Carly Richardson to graduate with Physiology degree and pursue Occupational Therapy

Hello! My name is Carly Richardson, and I am a senior Physiology major at the University of Scranton. As one of the first students to graduate from Scranton as a Physiology major, I thought I’d share my journey with you.

I always knew I wanted to be in a science field and help people. I first enrolled as an Exercise Science major and planned on going on to physical therapy school. I soon realized, however, that this was not the path meant for me. I still was not sure where to turn, so I changed my major to Biology because I thought it would allow me to have a few different options. Then, I quickly switched to the Physiology major during my sophomore year when I realized the classes offered fascinated me more. I knew I wanted to work with people rather than animals in general, so I headed down the track of a physician’s assistant. Again, I realized this still was not my path, but I continued with Physiology because of the interesting courses it allowed me to explore. It was not until the end of my junior year that I found my calling. After talking to faculty and peers, I knew I wanted to pursue occupational therapy. Though it was a long journey, it was one that I’ll never regret because it shaped me into who I am today. I learned that there is no rush to figure out your future, and what is meant for you will find its way.

Surprisingly, physiology and occupational therapy overlaps in ways I didn’t even think of. I did not think that I would graduate on time, but with the help of my professors and advisor, I was able to plan out the rest of my semesters to both fulfill my undergraduate major and take pre-requisites for grad school. The Physiology program has provided me with incredible scientific expertise, and with options to create my own path as well. I have taken Advanced Human Anatomy and Physiology, Pathophysiology, Biostatistics, Genetics and more! Learning about scientific research, how to conduct experiments and write reports has prepared me more than I could have imagined. I had the freedom to take Abnormal Psychology, Developmental Lifespan Psychology and Sociology courses, all of which apply to both fields. All my classes allowed me grasp knowledge not only important to physiology, but important to occupational therapy as well, making me a well-versed student.

My post-graduation plans are to take a gap year and then apply to an Occupational Therapy Doctorate Program. During my time off, I will work at a special needs school while getting more observation hours. My last four years at the University of Scranton have been eye-opening in allowing me to figure out my passion. I have created many meaningful relationships with friends that will last a lifetime. I’m so grateful to my professors, who were and will remain the most helpful and caring mentors. They want nothing but success for their students. Being a part of Relay for Life, Beading Hope, Art Club, and the Student Occupational Therapy Association provided me with experiences in the Scranton community that I am also very grateful for, as I shared my passion for helping others with people who had similar interests. I am forever thankful for my entire experience as a Physiology major in the place I learned to call home, and I feel beyond prepared to begin the next chapter of my life as I study occupational therapy.

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Eddie DiTolla, graduating Physiology Program senior on moving from Exercise Science to Physiology

Hi, I am Eddie DiTolla, a graduating senior from the University of Scranton. I am majoring in the excellent Physiology program that continues to develop and expand at the U.

  When I first arrived at the university, the Physiology program was not yet available to us, but was moving through the curricular approval process. I initially enrolled as an Exercise Science major and took sports physiology during my freshman year, which piqued my interest in physiology. I soon heard about the program and switched to Physiology as soon as the program was approved. I did this because it gave me many more career options. Like almost every process, there is a beginning, and, in the beginning, there are the guinea pigs to be used, and a need to narrow down the essentials that students need to know; I was okay with that. At times it was difficult, but as John Calipari has said, a successful person wins or learns, and boy I have learned a lot. The Physiology program led me to take a variety of courses that have expanded my knowledge of the physiological systems within our body. Courses I have taken include Genetics, Endocrinology and Reproduction, Pathophysiology, and Comparative Biomechanics. Pathophysiology is hands down one of my favorite courses. It gave students a real-life perspective on how to treat patients; it made students think outside the box, which can be difficult at times but also quite rewarding.

I feel that some of the teachers that I have had in the Physiology program are some of the most personable and genuinely lovely people I will ever meet in life. I could go to them and talk to them about anything and everything, which vastly helped in picking a career.  A personal experience of mine occurred one spring, when I tore ligaments in my ankle playing soccer. In the first class I attended after the injury, one of my teachers asked if I wanted him to go get me crutches, because I should not be walking on the injured ankle. It was one of the best things a teacher did for me at the U.

As for post-graduation plans, this April I will be applying throughout the country to PA schools, as well as to doctorate programs in Sports Kinesiology/Sports Management. I also will continue to gain more clinical experience. As a side note, if you go to the U, you should join the PA club and Ultimate Frisbee club. Overall, I love the U and believe that the Physiology program can lead to a fantastic future.

