Three soon-to-be graduates share their Johns Hopkins journeys

Class of 2013

Image caption: Class of 2013 graduates (from left to right) Teno Boone, Whiting School of Engineering; Kelly Mathieu, School of Nursing; and Joel Ramirez, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences

Image credit: Will Kirk / Johns Hopkins University

The path to graduation is filled with academic challenges. Students learn concepts and then apply them like building blocks to ever-complex problems—in no short supply at Johns Hopkins.

But college is not just about what you learn in the classroom, or on a research project.

The undergraduate years are filled with personal discovery. New interests develop; old ones grow out of favor. The person we will or want to become comes closer into view.

With graduation upon us, the Gazette sat down with three undergraduates—two traditional, one not so—to discuss how the Johns Hopkins experience changed them and what the future holds.

REDISCOVERING BALTIMORE

Teno Boone, Whiting School of Engineering

Teno Boone, who grew up in the city's Echodale neighborhood, says he felt he knew Baltimore before he stepped onto the Homewood campus as a freshman.

Turns out, Boone had barely cracked the shell.

The oldest of four siblings, Boone attended Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, where he excelled in math and science. For much of his life, he says, Johns Hopkins loomed as "a massive, powerful institution" that was close but out of reach.

He never gave attending JHU much thought until his guidance counselor made him aware of its Baltimore Scholars Program, which offers full-tuition scholarships to all Baltimore City public high school students it accepts. A few years earlier, Boone's father had sat his son down and told him there wasn't much money for college and that he would need to earn a scholarship.

Here was his shot.

He applied and was accepted into the Whiting School of Engineering. Saying yes to the acceptance was an easy decision, he says, and not just because of JHU's academic reputation. At the time, Boone's parents were in the midst of a separation, so staying in Baltimore, he says, felt like the right thing to do.

"With things unsettled at home, I worried about my siblings and wanted to be accessible," says Boone, a chemical and biomolecular engineering major. "I love traveling and I thought about going away, but I know I made the right decision staying here."

A star wrestler in high school, Boone joined Johns Hopkins' team his freshman year but because of family issues chose to resign from the team to address them and pursue other interests.

With a background in community service in high school, Boone continued to give back in college. In his freshman year he took on a leadership position with the Hopkins Organization of Minority Engineers and Scientists, the university's chapter of the National Society for Black Engineers. H.O.M.E.S. exposes city middle and high school–age students to engineering and science disciplines through workshops, activities, and mentoring programs.

"I wanted to expose other kids to engineering, show them what a great career path it is," he says. "I wanted to share my passion."

Boone later joined the Black Student Union and became its president his junior year. With the assistance of the Office of Student Life, Boone coordinated a campuswide meeting titled Better Than Good to focus on civility and ways to improve the Homewood community. As BSU's community relations chair, Boone each month coordinated and executed community service events, including a cook-a-thon for Baltimore South Station, a therapeutic residential treatment program for men; and holiday canned food drives.

Academically, Boone excelled.

He worked in the lab of Joelle Frechette, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, with whom he had interned during his senior year of high school. For two years, Boone focused on electrowetting, which involves using an electric field to force a liquid to spread on a surface. Boone was third author of a paper titled "Effect of Contact Angle Hysteresis on Electrowetting Performance," which was published in Langmuir in 2011. Using electrowetting, engineers can manipulate small drops of bloods to different channels for testing purposes, or change the focal lens of minute cameras, among other applications.

He called the publication the highlight of his time at JHU.

Senior year, Boone volunteered with the Mentoring Assistance Peer Program, the Alumni Student Ambassadors program, and the Sustainable Hopkins Infrastructure Program, an organization jointly operated by students and faculty to promote sustainable development and fiscal savings on the Homewood campus.

"I've always been involved with school, but Johns Hopkins gave me the opportunity to try new things and grow as a leader and a person," he says.

For his next challenge, Boone will head to Cincinnati to take a job with the research and development wing of Proctor & Gamble, a company with which he interned his senior year.

