Honors Student Profiles
Meet Our Honors Students
Students may complete the University Honors Program at St. John's in any of the University's undergraduate colleges and majors. All of the students profiled below are presently completing their core requirements (those courses all undergraduates at St. John's take) in special honors sections of these courses even as they pursue a wide variety of majors in the college or school appropriate to that major.
The abbreviations that follow the names of the students profiled below stand for St. John's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Tobin College of Business, the School of Education, and the College of Professional Studies.
These young people differ considerably from one another, yet all of them love learning. The Honors Program, as they themselves are first to say, unites them and broadens their educational experience.
We are very proud of them, and believe that you will be as impressed by their ambition and achievements as we are.
Melanie Butron had never visited St. John’s University until Accepted Students Day, but she immediately knew it was the place she wanted to be. After having graduated from Brooklyn Tech, one of the best public high schools in the city, she knew that she wanted to attend a major university. She was drawn to the beautiful campus and enthusiastic students that welcomed her almost immediately. St. John’s mission of being Vincentian is what sealed the deal. She liked the idea of giving back to the community, doing community service work, and the core curriculum, which emphasized faith and morality.
Melanie enjoys expressing herself through different mediums, especially art. Being creative and thinking outside of the box is what makes her stand out from the crowd. Knowing that she wanted to incorporate her artistic talents within her career, Melanie decided to pursue marketing in hopes of starting her own website in the near future.
Staying active and in tune with nature is also essential for Melanie. She was captain of her high school lacrosse team, which had an undefeated season and won the championship in her senior year. These days, Melanie can be seen attending yoga classes and running at the gym or around the track. She enjoys the outdoor seating all around campus during the warmer months, but takes refuge in the Honors Commons or library when it gets colder.
Melanie is maintaining a 4.0 GPA so far, and is determined to continue her hard work, though she realizes that student quality is not defined by numbers. Her goal is to learn as much as possible and apply it to her everyday life. Melanie takes advantage of the wide variety of honors courses and takes as many as she can to benefit from the smaller class sizes. They allow her to get to know more students who often share other classes with her, as well.
A particularly attractive aspect of the honors program is the numerous exclusive events that are available for Honors Program students: free tickets to the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic, and the New york City Ballet as well as walking tours of historical Manhattan neighborhoods and visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Cloisters. There are also many opportunities to meet other students and take a break from school work. Through the Honors Program, Melanie has been able to see the city in a new light and experience the arts in way she has never experienced before.
Jacqueline ("Jackie") Canino, a Queens campus residential student from Greenlawn, Long Island, is majoring in Homeland and Corporate Security. She is currently the Secretary for the Homeland and Corporate Security Students Association and is a student worker at the Student Resident Mail Room.
During high school, Jackie was involved in anything and everything. She was the senior editor of the school's yearbook as well as senior editor of her school's literary magazine. Aside from that, she was also the vice president of the Forensics Club and team captain for the forensics competition team her senior year, while participating in many other clubs and honor societies. It is this drive that brought Jackie to St. John's University.
Proximity to Manhattan as well as being close enough to return home whenever she wished, is part of what first sparked her interest in St. John's. In high school, she had participated in the University’s College Advantage Program through which she was able to enter freshman year with twelve college credits. Logically, St. John's became a perfect academic home for Jackie, and it was on her first visit to the Queens campus that Jackie knew she would be a “Johnnie.”
Jackie’s passion for school has led her to get involved in many different academic and extracurricular activities on campus. She regularly attends the St. John’s basketball and baseball games and even plays intramural softball.
Jackie also has the Vincentian spirit of St. John's. At home on Long Island, she volunteers with two fire departments and works in local projects for children. On campus, Jackie also likes to serve at “Midnight Runs” (a Campus Ministry program to feed the homeless) and other community service opportunities.
When Jackie was initially invited into the Honors Program she was hesitant, unsure if this would mean that there would be extra, more difficult courses and intimidating professors, but she decided to dive in and give it a try. She was pleasantly surprised when she discovered that the professors were supportive in the success of their students and that classes were smaller, not harder. Every honors class she takes becomes a new favorite, as each of the honors professors has a distinctive teaching style and often encourages individuality beyond test taking.
