PISCATAWAY, NJ - The last four years have been quite a ride for Maggie Morash. A genetics major and computer science minor, the Bernardsville resident excelled in the classroom with a 3.98 GPA and starred on the nationally ranked women’s soccer team.

Last year, she was one of four at Rutgers to receive a prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship awarded to students pursuing research careers in science, mathematics and engineering.

Inducted into prestigious Matthew Leydt Society at RU president's home

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On May 15, hours before she received her diploma at the university’s 250th commencement, Morash joined an elite group of undergraduate students who were inducted into the Matthew Leydt Society at the home of university president Robert Barchi and his wife, Francis, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work.

The society, launched last year, spotlights top graduates at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and the university’s medical division, Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences.

A commencement-morning breakfast celebrated the 178 students handpicked by the university for achievement in the classroom, in laboratories and in the arts. The students – ranked in the top 2 percent academically – were selected from among nearly 8,000 undergraduates earning degrees this academic year.

“You have contributed to the high standards that distinguish Rutgers as a world-class public research university,” President Barchi told the students upon announcing their induction. “We are immensely proud of you and we encourage you to apply the same talent and dedication as well as the knowledge and skills you have acquired at Rutgers to forge careers and lives of meaning and purpose.”

The Matthew Leydt Society is named for the first and only 1774 graduate of Queen’s College, New Brunswick. At that inaugural commencement, Leydt delivered orations in Latin, Dutch and English and he later entered the ministry of the Dutch Reformed Church. At Queen’s College, he studied under Frederick Frelinghuysen, the college’s first tutor, and Reverend Jacob Rutsen Hardenbergh, who became the college’s first president in 1786. Leydt, who became a pastor, was elected a trustee of Queen’s College in 1783.

Queen’s College was renamed Rutgers College in honor of Colonel Henry Rutgers, a trustee and Revolutionary War veteran, in 1825.

“It’s wonderful to receive this honor at graduation so I can celebrate with family and friends,” says Morash, who worked in the lab of Professor Maureen Barr in the Department of Genetics at Rutgers. Under Barr’s guidance, she has been studying cilia – small, hair-like projections present on most human cells – with the goal of developing treatments for genetic diseases such as blindness, male infertility and polycystic kidney disease.

Ultimately, Morash plans to pursue an M.D.–Ph.D. in genetics.

Morash attributes her success to learning early on how to achieve balance with her endeavors and to the support of family, professors and her soccer teammates. “I was passionate about a lot of things and didn’t want to say ‘no’ to any of them, so I found a way to work them into my schedule. Having a lot to do really forced me to stay organized,” she says.

Joining Morash are three other Goldwater scholars: Alina Afinogenova, genetics and economics; Varun Arvind, biomedical engineering; and Aditya Parikh, physics and astrophysics with a minor in mathematics. “Rutgers gave me great research opportunities from the get-go,” says Parikh, a Plainsboro resident who has devoted his time to hybrid research in the fields of high-energy and nuclear physics.

As a freshman, Parikh was invited into the Aresty Summer Science Research Program, through which he conducted research pertaining to heavy ion physics. He’s worked in the same laboratory ever since and spent the summers after his sophomore and junior years conducting research at the European Organization for Nuclear Research’s (CERN) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

“Being involved in the Rutgers lab opened the doors for me to go to CERN, where I had the honor of collaborating with many of the researchers, who, up until that point, I had only known through video conferences.”

This fall, Parikh heads to Harvard University to pursue a doctorate in theoretical high-energy physics.

To Trey Shore – a self-confessed “shy and quiet type” – being inducted into the society affirmed his college choice. “When I was applying to colleges I wondered if Rutgers was so large that it would swallow me up,” he says. “However, the school has given me tremendous opportunities.”

Shore, a music education major at Mason Gross School of the Arts, was selected to work on the research project “Rockin’ Roots, Global Reach: Telling the Story of Jersey’s Popular Music,” for which he digitized sheet music from the 19th and 20th centuries composed by New Jerseyans or written about New Jersey to create an online, searchable database.

He has also played in the Rutgers saxophone ensemble for four years and been the assistant conductor for almost two years.

The Ridgewood native hopes to expand youth appreciation of music. “Too many high school programs focus on Sousa and marches, but students should learn about a broad range of music,” he says. “I want to step out of the comfort zone and teach other genres like pop, rap, country and bluegrass.”

Not all inductees are traditional students. For 48-year-old Fae Cushing, receiving an associate of science degree in psychosocial rehabilitation and treatment from the School of Health Related Professions, being invited to the society is an exhilarating culmination to a long academic journey.

In her youth, the Bridgewater resident struggled with substance abuse and mental health issues, interrupting her college education. Sober for a quarter-century and with her children grown, Cushing decided to return to school after experiencing a breakdown in 2012. 

“Since I have anxiety and depression, I knew a lot about medication and outpatient treatment. I became fascinated by the field of psychosocial rehabilitation,” she says. “I enrolled at Raritan Valley Community College and Rutgers and started excelling scholastically for the first time in my life.”

Cushing interned at Alternatives Inc. in Raritan, which recently hired her as a case manager. She will return to Rutgers this fall to pursue a bachelor’s degree in psychosocial rehabilitation and treatment.

“I am absolutely blown away to be inducted into the Matthew Leydt Society,” she says. “It shows that people who have faced challenges in their life and education can not only earn their degree but succeed at the highest level.”