CBU.  The students value greatly from your presence.  I have been to the campus there to take my little ones for trick or treat, so I have seen some of the new buildings and so forth – really nice.  It seems like yesterday that I was in lab there with you but in fact, it has been 16 years!!  Time flys – truly.  You know I never got accepted to UT.  I ended up going to D.O. school in Kansas City.  I excelled there graduating in the top 10% of the class.  I felt a bit cheated that I did not get into UT.  That actually turned into a good thing – I am very competitive and hate to lose.  Lack of acceptance to MD school made me try even harder.  I scored in the 99th percentile on USMLE step 1 and 95th for Step 2.  I was made chief resident during my Anesthesia residency and got all kinds of great experience.  I went right to work at UAB doing general Anesthesia and then did a fellowship in Cardiac Anesthesia and TEE.  After several years there, I moved back to Memphis.

I said all this to point out that if someone REALLY wants to be a Doctor, then D.O. school is a good option.  I have NEVER had any trouble with credentialing, getting a job, pay or anyone questioning my skill/training.  Having said that—I would not encourage anyone to go into medicine now.  Things have changed so much since I started – declining reimbursement, sicker patients, greater government control-etc. The hours are hard and long. They do not stop when you get out in practice. 60-80 hour work weeks are the norm.  BUT I am very happy. I have great job satisfaction.  I am the only Doctor in my practice able to do Transesophageal Echocardiography.  Because of my background I am part of a select team that does a procedure called TAVR, transaortic valve replacement.  We replace people’s stenotic aortic valves percutaneously, through the femoral artery.  With the TEE I guide the valve to proper position.  We were the first team in TN to do this.  We were selected last year as “Healthcare Heros” and honored from great medical innovation by the Memphis Business Journal.

I married Debbie Conti (I doubt you would know her since she was not a sciences major)  We have two sons, Parker and Connor.  Overall, I have been very successful – but it has been more work than I could have imagined. I thank you very much for all the help you gave me while I was at CBU.  You were a great mentor and friend to me.  I wish you all the best.


Featured Alum 9/14: Reena Patel, Biology 2006 and MHIRT 2005


Bob Dalsania and Reena Patel at the TAS meeting in 2006

Bob Dalsania and Reena Patel at the TAS meeting in 2006

My name is Reena Patel and I graduated from Christian Brothers University in 2006 with a major in Biology. It has always been a life long passion of mine to become a physician. My interest in medicine began at a young age and I knew that medical school was the path for me. This decision was further solidified during my years at CBU. After struggling with the MCAT, I decided that I would not give up dream and pursued other options. I applied to medical school in the Caribbean and was accepted.  Initially, I was terrified at the thought of leaving home, but I knew I could not pass up this opportunity. I attended the American University of Antigua Medical school in September of 2007 and spent 16 months there completing my basic science courses. After that, I started my clinical rotations back in the states. Being a part of a foreign medical school had it challenges. I had to be extremely aggressive as far as trying to get my clinical rotations set up so that I did not lose time. I traveled to many places including Miami, Atlanta, New York, and Baltimore. Through my many experiences during my clinical rotations, I had finally decided that Family Medicine was the specialty that I wanted to pursue. The decision was simple. Family medicine would allow me to see all ages and a diversity of medical diagnoses. I applied to many programs throughout the states, mostly those closest to Memphis because I wanted to be close to home. Also being a foreign medical graduate, I knew that it would be much harder for me because I was competing with US graduates. I was very fortunate to receive many interview opportunities and was especially ecstatic when I got an interview at the UT Family Medicine Residency Program. I was sold immediately. I did rank UTFM number 1 on my match list and was very excited to learn that I would be joining their program starting July 1, 2012! As I am near to completing my 2nd year of residency, I am proud to say that I am going to be one of the Chief residents for our upcoming year. I am so thankful and blessed to do what I do. I love going to work and the diversity of medical problems that I face on a day-to-day basis always keeps my job interesting. On a typical day clinic day, I can see a newborn, teenager, adults, geriatric patient, and obstetric patients that come in for prenatal care and women with gynecological complaints. I am comfortable with managing ICU patients and delivering babies. My job is definitely what you would call full scope family medicine!


The 2006 biology presenters at the Research Poster Session

The 2006 biology presenters at the Research Poster Session

As I think about my 4 years at CBU, what I remember most is a strong science curriculum, excellent and caring professors, and camaraderie among the university.  It is that strong education that I received at CBU, which is the groundwork of the knowledge that I have acquired today.  Two notable professors that really impacted me were Dr. Fitzgerald and Dr. Ogilvie. I am glad that I chose to go to CBU and I know that the experiences and knowledge that I gained there have got me to the place I am at now. I have a little over 1 year of residency left and then hope to join a group practice in Memphis, Tennessee. I look forward to what my future brings!

Featured Alum 4/14: Ashley Wise Jett, Biology 2004

Ashley Wise Jett

Ashley Wise Jett

My name is Ashley Wise Jett. I earned a Bachelor’s in Science degree from Christian Brothers University in 2004, with a major in biology and minors in chemistry and psychology. I attended the University of Tennessee College of Pharmacy, and graduated in 2008 with a doctorate of pharmacy degree.

I knew as an incoming freshman at CBU that I wanted to pursue a career in healthcare. My mom suggested pharmacy, which led to my first “real job” as a pharmacy technician at Walmart in 2001.  I knew that this would be the best way for me to determine if pharmacy was a good fit for me.  I worked weekends and started at minimum wage.  I have now been with the company almost 13 years, and I am blessed to now be the pharmacist in charge at the Walmart in Oakland, TN.

I know for certain that pharmacy is the profession that I am meant to be practicing.  As a senior at CBU, I was given the opportunity to complete my research project with a professor from UT College of Pharmacy.  I feel that this extra work experience helped to separate me from other pharmacy school applicants. Looking back on my educational career, some of my favorite professors were at CBU. Some of whom I still remain in touch with today.  Their genuine concern and encouragement helped guide me to where I am today.

In pharmacy school, I met my husband. Even though we are both pharmacists, our areas of practice are completely different. While I am a community pharmacist filling prescriptions and counseling patients on their medications, he is a clinical pharmacist at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center. He works in an outpatient clinic, managing diseases and prescribing medications for various disease states. I can honestly say I love my job. Pharmacists are on the front lines of providing medications to patients. We are also the last line of intervention between a potentially harmful medication and a patient. I have an amazing staff, and being in a small town has allowed me to form genuine relationships with my patients. I am so grateful and blessed to have the educational background from CBU and UT College of Pharmacy, which has led me to such a gratifying career. My husband, Bryan Paul, and I have a 2 year old little girl, Bryley.  I can only hope that one day she will choose CBU to further her education and build lasting friendships like the ones so dear to me.

Featured Person: Dr. Leigh Becker, Professor Emeritus

Instead of our usual featured alum, this month we feature our newest professor emeritus, Dr. Leigh Becker.

Dr. Leigh Becker, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics

Dr. Leigh Becker, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics

Dr. Leigh Becker obtained his Ph.D. in Mathematics from Southern Illinois University and came to CBU in 1979 as an Assistant Professor of Mathematics.  He rose through the academic ranks becoming a Professor in 1992.  He retired from CBU last year (2013), and was awarded the rank of Professor of Emeritus this spring.

Dr. Becker was a dedicated teacher, demanding and yet caring.  He spent a lot of time and effort in preparing his classes.  He wrote a book on Differential Equations that the Math Department at CBU still uses.  He learned to use the web for his courses and posted not only his syllabus on the web but used the web to post solutions to his homework.  He was always willing to help students individually in his office.  Several of his students have gone on to graduate school, and those students comment on how well prepared they were for graduate work based on the courses they took from Dr. Becker.

Dr. Becker was a very important and contributing member of the Mathematics
Department here at CBU.  He was involved in the development of courses and the overall mathematics curriculum.  He was a well liked and respected member of the department.  He also served on several faculty committees including the Policy Committee and the Rank & Tenure Committee.

Even with the high teaching loads and service demands, Dr. Becker found time to do mathematical research, and he regularly published articles on Integral Differential Equations.  He has been invited to give talks in this field at international conferences.  He is still publishing in the field today.

Above all, though, Dr. Leigh Becker is a wonderful human being.  He is a dedicated father and husband, and just a wonderful person to associate with.  I am honored to have known and worked with Leigh for well over 30 years!

Featured Alum: Gina Horton Vasquez, Natural Science 1999

Gina with skunk

Gena with a skunk. The skunk was a native species that had been confiscated from someone who tried to keep it as a pet.

My name is Gena Horton Vazquez and I graduated in 1999 with a degree in Natural Science.  I chose CBU because of its small campus size and its excellent and caring professors.   I started off as a  Biology major and during my time at CBU they introduced a degree in Natural Science.  Under the advice of Brother Edward Salgado, I determined that this major better suited my career path.    During my junior year at CBU I was accepted into an internship at the Regional Forensic Center here in Memphis, TN, in forensic anthropology.  I became interested in forensic anthropology when I took a medical anthropology class from Professor Teri Mason.  She introduced me to Dr. Steven Symes at the Regional Forensics Center and the rest is, as they say, history.  After graduating from CBU, I went on to obtain a Masters’ degree in archaeology and Medical Anthropology.

Gina with elephant tusk.

The lion skull (below) and the elephant tusk are photos of me doing forensic analysis on a shipment from Africa.

My time at CBU prepared me for my career in forensics.  I work for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service at the Port of Memphis.  I provide law enforcement and evidence support for special agents and inspectors.  I also provide forensic support for the port by assisting with identification of species, crime scene and evidence photography, evidence processing, and live wildlife handling.  This pretty much means that on any given day, I could be handling anything from thousand dollar handbags to highly venomous snakes, spiders, and scorpions.  I have also helped inspect live wildlife that is being imported into the U.S.  We have seen pandas, lions, Canadian lynx, penguins, and polar bears.

Gena with Lion SkullWe inspect these shipments for many reasons.   We look for licenses, permits, presence of undeclared wildlife (smuggling), and the presence of invasive or injurious species.  This helps to keep our wildlife safe and protected for the enjoyment of the American people and people around the world.

My job has taken me across the states and around the world.  I have been to our National Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon, and I have been to the great polar bear migration in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada.  I am truly blessed to have a career that I love.  I truly feel that CBU prepared me well.