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10 under 10: Young Alumni Make a Difference

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

As a Catholic and Vincentian University, St. John’s teaches students that knowledge is especially meaningful when used to make the world a better place. This view is evident in the achievements of the 10 graduates profiled below. Though they earned their degrees less than a decade ago, they are already having a positive impact at work and in their communities.

Serving through Science

Alando Hall ’08P

Inspired by St. John’s Vincentian Mission, Alando Hall is a former toxicology major who uses his knowledge to benefit the public. He is an Environmental Health and Safety Manager for Skanska USA, one of the nation’s leading contractors for civil engineering and infrastructure projects.

Mr. Hall travels throughout the tristate area as he works with federal, state, and local officials to gauge the impact that capital infrastructure projects have on the health of surrounding communities. He ensures that his company complies with regulations, supports progressive environmental policies, and advocates for workers’ safety. “Complying with health regulations shows that a company really cares about the people who live near their projects,” said Mr. Hall, who minored in chemistry. “Supporting compliance is a great way to serve those communities.”

At St. John’s, he served as President of the Toxicology Club and as a Chemistry Research Assistant. “I love the University,” he said. “That’s where I finally began to focus on people—and on what I could do for those in need.”

Fulfilling a Dream

Michael McGinn ’13CPS

Like many college freshmen, Michael McGinn was uncertain about what he wanted to do with his life. He began his undergraduate career at St. John’s as a television and film major. He enjoyed producing and editing short films with his classmates, but his personality and drive made it difficult for him to stay behind the scenes. “I realized then,” Mr. McGinn said, “that I had to actively seek professors who understood my passion and goals.”

This led him to Deborah Greh, Ed.D., Professor and Director of Mass Communication. “She understood me perfectly,” he said. “And she was very straightforward about the barriers I would face in such a competitive market.”

Mr. McGinn switched his major to communication arts and began to learn the essentials of the broadcasting industry. Professors brought in well-known personalities and took classes to studios for a behind-the-scenes look at preparation and presentation. Upon graduation, Mr. McGinn landed a part-time job at 92.3 AMP Radio, earning nine dollars an hour. Today, he is a fully employed, on-air personality doing what he loves best. “I will always be beholden to my professors and the University,” he said. “They helped shape me as a person and a professional.”

Embarking on a “Fantastic Career”

Sai Aung Phyo ’15C

Sai Aung Phyo attributes his success to his undergraduate years at St. John’s “and the people I met there.” 

After receiving his bachelor’s degree in biology, with minors in chemistry and philosophy, Mr. Phyo is enrolled in the M.D./Ph.D. program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. He is now in the program’s M.D. phase, seeing patients, taking their medical history, performing physical exams, and—with attending doctors—developing courses of treatment.

Mr. Phyo said his professors and courses prepared him well for the rigors of medical school. He also was inspired by the University’s Vincentian Mission of service. As a student in the Honors Program at St. John’s, he tutored classmates in biology, chemistry, and physics. During his free time, he also participated in the Midnight Run program, in which St. John’s students travel in University vans to distribute food, clothing, and necessities to homeless people throughout Manhattan. “It was an amazing educational experience,” he said, “one that has propelled me forward, toward a fantastic career.”

Getting to Know Patients and their Families

Allison Raich Potar ’07Pharm.D.

Allison Raich Potar is a self-described “people person,” which is part of the reason why she enjoys her work as a Clinical Pharmacy Coordinator for Glen Cove Hospital, NY, part of the Northwell Health network. “Helping patients is what I love most,” she said.

As a student in the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences at St. John’s, Ms. Potar originally wanted to teach in a pharmacy program. Her professors encouraged her to gain experience in practice first. She completed her post-graduation residency at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset. “It was the best of both worlds,” she said. “I got to teach my team’s members about medications, and I was there to help the patients understand them, too.”

After six years at Franklin Hospital in Valley Stream, NY, she accepted an administrative role as Manager of Medication Safety and Quality at Northwell. Her responsibilities include advising patients in the hospital’s rehabilitation units. “I love my role because I really get to know them,” she said. She also mentors current St. John’s students who serve as interns. “There’s nothing more rewarding than helping others,” she said.

Falling in Love with Teaching

Helen Rooney ’11Ed

On the day Helen Rooney visited the Queens, NY, campus for the first time, she knew that St. John’s was the place to fulfill her passion for teaching. “I felt this instant connection to the University,” she said. “That didn’t happen at any other school I visited.”

Ms. Rooney studied childhood education with a concentration in biology. After graduating, she began working with special needs students in Long Beach, NY, public schools. She was a teacher’s assistant, educating children who had autism, Down syndrome, and other learning difficulties. “I fell in love with the job,” she said.

Today, Ms. Rooney is the Head Teacher for a seventh-grade class at the Aaron School in midtown Manhattan. Aaron is a K‒12 special needs and learning disabilities school that combines traditional subjects with methods for overcoming social challenges. She teaches science, English language arts, mathematics, and health and human development. She also handles individual report cards and serves as a liaison with parents and the New York State Department of Education. According to Ms. Rooney, “Professors in The School of Education showed me how to be the best teacher I could—because they’re the best.”

