Rowan Graduates Achieve in Variety of Ways

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The face of the graduating class of 2005 at Rowan University is quite diverse, with males and females students of various ages, races and abilities walking on Friday, May 13, culminating four or more
The face of the graduating class of 2005 at Rowan University is quite diverse, with males and females students of various ages, races and abilities walking on Friday, May 13, culminating four or more years of work.

Following are some of those with interesting stories:

Christine Serowik-Bell, 50, of Voorhees, faced more than just the challenges of scheduling classes and juggling family responsibilities on her way to earning a B.A. in health and exercise science/health promotion and fitness management. Bell also had to battle the cancer she was diagnosed with just one month shy of entering Rowan. A mother of two, Bell earned a certificate in personal training from Camden County College and completed a yoga teacher training certificate program at Our Lady of Lourdes Wellness Center in 2003. She was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin?s lymphoma a month before she planned to start classes at Rowan in September 2003. She underwent surgery and started her studies at Rowan on time. She underwent radiation treatment in December and January and found support among fellow students and faculty. Today, Bell is completing an internship at The Kennedy Health System, for which she instituted ?Well-Being Yoga for Cancer Patients.? She teaches the free yoga classes at the Kennedy Cancer Center in Washington Township for male and female patients of all ages, including some fighting the disease and some in remission. After graduation, she hopes to find full-time work in the health promotion field.

When Marcela Stein, 46, of Washington Township, came to the United States with her husband (Rowan chemical engineering professor Dr. Mariano Savelski) for the first time in 1992, she didn?t know a word of English. A native of Argentina, Stein spoke Spanish and learned French as a second language. In the United States, she taught herself English by borrowing books from the public library and watching TV. The couple returned to Argentina in 1994 and came back to the United States in 1997. In 1999, they moved to South Jersey for Savelski?s job. Stein, a mother of two, enrolled in Gloucester County College as an English major and graduated in 2003 with the President's Medallion for Excellence in English and the Medallion Award for Academic Excellence. She has proven herself again at Rowan. She expects to graduate from Rowan with a 4.0 GPA, and she received the Academic Achievement Award from the English Department at a recognition ceremony held by the dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences.

Laurie Strucke, 45, of Lumberton, has something in common with two of her four children ? she?s about to graduate. A nontraditional student, Strucke will receive a B.A. in communication, with a specialization in public relations. Her daughter Ann Marie, 17, will graduate from Rancocas Valley Regional High School High School in June, and her youngest, Krista, 13, will graduate from 8th grade from Lumberton Middle School, also in June. (Son William, 21, attends Ohio State University, and daughter Michelle, 19, attends Ithaca College.) This is Strucke?s second time at the University. She attended then Glassboro State College from 1980 to 1981, but dropped out in her junior year when she was not doing very well academically. She returned in 2003, when she was downsized from her job as a teacher assistant. ?It was a blessing in disguise,? she said. ?I returned to Rowan and achieved straight A's the first semester back.? She said her experience the second time around was wonderful. ?Unlike other adults, I became very involved with student activities and was an active member of the Public Relations Student Society of America. I even attended the national conference in New York City with other Rowan students where we won the best chapter in the country,? she said. She added, ?The most wonderful part about attending Rowan was the way I was instantly accepted by the other public relations students. They included me in everything, and I won some PRSSA awards. Another highlight was finding myself in Tony Fulginiti's class. He was one of my professors from years ago -- and was very happy to see me return!

Adrienne Harris, 27, of Absecon, has shared a lot with her mother, Jeanette Giza, 49, of Landisville, over the years. There were, of course, the usual mother-daughter moments: cooking together, shopping, attending family functions, sharing life experiences. The two also shared professions: Harris was in the Air Force for seven years, and Giza has been in for more than 20 years and is still active duty. On May 13, they will share yet one more bond: both will be graduating with B.A. degrees in communication from Rowan University, Harris specializing in public relations and Giza in writing arts. They took one class together ? Comm Theory. Giza said, ?It was fun. If you didn't look at which of us was speaking, you couldn't tell the difference. Having Adrienne in the same class was a real motivator. I would feel guilty if I even thought about skipping class. You know, still trying to set the example.? Noted her daughter, ?The one class we shared was fun. My mother is a much better student than me. My mother was always worried about her grade and doing well, and I was constantly trying to give her hints on how to cut corners.? Mom is looking to write the next Great American Novel, and daughter has lined up a position as a marketing specialist at a brokerage firm in Ocean City.

