NSU's Undergraduate Honors Program offers students more than small class sizes, thought-provoking courses and seminars, and the chance to explore new ideas. The program helps prepare students from diverse majors for postgraduate studies and careers.
John Paul (B.S., Legal Studies, ’06) and Dana Altschul (B.S., Biology, ’08) are just two Honors Program alumni who continued on to graduate studies and are now engaged in challenging careers in law and medicine, respectively.
After graduating from NSU’s Shepard Broad Law Center in 2009, Paul became an assistant state attorney at the Broward County State Attorney’s Office.
Altschul, who also participated in the university’s Dual Admission Program, earned a Master of Medical Science in Physician Assistant degree in 2010 at NSU. She passed the national certification exam and began practicing as a dermatology physician assistant in November 2010.
Paul and Altschul recently returned to the college for an Honors alumni banquet. They shared their perspectives on the Honors Program, preparing for graduate studies, and their current careers.
How did your undergraduate studies and the Honors Program help prepare you for law school and a career?
“The college’s legal studies program helped me prepare for law school. While many students [in law school] were trying to figure out how to do legal research, I was well prepared and knew the different types of materials, thanks to my Legal Research course as an undergraduate. I also felt that the professors in the college’s Division of Humanities really prepared me for the higher level of analysis that law school professors are seeking.
“The Undergraduate Honors Program was definitely a rewarding experience. It helped me develop professional relationships and mentorships with professors that exist to this day. It also made my undergraduate academic experience more well rounded and [encouraged me] to explore topics that I might not have been exposed to. The faculty and staff at NSU always go the extra mile and genuinely want you to succeed.”
What is a typical workday for you as an attorney?
“I have been a prosecutor at the Broward County State Attorney’s Office for three years, and I am currently assigned to the Felony Trial Unit. I had a good idea of what to expect because I was a certified legal intern during law school and I was able to work on cases just as a prosecutor would. Working as a prosecutor is very rewarding because you are helping to protect the community and stand up for victims’ rights.
“Everyone who works in the criminal justice system will say that there is no shortage of work to be done. It is certainly very challenging in many ways. A typical day for a prosecutor starts in the courtroom—with a docket of 25 to 100 cases and all types of matters to be heard by the judge.
“Managing these cases can be challenging, but it is exciting to be in the courtroom litigating issues every day. There is no ‘typical day.’ Your afternoon may be spent conducting a trial, working on pleadings or other paperwork, attending depositions of witnesses, or participating in an evidentiary hearing. Most afternoons are a combination of these four things.”
“The key to John Paul’s success as an undergraduate, graduate student, and in his subsequent career is his enthusiasm for learning,” said Charles Zelden, Ph.D., professor at the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. “From day one, John was interested in learning—not just getting a good grade. Mix enthusiasm with a willingness to work hard (which John had and still has) and the result is success. John has been successful as a student, assistant state attorney, and more recently, as an adjunct faculty for NSU's Department of History and Political Science.”
How did your undergraduate studies and the Honors Program help prepare you for graduate school and a career?
“My undergraduate studies prepared me very well for the physician assistant program. It helped me balance a rigorous schedule and develop a successful and organized study routine. Each semester, I was enrolled in multiple science courses with labs that enabled me to apply the classroom knowledge to hands-on experimentation. These biology courses were my primary focus, but being a member of the Undergraduate Honors Program gave me the opportunity to explore other topics of interest. I took classes in psychology, ethics, and writing, which gave me a well-rounded college experience.
“The Honors Program consists of smaller class sizes with motivated and devoted students, and I know I developed lifelong friendships. I attend the Honors Program Spring Banquet as an alumna, and it is rewarding to see the outstanding accomplishments of the current students as well as reconnect with my classmates and professors.”
Describe what you are doing now.
“I enjoy working as a physician assistant, and I’m very satisfied with my career choice. It provides me with a good balance of routine and challenging cases. I am in an office-based setting where I work with my supervising physician to assess, diagnose, and treat patients with skin cancers and other dermatologic conditions. My scope of practice includes—but is not limited to—performing biopsies and procedures, prescribing medications, and doing cosmetic enhancement injections.
“The visit with a patient includes a medical assessment and a teaching opportunity to inform them of their diagnosis and treatment regimen. I use lay terminology to make sure the patient understands the important facts about their condition and the impact it has on their daily routine. I take myself out of the practitioner role and empathize with the situation as if I were the patient. It’s important to develop a strong bond with the patients so they recognize that you can be trusted and supportive.”
How are you still involved with the college?
“I am fortunate to remain involved with NSU and the community. I am a clinical preceptor for the current physician assistant students as well as a mentor to Honors and Dual Admission undergraduate students who are planning to enter the physician assistant program.”
“Dana and I go full circle,” said Naomi D'Alessio, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography. "Our first meeting was at her freshman orientation. She had been admitted to the Dual Admission Program for physician assistant and it was clear that she did her homework and was confident in knowing the path she wanted to pursue. As a student in my biology class, Dana set the bar on hard work and helping others. She went on to the physician assistant program and again was a shining example of the undergraduate program. As a physician assistant in my dermatologist’s office, Dana has become my ‘doctor.’ Not only does she provide excellent care, but she has also made herself available to undergraduates who aspire to become physician assistants. I am very proud of Dana's accomplishments.”