Gonzaga Preparatory School

Skip to main content

Alumni Speakers

MIA BERTAGNOLLI `84
Gonzaga University Professor of Biology, Mia Bertagnolli ‘84, came and spoke with students about her time at Prep and her career in the sciences. After graduating from Prep in 1984, Bertagnolli went to Gonzaga University where she graduated summa cum laude with her B.S. in Biology and a minor in Chemistry. In 1993 she earned her Ph.D. in Biology from the University of Utah. She began working at Gonzaga University following her graduation in 1993 and has been there since. She is currently on a sabbatical leave working on special projects focused on mentoring undergraduate students and faculty in STEM fields. Bertagnolli is as Professor of Biology, Interim Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Chair of the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry at Gonzaga University.

READ More of Mia's Story HERE

Gonzaga University Professor of Biology, Mia Bertagnolli ‘84, came and spoke with students about her time at Prep and her career in the sciences. After graduating from Prep in 1984, Bertagnolli went to Gonzaga University where she graduated summa cum laude with her B.S. in Biology and a minor in Chemistry. In 1993 she earned her Ph.D. in Biology from the University of Utah. She began working at Gonzaga University following her graduation in 1993 and has been there since. She is currently on a sabbatical leave working on special projects focused on mentoring undergraduate students and faculty in STEM fields. Bertagnolli is as Professor of Biology, Interim Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Chair of the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry at Gonzaga University.

When Bertagnolli was a young student at Trinity Grade School she developed a love for math and solving puzzles. As one of nine in her eighth grade class, Bertagnolli was allowed the time to learn at her own pace, something that she said was instrumental to her education and the development of her passion for math and science. The principal of the school recognized Bertagnolli’s love for math and her natural talents with numbers. She encouraged Bertagnolli to pursue math and challenged her with work that suited Bertagnolli’s talent. The individualized attention to Bertagnolli’s learning style really helped her she said.

At Gonzaga Prep Bertagnolli said she was exposed to science in new and different ways than she had thought about it before. In Mr. Kuder’s chemistry class she saw how math and science came together. Bertagnolli said her love of math and solving equations combined with the teachers at Prep showed her so much more about the STEM field than what she already knew.

“I can’t begin to name all of the people at Gonzaga Prep who influenced me. In one way or another, all of the teachers and coaches and staff with whom I interacted at Gonzaga Prep had an impact on me. They helped me develop a love for math and science, be a good writer, and appreciate literature and history; they allowed me to pursue my passion for singing and encouraged my life-long obsession with sports and staying fit and healthy; and through conversations both in and out of the classroom, they helped me develop my own opinions and perspectives,” said Bertagnolli.

Upon entering college, Bertagnolli believed she would be a doctor. She said that is the path she thought all science majors were on. But when she was doing mock interviews for premed students during her senior year of college she was asked why she wanted to be a doctor. She said, “because I want to help people and I love Biology.” The interviewer didn’t think that answer would suffice and Bertagnolli said that her world was unravelled in a 30 minute mock interview. She went back to the question of “what do I love?” and the answer was problem solving and math. This changed Bertagnolli’s trajectory toward getting her PhD in Biology.

During her PhD program at the University of Utah she worked as a teacher’s assistant and learned that she liked teaching science and helping others understand science. From there she decided to become a professor and has been teaching at Gonzaga University for the last 26 years. She said her career has grown and developed as the years have gone on.

She said the reason she has been successful in school and her career is because of the study skills and discipline she learned while at Gonzaga Prep. Learning how to prioritize her time was essential to her success in college. “At Gonzaga Prep I was challenged to work hard and prioritize multiple commitments in a supportive community with shared values. Academic preparation is important, but so too is having the confidence to accept new challenges, step outside of your comfort zone, and strive to be the best person you can be. The community at Gonzaga Prep, its focus on Ignatian education, and the expectation that we use our talents in the service of others are key to the education of the whole person that happens at Gonzaga Prep,” said Bertagnolli.

Bertagnolli’s favorite part of her job is getting to use the skills she has learned and her own experiences to be a mentor for others who are in similar positions. “I get to help people who walk into my office who don’t know what direction to go in terms of their career. It is a rewarding thing to see others’ demeanor change from concerned and unsure to light and hopeful. I get to do that for faculty members, colleagues, as well,” Said Bertagnolli.

When asked what her advice is to students planning on going to college she said it is important for students to form connections with their college professors. Professors are professionals that can help students discern their career paths and they types of opportunities that can help students get there. “In college it’s on you to build the relationship with your teacher,” said Bertagnolli. 

She also encouraged students to develop strong study habits to understand content, to actively explore interests, even those outside of one’s original major or career path, and said to not be too hard on yourself. “Give yourself the time, the space and the opportunity to discern the best path for you,” said Bertagnolli, “You are going to encounter very challenging coursework, even in your first semester of college. If your grades are not what you want them to be, don’t get too upset and don’t give up! Identify the resources available at your college that are designed to support you. Ask for help, take care of yourself both physically and emotionally, and find advisors who can help you think through decisions about whether or not to drop a certain class, or change majors, or change your career focus altogether.”

In addition to mentoring students and colleagues, Bertagnolli is a proud mother of two daughters, Jackie ‘14 and Sammie ‘18. “[They] are fun, talented, and wonderful people who bring [my husband and I] great joy and of whom we are extremely proud. It is such a gift to be able to be part of their journey and watch as they choose their own paths in life,” Said Bertagnolli.

She concluded by reminding us that we live in a time when it is essential to have a well-rounded education where critical thinking and care for others is of utmost importance. “I know from my own experience that Gonzaga Prep develops these skills and characteristics in its students and challenges them to use their talents and skills to make the world a better place,” said Bertagnolli. Se believes that the students at Prep will develop into future leaders who can make a positive difference in the world.
 
 
THERESA HAILEY `07
Alumna and Tool Engineering Lead at Boeing Portland, Theresa Hailey ‘07, visited and spoke with students and employees on May 13 about her career path in engineering and how Gonzaga Prep helped her get to where she is today.

Read More of Theresa's Story HERE

Alumna and Tool Engineering Lead at Boeing Portland, Theresa Hailey ‘07, visited and spoke with students and employees on May 13 about her career path in engineering and how Gonzaga Prep helped her get to where she is today. 
 
Hailey attended the University of Portland where she was one of ten female engineering majors in the program. She earned her B.S. in Mechanical Engineering in 2011 and went on to be an intern for General Motors. Following her internship, Hailey returned to the University of Portland and, in 2016, earned her Masters of Business Administration with a focus on operations technology development.
 
A few years later, Hailey began working at Boeing, where she is now the Tool Engineering Lead. Much of the work she has done includes working with flight controls and manufacturing engineering. Hailey’s time is spent designing the tooling that helps to operate Boeing planes. Before becoming a Lead, Hailey worked in the 3-D design lab and in meetings with operations and manufacturing. Now as Lead she manages projects in the tool engineering area.
 
Hailey said, growing up she struggled with math, but that she is grateful to her teachers at Prep who worked with her to help her succeed. “My four years at Gonzaga Prep shaped me into the goal-oriented, hard-working, and well-rounded person I am today. It was because of the excitement and growth I experienced in my senior year Physics class that I became passionate about mechanical design. Those experiences are ultimately what inspired me to take the leap into the field of Engineering – constantly being challenged to solve problems and work with people in a setting where we are all striving to achieve the same goals.”
She advised students to pay particular attention to the Profile of the Graduate as they pursue their college and career goals. Hailey said the Profile established her mindset of being adaptable and flexible, a critical thinker, and a person for others. “It has taught me how to understand people, and specifically people that I work with,” said Hailey, “I learned that you just have to be passionate about what you are doing. My drive to get better is what has propelled me forward.”
 
In addition to her engineering career, Hailey has been an avid distance runner. She participated in Cross Country and Track during her time at Prep and the University of Portland. Since then she has participated in multiple marathons and races. Most recently, Hailey has qualified for the Olympic trials. She will compete in an attempt to qualify for the Summer 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. Join us in cheering on Hailey as she competes and in her successful career at Boeing.
 
 
ANNIE MORGAN `09
After graduating from Gonzaga Prep in 2009, Morgan attended Harvard College. In 2013, she graduated from Harvard summa cum laude with a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry. She went on to earn her PhD in Biophysics from Harvard University in 2019. Currently, she is a MD/PhD student in the Harvard-MIT Program in Health, Science and Technology. Morgan spoke with the students about her time at Prep and her math and science education during high school through medical school. 

READ More of Annie's Story HERE

On May 3 students, faculty, and staff gathered in the Blackbox to skype call with Annie Morgan ‘09. After graduating from Gonzaga Prep in 2009, Morgan attended Harvard College. In 2013, she graduated from Harvard summa cum laude with a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry. She went on to earn her PhD in Biophysics from Harvard University in 2019. Currently, she is a MD/PhD student in the Harvard-MIT Program in Health, Science and Technology. Morgan spoke with the students about her time at Prep and her math and science education during high school through medical school. 

Morgan said the number one way Gonzaga Prep prepared her was by instilling in her a sense of purpose. “Gonzaga Prep’s focus on character development and commitment to justice helped me find purpose in college and graduate school. I felt like I left high school with a mission that had been instilled through the Gonzaga Prep curriculum, Campus Ministry, extra-curricular activities and community involvement. I wasn’t until I got to college that I realized how special it was to have a purpose-driven education in high school,” said Morgan.

Morgan found purpose in her AP math and science classes, English classes, and in Track and Cross Country. It was her AP math and science classes that confirmed Morgan’s career choice. She realized her passion for chemistry early on. She felt that the AP classes she took at Prep prepared her well for her rigorous courses at Harvard College. “It helps to have really experienced AP teachers,” Morgan said of the teachers she had at Prep. 

