From Hawk Hill to the Ivy League, Chemical Biology Grad Heads to Yale

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

“I read while I walk, I take pride in wearing a lab coat, and my glasses are held together by paperclips,” says Stephen Capuzzi ’12 of Marple, Pa., a self-proclaimed “nerd,” whose thirst for knowledge and commitment to helping others have fueled his love of the sciences.

To strike a balance between these two passions, the chemical biology major is preparing to embark on a Master of Public Health at Yale University in Infectious Disease Microbiology and Epidemiology this coming fall. “I want to work in the health sciences — since my educational background is the sciences, and health care is the most immediate form of aiding people,” Capuzzi says.

His hunger for contributing to the greater good led Capuzzi, who lost his mother to sarcoma cancer, to seek ways to help those affected by this rare form of the disease. He contacted the Sarcoma Foundation of America, which already had chapters established in most states — but not in Pennsylvania — about starting a chapter in his home state. Today, he leads the foundation’s Pennsylvania chapter.

During his time at the University, the 3.9 GPA student has also participated in several research projects.  As an undergraduate fellow in the University’s Institute of Catholic Bioethics, he conducted research on low-cost sustainable water filtration units, which will benefit developing countries where clean water is not easily accessible.

“Stephen’s accomplishments in the Institute will have long-term effects,” says Peter Clark, S.J., director of the Institute of Catholic Bioethics and professor of theology and health services. “He is one of those students whom you know will make a difference in the world, now and in the future.”

In 2011, he worked as a Summer Scholar with James Watrous, Ph.D., professor of biology. The ambitious student spent nearly six months — more than the twelve weeks required by the program — researching epilepsy.

“Stephen is a quick study in many areas,” says Watrous. “He learned the basic information needed to construct neuronal networks with all of their connections, and to ask important questions about the behavior of these networks under the conditions that we typically attribute to epileptic seizures.”

The coursework at the University led him to add another interest to his extensive list: philosophy.  He enjoyed the discipline so much that he added a philosophy minor to his already rigorous curriculum. “I made the library my second home — especially the library’s section on philosophy,” says Capuzzi, an “unabashed bibliophile,” who has kept a spreadsheet of every book he has read since he was fourteen — averaging about one book per week.

“At SJU, it’s okay to be a nerd; you are encouraged to be different, to be yourself, since your self is always different from everyone else’s,” says Capuzzi. “No one finds it strange when you tell them you have a favorite amino acid – very often, they have one, too.”  His favorite is L- tryptophan: “It has a really complicated structure and it’s full of functional surprises,” he explains.

Capuzzi, who in his free time enjoys Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch movies, as well as painting and writing poetry, says that keeping an open mind to a wide range of influences is what has helped him to learn the most about himself during his college years.

The fifth member of his family to call Saint Joseph’s his alma mater, a Jesuit education clearly runs in Capuzzi’s blood. And like his brother, father and uncles who attended the University before him, Capuzzi has certainly embraced his four years at Hawk Hill.

“The faculty here has taught me so much – and not only academically,” he says. “They’ve already been in my shoes and know what it is like to be in my place. Their insight and advice has been extremely valuable.”

His professors seem equally impressed with Capuzzi’s talents. “Stephen is that rare student who comes around every five to ten years, who is both academically gifted and intellectually curious about science,” says Mark Reynolds, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry and director of the chemical biology program. Reynolds describes him as “the top natural science major I’ve taught in the last ten years.”

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