Spotlight on the Johns Hopkins Class of
Newly Minted MDs Include a Composer and a Jet Fighter
By Eric Vohr
Johns Hopkins Medicine
There were 213 graduates this year from the School of
Medicine, earning 112 MD's, 76 PhD's, 10 MD/PhD's, nine
MA's and six MS's. The medical school class — the
111th since the school opened in 1893 — included 57
men and 65 women from 27 states and six foreign countries
who will continue their medical training at some of the
most acclaimed residency programs in the country, located
at 60 hospitals in 24 states, where they will specialize in
everything from emergency medicine to pediatrics to
obstetrics. But even those statistics don't tell the whole
"The students in this class were an amazing group with
interesting lives," said David Nichols, vice dean for
education at the School of Medicine. "The diversity of this
class was truly breathtaking, not just in terms of their
varied backgrounds and former careers but also in terms of
their wide-ranging personalities and the expansive spectrum
of their professional interests."
Among the graduates were people as different as Matt
Stofferahn, Meenakshi Rao, Rob Kosciusko and Paria
Matt Stofferahn was well on his way to becoming
a professional composer. But after getting a bachelor's
degree in musical composition, the 24-year-old Las Vegas
native, who "skipped" third grade when his teachers
realized he'd be bored, decided he wanted a career "with
more social application." Always good at science, he
decided medicine was a good fit.
"Medical school was actually less stressful to me than
composing, which can be an intense and often isolating
experience," said Stofferahn, who celebrated getting his MD
by spending spring break in Sydney, Australia, ahead of his
residency in emergency medicine at Christiana Hospital in
Wilmington, Del., which starts in June. "Who knows? Maybe
one day I'll write an opera about doctors."
On May 1, Stofferahn's musical talents in performing
and composition were recognized by the university, which
awarded him the 2007 Louis Sudler Prize in the Arts.
"Two recognized for contributions to the arts at
Johns Hopkins," in this issue.)
Like Stofferahn, Meenakshi Rao always excelled
in academics, graduating from her Pittsburgh high school at
age 16, a feat made more significant by the fact that her
family had immigrated to the United States from India when
she was 6. After her work-study plan fell through during
her first year as an undergraduate, her adviser suggested
she apply for reassignment to a research lab. That slight
change of plans brought her to medical school and to
Baltimore, where she learned how to ride a bike and swim
for the first time (an urban upbringing, she said, had
prevented her from learning as a kid) and where she just
achieved a pediatric residency slot at Children's Hospital
"My experiences at Johns Hopkins have been nothing
short of wonderful, both in the basic science arena [and]
my clinical education," Rao said. "I interviewed all over
the country for MD/PhD programs, but from the moment I
arrived at Hopkins, something just clicked. I have found
exceptional mentors here, as well as lifelong friends."
Something at Johns Hopkins just clicked, too, for
Rob Kosciusko, who said that medical school taught
him not only how much he didn't know but where the
boundaries are between known science and the universe of
yet-undiscovered knowledge. Not that the 38-year-old
National Guard F-16 fighter pilot is a stranger to the
Kosciusko, who was born in Hawaii and whose wife, an
attorney, also flies fighter jets, deferred his 2002
medical school acceptance to fly combat missions in Iraq,
explaining that becoming a doctor was out of the question
while his "buddies" shipped off to war. After coming home
from the Gulf, he briefly worked for a major airline, but
flying a lumbering commercial airplane proved boring, he
said, "like driving a city bus after you've been driving
around for years in a Ferrari." During his first year at
Johns Hopkins, his need for speed had him regularly driving
to South Carolina, where he and his wife are based, to keep
his flying skills sharp.
It's little wonder that a man who craves the "thrill
and rush" of sitting in the cockpit of a fighter jet chose
a residency in emergency medicine at Palmetto Health in
"In emergency medicine, everything is going fast and
coming at you all at once," Kosciusko said. "The ER is a
bit like the cockpit in that people and sensors alert you
to dangers, and it's your job to prioritize and handle the
most pressing threat. I already felt comfortable in that
environment, but the training I received at Johns Hopkins
gave me the knowledge to succeed in it."
Kosciusko's pride at having attended Johns Hopkins
likely rivals the pride that Paria Mirmonsef's
parents feel when they tell anyone who cares to listen that
their daughter attends the great Johns Hopkins University.
With the family fresh from Iran, their daughter, who could
barely speak English, entered an American high school in
1989. Her parents struggled and saved to put her and her
sister, now a dentist, through school. It was a long, hard
road for the family, who, like many immigrants, left their
country in search of a better life.
"Back home we came from an upper-middle-class
background," said Mirmonsef, who received her doctorate in
pathobiology and gave the convocation address on behalf of
the PhD graduates. "When we got to the States, we didn't
start from zero; we started from minus 10."
Now, she said, she feels like she is realizing not
only her dreams but the dreams her parents had for her by
achieving her education. Now married, she and her husband
are expecting their first child, a girl.
Speaking to a reporter in advance of commencement, she
said she wanted to keep her graduation speech a surprise.
But she did offer a glimpse of what she might say, advice
she would perhaps give to a young girl, overwhelmed by a
new country, wondering if the American dream was really
there for the taking: "I'd say to her, just hang in there,
because it gets better. If you have a goal and you see it
through, your dreams will happen. Mine did."
While the shoes of this year's graduates will be hard
to fill, there is no shortage of people attempting to do
so: There were 4,349 applicants for 120 slots in this
fall's entering class.
Against the Odds: Homewood Students With Unique
By Jessica Valdez
Special to The Gazette
Two graduating seniors have converted difficult life
experiences into professional and athletic successes, as
one initiates a career in engineering and another prepares
for the 2008 Paralympics.
Penny Robinson, Aberdeen Proving Ground engineer and
mother of two
Even with two children, Penny
Robinson said she never questioned whether she'd go to
college. The 23-year-old engineer now works at Aberdeen
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS
Penny Robinson gave birth to her first child when she
was just 16 and her second child at 19. Now, four years
later, the 23-year-old has received a diploma in mechanical
engineering from Johns Hopkins. As part of a dual-degree
program with the College of Notre Dame, she has also earned
a bachelor's degree in physics with a minor in
Robinson finished her degree work at Johns Hopkins in
December and has since been working for the Fire Control
Division of the U.S. Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground.
Robinson admitted it was a challenge going to school
with two young children, but she said she has never
questioned her decision.
"I just did it," she said. "I just took one day at a
time and realized it shouldn't affect my dreams and what I
wanted to do."
While a student, Robinson worked part time and
received financial aid from an organization called Family
Care Solutions, which helps low-income mothers pay for
child care. She said she had to budget her time carefully,
since she didn't always have a lot of time to study for
"When I went home, [school] wasn't the No. 1 priority
anymore," she said. "That's why I had to manage my time in
school, because I knew it wasn't until late at night that I
would be able to work at it again."
But that hasn't stopped her from pursuing more
education. Robinson is now planning to pursue a master's
degree in engineering while working at Aberdeen Proving
Ground, where she is involved in testing the fire control
systems in Army vehicles.
Robinson grew up in Baltimore and attended Baltimore
Polytechnic Institute, where she took technical classes
such as machine shop and wood shop. These courses sparked
her interest in engineering, so that even when she gave
birth to her children, Destiny and Dasha, she never
questioned whether she'd go to college. "I never had any
doubts," she said.
Now an employed engineer, Robinson looks back with
satisfaction on her experiences in college.
"It was well worth it," she said. "I'm very fortunate
to be able to graduate from a school with this
Sofija Korac, international studies major, future
disability rights lawyer
Sofija Korac, who will compete in
the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing, begins law school in the
fall to pursue a career in international disability and
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS
Sofija Korac, who was born with a disability and has
always used crutches and wheelchairs, left Serbia for the
United States when she was just 8. Within a year she
learned English and became involved with wheelchair
basketball and track teams in the Washington, D.C., area.
By the time she was 15, she was competing in sports at the
national level and has since won more than 20 gold medals,
some at the national and international levels.
Now, as a 22-year-old Johns Hopkins graduate, she
plans to compete in the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing and
pursue a career dedicated to international disability and
human rights issues.
Korac, whose family lives in Bethesda, Md., said she's
always been interested in international issues, but it
wasn't until she began her studies at Johns Hopkins and
took on college internships that she realized she could
fuse this passion with her activism in disability rights
and her interest in sports. As a result, the international
studies major has decided to study disability law.
"I hope to use my law degree to pursue a career in
human rights and disability rights in Latin America," said
Korac, who will attend law school at George Washington
Korac and her family left Yugoslavia in 1993, when her
father, a Byzantine historian, won a fellowship in
Washington, D.C. They planned to come for only a year, but
her parents decided to stay because of the war in the
Balkans and the increased mobility that living in the
United States afforded her.
"I actually used to use mainly crutches in Serbia
because it was not very accessible," Korac said, "so moving
to the U.S. actually made things easier in a lot of ways
because I was able to use my wheelchair."
Korac has been an active voice on the Homewood campus
for wheelchair accessibility and for spreading awareness
among her peers, said Susan Boswell, dean of student life.
"She has had a strong impact on accessibility on
campus, and she is a wonderful role model," Boswell said.
Korac was a regular presence in the athletic center,
where she trained for weightlifting and track competitions.
When she was a child, she used to dream of competing
in the Paralympics, but she thought she'd be there as a
basketball player. Then, in high school, she tried
weightlifting and in college switched sports permanently.
She said weightlifting gave her the freedom to train alone
and to work around her college schedule.
"It was a sport I could train in on my own here, with
such a great gym," she said. She works with coaches located
in Long Island and Philadelphia and sends them recordings
of her performances on a regular basis.
As a high school senior at the Holton-Arms School,
Korac had considered attending universities that offered
wheelchair sports, but she said that her Johns Hopkins
experience has taught her a lot about interacting with
people who do not have disabilities. She also hopes she has
been able to make an impact.
"It's taught me a lot being one of a handful of people
having disabilities here," she said. "I've learned a lot
here, but I hope I've also given a lot back to the
Korac's accomplishments aren't limited to the athletic
and Johns Hopkins communities — she's also interned
at nongovernmental organizations in both Serbia and
Washington, D.C., where she conducted research on
disability services throughout the world. While working in
Serbia for Handicap International, she wrote a report
comparing the Americans With Disabilities Act with new
Balkan disability legislation, which enabled her to travel
to Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo — something few
Serbians get to do, she said. She has also interned for the
World Bank and for a law firm in Pikesville, Md.,
specializing in workplace discrimination law.
And if that weren't enough, she also directed and
stage-managed countless student plays for the Barnstormers
and Witness Theater.
"Everyone always wants to leave a place and leave part
of them or something they've learned," Korac said. "I hope
I've done that both for the theater community and for the
Hopkins community in general."
(Jessica Valdez, who interned in the
Office of News and Information as an undergraduate, is
a doctoral degree candidate in the English
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