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McCarthy Award Winners Off to Medical, Dental Schools

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While Matthew Cosaert heads to Loma Linda University School of Dentistry this fall, Kristy Nguyen will pursue a dual medical/master’s degree program at The Ohio State University College of Medicine in fall 2022.

The pair of Cal State Fullerton alumni are recipients of the 2021 Miles D. McCarthy Health Professions Award, a university honor recognizing high academic achievement, integrity and a commitment to serve humanity. It is named for the founding faculty member of the Department of Biological Science who launched the health professions advising program more than 50 years ago.

Nguyen, who graduated in 2019 with a B.S. in biological science and a concentration in cell and developmental biology, has since been working as a research assistant for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and as a medical assistant.

She says her undergraduate experiences at Cal State Fullerton helped her gain acceptance to medical school, with the goal of better understanding health disparities.

“The biology department provides its students a high-quality education along with a multitude of opportunities to succeed in various career paths,” she said. “I came to deeply appreciate the thorough, student-centered education that CSUs are known to offer, and have consistently felt supported and positively challenged by my professors.”

In the research lab of Veronica Jimenez Ortiz, associate professor of biological science, Nguyen studied potential drug therapies for such parasites as Trypanosoma cruzi, which causes an infection called Chagas disease. The disease, spread by insects called triatomine bugs or “kissing bugs,” originated in Latin America but has since made its way to the U.S. and Europe.

“My experience as a research assistant in Dr. Jimenez’s parasitology lab cultivated my analytical, decision-making and problem-solving skills — all of which are necessary to succeed as a scientist,” shared Nguyen. “However, the most important lesson that scientific research has taught me was one of resilience and confidence. Through years of trial and error, I learned how to adapt and persist, as well as believe in myself and my capabilities to either execute experiments well or grow from learning how to.”

Outside the lab, Nguyen was part of the President’s Scholars, University Honors and Bold Scholars programs and served as a Project RAISE (Regional Alliance in STEM Education) peer adviser and Project Rebound tutor — experiences which allowed her to develop a deep passion for social equity.

For Matthew Cosaert, a pre-health postbaccalaureate student looking to change directions from his original field of theology to dentistry, Cal State Fullerton’s Extension and International Programs provided just the solution.

“I was attracted to the program because it allowed me to take all my prerequisite classes for dental school in less than two years and it has a high acceptance rate from the program to dental schools,” said Cosaert. “I also learned about the opportunity for advising through the Health Professions Advising Office.”

Coming from a small undergraduate program, Cosaert said he was nervous that the faculty at CSUF would not be as accessible.

“To the contrary, I found that their office hours were so helpful and they would find time to email or set up extra time if needed,” he said. “I enjoyed each of my professors and felt that they were very willing to connect individually with students to help us succeed.”

After completing dental school, Cosaert will serve active duty in the U.S. Navy as part of the Health Professions Scholarship Program. From there, he looks forward to serving his local community with dental care.

Lynn Juliano