Faces of the Future: Meet Some Members of the Class of 2012

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Graduates enjoy their 2011 farewell to Rutgers-Newark.

Rutgers University in Newark will confer some 3,200 degrees to members of the Class of 2012 this year, and each degree represents a student with a story.  Here are a few of those stories.



Back in 2006 you might have thought that Lisette Dorfman’s life and career were both settled. She had worked in nursing since 1997 at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and had both a baccalaureate in nursing science and master of science in nursing. 

Fast forward to 2012, and Dorfman is receiving her Ph.D. in nursing, is now married and the mother of an infant, and is Patient Care Director of the Women’s Program at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. This program treats women who have a diagnosis of depression, bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder with cognitive behavioral therapy.  

The White Plains, N.Y., resident opted to pursue her doctoral degree to “enhance my knowledge and skill base so I can be a more effective nurse leader, teacher and researcher.” Although both of her other degrees were from colleges in New York, she chose Rutgers College of Nursing for its “excellent reputation, innovative research and high caliber of nursing professors.”

It was a challenging six years for Dorfman as she worked fulltime, earned her Ph.D., and renovated and moved into a home with her family. Looking back on those years, Dorfman cites Dr. Marlene Rankin as “the greatest and most influential mentor for me. She has always encouraged and supported me during my dissertation journey.  Dr. Marlene Rankin is a true treasure in the department of nursing at Rutgers.”

Dorfman also cherishes “the joy and sense of accomplishment I experienced when I was informed by my dissertation committee that I successfully defended my dissertation,” which was an independent scientific determination of the effectiveness of a computerized cognitive behavioral program for depressed hospitalized patients.

She wants to continue at New York-Presbyterian Hospital with the goal of improving access to care via new technologies, providing quality affordable care, and providing care to the mentally ill. Her work intertwines direct clinical, staff education and training, and administrative responsibilities. In 2006, she was acknowledged by the Business Council of Westchester as a Rising Star-Westchester’s Forty Under Forty. In 2010, her leadership, dedication and hard work were recognized with the New York-Presbyterian Nursing Leadership Award. 

Dorfman has some advice for other students seeking to balance school, career and personal responsibilities.  “The key to the juggling act of life and school is to be organized, motivated, and to surround yourself with supportive family, friends and mentors,” she explains.  



Dana Kandic has always taken the road less traveled, and with her college years at an end she now plans to hit the road –literally. “The photographer and journalist in me wants to travel and photograph everything in sight,” says Kandic.  Before heading out, she hopes to find a publisher for her eventual photo book. Along the way, she will blog about her progress. “I'm young and I don't have many obligations to focus on right now, so why not?”

The Denville resident majored in journalism and media studies at R-N; was multimedia editor for the student newspaper, The Observer; interned at Cosmopolitan magazine in New York City; and in 2012 had an opinion column published in Editor & Publisher, the monthly magazine considered the “Bible of the newspaper industry.” Her long-term career goal is to report on the music industry as a reporter, photographer or videographer for a publication such as Rolling Stone.

It’s a far cry from Dana’s original plan: study pre-dentistry at R-N and then dentistry as a grad student. But Dana, who has loved photography and music since childhood, admits that a science or medical career was really her parents’ dream for their daughter, not hers. Serbian-Croatian immigrants, they had come to the U.S. to give their only child a secure future, and an arts career, they feared, would not be a stable one. Dana tried to fit into their ideas, but she was miserable and left Rutgers for a year to live in New York, pursue arts-related studies and intern with a publicist for major musical artists.

She returned to R-N for her junior year, and found the journalism and media studies program and professor Robin Gaby Fisher, who, Dana says, lit a fire within her. “Prof. Fisher was so passionate, and it was contagious; everyone needs at least one professor like her.”  It was then Dana realized she could indeed combine her passions for music and communications by reporting on the music industry, in words, images and video.

The opportunity to write for Editor & Publisher came when journalism and media studies professor, Allan Wolper, an E & P columnist, solicited submissions for the magazine’s “Critical Thinking” feature. Several students responded, and Dana’s entry was accepted for publication.

