NJ students: Vitolo, Wanamaker earn full athletic scholarships

North Stars Gymnastics Academy announced two of its graduating high school seniors have earned full athletic scholarships to NCAA Division One Women’s Gymnastics, continuing its legacy of developing high-caliber athletes who go on to compete in nationally-ranked programs.

North Stars Gymnastics Academy and the athletes’ families recently hosted a National Letter of Intent signing ceremony and celebration to mark the special accomplishments of Madison “Maddie” Vitolo, who committed to University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Karina Lankamer to Central Michigan University. Both USAG Women’s Development Program Level 10 gymnasts have earned full athletic scholarships from the NCAA Division One programs.
North Stars Gymnastics Academy and the athletes’ families recently hosted a National Letter of Intent signing ceremony and celebration to mark the special accomplishments of Madison “Maddie” Vitolo, who committed to University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Karina Lankamer to Central Michigan University. Both USAG Women’s Development Program Level 10 gymnasts have earned full athletic scholarships from the NCAA Division One programs.

Madison Vitolo of Basking Ridge and Karina Wanamaker of Flemington recently signed National Letters of Intent to formalize their commitments to University of Illinois Urbana Champaign and Central Michigan University, respectively.

North Stars prides itself on its ability to help some 100 female athletes build the necessary skills to secure college scholarships to the top NCAA women’s gymnastics programs throughout the nation.

“This doesn’t happen in a day. This happens with focused training every day — year after year. A lot of heart and hard work goes into gymnastics. This is the icing on the cake for these hard-working and talented athletes, and their supportive parents and families,” said Ashley Umberger, CEO, head team coach and part owner of North Stars Gymnastics Academy. “We wish them much success in the NCAA and in the classroom. I know they will be successful because they have built an incredible foundation of discipline, resilience and focus on their futures.”

Mount Saint Mary Academy

On Thursday, Nov. 10, and Friday, Nov. 11, Mount Saint Mary Academy in Watchung junior Akshaya Karanam attended the Exploring Finance Workshops at the NJCU School of Business and the Members Exchange stock exchange in Jersey City. Karanam applied for the workshop opportunity, which was hosted by Invest in Girls, NOIP (National Organization of Investment Professionals), and New Jersey City University.

Akshaya Karanam of Woodbridge, a junior at Mount Saint Mary Academy in Watchung, attended the Exploring Finance Workshops at the NJCU School of Business and the Members Exchange stock exchange in Jersey City.
Akshaya Karanam of Woodbridge, a junior at Mount Saint Mary Academy in Watchung, attended the Exploring Finance Workshops at the NJCU School of Business and the Members Exchange stock exchange in Jersey City.

“The organizers of the workshop gathered a group of girls who had previous coursework in finance and economics,” said Karanam, a Woodbridge resident. “I had completed AP Macroeconomics last year, and I currently take AP Microeconomics, as well as personal finance courses through Invest in Girls.”

“I didn’t exactly know what to expect. However, it was an incredible event to take part in because the workshops showed how extensive the finance field truly is, and the variety of opportunities within it,” she said. “I enjoyed hearing from the women in finance, from the artificial intelligence developers to the venture capital professionals! I also appreciated the personal advice the women shared from their own experiences in paving their careers.”

Kathleen Brennan, Mount St. Mary Academy mathematics chairperson, said, “It was an amazing opportunity for Akshaya to learn about the variety of careers within the financial industry. Hearing firsthand from women who have been successful in the industry dispels the notion that finance is only for males.”

Karanam plans to purse economics and policy in the future, however, the workshops opened her eyes to considering finance ― particularly in equity trading ― because she finds the aspects of how current events impact global markets especially interesting.

At Mount Saint Mary Academy, Karanam is a member of the Speech & Debate team, Fed Challenge, Investment Club, Students of Color Affinity Group, Junior State of America, and Dance Club.

More:The good things students are doing in Central Jersey and beyond

More:Education news from around the region

More:College Connection: Advice from local expert columnist

Piscataway Township Schools

Piscataway High School junior Sareena Naganand has been accepted as one of just 128 young scientists from around NJ to join the Governor’s STEM Scholars Class of 2022-23.

Sareena Naganand, a junior at Piscataway High School, is excited about the opportunities and the insight she will get through her selection to the Governor’s STEM.
Sareena Naganand, a junior at Piscataway High School, is excited about the opportunities and the insight she will get through her selection to the Governor’s STEM.

The program introduces NJ’s high-achieving high school and college students to industry, academic, and government research in NJ, to establish a relationship between these students and the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) sectors.

Sareena Naganand, a junior at Piscataway High School, took part in the first Governor’s STEM Scholars conference on Saturday, Oct. 29, at Rutgers University. She can be seen at lower right, second row, wearing blue.
Sareena Naganand, a junior at Piscataway High School, took part in the first Governor’s STEM Scholars conference on Saturday, Oct. 29, at Rutgers University. She can be seen at lower right, second row, wearing blue.

Throughout the school year, Naganand and her fellow STEM scholars will participate in four conferences to explore different aspects of New Jersey’s STEM economy focusing on government, academia, and industry. These conferences are being held at the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy at Rutgers University, Rowan University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, and Stevens Institute of Technology.

The first conference was on Saturday, Oct. 29, at Rutgers, and Naganand said it was a great experience.

“I got to meet a lot of people,” she said. “It was kind of overwhelming, to be honest. We heard from a lot of people involved in politics and STEM.”

Among the speakers was Dr. Andrew Zwicker, a state senator and head of communications and public outreach for the Plasma Physics Laboratory at Princeton University.

“He talked about his role in STEM and also in politics, so that was super insightful,” she said.

To be accepted to the Governor’s STEM Scholars, Naganand submitted an essay, teacher recommendation, and her transcripts. But she said she wasn’t expecting to be accepted.

“I was pretty surprised because I didn’t really have much expectation of getting in,” she said. “I just saw it on the Internet and thought, ‘Well, I might as well give it a shot.’ So just taking a chance paid off.”The Governor’s STEM Scholars is a public-private partnership between the Research & Development Council of New Jersey, the Office of the Governor, the New Jersey Department of Education, the New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education, and public and private research institutions based in NJ.

“New Jersey has always been at the center of innovation excellence and scientific discovery led by some of the world’s most talented STEM professionals,” said Anthony Cicatiello, president of the Research & Development Council of New Jersey. “The Governor’s STEM Scholars looks to secure this legacy into the future by inspiring students who will make up the next generation of these scientists, engineers, and innovators.”

The STEM Scholars will also participate in a research project, led by undergraduate and graduate-level scholars, that advances the work of NJ’s research community. Additionally, the scholars will tour STEM facilities and laboratories and network with STEM professionals, to gain a wider view of STEM opportunities throughout the state.

Naganand hasn’t decided a field of study or where she wants to go to college. She said she is very interested in biology, medicine, and technology, so she’s hoping the Governor’s STEM Scholars program will help her narrow down her choices.

“I just feel like it will help me gain more knowledge in bio, science, STEM in general,” she said. “So any opportunity to gain that knowledge would be really helpful toward my future career. It will help me decide what I want to do.”

Naganand relishes the chance to hear from New Jersey’s leaders in the STEM field as well as to learn alongside other bright STEM students.

“Just listening to other people and hearing the paths that they took will really help, because then I can take inspiration from that to figure out what I want to do,” she said. “And the opportunity to connect with other high school students in the state is also helpful as I’m building those connections.

“We’re kind of helping each other out.”

Raritan Valley Community College

ExxonMobil’s Technology Center in Clinton has donated 17 gasoline test engines to Raritan Valley Community College’s (RVCC) Automotive Technology program, which educates and trains students to become qualified automotive technicians. The donation will help enrich students’ hands-on experience as they learn to troubleshoot engine computer systems, repair engines, and perform basic engine maintenance.

Raritan Valley Community College students Alex Guerrero, left, and Nick Cruz work on one of the 17 gasoline test engines donated to RVCC’s  Automotive Technology program by ExxonMobil’s Technology Center in Clinton.
Raritan Valley Community College students Alex Guerrero, left, and Nick Cruz work on one of the 17 gasoline test engines donated to RVCC’s Automotive Technology program by ExxonMobil’s Technology Center in Clinton.

Prior to ExxonMobil’s donation, the college’s Automotive Technology program did not possess any two of the same engines, making teaching and student collaboration during tasks like disassembling and evaluating the internal components of engines, challenging.

RVCC student Rui Zhu, second from left, examines one of the 17 gasoline test engines donated to the college’s  Automotive Technology program by ExxonMobil’s Technology Center in Clinton. With her, from left, are Andrew V. Sinclair, Northeast Public & Government Affairs, ExxonMobil Corporation; Sara Heller, instructor/coordinator, RVCC Automotive Technology; and Paul Rubas, ExxonMobil Advanced Engineering associate.
RVCC student Rui Zhu, second from left, examines one of the 17 gasoline test engines donated to the college’s Automotive Technology program by ExxonMobil’s Technology Center in Clinton. With her, from left, are Andrew V. Sinclair, Northeast Public & Government Affairs, ExxonMobil Corporation; Sara Heller, instructor/coordinator, RVCC Automotive Technology; and Paul Rubas, ExxonMobil Advanced Engineering associate.

“Although all engines have the same components, they are not all built the exact same and require the use of specialized tools,” said Sara Heller, RVCC Automotive Technology program coordinator. “When students work on different engines ― using dissimilar tools and following a slightly different process ― they sometimes ask their peers for help and will get misleading answers because they are using different engines. Using the same engines will increase the collaborative effort. It will also reinforce teamwork, an essential 21st Century skill.”

The 17 General Motors V6 gasoline engines ExxonMobil donated were used to develop the latest formulations of Mobil 1 lubricants at ExxonMobil’s state-of-the-art engine test facility. The engines reached the 1,000 hours runtime limit set by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), and while no longer appropriate for the specific tests required by ExxonMobil, the engines are suitable for other applications.

“Our donation to RVCC ensures these test engines have a second life, while improving the quality of training for students,” said Paul Rubas, ExxonMobil Advanced Engineering associate. “We wanted to do our part to make a beneficial impact and support our next generation of automotive engineers and technicians.”

The college’s Automotive Technology program curriculum includes engine overhaul, where students completely tear down an engine and reassemble it. This coursework helps students to better understand engine operation and identify its components, while offering them a sense of accomplishment in having rebuilt an engine.

“We are extremely grateful to ExxonMobil for its incredible contribution to the College’s Automotive Technology program,” said Michael J. McDonough, RVCC president. “Public-private partnerships such as this help our students to be better skilled in their field, advance our educational offerings, and enhance our career training programs to answer immediate and future workforce needs.”

Somerset County Vocational and Technical Schools

Each year, Guillermo Reina’s Spanish classes at Somerset County Vocational & Technical High School (SCVTHS) in Bridgewater create projects and presentations based upon the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. As part of this year’s projects, the students researched their hometowns and municipalities, found areas that needed improvement, then using the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, created priorities and strategies based upon those areas.

(Left to right) SCVTHS Supervisor of Academics Teresa Morelli; SCVTHS Spanish Instructor Guillermo Reina; Hillsborough Township Economic & Business Development Director Zuzana Karas; SCVTHS students George Thomas of Bridgewater, Arnav Khanna of Hillsborough, Vir Trivedi of Hillsborough, Katelyn Almeida of Green Brook, Sheena Ravoory of Hillsborough, and Hillsborough Township Business Advocate and Sustainability Director David Kois pose for a photo after the Hillsborough presentation.
(Left to right) SCVTHS Supervisor of Academics Teresa Morelli; SCVTHS Spanish Instructor Guillermo Reina; Hillsborough Township Economic & Business Development Director Zuzana Karas; SCVTHS students George Thomas of Bridgewater, Arnav Khanna of Hillsborough, Vir Trivedi of Hillsborough, Katelyn Almeida of Green Brook, Sheena Ravoory of Hillsborough, and Hillsborough Township Business Advocate and Sustainability Director David Kois pose for a photo after the Hillsborough presentation.

The students created the goals, priorities, and strategies to improve various areas, including education, sustainability, health, equality, and even ways to combat invasive species within their home communities. Additionally, the students detailed ways in which they could potentially improve each of the areas using a proposed budget. After completing their projects and creating double-sided posters, using recycled cardboard, the students presented their projects to dignitaries from each of the communities they highlighted.

(Left to right) Registered Environmental Health Specialist Shahira Morell of the Middle-Brook Regional Health Commission, SCVTHS students Mahek Madan of Branchburg, Riya Mehta of Bridgewater, Moksh Patwari of Bridgewater, Lindy Bingel of Bridgewater, Rani Patel of Hillsborough, and Registered Environmental Health Specialist Patty Timko-Parker of the Department of Human Services pose for a photo after the Bridgewater presentation.
(Left to right) Registered Environmental Health Specialist Shahira Morell of the Middle-Brook Regional Health Commission, SCVTHS students Mahek Madan of Branchburg, Riya Mehta of Bridgewater, Moksh Patwari of Bridgewater, Lindy Bingel of Bridgewater, Rani Patel of Hillsborough, and Registered Environmental Health Specialist Patty Timko-Parker of the Department of Human Services pose for a photo after the Bridgewater presentation.

In early November, dignitaries from Bridgewater and Hillsborough visited SCVTHS to view the students’ presentations and discuss ways the presentations could be integrated into the current priorities of each municipality. At the end of each presentation, the students held a Q&A session to discuss their presentations and strategies. From Hillsborough Township, the students welcomed Economic & Business Development Director Zuzana Karas and Business Advocate and Sustainability Director David Kois. From Bridgewater Township, the students presented to Registered Environmental Health Specialist Patty Timko-Parker of the Department of Human Services and Registered Environmental Health Specialist Shahira Morell of the Middle-Brook Regional Health Commission.

For more information on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, visit www.sdgs.un.org/goals.

Union College

Union College of Union County has been selected as a 2022 PATH Scholarship recipient through the Ellucian Foundation. The PATH (Progress, Accomplishment, Thriving, Hope) Scholarship provides grants to higher education institutions to support students facing economic hardship. Union received $10,000, which was distributed to more than 40 students for housing costs, tuition expenses, and food.

This is the first time Union has received the PATH Scholarship from Ellucian. The PATH Scholarship is provided by the Ellucian Foundation and was established in 2020. Union is one of 65 higher education institutions to receive funding from Ellucian.

“Education has the power to transform lives. This year we are focused on support for students facing financial hardships at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and all Minority Serving Institutions in the U.S. as more focus is needed to ensure higher retention and graduation rates, and address the critical issues of growing food insecurity,” said Laura Ipsen, president and CEO, Ellucian. “HBCUs and all MSIs represent an incredible cross-section of colleges and universities committed to providing access to higher education. We are pleased to support these institutions in their efforts to ensure all students can achieve their dreams without interruption.”

In order to receive the scholarship, students had to apply and disclose what type of assistance was needed. The scholarship was based on need and distributed at the beginning of the Fall 2022 semester.

“The Union community is grateful for the support Ellucian is providing to our students in need,” said Union College’s President Dr. Margaret M. McMenamin. “With this scholarship support, we are hopeful that students can focus more on their academics and be able to spend less time worrying about costs.”

"The Ellucian Foundation supports student success and increased access to higher education globally," said Jennifer Welding, executive director of the Ellucian Foundation. "No student should ever be denied an education due to lack of funding. The PATH Scholarship helps students navigate through financial challenges to reach their educational goals."

The Union County College Foundation has given out more than $1 million in scholarships to Union students this past year. For more information, go to www.ucc.edu/union-county-college-foundation/. For more information on the Ellucian PATH Scholarship, go to www.stayonpath.org/.

