Whether fate or a moment of clarity intervenes, the path of life is seldom a straight one. For some of those ending an academic journey this week, the road both to Hopkins and to graduation has taken many turns. Here are the stories of four unique students--in Arts and Sciences, Medicine, Nursing and SAIS--and the unforeseen detours they have encountered along the way.
Ed Garcia, School of Medicine
Ed Garcia is now nine years removed from the episode that set his life careening in a completely different trajectory. In the jungles of Panama, then Army officer Garcia and his platoon played out a specialized training exercise that would leave one of the soldiers fighting for life. While the West Point graduate prefers not to dwell on the details of the accident, he says efforts to treat the fallen soldier began immediately and outside medical attention was promptly sought. The nearest medic, however, was on the other side of Panama, a 30-minute journey by helicopter from the remote location.
"That left quite a bit of time to think about what was happening," says Garcia.
Despite his and others' feverish attempts to resuscitate the infantryman, he died just before help arrived. Garcia says he and his men were all well-versed in field medical training, but he couldn't help thinking that if he had known more, the outcome could have been different.
"That tragic event immediately crystallized some of the thoughts that I had started to develop," says Garcia, who will graduate on Thursday from the School of Medicine. "By 1996, I had made my decision to go into medicine; then it was only a matter of figuring out, how do I go back to school, and what do I need to do before I apply?"
Garcia says that before thoughts of medical school entered his head, he was on course to be a career military officer, like his father. During his nine years of active duty he saw combat in the Persian Gulf and served primarily in Panama and South Korea before joining the Department of Defense in 1997 to be a research officer.
He applied to six medical schools and says that Johns Hopkins was his No. 1 choice. What sold him was not the School of Medicine's reputation, however, but rather the interview process.
"Being in the military nearly all my life, I was sort of ignorant to the world of academic medicine," says Garcia, who grew up in Hawaii. "But through the course of my interview day, I became very impressed by what I saw. Everyone that I met really seemed to be committed to excellence, more so than in any other place I interviewed."
Garcia says he was somewhat apprehensive about the notion of going back to school at age 31, but he could not escape his desire to follow his new dream.
Today, Garcia looks back at his four years of medical school and wonders how he ever survived the first 12 months. "I obviously knew there was going to be a lot of studying and work, but I didn't realize quite how much," he says.
In particular, he says that preparing for his first anatomy test was "an eye-opener."
"I remember looking over the depth and detail of all the parts of the human body that we needed to know when it really hit me just how much complexity there was and how completely alien it all seemed," he says.
Garcia said it was the discipline he learned in the military that helped him get through that first year.
"I kept telling myself, you have to do it, so just do it," he says.
What also kept him going, he says, were the many opportunities he was given to interact and work with patients.
"The clinical training I received here reaffirmed the choices that I had made," he says. "The reason that I decided to go into medicine in the first place was to be on the front lines helping people."
Garcia says that in retrospect, the past four years have been a blur, and he finds it hard to believe that he will soon be called "Dr. Edward Garcia."
His initial plan was to rejoin a rapid deployment special-ops team after he received his degree. However, the recently married Garcia says he now prefers to keep his options open.
This summer he will begin a residency in internal medicine and anesthesiology at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. After he completes his residency, he says he plans to do a fellowship in intensive care and medicine so he can work in an ICU.
Returning to active duty and throwing himself into combat training situations again, he says, remains a distinct possibility, and one that he does not shy away from.
"And next time a situation like the one I went through
in Panama comes about, I know that maybe we can save [the
injured] this time," he says. "At least I'll be able to help
a bit more and give them a better chance at life."
Glen Taylor, Arts and Sciences
Life is full of choices; just ask any member of The Johns Hopkins University class of 2002. But looking back, the opportunities that led Glen Taylor here were ruled by a series of "what ifs":
What if Taylor's childhood home hadn't been destroyed by a fire? He might not be graduating cum laude from Hopkins with a bachelor's degree in political science on Thursday at the age of 19.
And what if he hadn't had a chance meeting with a Marine Corps recruiter on the Homewood campus his freshman year? Second Lt. Taylor is sure to have chosen a different career path, one involving a stethoscope rather than stealthy wartime tactics.
Taylor's journey to commencement began when he was 4. A house fire forced the Taylor family to leave its home in rural Millboro, Va. While his father stayed behind in Millboro to rebuild the house, the rest of the family temporarily relocated to the city of Richmond, Va. Once the family settled in, Taylor was enrolled in a Montessori preschool. There, teachers discovered that young Glen was academically ahead of his peers.
"It was a very customized school," Taylor says. "It was an open room full of books and math stuff. We learned what we wanted to learn, at our own pace."
When he rejoined his former class after the family returned to Millboro the following year, Taylor was learning at a pace school-years ahead of his classmates. His teachers discovered that he was reading at a seventh-grade level and was also accelerated in mathematics. His parents met with the teachers, and the group agreed Taylor could skip two grades, third and fourth. He later skipped eighth grade as well, and graduated from high school at 15.
Younger and smaller than the students in his classes, Taylor turned to competitive sports to prove his mettle.
"Wrestling, soccer, weightlifting, managing the football team--I tried to get involved with sports where size didn't matter so much," Taylor says. He also participated in theatrical productions and the school band. The older he got, he says, the three-year age difference became less important. During his freshman year at Hopkins, none of his new friends knew he was just 15 years old until one friend saw Taylor's J-Card and cried, "Hey, they've got your birthday wrong!" Taylor explained that the date was indeed correct.
"Nobody knew for a while until late in my first semester here," Taylor says. "I guess I didn't really care at that point."
While trying to fit in throughout his school years, Taylor discovered he had a knack for getting along with different types of people, a trait that he says has played a key role in his success with the Marine Corps.
Taylor's military training began the summer after his sophomore year here at Hopkins--he had wanted to go during the summer after his freshman year, but at 16 he was too young by the Marines Corps' standards. By the following summer, he was more than ready to go to Quantico, Va., for boot camp.
"It was just so exciting," Taylor says, eyes lighting up below his military crew cut and above his black USMC T-shirt. "It was challenging all the time."
Before meeting the Marine Corps recruiter, Taylor was intent on tackling a wholly different challenge: becoming a doctor. When he was 8, he read a newspaper article about a study being conducted by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh who were determining the effects of lead paint exposure on childhood development. He wrote a letter to the lead investigator, and was asked to participate as an unofficial junior researcher. With that early experience, everyone thought he was well on his way to earning an M.D.
"My whole life, people reacted a certain way when I said I wanted to be a doctor," Taylor says. "It was sort of expected, so I felt that I wanted to be a doctor for so long."
The idea of medical school didn't give him the charge that the prospect of a career in the military brought him.
"I like where I see myself now," Taylor says. "Five years from now, I could be a captain in charge of 150 people." With a medical career, "five years out ... I'd be a resident making nothing but with huge med school bills to pay."
After graduation, he'll spend six months in infantry training, honing his combat skills. He's already completed the two-summer officer training school, or Platoon Leaders Class, a physically and mentally challenging leadership program designed for students who have leadership potential "but desire to master the true art of leadership," says Capt. James E. Richardson Jr., an officer-selection officer. Taylor was ranked No. 1 in his class of 143 peers. The distinction earned him the United States Marine Corps Commandants Trophy, which was conferred in December 2001.
"That first summer of officer training school, I really knew what I wanted to do," Taylor says. "It wasn't even something I had to think about. It was just right for me."
Though embarking on a career in the military is a different prospect now after Sept. 11 than it was when Taylor first started his training, he says he is up to the challenge.
"I think it worries my parents," Taylor says. "But it's
even more exciting for me now. It's a chance to make a real
difference. No one in the military really wants to go to
war, but that is what we are always training for."
Boyong Wang, SAIS
The 13-hour flight gave Boyong Wang ample time to dwell on his anxiety. Wang had never been out of China before. For that matter, he had never been on a plane either. Now, here he was, "glued" to his chair some 30,000 odd feet above the ground heading to what for him amounted to the planet Mars.
Wang's actual destination was Bologna, Italy, home of the SAIS Bologna Center, where he would be spending the next year of his life.
"I was very nervous," says Wang, about that journey two years ago. "I didn't speak Italian at all, and I was not that confident in my English either. I knew life there, the culture system, could be completely different from what I had known. All I knew of Italy was pizza."
Enrolled in the Master of Arts in International Relations Program, he would spend one year studying in Bologna and then one year at SAIS's home campus in Washington, D.C.
Wang, who will receive his degree on Thursday, says he enrolled at SAIS to steep himself in both Western economic theory and American foreign policy, subjects not available at the Beijing university he had attended. Generally speaking, he says, economics was his weakest subject, and he wanted to advance his understanding. He says he also wanted an opportunity to soak up Western culture and spread his wings.
The first few flaps, however, turned out to be a bit awkward.
In Italy, Wang says he initially found it hard getting around. He got lost his first day and was frustrated that he was not able to communicate where he wanted to go. He says even mundane tasks such as grocery shopping became an adventure. He had trouble finding items, he says, and frequently came across fruits and vegetables that were completely foreign to him. He wound up "experimenting" with many foods, he says, to varying degrees of success. He found cabbage too bitter, for example, but fell in love with cappuccino.