As she looks back on her years as a college student, Dana offers advice to other students. “If you’re passionate about something, go for it,” she says, even if it is not the road most taken.  “You won’t be happy unless you do.”



Jessica Schnell was a recent graduate from Cornell with a major in nutrition, but her budding interest in bird conservation was what led her to pursue graduate study at Rutgers-Newark. A connection to a fellow Cornell alum, Biology Professor Doug Morrision, led to her visit six years ago to the urban Rutgers campus on a “gorgeous” spring Open House. On that day she met an avid birder on the Rutgers biology faculty, Professor Claus Holzapfel.  A course in computational ecology with NJIT Biology Professor Gareth Russell set the course for what is now her research passion.

The focus of Jessica’s dissertation is a computational study of four areas around the world where bird species are threatened  -- the North Central American Highlands, the Atlantic Forest of Brazil, the East Malagasy Wet Forests of Madagascar, and the Central Sichuan Mountains of China. Using data collected by collaborators at Rutgers, NJIT, Duke University and at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the research quantifies bird “fragmentation” (break up of a natural habitat) and will, Jessica notes, eventually be used to “assist in prioritizing what are the most valuable places to restore habitats.”

Now that she has her Ph.D. in biology in hand, the Jersey City resident will be spending the next two years as a post-doctoral researcher at the prestigious Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell in rural southern Germany, her father’s native country.  It will be a world away from urban Newark, where she has enjoyed the campus’ proximity to New York City, as well as The Newark Museum, Branch Brook Park, and the culinary delights of the Ironbound.  And Professor Holzapfel and other campus environmental activists will miss Jessica’s regular volunteer work for Rutgers-Newark’s annual Earth Day activities. 



Numbers play a major role in Victor Castaneda's life, but that doesn't mean the economics and mathematics major has lived his life by the numbers.

Castaneda was born in Colombia, but his family came to New Jersey to take advantage of the greater educational opportunities in the U.S. After high school, Victor spent four years in the U.S. Marines Corps Reserves.

His first years at Rutgers-Newark were both exhausting and fortuitous. A full-time student, he worked nights at a package delivery service, some 35 hours a week, a grueling schedule only lessened in the past year when implementation of the new GI Bill eased the financial burdens of tuition. But his first year was also marked by the good luck of finding himself in a class taught by R-N economics department chair John Graham.

Not only did Graham's class supercharge Castaneda's interest in economics and mathematics, it was Graham who invited Castaneda to take part in the annual College Federal Reserve Challenge competition. The Fed Challenge is a nationwide competition, sponsored by the Federal Reserve Board, which tests college students' understanding of the workings of the "Fed" and the numerous economic factors and policies that impact its decisions concerning interest rates.

For three years Castaneda was a key team member, including serving as captain, and for each of those years, he and the team won the regional competition and finished near the top of the national finals in Washington, D.C. Each year, he and the team spent months, and scores of hours, doing research and working with Graham to analyze vast amounts of economics data. Based on their findings, they would propose what position the Fed should make on the prime interest rate - lower or raise it, or maintain the status quo - and then prepare an in-depth presentation to argue their case. The team then had to present their findings - and be grilled by members of the Fed - as they progressed through the rounds of the challenge.

Along the way team members learned to think fast on their feet and handle the stress of competition, and gained valuable public speaking skills. "It was the most rewarding experience of my undergraduate years," Castaneda notes.

Post graduation, Castaneda is seeking research assistant positions at the Federal Reserve, insurance companies, investment banks, and similar institutions, looking to gain experience that will help him in graduate school. And, Castaneda will continue to hone his parenting skills as new dad to son Noah, born during the fall semester. Top of Form




For Nigerian native Amaka Amakwe, the future holds an introduction to yet another part of the U.S., as she nears her goal of becoming a dentist. Come fall 2012, Amakwe will begin classes at the University of Connecticut School of Dentistry, attending on a full scholarship.

It shouldn’t be a hard adjustment for the Nigerian native and transplanted Texan, who recalls the moment she knew she had adjusted to life in the Garden State. “I went back to Houston to visit family, and felt like everything was moving slower there, compared to here.”

