CLARK, NJ - At almost every high school graduation, both locally and nationally, a series of speakers will deliver inspiring speeches in hopes that some graduates will rise to the occasion. Class of 2010 graduate, Emily Vargas, certainly fulfilled that charge.

Upon graduating from ALJ, Vargas attended Rutgers University as a student-athlete. “I was tremendously fortunate to have received a significant track and field scholarship, which gave me the opportunity to pursue higher education,” explained Vargas, “In my four years at Rutgers, I was very busy studying and traveling around the country competing in the high jump, long jump, triple jump, and the 55-meter hurdles. The life of a student-athlete was demanding, both physically and psychologically, but it was all worth it.”

Vargas continued, “At Rutgers, I learned that there are actually many other job opportunities for psychology majors. I knew I wanted to major in psychology after I was introduced to the world of research. Vargas received her Bachelor’s in Psychology (BA) and graduated summa cum laude in 2014. Most of the time spent since leaving ALJ, Vargas has pursued increasingly challenging educational goals.

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Vargas was then accepted into the five-year doctoral program in psychology at the University of Michigan with a specialty in Personality and Social Contexts, an applied field of social psychology focused on understanding how various psychosocial factors impact the psychological well-being of marginalized individuals.  In her first two years, she earned her Masters in Science (MS). “In addition to taking courses, I had to teach undergraduate courses at Michigan as well, she added, “I even created a new research course on the psychology of discrimination and taught that too.”

Vargas continued her research towards her doctoral dissertation while all this was going on. “In one part of my dissertation research, I collaborated with surgeons from Michigan Medicine to examine which specific psychosocial factors were associated with better mental health among women patients undergoing cancer surgery. I successfully defended my dissertation research in front of a panel of experts and officially became Dr. Vargas, Ph.D. in 2019.”

Living in Chicago, Illinois, Vargas is a research fellow at Northwestern University, Department of Preventive Medicine. In this position, Vargas conducts research, while also being trained in more complicated methods. She has been in this position for two years, and starting June 2021, she will be promoted to research professor of preventive medicine. One of her proudest moments came when she was accepted into a National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded two-year research program in cardiovascular disease epidemiology and prevention at Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine.

Today in her role as is a research fellow at Northwestern University, Department of Preventive Medicine, Vargas has a great deal on her plate. She spends her day developing new research studies, collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data, and writing scientific manuscripts for publication. “Most days I spend the majority of my time writing scientific manuscripts. These are eventually published in scientific journals,” said Vargas. In 2020, several of her manuscripts were published. “One of my favorite manuscripts was published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine. This was a study in which I worked with a small team of psychologists and cardiologists in the United States and Peru. There is accumulating scientific evidence of a connection between psychological health and cardiovascular health. Our team wanted to expand this area of research more by focusing on a sample of South American adults. This group has been historically excluded from most medical research, and we wanted to prioritize this population to address this problem,” added Vargas.

Vargas reminisced about her high school career. “I had such a great time as a cast member of the fall plays and as a member of the track and field team,” said Vargas enthusiastically, “I loved being with my friends and hanging out with them after school. These were some of the best memories of my high school years.”

Vargas credits her success in the research field to many of her high school teachers. “In high school, I remember taking Physics and then AP Physics with Dr. Giannattasio. I think he really inspired my passion for using math to understand the nature of the world,” said Vargas, “I also believe Mr. Wagenblast, Mr. VanBergen inspired my love for psychology and science. Further, Mr. Reyes inspired me to understand the importance of historical context. In my role, I have to understand what research been done in the past to inform the development of future research questions.

Vargas is very thankful for the education and experience she received at ALJ. She encourages current students to explore career options before making firm decisions about their futures. “When I was in high school, I didn’t know anyone who had my current job and I really didn’t know something like this existed,” Vargas added in closing, “I am happy to share my knowledge and experiences with anyone who wants to know more about this path, the work I do, or the field in general.” You can reach Dr. Emily Vargas PhD at her website: http://www.emilyvargas.net

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