Jackie takes full advantage of the Honors Commons, and she likes to spend time there in study groups with others in the program. She also enjoys attending the different events that are available exclusively to honors program students, her favorite being performances of the New York City Ballet.
One might assume that Richard Cantoral, as a major in chemistry with minors in rhetoric and Italian, would have no time for anything except his studies. In fact, he is one of the most involved students on campus. He is one of the energizing forces in the freshman orientation, a proud member of the “red army” of orientation leaders. In addition to this, Richard serves as a Student Ambassador, a RISE Network Leader, a DNY Peer Leader, a Resident Assistant, and a Student Government elected representative. He is also Secretary of the Latin American Student Organization (LASO); Secretary of Sigma Pi Fraternity, International; Treasurer of the American Chemical Society; and Academic Affairs Chairperson of Student Government.
After graduation, Richard hopes to further his education in one of several ways, perhaps medical school, perhaps law school, or possibly business. Richard’s experience in the Honors Program has been a good one. In fact, he believes that it has served as his educational foundation at St. John’s. Its small, discussion-based classes have allowed him to meet and engage with professors who have become his mentors on campus. They have allowed him to connect with some of the brightest minds on campus and share his own thoughts and ideas.
Apart from the educational aspect, the Honors Program has also provided him with a one of a kind experience within New York City. He has been able to attend operas, concerts, and ballets which have helped kindle his passion for the arts. Overall, the Honors Program at St. John’s has given Richard the opportunity to stand out, succeed, and experience college with a new perspective on subjects, people, and education in general. Had he not enrolled in the program, Richard believes his experience thus far would have been very different. He quips that had he not been a member of the Honors Program he would likely never have been able to serve as grand master of its first quidditch tournament.
Hailing from St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Brianna Hairston has found her home away from home at St. John’s University. Upon graduating from the prestigious Charlotte Amalie High School, Brianna knew that she wanted to further her studies in a location that was different from the beautiful yet tiny island on which she was raised. St. John’s, with its diverse academic community, has allowed Brianna to find a true family of friends consisting of people from all walks of life. In Brianna’s own words, “One of the most beautiful things about St. John’s is the diversity that can be found all over campus.”
With a major in biology and a minor in business, Brianna plans to pursue a career as a medical doctor specializing in ophthalmology. In high school she was awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Youth Role Model award and was recognized as a U.S. Presidential Scholars candidate. Similar recognitions have continued during her college years. She is a member of various organizations on campus including the Phi Eta Sigma National Honor Society and the National Society for Leadership and Success. Brianna also has a passion for community service, which is another reason for her attraction to St. John’s University. Since the eighth grade she has utilized her culinary talent to host cupcake sales, and donate the proceeds to organizations such as Feed the Children and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
On learning of her acceptance into the Honors Program, Brianna worried about the intensity of the work load, yet has found her honors courses stimulating and original rather than difficult. Her honors curriculum has motivated and pushed Brianna continuously to excel. She cites the professors of the honors program as an important contribution to her academic success. “The professors are dedicated and passionate about the courses they teach, and this makes learning more enjoyable,” she states. “Dr. Forman was one of my favorite teachers, and his wisdom is truly inspiring. His love for literature further expanded my love for Literature. There was never a dull moment in his class. The Honors Program at St. John’s University is an amazing program to be a part of. In addition to a wonderful educational curriculum, the Honors Program also offers various activities for students to part take in off campus. These activities include trips to the Bronx Zoo and walking tours in Manhattan. I am truly thankful for the Honors Program.”
Rose Haslbauer is a Queens campus commuter student from Levittown, New York who majors in Theology with a double minor in English and Psychology. She initially entered St. John’s as an undeclared major in hopes that through her core curriculum classes and honors program courses, she would be able to find where her passion lies.
During high school at Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale, she was involved in many extracurricular activities, especially ones that involved her faith and the aspect of service. She would become a student leader in a service-based club that ran special events held at the school, a retreat program leader, and senior co-captain of her varsity swim team. When she first visited St. John’s University, she was able to clearly see the spirit of the Vincentian mission of service, which was one of the leading factors in her college decision.
Upon entering St. John’s, she quickly became involved in organizations through Campus Ministry as a part of the Catholic Scholars Program. She started off her freshman year with the Rendu Service Experience, which was a formative step to acclimating herself to college life and the service opportunities St. John’s offers. Because of the great experience she has had with Rendu, she has become a leader for this service experience as well.
In addition to the Rendu Service Experience, she has gone on other service trips, such as the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Greensboro, North Carolina Plunges. She fully immerses herself in the ideals of St. John’s and the Vincentian mission, going on retreats as well as helping lead them. She is the treasurer of Students For Life, the pro-life organization and is involved in other religious based organizations as well. It is through her involvement in Campus Ministry that she was able to find her passion and declare her major in Theology.
More than that, Rose knows that her primary focus is on her academics and moving towards the goal of a career after she graduates from St. John’s. When she was invited to be a member of the Honors Program, she knew that it would be a great step to further advance her collegiate studies. She has been more than happy with her decision to join the Honors Program and has enjoyed her experiences with it. Some examples include taking engaging, discussion-based classes and going on walking tours of New York with other Honors Program students to enrich her knowledge of her native New York. She hopes to attend more trips such as the New York City Ballet and the Metropolitan Opera with the Program as well.
Most days you can find Rose start her morning in the Honors Commons studying and working on homework before her classes begin. On campus, you can see her doing service through Campus Ministry, too. Over the summer, she takes a break from her faith-based organizations to put on a red polo and khakis as a New Student Orientation Leader, helping welcome students to St. John’s University in hopes to help incoming students fall in love with St. John’s, just as she has.
Sean Ismaili, a resident of nearby Hillsborough, New Jersey, might appear the typical St. John’s student. He was, however, born in the Republic of Ireland to an expatriated Albanian American chemical engineer and the daughter of Irish Catholic immigrants to the United States. With this background, he satisfies the often-heard phrase “global citizen.” As such, he appreciates the global focus of St. John’s. He understands the continuity of the University’s history in its service to immigrant communities, one that dates back to Bishop John Loughlin’s original mandate for a Catholic college in the post-Civil War Diocese of Brooklyn.
Sean spent his childhood in New Jersey and he learned at a young age the value of service to others. During high school, he became a firefighter with Hillsborough Volunteer Fire Company No. 2 having graduated from the Somerset County Fire Academy. Even so, he balanced his role in the fire service with his studies.
Sean began to passionately follow public affairs early in life, so it was hardly a surprise that government and politics became his major at St. John’s. A logical adjunct to his major is Sean’s participation in the Speech and Debate Society.
Sean was elected treasurer of the St. John’s College Democrats in January of 2016 and in May of that year, was accepted into the University’s chapter of the National Political Science Honors Society Pi Sigma Alpha. He credits the reputation of the University Honors Program with opening the door to professional experiences, including an internship with the New Jersey Superior Court.
Thanks to the Honors Program, Sean has been able to explore broader interests as well. He has participated in Manhattan walking tours and gallery visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art led by Dr. Forman, the Honors Program’s Director. He has also attended a notable performance of La Bohème at the Metropolitan Opera.
Sean has found the Honors Commons, a special lounge set aside for members of the Honors Program, to be a valuable resource when he needed a quiet place to get work done or just wanted to pass the time with other Honors Program students between classes.
After St. John’s, Sean hopes to continue his education by earning an advanced degree in either political science or law. No matter what lies ahead for him, Sean is confident that the honors program has been and will continue to be of major importance in his academic and personal development.
Lin Lin might be found at the hospital pharmacy at which she volunteers spiking IV bags, or gliding her fingers across piano keys as the melodies of romantic-era composers resonate across the concert hall. Maybe she is hiking on slick rocks of national park trails in the Mid-west. Considering Lina’s packed schedule and wide variety of interests, the permutations are infinite.
Though she enjoys a variety of exotic diversions, as a Doctor of Pharmacy major Lina is a highly ambitious student. She engaged in pharmaceutical research while in high school at the highly-esteemed Garcia Materials Research Science and Engineering Center at Stony Brook University. Her work was honored with many prestigious awards, most notably being one of the fifteen national finalists in the BioGENEius Challenge and a Semi-Finalist in the revered Siemens Science and Technology Competition.
