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Jillian Scarpanito C’20 Built Confidence in Drew University’s RISE Program

“RISE pushed me to think like a scientist.”

September 2021 – The most important things Jillian Scarpanito C’20 got from Drew University’s RISE program were a sense of ownership over her work and confidence in her skills.

Scarpanito also learned that practicing medicine was the right career path for her after “getting [her] hands dirty with some real-life lab work” in RISE, Drew’s one-of-a-kind research program that pairs undergraduate science students with retired star researchers and industrial scientists in the lab for one-on-one, hands-on research.

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Scarpanito transferred to Drew through the school's Community College Honors Program with the County College of Morris.

“RISE gave me my own experiment, my own work, something to be proud of and talk about during interviews and with colleagues,” said Scarpanito, a second year Doctor of Optometry student in the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS).

“Even though microbiology research growing antibiotics isn’t directly applicable to training to be an optometrist, I learned valuable clinical skills and how to work precisely and efficiently. Most importantly, I am now confident in myself and look forward to doing research in optometry.”

Her RISE mentors echoed her takeaways from the program.

“I trust her research experiences in RISE will parallel the diagnosis and treatment of disease where critical thinking and problem-solving abilities are the hallmarks of a good optometrist, as well as a good scientist,” said Dr. Neal Connors, former senior investigator of bioprocess R&D at Merck and current owner/president of Phoenix BioConsulting, LLC.

“When I took over the project from Dr. Connors, Jillian had an excellent command of the theoretical aspects of projects and excellent technical skills working in the lab,” added Dr. John Perkins, former senior project manager/principal scientist of DSM Food Specialties. “RISE provides students like Jillian the support and guidance to work independently, which instills confidence to master any challenge they face in their post-Drew careers.”

Scarpanito has used her experiences in the RISE lab, and the confidence that came with it, to flourish at MCPHS, where she has started tutoring in just her second year, and has been invited to join Beta Sigma Kappa (BSK), the international optometry honors society.

“Some days in RISE, I couldn’t believe the expensive machinery I was using or the rare specimens we were able to get our hands on, but I did it all! It was exciting, peculiar, arduous, and so worth it.”

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