Boone says that leaving Baltimore is bittersweet.

"I've always appreciated Baltimore, but I really got to love the city while at Johns Hopkins," he says. "When you're a kid, you just go around not appreciating where you're from. But coming into adulthood, I saw the city in a different way. Baltimore will always be a part of me."

STARTING A SECOND CAREER

Kelly Mathieu, School of Nursing

A little over two years ago, Kelly Mathieu sat down to take stock of her life. She had a 2-year-old daughter, a contractual job at T. Rowe Price, and a steady freelance career, a remnant of her past life as a graphic designer. Approaching 40, Mathieu felt something was missing. She wanted a new adventure and to follow a long-dormant calling.

"I felt my former career was very busy and, for the lack of a better word, kind of selfish," she says. "I wanted to make a difference. And now life was different for me. I had this little person I was taking care of. I just saw the world differently. I've always been interested in medicine, but I jumped into art because that was my talent and what I chose to pursue at the time."

Mathieu, a native of Philadelphia, talked with her husband about nursing school.

"At the time, I didn't have a full-time job and my daughter was getting older," she says. "So my husband and I talked and talked and eventually we said, Let's just do it."

She applied to Johns Hopkins and in May 2011 enrolled in the school's final Bachelor of Science in Nursing traditional class.

The life transition, Mathieu says, was relatively smooth. She says that she always felt comfortable in hospitals. She enjoys the hustle and always admired nurses. Several family members had careers in health care, and she envied their jobs. "I wanted to put myself into a profession where I could affect someone's life on a daily basis," she says.

Out of college, Mathieu had gotten a job at a design firm in Kalamazoo, Mich., and worked her way up from basic production to illustrator and designer. She stayed there for five years, until she and her husband moved to Maryland when she was offered a job in an advertising agency in Bethesda.

She worked at that agency for 10 years, until the company dissolved, mostly due to a weakened economy. "I remember life as being very stressed. I had a long commute, and it was just not as fulfilling as I would like," she says. "But I thought, Now what do I do? I was pregnant with my daughter at the time."

Mathieu did have experience in a clinical setting: She had worked in a hospital as a housekeeper during her high school years.

"I remember really enjoying being with the patients.

I loved talking with them and finding out more about their lives," she says.

At the School of Nursing, Mathieu has thrived. She embraced the classroom experience and liked learning something new each week about how the body works. But her experience during rotations has convinced her that she made the right career move. Her best moments to date have come in labor and delivery at Howard County General Hospital and on the cardiac unit at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

"There is something about seeing the processes of the heart that just amazes me," she says. "At one point during my labor and delivery rotation, I remember standing there being in awe of the midwife and how she put the patient at ease. I recall going home that night so excited about the work I was doing."

After graduation, Mathieu will continue to study until she takes the National Council Licensure Examination and will simultaneously work full time in the MICU at University of Maryland Medical Center, where she has been a patient care technician since June 2012.

Mathieu says she hopes to become a pediatric nurse practitioner and work in a hospital setting.

"I'm going to see where this leads me, but I'm excited about what comes next," she says. "I would love to continue my education as a PNP or perhaps a midwife, but after the past two years, I think I'm more than enthusiastic to work several years, gain experience and confidence to move on to broader horizons. I don't ever want to stop learning though."

How does her daughter feel about her new career? "She loves it. She's always asking me questions, using my stethoscope, and says that she, too, wants to be a nurse and help people. She's the first to the bandages when someone in the house needs help."

MINDING HIS MUSIC

Joel Ramirez, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences

Joel Ramirez's young life could be referred to as a serendipitous series of events with viola.

Ramirez, who grew up in the "suburban heavens" of San Antonio and Colorado Springs, says he owes his passion for music to mandatory elementary school assemblies where fellow students would play classical works. He claims he often fell asleep during the performances, but the thought of being on stage intrigued him.