While in Bologna, Wang lived with four other students in an apartment he calls "a miniature United Nations" as the five hailed from China, Mexico, Poland, Turkey and the United States. Wang says he and his roommates, all women, quickly became good friends, and the four helped him acclimate to his new surroundings.
At the center, Wang studied micro and macro economics, American history and American current issues. He also took a debate class, which became his favorite.
In one debate, Wang had to defend the U.S. policy of aiding Taiwan in its conflict with China, whose government claims the self-ruled island is its territory. Wang's personal view is that the Taiwan situation is part of China's domestic affairs and there should be no foreign involvement. The conflict, he says, forced him to step back and re-evaluate his opinions.
"That [debate] was very challenging for me," he says. "But it offered me a new perspective on the issue, things I never would have considered before."
Wang says his time at the Bologna Center was like "living in one big family."
"We spent so much time together, traveling, studying. I did love the life," he says. "You get to experience people who have different backgrounds. I learned a lot about how to get along with others from different parts of the world."
Since August, Wang has been living and studying in Washington. Overall, he says, the courses stateside have been much more challenging, and living in a large city has meant more distractions.
"It's definitely been a challenge," he says, "but a rewarding one."
Looking back at the past two years, Wang says he has learned a lot. Specifically, he says, his understanding of English and economics have dramatically improved. What he values most from his experience, however, is something else: "I learned about getting along with people to improve the modes of understanding," he says. "I learned a little about how the outside world works, and how important it is to be open-minded."
Wang says there are advantages to both the Chinese and Western cultures, and he thinks it's important that the Chinese people continue to cherish their culture and values while at the same time absorbing and embracing others'.
Currently, Wang is in full job-canvassing mode. He says he wants to find a job at a D.C.-based organization that is linked with China, either politically or through trade. After he gets some "real world" experience, his intention is to move back to China and start a career either in foreign policy analysis or economic policy.
"If possible, I want to help build a bridge between
China and the outside world," he says. "I want to use all
the knowledge from my Western education. This has been a
very valuable experience for me, and I'm hopeful what I
began here can contribute to my career, and the world."
Dominique Ashen, School of Nursing
For Dominique Ashen, the decision to enter nursing school was not an easy one. She was married with two children, already had a Ph.D. in physiology and was rather enjoying her life as a research associate in the Division of Cardiology at the School of Medicine.
There were also thoughts to consider of how quitting her job and financing tuition would affect her family--and at this stage in her life, did she really want to re-enter the classroom?
"Some thought I was crazy," says Ashen, who will receive her master of science in nursing degree on Thursday. "I can't say I'm sure I blame them."
As a research associate at Hopkins, Ashen was involved with the cloning of ion channels. She calls it "basic research" dealing with molecular biology. While she "really liked her lab work," she says something was missing.
"I wanted to be more involved with patient care, to do more clinical type of research," she says. "I wanted to work with people, not just my colleagues."
Interested in what the School of Nursing had to offer, Ashen one day literally walked across the street to the Anne M. Pinkard Building to get some feedback. That day she was introduced to Jacquelyn Campbell, professor and associate dean, and Martha Hill, then director of the Center for Nursing Research who has recently been appointed the school's dean.
"They were both very encouraging to what I wanted to do," she says. "It helped convince me that this could be a good move. It turned out to be the perfect thing for me."
Ashen says that once she made up her mind, everything began to fall into place. To ease the financial burden, she received some scholarship money. In Hill, Ashen knew she had found the perfect mentor. Most important, she says, she had the full support of her family.
"I could never have done this if my family decided to revolt," she says.
In the summer of 1999, Ashen entered the accelerated, 13-month B.S.N program. After passing her R.N. board, she went directly into the M.S.N. Adult Nurse Practioner Program.
Ashen says that being in the program the past 18 months confirmed for her that she had made the right decision. Her time spent in local clinics, she says, has allowed her to see many patients, working with them one on one to go over their health problems and develop a plan of care under the guidance of faculty members.
She describes the School of Nursing as "one big tight-knit family," and discovered early on that she was not alone as a career changer.
"It seems like all of the students here have such interesting backgrounds," she says. "They come from the Peace Corps, the business world, academia; it's a very varied group of people."
Ashen finished her course work in December and already has begun her work in outpatient care, specializing in preventive cardiology, at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. She recently was offered a position to be an assistant professor in the School of Nursing.
In hindsight, Ashen says things could not have worked out any better for her.
"I don't think I completely switched gears; I think of
it more as a continuing on, just in a different way," she
says. "It's nice because I'm now able to do the things I
like to do. I have the clinical position that I always
wanted. I will attempt to do the teaching soon. And then
I'll have the opportunity to do some research later on. What
more can I ask for?"