Warren Township Schools

Two Warren Township Schools’ employees recently dedicated their time as volunteers on medical mission trips outside the country.

Warren Township Schools Nurse Lisa Lontai with retired Watchung Hills Regional High School Nurse Nan Masterson in Korogocho, Kenya, during a medical mission trip.
Warren Township Schools Nurse Lisa Lontai with retired Watchung Hills Regional High School Nurse Nan Masterson in Korogocho, Kenya, during a medical mission trip.

Nurse Lisa Lontai traveled to Nairobi, Kenya, and French Teacher Kristen Boni to the Dajabon area in the Dominican Republic.

Warren Township Schools French Teacher Kristen Boni, Waves of Health volunteer Martha Raimon, and Boni’s niece and volunteer Lilly Koerner in the Dominican Republic during a recent medical mission trip
Warren Township Schools French Teacher Kristen Boni, Waves of Health volunteer Martha Raimon, and Boni’s niece and volunteer Lilly Koerner in the Dominican Republic during a recent medical mission trip

Lontai first heard about the Medical Mission trip with the organization Family Hope Charity from retired Watchung Hills Regional High School Nurse Nan Masterson, who traveled with Lontai to Nairobi from Friday, Oct. 14, through Saturday, Oct. 22.

Family Hope Charity is a non-profit organization that partners with specialized organizations around the globe to develop sustainable programs that help support impoverished children and young adults.

Boni completed her fifth medical mission trip with the Waves of Health organization from Saturday, Nov. 5, through Sunday, Nov. 13. Waves of Health is a non-profit medical organization that supports and educates individuals worldwide in underserved communities. Boni’s husband, Dr. Christopher Boni, internal medicine, is a founding member of the organization.

Both Lontai and Boni were responsible for paying their airfare and travel expenses for their trips.Lontai launched a fundraiser to help offset a portion of the trip’s cost, and Boni received school supply donations.

Lontai’s group saw as many as 1,000 patients, some of whom traveled up to 60 miles by foot to be seen by American doctors and nurses. Community members sought care for many ailments, such as sexually transmitted diseases, end-stage cancer, tumors, pregnancy, scabies, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), malnutrition, dental concerns, and more. Lontai was troubled by the extreme lack of preventative care. “Many patients suffered from illnesses we don’t usually see in the United States because of timely care. The people of Korogocho are lucky if they can receive medical care once every six months.”

Boni’s team of volunteers provided primary medical and pharmaceutical care to approximately 800 patients in five communities on the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. “Patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension were provided with up to six months of medications,” said Boni. “All children and women of childbearing age were given multivitamins and a supply of basic over-the-counter medications.” The group also provided each community with clothing, shoes, toys, baby blankets, and school supplies that Warren Middle School students had donated.

When asked if this experience impacted Lontai as a professional nurse, she responded, “I feel more confident in my nursing skills; this experience made me aware of my abilities. We didn’t have modern equipment like we would in America. It was essential to take accurate assessments. Many people were visiting the clinic with respiratory concerns, and without diagnostic tests available, I had to rely on my eyes, ears, and hands to assess patients and make diagnoses.”

The experience, friendships, and service have left a lasting impression on Lontai. “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others; that is what the nursing profession is all about; serving others. This experience helped the residents of Korogocho, but it also taught me a lot about myself and gave me a true sense of humility. “

Boni hopes her experience will help her students appreciate the importance of service to others. “As teachers, we are models for our students. At the beginning of the school year, I shared my plans to go on this medical mission, and I asked for donations of school supplies. From the generosity of the Warren families, I collected over 75 zip lock bags of school supplies to hand out to children who visited the clinics.”

Boni’s participation with Waves of Health has given her a unique perspective. “It makes me very thankful to live in the United States, to have access to quality health care and clean water, to have fresh food, fruit, and vegetables, to have a steady income and a roof over my head, and to have a stable family life. I am also thankful to teach in a school where there is ample access to the Internet, books, and school supplies.”

