Posted: Friday Apr 26, 2013
April 26, 2013
More than 300 students will smile as they walk on stage May 11 at Saint Vincent College’s 167th annual commencement ceremony to receive their diplomas. But no one will have a bigger smile than Christie Cyktor, a senior biochemistry major from West Newton, who actually won’t walk at all.
Cyktor, who has been physically challenged with Arthrogryposis, a condition which has severely weakened her joints and muscles since she was born, has smiled through that affliction all of her young life and just about any other challenge fate has thrown at her during the past four years. An electric wheelchair is her shining carriage that zips her quickly around campus. On graduation day, she will ride it up to the elevated stage via a specially constructed ramp accompanied no doubt by the enthusiastic cheers and applause of her family and friends.
Very close to her family, she said her hope is that her success will be seen as a tribute to her late parents. “My older sister, Kari, my brother, Josh, my twin sister, Jennifer, and my brother-in-law, Anthony, will all be there to share the day with me,” she said. Her mother, Lori, died with cancer just two weeks before her sophomore year and her father, Jeff, died of a heart attack a year later.
Inspired by the loss of her mother, Cyktor started a chapter of Colleges Against Cancer on the Saint Vincent campus to raise funds to fight cancer. “I like to think that I got her fighting spirit and I try to carry that on all the time,” Cyktor said. “My roommate, Caitlin Sawyer, and I started the group to do a Relay for Life on campus,” she explained. “The students really enjoy it and it has been very successful in raising much needed funds for research. We have raised nearly $40,000 to date. It’s definitely gone very well. I am sad to let it go but happy that it will continue in future years.”
She is anxious to graduate so she can begin preparing for her next challenge – pursuing graduate study toward a master’s degree in forensic science at West Virginia University. She celebrated her acceptance to the competitive program when she received a letter of acceptance on April 17. “I have been interested in a career in forensic science since I was in high school,” she related. “I decided to study biochemistry at Saint Vincent because I think it is fascinating to analyze hair, blood and DNA to provide evidence to solve crimes.”
Cyktor’s high school chemistry teacher, Dana Newlin, a 2000 graduate of Saint Vincent College, encouraged her to consider studying at the Herbert W. Boyer School of Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Computing at Saint Vincent. When she visited campus, she met Dr. Bruce Bethke and Dr. Matthew Fisher and sat in on a couple of chemistry classes including one taught by Dr. Jason Vohs. When the class was over, she asked for directions back to the admission office. “He personally walked me back and talked about my interest in chemistry. I immediately felt comfortable and knew that I could count on everyone to work with me. Other students have been very helpful and supportive. It has worked out very well,” she said.
As a biochemistry major, Cyktor spent most of her time at classes and laboratories in the Sis and Herman Dupré Science Pavilion. “Even though construction was underway during the past several years, I didn’t let a little mud, muck or rock slow me down. Saint Vincent has been great about making sure that I have a normal college experience.”
Her biggest challenge was designing and implementing the senior research project which Saint Vincent requires of all science majors. With funding provided by an A.J. Palumbo Student Research Grant, Cyktor titled her project, “The Inhibitory Effects of Hydrogen Peroxide and Peroxidase on Urine Analysis for Morphine,” and worked under the supervision of Dr. Caryl Fish, associate professor of chemistry. “I extracted morphine from poppy seeds and I did a mock drug test on it. In the drug testing field, there are a lot of problems with people adding something to their urine to mask whatever they had taken. I tried to simulate that by designing a buffer system that would override the masking agent.”
“Dr. Fish, my research supervisor, and Dr. Fisher, my academic advisor, were really great,” Cyktor said. “But senior research is very much on your own. I welcomed the challenge. I figured if I’m going to be in a job I’m going to have to learn how to do these things by myself. I ended up doing everything myself. I’m excited that my senior research was for the most part successful but I’m most excited that I proved to myself and everyone else that I could do it myself. It is a great, great experience, definitely gave you hands-on experience and you have to think for yourself.”
Cyktor spoke highly of Saint Vincent College president Br. Norman W. Hipps, O.S.B. “I knew Br. Norman before he was president,” she added. “My friends and I have maintained a close friendship with him. I go to his office and have coffee sometimes. That’s really great.”
“I was a little anxious about Christie’s ability to navigate campus because we were just getting started with construction at the Dupré Science Pavilion and I knew she wanted to major in biochemistry,” Br. Norman recalled. “So, I suggested she come to campus and visit each of her class locations. There were no problems whatsoever. She and her chair are amazing. During the past four years, she has had many personal challenges but I have been impressed with her always-positive spirit. She has contributed to campus through her service project. Christie has had a fine presence here. We wish her well in her future graduate study. Everyone will miss her!”
Sandy Quinlivan, associate dean of studies, has been another close ally. “Mrs. Quinlivan has been my buddy for four years,” Cyktor said. “She helps me do whatever I need. I can email her about anything. Bob Baum, director of student affairs, has also been great about providing accessible housing, transportation, just about anything I need. I have been able to participate in the cotillion, bus trips, even a trip to New Orleans for the national chemistry conference.”
“How can you have a bad day when you are around Christie?” Quinlivan asked. “She always has a smile on her face and a positive attitude. I know that she is a young woman with unlimited potential.”
Photo: Christie Cyktor
Follow us on Twitter: @MySaintVincent
Like us on Facebook: