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Honors Program Promotes a Culture of Mentoring and Support

 Written by John Chadwick | SAS Senior Writer

Student mulling med school received empowering wisdom from alumna


A Culture of Mentoring and SupportRebecca Goldfinger Chanin arrived at Rutgers in 2016 with definite ideas about what she would study.   

Passionate about global affairs, especially the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the School of Arts and Sciences Honors Program (SASHP) student chose a double major in political science and Middle Eastern studies.

But that wasn’t all she had planned for her undergraduate years.

Chanin also loved science and felt called to practice medicine. Yet that raised a difficult question. Was there room for a demanding double major plus pre-med staples like organic chemistry, biology, and biochemistry?

How would it all fit?

Chanin decided she’d make it work. And with mentoring and advising support from SASHP deans, she did just that.  

“I decided that when you go to college, you get one opportunity to learn and study anything,” Chanin says. “It seemed that there was no better place to do that than at Rutgers.”

Now, as a fourth-year medical student, Chanin is bringing those insights back to SASHP, helping current student Vividha Venkatrajan navigate similarly difficult decisions as a psychology major mulling over medical school. The two met at the SASHP’s 2022 alumni gathering and then got together for a follow-up meeting to discuss school and career issues.

Venkatrajan, a junior, entered Rutgers thinking she might become a psychotherapist. But a neuroscience course she took to fulfill honors requirements opened a new direction toward science and medicine.

“It is still my favorite course that I have taken at Rutgers,” she said of the class, “Brain, Mind, and Behavior.” “And one result was that I became increasingly interested in the medicine aspect of psychiatry.”

Nevertheless, she remains committed to her psychology major and the study of human behavior.  Her passion for mental health advocacy fuels a busy schedule of community service, including serving as a peer educator with the university’s Health Outreach, Promotion & Education (HOPE) program and as a counselor for a national crisis hotline.  She is also managing editor for The Examiner, the student-run health journal of Rutgers University-New Brunswick.

Learning about Chanin’s varied undergraduate experience felt empowering for Venkatrajan as she began considering medical school.

“Rebecca was the first person I ever met who had a non-biology major and had gone to medical school,” she says. “It was really comforting to know that I could pursue my academic interests and still go to medical school.”

The connection forged between the two women reflects the strong culture of mentoring at SASHP. The honors program holds events throughout the year that give current students a chance to meet and network with alumni.

“This is what the honors program is all about,” says SASHP Dean Charles Keeton.  “And we’re committed to creating the conditions for these types of interactions to occur.”

SASHP Rebecca and Kathy SadowskyChanin, a 2020 graduate, was eager to give back. She said the honors program staff, including assistant deans Jennifer Kim-Lee and Kathleen Sadowsky, helped her stay focused, informed, and inspired through a challenging undergraduate program. The deans, for example, made sure Chanin knew which pre-med classes to take, and when, and supported her ambitious plan for a capstone project, a documentary about Albanian Muslims who protected Jews during the Holocaust.

Chanin graduates in 2024 from the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and will begin a residency in internal medicine.

“The advisors and the deans of the honors program are the biggest assets of the honors program,” Chanin said. “They 100 percent completely shaped my experience.”

Venkatrajan said the same holds true for her.

 “The honors program has given me a community,” she said. “It’s the reason why my experience at Rutgers has been so amazing.”


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