Lontai and Boni exemplify the district's motto, “Shining Brighter Every Day.” The school district thanks both educators for their compassion and devotion to those in need. Their service to others provides a wonderful example for the students of Warren Middle School.

Westfield Public Schools

In the wake of several challenging years of COVID-19, teachers and other educators in the Westfield Public School District received valuable professional development this fall focused on grief-informed education and the many definitions of loss.

Facilitators from Imagine, A Center for Coping with Loss, provided professional learning on grief-informed education to Westfield Public Schools educators on Tuesday, Sept. 6.
Facilitators from Imagine, A Center for Coping with Loss, provided professional learning on grief-informed education to Westfield Public Schools educators on Tuesday, Sept. 6.

The sessions, provided by Imagine, A Center for Coping with Loss, were made possible by a donation of $6,000 from the Westfield Education Fund (WEF). The donation was gratefully accepted and approved by the Board of Education on Monday, July 25.

The varied definitions of loss caused by the pandemic were discussed during a session on grief-informed education during a full day of professional learning in the Westfield Public School District on Tuesday, Sept. 6.
The varied definitions of loss caused by the pandemic were discussed during a session on grief-informed education during a full day of professional learning in the Westfield Public School District on Tuesday, Sept. 6.

“We were interested in providing training for an initiative focusing on student and staff wellness,” said former WEF president Lee Schaefer. “Given the varied types of loss brought on by the pandemic, the district suggested partnering with Imagine to share the tools needed to better support students and staff who are grieving, whether from the loss of a loved one, an economic or academic loss, or simply, a loss of innocence during these formative school years.”

Imagine facilitators held two-hour sessions for educators during a full-day of professional learning on Tuesday, Sept. 6. A separate session for district administrators was held on Thursday, July 28. Additional opportunities will be scheduled for counselors, Child Study Team members, and other related services staff, as well as for parents and guardians.

“We look forward to our continued partnership with the Westfield Public Schools,” said WEF President Anjulika Saini. “We hope to be able to extend these sessions to the students as well.”

Superintendent Dr. Raymond González thanked the Westfield Education Fund for their support. “These well-received Imagine sessions are an important step in addressing the effects of all forms of grief on the emotional and academic well-being of our students and staff.”

Also: Eighteen Westfield High School student-athletes signed Letters of Intent with colleges and universities, signifying recognition of the seniors’ accomplishments both academically and athletically. The following student-athletes will continue to compete at the college level:

  • Dexter “Barnes” Blake ― Georgetown University, Golf

  • Trey Brown ― University of Maryland, Lacrosse

  • Daniel Cortese ― Davidson College, XC/Track & Field

  • Chiara Cosenza ― U.S. Naval Academy, Soccer

  • Lily Dickerson ― Quinnipiac University, Lacrosse

  • Tate Esler ― Skidmore College, Golf

  • Noah Fischer ― Hobart & William Smith Colleges, Soccer

  • Paige Gorczyca ― Stevens Institute of Technology, Basketball

  • Daniel Hazard ― Lafayette College, Lacrosse

  • Emma Kelesoglu ― Hamilton College, Soccer

  • Lauren Lane ― Loyola University Maryland, Swimming

  • Alyssa Martinez ― Rutgers University, Soccer

  • Liam Maurillo ― Davidson College, XC/Track & Field

  • Michael Murphy ― University of Virginia, Wrestling

  • Annie Ryan ― Tufts University, Basketball

  • Ian Schultz ― Ithaca College, Soccer

  • Ryan Waldman ― Cornell University, Lacrosse

  • Dylan Wragg ― Robert Morris University, Lacrosse

Westfield High School student-athletes signed Letters of Intent with colleges and universities.
Westfield High School student-athletes signed Letters of Intent with colleges and universities.

Student and School news appears on Saturdays. Email: cnmetro@mycentraljersey.com

Carolyn Sampson is Executive Office Assistant for the Courier News, The Home News Tribune and MyCentralJersey.com, and handles the weekly Student News page. 

This article originally appeared on MyCentralJersey.com: NJ students: Vitolo, Wanamaker earn full athletic scholarships