Advocating for Children

Maria Rodriguez ’12C

Maria Rodriguez always wanted to be a lawyer. At St. John’s University, she majored in sociology. She also learned about St. Vincent de Paul’s dedication to serving others and decided to use her legal knowledge to help those in need.

“St. John’s mission of serving others inspired me to pursue a career in public interest law,” she said. Ms. Rodriguez set her sights on one of the most marginalized segments of the population—immigrant children. After earning her J.D. at the University of Connecticut, she accepted a Legal Fellow position with The Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellowship Program, where she works with Kids in Need of Defense (KIND).

Her job entails interviewing children, attending immigration or state court proceedings, preparing immigration applications, and mentoring pro-bono attorneys. “Ultimately,” she noted, “my job is to advocate for children—a population that is often completely silent.”

Gaining an Edge for Success

Taryn Ruane ’15MS, ’13L 

Earning a master’s degree in accounting from The Peter J. Tobin College of Business while completing her J.D. at St. John’s School of Law took strong commitment on the part of Taryn Ruane. Not only did the University prepare her for a fulfilling career, but it also taught her the rewards of hard work and perseverance.

Today, Ms. Ruane is a Manager in the New York-based professional services firm Grant Thornton LLP, where she handles state and local tax compliance issues while advising clients. From a compliance perspective, she prepares returns for corporations and not-for-profit organizations. As a consultant, she addresses restructuring projects that enhance administrative efficiencies for companies, minimize tax filings, and limit liabilities.

Ms. Ruane said her networking experiences at St. John’s helped prepare her for her current position. “I went to every Career Services event,” she said. “Years later, when I decided to change firms, I ended up joining my current company by talking with people who remembered me from St. John’s.”  The Southbury, CT, native also credits The Peter J. Tobin College of Business with giving her an edge in a global industry. “I felt confident that if I worked hard and committed myself to my course work, I would have the knowledge and skills to get the job I wanted in my field,” she said.

Inspired to Serve

Elisa Sciortino ’07TCB, ’12MBA 

When the financial crisis hit, Elisa Sciortino was a recent St. John’s graduate who was working at a local bank. “I knew it was time to return to St. John’s,” said the former marketing major at The Peter J. Tobin College of Business. “I was inundated with questions about the state of the banking industry, so I decided to delve deeper into the field.”

Ms. Sciortino enrolled in the University’s M.B.A. program and, focusing on finance, attended classes at both the Manhattan and Staten Island campuses. “I learned a lot about the regulatory environment in finance and started to look for jobs in that space,” she said. Her search led to her current position with the Federal Reserve, where she is a Financial Services Associate.  

While Ms. Sciortino’s finance courses at St. John’s prepared her for professional success, learning about St. Vincent de Paul peaked her interest in another area—serving others. “I began to picture myself giving back to my community, but I didn’t know where to begin,” she said. She soon discovered IlluminArt Productions, a nonprofit theater group in Staten Island that empowers local youths through performance. “Ultimately, our goal is to make a difference in students’ lives,” she said.

Motivating Students of All Ages

Steven Surujbali ’16GEd

“I empower children.” That’s how Steven Surujbali summarizes what he does every day as a sixth-grade math instructor in East New York, Brooklyn. “My job is really about getting students to explore the world outside their comfort zone so that they can succeed.”

Though he did not always want to be an educator, Mr. Surujbali had a change of heart after completing his undergraduate degree in economics and global studies. He enrolled in the NYC Teaching Fellows program and The School of Education at St. John’s. “I wanted to pursue a field where I could be a positive influence on others,” said Mr. Surujbali, who earned his M.S. degree in Adolescent Education, Mathematics 7–12. “St. John’s had a huge impact on shaping my career.”

Today, Mr. Surujbali serves as his school’s spelling bee coach, math club coach, talent show coordinator, yearbook coordinator, and Deputy Director of Culture. In the summer, he also works as a Teacher Development Coach for The New Teacher Project, where he mentors first-year teachers who work at high-need schools. Whether he’s motivating sixth graders or coaching rookie teachers, Mr. Surujbali always encourages others to seek out opportunities. “I want them all to have confidence in themselves,” he said, “and to understand that it takes dedication, hard work, community, and patience to make the leaps necessary for success.”

Learning—and Doing—New Things

Prescott Wong ’15CPS

A lifelong baseball fan, Prescott Wong thought he struck career gold when he landed a job combining his interest in sports with the latest media technology. Mr. Wong is a Site Manager for MLB Advanced Media, the Internet and media arm of Major League Baseball.

He had just graduated from St. John’s when he was offered the position. “They called me almost as soon as I applied,” said Mr. Wong, who majored in sport management. Today, two years later, the work “is still exciting—but you quickly learn to separate being a fan from the tasks at hand.” MLB Advanced Media brings events, schedules, standings, videos, and other news to millions of baseball enthusiasts every day. His department is responsible for uploading footage to MLB’s and other clubs’ websites, as well as those of sponsors and partners.

As the company expands digital coverage to soccer and the National Hockey League, Mr. Wong looks forward to the increased activity. A San Francisco native, he also feels fortunate to have found a job in New York City so quickly after earning his degree. “I take every opportunity to learn and do new things,” he said. “At St. John’s, I couldn’t have been better prepared.”