Lina maintains a near-perfect GPA even as she completes a rigorous pharmacy curriculum while balancing two jobs. During the school year, she works as a microbiology lab assistant and as a pharmacy technician. She is already a certified pharmacy technician accredited by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.
During the summer, Lina volunteered in the Pharmacy Department at North Shore LIJ-Syosset Hospital. In spite of her demanding study and work schedule, Lina is highly active on-campus and in the community. Selected to be a DNY Peer Leader, she mentors freshmen unfamiliar with college life and New York City. She is the President of the Chamber Music Society, and plays piano and violin. She also serves as Secretary of the campus Drug Information Association. In whatever free time she has left, Lina plays Intramural softball and tennis, and performs traditional Chinese fan dance.
For Lina, the Honors Program is the shining pearl of St John’s. She has found the courses stimulating and energizing. “Honors courses are a valuable opportunity,” she asserts. “These classes enable you to connect with professors on a much more personal level and radically alter your methods of creative and practical thinking. Dr. Robert Forman, the Honors Program Director, cares deeply for his students and always fervently advocates for them. It was daunting starting at a bustling school like St John’s, but Dr. Forman went above and beyond to do everything possible to help me succeed,” Lina recalls.
The Honors Program is virtually a VIP pass to everything cultural New York City has to offer. Lina particularly enjoys gratis tickets to the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center. Want a private tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art? Attend the walking tour led personally by Dr. Forman. Lina exclaims, “Dr. Forman’s knowledge is so vast! I have lived in the metropolitan area my entire life, but the amount of history Dr. Forman endowed in the few hours of a walking tour was many-fold more than I ever knew.”
Lina feels the Honors Program immensely enriched her time at St John’s. “I have developed so many relationships and connections through the program,” she says. “At the Annual Softball games, Tea & Sympathies and Uncommon Hours, I have met so many people who share my interests and passion for learning. I truly feel privileged to be a student in the Honors Program. It is a life-changing opportunity not to be missed.”
Wesley Martinez, hailing from Southern California, was intrigued by the idea of studying in New York. After consulting with several teachers from his high school, Chaminade College Prep, he applied to St. John’s, was accepted with a generous scholarship, and was offered a place in its honors program. The combination of a scholarship, the benefits of the University Honors Program, and the chance to spend his college years in New York City quickly sealed the deal for him.
Always interested in history and learning in general, Wesley promptly took advantage of what the University Honors Program had to offer. Joining Dr. Forman, the program’s director, on walking tours of New York taught him about the culture and history of the city. He also took every opportunity for complimentary tickets available to honors program students for the Metropolitan Opera, New York Philharmonic, and the New York City Ballet.
Wesley is currently majoring in history and will likely add a second major in economics. A minor in photography may be a possibility as well. Wesley is the official photographer of the St. John’s University Track Club and has helped record several Honors Program events including the first ever Quidditch match held at St. John’s University and a trip to the Cloisters.
Having fenced for twelve years, both in Southern California and around the United States, and earning his “A” rating, he continues to fence in Manhattan as well as at home in California and hopes to start a fencing club on campus.
When not fencing or studying, Wesley often works on continuing to refine his work in copperplate calligraphy, a skill which he taught himself. He also enjoys reading and will often spend hours completely engrossed in books. Wesley also enjoys strategy games such as Sid Meir’s Civilization V and Axis & Allies. When not occupying his time with any of the aforementioned activities he can be found in the library or on his computer researching various topics in all areas of study and keeping up with world events.
In the future, Wesley hopes to study abroad in Rome with some of his honors program classmates. Despite not having a clear idea where his interests and studies ultimately may take him, Wesley knows that in the future he will be able to influence his community and the world in general for the better.