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Joe Pernini on graduating with a degree in Physiology

Hi, I’m Joe Pernini, a senior Physiology major at the University of Scranton.

As an incoming freshman, I had originally decided to major in Exercise Science and eventually pursue a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree. After taking Human Anatomy & Physiology my freshman year, I developed a deeper curiosity for the more advanced physiological systems of the body. Fortunately, I heard of the new Physiology major, and decided to switch majors during the spring semester of my sophomore year to further pursue my interests.

This allowed me to broaden my scientific knowledge by taking courses such as General Biology and Organic Chemistry which I would not have been exposed to otherwise. Additionally, this gave me the opportunity to take a variety of very interesting courses including Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy, Genetics, Endocrinology and Reproduction, as well as the Physiology courses specific to the curriculum of the major.

The professors that I have had throughout the last four years were some of the most genuine people that I have met in my life. They truly care about your success and go out of their way to ensure that you have a thorough understanding of the material that is taught. I have been able to meet so many people through the University and have made friendships that will last a lifetime. My time here has been an unbelievable experience, and though it is bittersweet to leave, I am confident with the foundation that the University of Scranton has given for my future.

I still plan on pursuing a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree; however, I will be taking a gap year in order to gain more clinical experience before applying to any programs. I hope that after reading this you will be as drawn to the Physiology major at the University of Scranton as I was.

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Physiology Senior Dan Fink reflects on his experience with the Major

Hi, my name is Daniel Fink and I am a senior studying Physiology at the University of Scranton.
As an incoming freshman in the Fall of 2016 I had a seat in the Doctorate of Physical Therapy (DPT) program here at Scranton. I did not know what to major in as I did not want to pursue a Biology or Exercise Science, now Kinesiology, degree. I knew that either major would have worked out just fine for the DPT, but upon learning about the new Physiology program, I knew I had found the perfect fit for me, so I declared Physiology as my major in the Spring of 2017. At that time, I didn’t realize that this decision would change my plans for my career path. This program has provided me with incredible academic knowledge as well as countless skills that will translate into my future career in the pharmaceutical industry. 

The physiology program allowed me to take extremely interesting electives such as Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy, Cardiovascular Physiology, Biostatistics, and Genetics, in addition to the required courses such as Organic Chemistry and Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology. Taking organic chemistry opened my eyes to a new world of science, which I immediately fell in love with. This allowed me to learn the unlimited potential of the Physiology major – I could use my love of the body and newfound love of chemistry to work in an industry where I could develop life-changing medicines and technologies for people. Another awesome aspect of this major is the opportunities to do research, although I did not start research until my senior year. I have been able to assist Dr. Sweeney with the Scranton Cardiovascular Model, albeit for a short amount of time, but it has been a rewarding experience to say the least. 

The last 4 years at Scranton have been unbelievable in every aspect of my life and Physiology is an integral reason why. I have been able to form incredible relationships with my fellow classmates both inside and outside of the classroom. Also, the professors that I have had throughout this major are some of the most helpful and considerate individuals I have encountered, as they truly want each and every one of their students to succeed no matter what it takes. This university is a tight-knit community in which I am proud to have had an impact – whether it be through different organizations or through participating in events throughout campus, such as Relay for Life. It all has been an incredible experience. 

All in all, I could not be happier that I chose this University and this major, as those choices have allowed me to grow as both a student and individual. I am not leaving Scranton doing what I thought I would be doing upon stepping foot on campus back in August 2016, but I will forever be grateful for all that I have been able to realize and become in my time here.

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Graduating Physiology Major Aubri Rice – her Scranton Experience

Hi all, I’m Aubri Rice, a Physiology major with a Women’s and Gender studies concentration! As one of the first students to graduate from the University of Scranton’s Physiology program, I would love to share my experience with you all!
I started at the university as a Biochemistry major, but quickly realized it wasn’t the path for me, I quickly switched into Biology program. After all of that, I heard about the Physiology program in the Spring of  2017 and realized that it fit better with the path I wanted to take. I’m sharing here that I changed my major multiple times because I want to remind all of you prospective students that it is ok to not really know what major you want to be when you come to college. It’s ok to change if you find that you don’t like what you are doing or find a better fit!

The physiology program has helped me to engage in active learning and shape my skillset toward what I will need for my next step in life. I was able to take the prerequisite classes I needed for the graduate program that I want to go into. Not only this, but I learned how to proficiently talk about scientific research, which prepared me for any other career that one could choose in the scientific field. This program is set to produce well-rounded students by giving us the science background we need, mixed with a liberal arts degree that allows you to explore other subjects.

I have always known I wanted to work in the medical field; my experience as a Physiology major made me realize that I wanted to be a Physician Assistant. My post-graduation plans as of right now are to take a gap year to gain more patient care experience before applying to PA school. I feel like this program has set me up well for pursuing a PA degree and succeeding in that discipline. I am grateful for the experiences I have had through this program and the knowledge I have gained! I am so proud to be a Royal and I hope that some of you choose to come to this amazing university that I have gotten to call home for the last four years.

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Physiology major Nicole Antonelli looks forward to graduation and her Doctor of Physical Therapy Program

Hello! My name is Nicole Antonelli and I am a senior physiology major.
I will be starting at the University of Delaware this June to pursue my Doctor of Physical Therapy degree. I’ve known since high school I wanted to be a physical therapist, but my path to get here wasn’t exactly how I originally planned.

I was planning to study Biology at the University of Scranton and had a guaranteed seat in Scranton’s Doctor of Physical Therapy Program. The summer before I started, I received an email about the new Physiology major that was starting. After reviewing the curriculum plan, I decided to switch majors since I felt that the Physiology major was more closely aligned to my graduate studies in physical therapy. My sophomore year, I got to take the Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology course sequence, which I felt gave me a strong foundation in the workings of the human body. I also had the opportunity to take a bunch of cool electives, such as Cellular & Molecular Neurobiology, Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy, Pathophysiology, and Extreme Physiology. The latter was a travel course in which I spent a month in Arizona hiking, biking, and running to learn how the body adapts to extreme exercise conditions.

Me at the sunny side peak of Chiracahua National Monument, Arizona.

At the end of my freshman year, I figured out that I had enough credits to graduate a year early. It wouldn’t be easy, and I would have to double up on science classes during my sophomore year, but I decided that I wanted to challenge myself. I don’t think I wouldn’t have succeeded without the constant support of my professors and advisor. My Scranton experience fostered my academic drive, confidence, and deepened my love for knowledge, two factors that I think will tremendously benefit me as I continue my graduate studies at the #1 physical therapy school in the nation!

My Scranton experience also helped strengthen my love for helping others. I was heavily involved in the Circle K Club of Scranton, serving, as representative, Vice President, and President. I had the opportunity to plan and facilitate numerous service events to benefit the community. I also served as a Peer Health Educator, in which it was my job to spread awareness about various health and wellness topics around campus. Both of these experiences helped me develop key communication skills required to work in the physical therapy field.

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Hunter Smith completes his degree in Physiology and moves to Optometry

Hi, I’m Hunter Smith, a senior studying physiology at the University of Scranton!I am one of the inaugural physiology majors here at Scranton. I excitedly transferred into the program when it first became available at the end of my freshman year. I believe that choosing this course of study not only shaped my academic interests toward studying the physiological sciences, but has also provided me with the skills that will allow me to excel in optometric medical school. 

The physiology program consists of a course load that, while challenging, is designed to provide students with an immense understanding of the physiological sciences. The enriching material presented in these courses has provided me with the foundational knowledge that I believe will facilitate my success as a student of the Kentucky College of Optometry this upcoming fall.

Before I attended the University of Scranton, I knew I wanted to be a doctor, and being enrolled in this program fueled my career aspirations.  As I continued in physiology, I realized that I had made the right choice; one that would allow me to be successful not only in garnering admission into optometric medical school, but one that will provide me with the fundamental experience to enact a positive change as an Optometric Physician.

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We’re Celebrating our First Students to Graduate from the Physiology Program

In May 2020, we will celebrate the first University of Scranton students to graduate with a B.S. in Physiology! The program, marking its third year, has grown rapidly, and currently serves 76 majors. This spring we honor the seven students who moved into the major as sophomores in Fall 2017 and the one 2017 Freshman who completed the program in three years! As part of the celebration, we’ve asked the upcoming graduates to blog here about their University of Scranton experience within the major and the paths they will take as they move on from Scranton to a wide array of professions in physiology and the biomedical arena. Join us in congratulating each of them for their success and wishing them well in their journey.

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Hypoxia and Connectivity in the Developing Vertebrate Nervous System

Each year more than 500,000 infants in the U.S.A. are born prematurely, up to a third of whom will develop a neurodevelopmental disorder (NDD). NDDs range from autism to cerebral palsy and are caused by alterations in brain connectivity. Chronic hypoxic exposure, which is a near-ubiquitous complication of prematurity, is one of the primary risks for NDDs. Hypoxia is a large reduction of oxygen. The hypoxia occurs during a developmental epoch (period of time) characterized by widespread axon pathfinding and synaptogenesis (which broadly refer to as connectivity development) in the CNS. Despite its importance, the molecular mechanisms by which hypoxia disrupts CNS connectivity development are poorly understood.


Dr. Son and his colleagues have developed a novel zebrafish model of chronic hypoxia to study effects of prematurity.  To induce hypoxia, embryonic zebrafish are placed in a sealed Plexiglass chamber connected via a controller that monitors and adjusts nitrogen gas flow to a desired oxygen pressure (pO2) set point (Biospherix, Inc.) (Fig. 1A). They showed that hypoxic injury specifically disrupts axon pathfinding, which is a quantifiable defect that occurs during the period of axon extension from 24-36 hours post-fertilization (hpf) (Figure 1B). Their hypoxia model disrupts CNS connectivity development, but they have shown that it does not cause an increase in apoptosis or grossly impact other aspects of neurogenesis or fate determination, which is similar to the effects of prematurity in human infants, and to the mouse models of chronic hypoxia. Additionally, to monitor and visualize synapses, Dr. Son and his colleagues have modified and implemented the use of fibronectin intrabodies generated by mRNA display (FingRs) in zebrafish (Fig. 1C).  Dr. Son and his colleagues were the first to make transgenic FingR animals; and the first to demonstrate FingR use in live, behaving animals.  FingRs are an in vivo, the targetable genetic method for monitoring and visualizing synapses.  FingRs were initially tested in cell culture and transiently in hippocampal slices, targeting synaptic proteins such as excitatory postsynaptic density 95 (PSD-95) or inhibitory Gephyrin synaptic protein (GPHN).  Previously no reliable genetic technique was available to label postsynaptic targets in live animals.  With FingRs they can monitor synapses in genetically defined groups of neurons as opposed to labeling all of the synapses when using pan-labeling immunohistochemistry; they can track changes in live animals; FingRs can be visualized post-fixation as well.  With FingRs, they have performed extensive controls regarding the specificity of their expression and localization. They have confirmed FingR postsynaptic localization to synapses; and shown that their expression does not impair expression of other synaptic proteins or behavior, which is consistent with the initial published work on FingRs as well as subsequent use.


The small vertebrate zebrafish (Danio rerio) has unique advantages for this project.  Experimentally, zebrafish has straightforward gene function manipulation for transgenesis and CRISPR knockdown, and facile imaging, similar to invertebrates.  Dr. Son and his colleagues have generated multiple transgenic lines that they actively use for research experiments that would not financially or genetically be feasible in other vertebrate models. Zebrafish have been used as models for neurodevelopmental disorders ranging from epilepsy to hydrocephalus and recently have been used for discovery of treatments for human neurological diseases as well.


To read more about Dr. Son’s research, please keep on the lookout for the release of this article “Hypoxia and connectivity in the developing vertebrate nervous system” in the journal Disease Models & Mechanisms.


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Tate Ackerman studies White-nose Syndrome Decimating Bat Populations

Hi, my name is Tate Ackerman and I am a rising senior studying Biology, History, and Philosophy at the University of Scranton! This past Spring I was awarded a President’s Fellowship for Summer Research to conduct research on local bat populations using both mist-netting and acoustic monitoring techniques. This project aims to tabulate the bat species that are present in Lackawanna State Park, including their numbers and distribution.

White-Nose Syndrome has caused at least five million bat casualties over the past 13 years, making it the largest epizootic outbreak ever recorded in the world. Estimates from 2016 indicated that over 95% of the bats from six of the nine species found in northeastern Pennsylvania have now died from the disease. Earlier this year, the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners added the northern long-eared bat, the tri-colored bat, and the little brown bat to Pennsylvania’s endangered species list.

Last summer, Dr. Gary Kwiecinski and I used acoustic monitoring techniques to conduct a preliminary population study of the extant bat species in the state park. The equipment is very heavy so we had to use several bungee cords to stabilize it on the poles. The microphone (not pictured) is delicate and must be out of reach of both animals and humans.

Our SM3 acoustic recording device and microphone was positioned in a bog next to Lackawanna Lake before sundown.

The data that we collected could indicate the regional extinction of five bat species.

This summer, we worked to collect reliable and accurate data to present to the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners. We also plan to publish our data in order to contribute to the wealth of research conducted on White-Nose Syndrome and its effects.

Sonobat software screenshot showing the calls of Lasiurus borealis (Eastern Red Bat).

Hopefully, the next few years will bring a stop to bat population declines and mark the beginning of recovery. 

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