This is Dr. Jay Chaskes? 36th year at Rowan University. Things are a bit different for him this year than for the almost 30 graduations he has attended. Last April, the sociology professor and director of the Center for the Study of Student Life from Washington Township became critically ill. He was in a coma-like state for several weeks as the result of a staph infection. He had open-heart surgery during that period and suffered a mild stroke. He was on a ventilator and was being nourished with a feeding tube. He awoke seven weeks later paralyzed from the neck down and has been fighting his way back to a more-or-less full recovery. He now can walk short distances in a walker, and he gets around campus in a power chair. He intends to attend commencement in his robes and process with the faculty in his power chair.

Elizabeth Wittreich, 23, of Hammonton, is the daughter of parents who were not able to finish college, and it was always their dream for her to earn a degree. Last year, during finals week of her junior year, her father, Christopher, 47, very unexpectedly passed away. She struggled to complete her finals that semester as well as finish her final year. ?I couldn't let my dad down, so I continue to work hard to get it done,? she said. On May 13, she will earn a B.A. in history, graduating cum laude.

Debreen Mac Pherson, 28, of Runnemede, already had graduated with honors and a B.A. in communication from Rowan University in May 2000. She always loved science, but she lacked confidence to pursue the field. After internships in public relations and media buying, she started a position as an assistant editor with the American Association for Cancer Research. Four days into her new position, she was struck head-on in a car accident. After four months, she returned to work, but she still wanted to study science. Yet, with trouble walking and carrying items and mounds of hospital bills, she wondered how she could return to school. After two years with Cancer Research, she joined a pharmaceutical company as a staff development coordinator. Unhappy with the work, she decided it was time to return to school part time. After two years back at Rowan, with a loan or two, she is graduating once again with honors, this time in physical science. ?It hasn't been easy. Science books are heavy to carry with a less-than-perfect leg, bills still pile up, and life in general gets stressful,? she said. ?Not to mention, I still had to overcome the fear of failing and the lapse in time since I had taken math and science.?


Elizabeth V. Rodriguez, 36, Camden, has traveled a long road to earn her B.A. in psychology with a minor in anthropology. In 1986, at 17, she gave birth to a premature baby who had cerebral palsy and decided to dedicate her time to him, putting her education on the back burner. After years of waiting to see what would happen with her child, she decided that it was time to go back and try and do something with her education. She attended night school and earned her GED in 1994. She thought she was done and did not need anything more, but in 1998, after considering options, she decided to register at Rowan University. She credits her husband for helping her reach her education goal. She said, ?I have learned to love many professors who I have come in contact with, and many of them helped me tremendously. I love Rowan and will miss it very much, but I know that this University has made a great impact in my life and that it will always be a part of me. Once I make my decision about what I will do about graduate school, Rowan will be one of my options.?


Jenny Villegas, 54, of Pennsauken, started pursuing her degree ten years ago. She attended Gloucester County College, where she as president of the SGA her last year there. She transferred to Temple University to study archeology and anthropology and attended one semester before a divorce interrupted her studies and a car accident left her in a wheelchair for more than a year. After years of physical therapy and surgeries, she decided to return to school and finish what she started. The sociology major will walk at Rowan?s graduation in May (but has to complete a summer course). She works at a non-profit agency in Camden teaching the Welfare to Work population. Her 34-year-old daughter is graduating from Camden County College, and her son is in college.


Michael Unley completed his education while serving his country. A biological sciences major, Unley, 25, of Riverside, is an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran who started at Rowan in the fall of 1998. He enjoyed the experience but felt he was missing something, so he enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves in the summer of 1999. The decision, he said, has had the greatest impact on his life to date. After completing recruit training at Parris Island, SC, and military specialty training in North Carolina, he returned to Rowan University in the fall of 2000. He completed his sophomore year in spring 2001 and continued part time with Rowan in fall 2001. At the end of the fall 2001 semester, he was called to active duty in January 2002. He served a year at Camp Lejeune, NC, and 1 1/2 months of peacekeeping duty in Kosovo. In December 2002, he returned home from the activation and re-enrolled in Rowan. Half way through the spring 2003 semester, he was recalled to active duty and served 4 ? months in Iraq. He returned home in August 2003 and enrolled again at Rowan, where he was able to finish a full year of school for the first time since the spring 2001 semester.
NOTE: Unley will walk at graduation and receive his diploma, but he has one class to complete.



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