Amakwe expected cultural differences between her homeland and the U.S., but was surprised by  the Texas/New Jersey culture shocks. In Texas, the pre-dental student had to learn to drive, then had to drive everywhere –something she doesn’t miss as she rides mass transit here.  Jersey’s summer heat isn’t as oppressive as in Houston –or in Lagos, Nigeria, for that matter.  And for Amakwe  the hustle of New jersey life was an eye-opener.

Having family already living in the U.S. eased her transition, as did meeting and marrying a New York City native.  She also credits the strong support services at R-N and the many friendships she has forged, especially with other African students.

Amakwe, a Jersey City resident, was motivated to take up dentistry by memories of watching her father suffer from a tooth problem back in Nigeria, and postpone care until the pain was unbearable, since dental services are not easily available.

Amakwe, who majored in biology while minoring in chemistry at R-N, is looking ahead.  She thrives on a sense of organization and order, and plans to incorporate those traits into the first phase of her dental career: caring for military veterans at a government hospital – before eventually establishing a private oral surgery practice.



You could say Guillermo Artiles was destined for a life in the law. His parents always wanted their first-born child to become a doctor or lawyer.  But as he grew into an outspoken and outgoing child, they realized the law would be a natural fit, and Artiles agreed.

So after graduating from Hamilton College in upstate New York, then working as a paralegal for two years, the only question was where to get his JD. The Rutgers School of Law –Newark emerged as his choice after Artiles became familiar with the school’s Minority Student Program, which offers academic support, mentoring, and internships to disadvantaged students, as well as the law school’s collaborations with the Eagleton Institute of Politics.

During his years at Rutgers School of Law-Newark, Artiles thrived, doing an externship with the Honorable Esther Salas ‘94, U.S. District Court Judge; working for a summer with the law firm of McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter in Morristown; and then, through the Eagleton Institute, was a Governor’s Executive Fellow for the spring 2012 semester, helping to coordinate outreach to constituents and events on behalf of the governor.

Those experiences not only gave him a hands-on legal education and exposure to state government, but allowed Artiles to see “the human side of the law.”  Combined with his work as a paralegal, Artiles also gained valuable insights into “what the law is about, how lawyers think and speak and present themselves.” 

After taking the bar exams, Artiles will be joining McElroy, Deutsch for one year, and then rejoin the chambers of Judge Salas as her law clerk in 2013. But in the interim, he has an adventure to experience with Professor Charles Auffant and several other Rutgers law students. In May they will spend several days on an educational visit to Cuba, meeting with Cuban students and law professors and sitting in on court proceedings.

Artiles, a North Bergen resident, loves being involved in his community, and believes in “paying it forward” in gratitude for the opportunities he has been given.  Not surprisingly, Artiles advises college students to volunteer and be active, as he was as articles editor for the Rutgers Law Review, president of the Student Bar Association and vice president of the Association of Latin American Law Students.



After a year of making public appearances at schools, grand openings, charitable fundraisers and the like, beauty queen Ashley Shaffer traded her tiara for textbooks in 2010, setting out to earn a master’s degree in business administration. With that mission now accomplished, Shaffer -- Miss New Jersey 2009 – has a new role in the field of marketing, as manager of positioning strategy for Brand Engineers, LLC.

Shaffer also plans to continue her volunteer work with the Children’s Miracle Network and the Health Weight Commitment Foundation.

For Shaffer, earning her MBA at Rutgers Business School – Newark and New Brunswick was a logical choice: RBS is a university that boasts an internationally renowned business school and is located in the state where she “reigned.”

A graduate of Marist College with a bachelor’s degree in communications, Shaffer immediately found a way to put her writing skills to productive use at RBS while serving the needs of its students. She helped launch the school’s very first student blog, Through the Park, a blog written and maintained by Rutgers Business School students. Bloggers write about past and upcoming events, networking opportunities, and general information about the business school.

Shaffer describes the blog as a way to get students talking about Rutgers Business School in an engaging, and interactive way and be a vital source of information for current and prospective students. Through the Park will remain as a legacy of Shaffer’s years at RBS.

To read about “the REAL MBA experience,” go to



For more information, please contact Carla Capizzi, 973/353-5263, or email: