Alumnae Profiles

Boomerang

They go out into the world and then they come back. Alumnae Ellen Jacqueline Higgins ’02 and Mackenzie McGee ’03 returned to campus recently to share career and life advice with current students.

Higgins received a BA in political science and a BS in chemistry. She received a law degree from Notre Dame (’05) and is a law clerk to Judge Donald S. Owens at the Michigan Court of Appeals in Lansing.

“I hoped that by coming back I’d be able to show current students that the traditional paths that people think of when getting a science major, like going to med school or going to grad school in chemistry, aren’t the only things you can do,” explains Higgins. “I was somebody who never really seriously thought about those career paths and wanted to do something different.”

When it came to mentors, Higgins tapped everyone in the department for that distinction. “It’s hard for me to say that I had one mentor because I would just go to whoever was around with a question. I knew they could all answer.”

McGee acknowledged that chemistry professor Toni Barstis was the reason she became a chemistry major. “She [Dr. Barstis] always gave me the advice to challenge myself and that’s what I continue to do,” comments McGee.
McGee is in medical school at Loyola University in Chicago. She took a year off from medical school to do research at St. Jude’s Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, a decision she wanted to share with current students. “When I was applying [to medical school] I didn’t necessarily know that taking a year off to do research was something available to me,” explains McGee.

The networking weekend gave students, alumnae, and faculty the opportunity to strengthen old relationships and begin new ones. “I think one of the greatest things about Saint Mary’s is that whenever you meet somebody else that went to Saint Mary’s, even if you don’t know them at all, there’s that interesting connection and this instant friendship that develops,” comments Higgins. “You have this bond that almost surpasses mere friendship. It’s more the sort of bond that you get with your family and it never really goes away.”

Finding a Cure

When Donna Lubbers entered Saint Mary's College, she expressed a lofty goal to her chemistry professor, Dr. Dorothy Feigl. “I want to cure cancer,” Lubbers stated.

Now in her second year of the Ph.D. program in medicinal chemistry at the University of Kansas—the number-one ranked school in that field—she found an opportunity to pursue her dream. Lubbers just received the University of Kansas Madison and Lila Self Graduate Fellowship, awarded to “exceptional doctoral students in the sciences, engineering, business, or economics who demonstrate the promise to make significant contributions to their fields of study and society as a whole.” This four-year award consists of an annual $23,000 stipend, full tuition and fees, and a development program.

A biochemistry major and biology and mathematics minor at Saint Mary's, this first-generation college graduate became interested in cancer research in high school when she began babysitting Hannah, a young girl diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. “Hannah participated in a clinical trial—research with the sole purpose of keeping kids alive,” says Lubbers. “Hannah survived, and her life is a testimony to the power of scientific study and progress.” Lubbers realized how important research was in the fight against cancer, and decided to study science so she, too, could make a difference.

“Saint Mary's is one of the few schools in the country to offer a medicinal chemistry course, and that was one of the reasons I had so much success with graduate school interviews,” says Lubbers. “Many Saint Mary's science graduates get into and succeed in top-tier graduate and medical schools because we're very well prepared.”