Growing up in the ethnically diverse islands of Hawai’i, Erin “Mahina” McGarry has always had a passion for learning about various cultures and languages. This brought her directly to her major in anthropology and to St. John’s. The University’s multicultural Queens campus has allowed her to meet students with very different backgrounds and has widened her own intellectual horizons. The exceptional students she has met through the Honors Program have especially helped her to think complexly and comprehensively about a variety of topics. Indeed, the conversations and exchanges that she has had while at St. John’s have brought new meaning to the phrase she was taught growing up: ʻAʻole pau ka ʻike i ka hālau hoʻokahi (“Not all knowledge is found in one school”). This traditional Hawaiian proverb emphasizes the benefits of cultural exchange and collaboration with others as a means to grow and develop a more inclusive view of the world.
From a young age, Mahina has been interested in traveling. Various trips she has taken to Europe, Canada, as well as various regions of the Pacific have encouraged her love of this pastime. The far-reaching study abroad program at St. John's also has given Mahina an opportunity to continue doing this. She plans to spend a semester abroad in Rome and perhaps even a semester in Japan, during which she plans to complete her minor in Asian Studies.
When she is not in class or working on campus with the College Bound Liberty Partnerships Program, a government funded program aimed to provide further educational opportunities to high school students in the Queens area, Mahina participates in a variety of other pursuits. She enjoys writing and plans to obtain a minor in journalism. Mahina hopes to write for a variety of publications during her time at St. John's, including the student newspaper, The Torch. She is also passionate about music and singing, and has sung with the St. John's University Mixed Choir.
In her additional free time, Mahina enjoys volunteering at the Queens Botanical Gardens and plans to serve there on a regular basis in order to learn more about various environmental issues we are faced with today as well as help to construct and run an aquaponics system on site.
In addition to these things, Mahina enjoys having the opportunity to learn more about the exciting City of New York, whether through Honors Program walking tours guided by Dr. Forman or by attending cultural events like performances by the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic. All said, Mahina is grateful to the University and its Honors Program. She believes it has contributed to her unique and comprehensive education.
Kathleen McGrail is a sophomore Communication Arts major, and hers is the first face one sees when entering the Honors Program offices in St. Augustine Hall. She comes from Bridgewater, a town of medium size just south of Boston, Massachusetts. Kathleen is a member of the Phi Eta Sigma National Honor Society, an organization that admits students who show academic excellence during their freshman year. She holds the Academic Excellence Scholarship, and she presently serves as one of the student workers in the Honors Program.
Kathleen enthusiastically praises the honors professors with whom she has studied. She mentions specifically Dr. Moti Mizrahi for his approach of teaching students how to argue their beliefs intelligently in his philosophy classes, Dr. Sean Murray for his incredibly helpful and thoughtful constructive criticism on her papers in his English language class, and Dr. Michael Dempsey, whose enthusiastic lectures in his Perspectives on Christianity class sparked in her an interest in religion she did not previously have. Kathleen believes that her fellow Honors Program students are some of the most knowledgeable and caring people she has met, and she happily tells anyone who will listen that she has never had a negative experience in any of her honors courses.
In her small amount of free time, Kathleen particularly enjoys reading and writing creatively. She has produced many stories since she found her passion in eighth grade, mostly realistic, modern fiction aimed at a young adult audience. She also has a long-held love for Spanish, although she admits that she is much better at writing in the language than speaking it, and is a natural teacher, despite her decision not to pursue teaching as a career. Her literary inclinations are leading her more in the direction of publishing or public relations.
Kathleen believes that living on campus was extremely important in her development as a social college student. “Being a residential student has given me new perspectives on just about everything,” she notes. “It has taught me how to live and take care of myself while also forming strong bonds with the people who surround me, no matter how superficially different we might seem to be. But most of all, it’s taught me the all-important virtue of patience.”
A proud Southern California native, Joseph Robert Schneider is excited to find himself far from home in New York City. Having decided to attend St. John’s for a number of reasons ranging from the lure of the Honors Program to the generous Provost Scholarship offered to him, Joseph has come to love the University for the many opportunities available to its students. His lifelong bond with his church also has made Saint John’s an especially good fit.
Growing up in a scouting family instilled Joseph with an outgoing spirit, which motivated him to become involved with most anything he found interesting. His extracurricular activities the past several years have included music, competitive and recreational sports, service-based organizations, and Army Junior ROTC. He is most proud of having become an Eagle Scout in August, 2014. He has taken this adventurous spirit with him to New York, taking full advantage of the university’s metropolitan setting and enjoying the many cultural events sponsored by the Honors Program. Now on campus, he has found his niche as a member of the university’s improvisational comedy troupe, the Bad Astronauts.
Joseph had originally planned to attend one of the military academies. As early as middle school, he had been set on joining the military. He even had gone so far as to start the process of congressional nominations to attend the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. During his senior year of high school, however, he chose the civilian route for his education after much deliberation and personal reflection.
Coming to the Saint John’s sight unseen and still wondering whether a civilian education was the right choice, Joseph did not know what to expect, but St. John's has come to pleasantly surprise him. He appreciates the smaller, more intimate classroom settings he can find through the Honors Program, as well as the many academic resources the university can provide as a tier one research university. He frequents the university’s library in St. Augustine Hall and often will first go to the library’s online archives when working on any research-based assignment. He finds the faculty to be one of the best parts of the Honors Program and the university in general, as in his experience, they all have a genuine passion for what they teach and are always ready to help their students succeed. Outside of academics, Joseph enjoys following the University’s Division 1 athletics teams, especially soccer and basketball.
With a longtime passion for the literary arts, Joseph has set his sights on a future career as an editor, perhaps for one of the east coast’s many major publishing firms. He hopes that the University’s five-year combined English BA/MA program will better his chances of realizing this goal. Nonetheless, Joseph has many other plans before graduation, including participating in the university’s exchange program. He is confident that during his years at Saint John’s and in the University’s Honors Program, he will grow intellectually, professionally, and spiritually, and enjoy himself along the way.
Stacey Thomas, a student in the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, is well into her challenging six-year program of study toward a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) degree. She was born and raised in Queens, New York and so only a stone’s throw from the University’s main campus, Stacey has nevertheless journeyed miles intellectually since she began her pharmacy studies three years ago.
Stacey credits her successful academic journey (with so much accomplished in such a short time) to the large number of opportunities that have opened to her through her PharmD studies as well as through the University Honors Program. She was a founding member of the National Society of Leadership and Success, into which she was inducted last spring. She has also become a member of many pharmacy related organizations, such as the Student Society of Health-System Pharmacists and the American College of Clinical Pharmacy. Her long-term goal is to pursue a career in the field of clinical pharmacy and promote the role of pharmacists in New York State.
Stacey is also actively involved in her church, located in Hicksville, NY. On Sunday mornings, she helps coordinate the "Children’s Church" and teaches religious studies to children between the ages of five and eleven. She is also a leader in a boys and girls club. There, she helps mentor children to understand the teachings of the Bible. She participates as well in various community projects such as blood drives that are held at her church and fundraising events for charities and mission trips around the world.
Stacey looks upon the Honors Program and its Commons as a second home in lieu of a room in the residence halls. As she describes it, “Since I’m a commuter, it’s difficult travelling with a heavy backpack without having a dorm room to rely on. That’s why the Honors Commons, a lounge provided by the Honors Program, has become an essential part of my college experience.
"The Honors Commons is a place exclusively for Honors students to meet with friends, have lunch and unwind after class. I call it my home away from home because I am able to leave my lunch in the fridge and use the cabinets and microwave as though they were my own. This is particularly convenient on days when I have late labs or a long day of classes.”
The Commons is just one of the perquisites of the Honors Program that Stacey uses frequently. She also takes advantage of the many cultural events and tickets the Honors Program provides for its students. As she says, “It had always been a dream of mine to see a major world orchestra play at Lincoln Center. Because of the Honors Program, I was able to get free tickets and see the New York Philharmonic play Mahler’s Second Symphony (The Resurrection). It was a transforming experience that I will never forget!” She has also been on many walking tours of New York City given by Dr. Forman as well as gallery tours at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
As Stacey puts it, “Some first-year Pharmacy students are afraid to accept the Honors Program invitation thinking that the workload might be too overwhelming. However, as a pharmacy student in the Honors Program, I have found not only that the courses are no harder than regular sections of the courses all undergraduates take. The main differences are the smaller class sizes, honors professors, and the atmosphere of the Honors community. I’m proud to be part of the St. John’s Honors Program and look forward to the years ahead!”