He joined the school's orchestra and chose the viola because "nobody else wanted to."

Around age 11, Ramirez committed to playing the viola professionally and practiced dutifully. When it came time to consider colleges, he looked at music conservatories attached to prestigious universities.

At Johns Hopkins, he auditioned for the Peabody Conservatory and applied to the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. He was accepted to both and chose the Krieger School, which offered him a Hodson Scholarship on the basis of his academic and personal achievement, leadership, and contribution.

"The scholarship money allowed me to attend the university; otherwise, I wouldn't have been able to afford it," he says. "And my musical background was a chief reason I was selected."

Ramirez majored in neuroscience but didn't abandon his artistic side. He minored in music, studying with Peabody faculty, and joined the Hopkins Symphony Orchestra in his freshman year.

"The orchestra experience and my time at Peabody have been incredible. My time here has permitted me to do everything I wanted musically," he says. "Sometimes I look on the Facebook pages of friends who went to conservatories and wonder how good I would have been if I solely focused on the viola, but I like where I am."

Ramirez says he chose neuroscience in part because of a friend's psychology textbook he skimmed during an orchestra rehearsal break. The book led him to enroll in Introduction in Neuroscience, which he ranks as his favorite course.

"I would call home to blab about the course to my mom. I was learning 10 times faster than in high school, and it's been fascinating to see how neuroscience has applications in so many disciplines," he says. "It got to the point that my friends would not let me talk anymore, as I would always bring up how our brain works."

The neuroscience course load is heavy, Ramirez admits, but he has never shied away from a challenge.

For Lent one year during his childhood, he decided to swear off indulgences and shed the weight he had gained sitting on the couch in San Antonio drinking seven sodas a day. "My nickname in school was Tubby, and let's just say I didn't like that." He allowed himself only a vanilla wafer as a treat and ate a diet of mostly whole grains, lean meats, milk, and water. If he cheated, he would force himself to do a certain number of push-ups and sit-ups.

Ramirez continued with his health and fitness regime throughout high school and at Johns Hopkins earned certification to work as a trainer in Homewood's O'Connor Recreation Center. He trains mostly staff and administrators, teaching exercise basics and motivating techniques.

"Being a trainer is great. It plays right into my likes and vices, working with people and being in control," he says.

In his junior year, Ramirez took on a special client: university President Ronald J. Daniels, whose trainer had gotten an internship in New York. "They needed someone to fill in, and I was next in line."

When Daniels is in town, the two meet several mornings a week for workouts at the recreation center. "He's an ideal client. He wants to know why we're doing a certain exercise and why something is working," he says. "We talk about my classes and current events. He wants to know how I'm doing."

Ramirez's work at the fitness center has also benefited him academically. A postdoctoral fellow noticed his bio on the wall one day and took notice of his musical background. "He told me the lab where he worked [run by Michael McCloskey and Barbara Landau] was studying amnesia and that one of their patients used to play the viola, and they wanted to tackle some learning interventions through the music angle. He asked if I was interested. I, of course, said yes. I had been looking for a research experience and this fell right into my lap."

The research involves composing pieces for the woman, a former graphic artist and accomplished musician, to learn more about the role of the cerebellum in learning.

"I explain it to people like the Drew Barrymore character in the movie 50 First Dates; she doesn't remember something she experienced the day before. We would play a song and then play it again, and [the patient] acted like it was the first time she was hearing it."

Ramirez says that his time at Johns Hopkins has given him greater confidence.

"I'm more comfortable with myself now," he says. "I was this heavy-set kid, so growing up I felt under constant scrutiny. I had this chip on my shoulder. Now I know who I am."

Ramirez is unsure what career path he will choose. His current plan is to stay in Baltimore and work at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, conducting research on developing therapies for motor function, and continue to serve as a trainer in the JHU recreation center. He plans to take the LSAT and also apply for scholarships that would let him study abroad.

"I want to keep my options open and be ready for whatever opportunity presents itself next," he says.