In addition to AP classes, Morgan said her English classes were critical to her education and career path. “I draw on the strong writing skills I developed at Gonzaga Prep every day, whether I am writing patient notes, grant applications, or scientific journal articles,” said Morgan. “The English department writing curriculum devotes a great amount of individual attention to students, is cohesive from year to year, and hones fundamental skills that many of my peers in college and beyond lacked… High school is a transformative time for developing your writing skills and voice, and I am so grateful I spent those critical years at Prep.”

Other important lessons Morgan learned in high school came from her coaches on the Track and Cross Country teams. She said her coaches taught her about hard work, overcoming setbacks, setting goals, visualizing success, and the value of teamwork; all things that have helped her in undergraduate studies and medical school. “My coaches taught me how to stay motivated -- how to lace up my shoes each day and keep going -- which ended up being the most important lesson I brought with me to graduate school,” said Morgan.

Morgan said her time at Prep inside and outside of the classroom was filled with experiences of intellectual and character transformation. “Students not only develop skills and nurture their talents, but through education of the whole person, they are able to furthermore ask how they can use their gifts to best serve the world.”

During her time in graduate studies and academic research, Morgan channeled the many lessons she learned at Prep and has asked herself how she can use her gifts to serve the world. Morgan’s current research focuses on how to use chemistry in making drugs and medicines different from those made by pharmaceutical companies. She is working to bridge the gap between small molecules and biologics. “In academic research, I’ve had an open runway to follow my curiosity and embrace creativity, which I love! As a scientist, I work on a team to uncover knowledge no one has ever accessed before, with the goal that our advances can improve the health of all humans,” said Morgan.
 
 
MORGAN NITTA `09
After graduating from Prep in 2009 Nitta attended Regis University where she earned her B.S. in Neuroscience, with honors. Then Nitta began her studies in Pediatric Neuropsychology in the Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program at Marquette University where she is now finishing her PhD. Nitta called in via Skype to talk with Prep students about her experiences as a math and science student throughout her time at Prep, during undergraduate studies, and now in her PhD program.

READ More of Morgan's Story HERE

Students and employees gathered on Thursday, May 2 in the Blackbox to hear from PhD student Morgan Nitta ‘09. After graduating from Prep in 2009 Nitta attended Regis University where she earned her B.S. in Neuroscience, with honors. Then Nitta began her studies in Pediatric Neuropsychology in the Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program at Marquette University where she is now finishing her PhD. Nitta called in via Skype to talk with Prep students about her experiences as a math and science student throughout her time at Prep, during undergraduate studies, and now in her PhD program.
 
From a young age Nitta was fascinated by puzzles, figures, and pictures. This was her first clue that the sciences might be the career path she would choose. “Prep provided a foundation for me to build upon when pursuing college and graduate school. Academically, I learned to push myself and ask questions. The teachers and community encouraged me to foster this curiosity. Prep made attending high school an experience rather than an expectation,” said Nitta.
 
One of the main things she talked about was how Gonzaga Prep gave her a great model of developing relationships with her teachers. She advised students to take advantage of the opportunity they have at Gonzaga Prep to practice building relationships with teachers now. “The entire community intently focuses on helping students develop strong academic and social skills to help them achieve their goals. I always felt that someone was there to help and support me, in my academic and my identity formation. I can confidently say I would not be where I am today without Prep’s thoughtful and loving community,” said Nitta.
 
Nitta spoke of “falling in love” with neuroscience during a course she took in her undergraduate studies. In this course she was introduced to studying the brain and behavior. She then took a neuropsychology course her senior year of college that peaked her curiosity and led her to the  doctoral program she is currently a part of. 
 
Following her undergraduate studies Nitta worked as a Mental Health Worker and Intervention Specialist Neuropsychometrist at a residential treatment center where she worked with children at the facility and adults with Dementia. During her time working at the treatment center Nitta integrated her passion for neuroscience by working with patients and seeing how they made connections and developed relationships. This work inspired her clinical and research work in medical school.
 
As a medical student, Nitta is doing clinical and research work with kids focusing on psychometrics. She often works with children with turrets syndrome focusing on neuropsychology testing and assessing the way the children think. “The best part of my current job is seeing first-hand how resilient kids can be. Part of my training as a graduate student in neuropsychology involves evaluating the cognitive functioning of kiddos with a broad spectrum of neurological, medical, and psychological conditions, such as premature birth, brain tumors, depression, or early childhood trauma. These physical and social insults to a developing brain can have significant impacts in the way kiddos think, feel, and understand the world around them. It is really beautiful to see the brain adjust and thrive under complex circumstances, and I love learning more about how kids (and adults) learn and interact with the world around them,” said Nitta.

She had also done work with biomarkers, specifically working with research on concussions. Nitta’s work and research follows a Biological-Psychological-Social Model. She is curious about what impacts the way we think and the neuropsychological-biological processes that influence mood and behavior. Nitta has administered and scored over 50 neuropsychological tests to adult patients with a variety of cognitive concerns, as well as edit reports written by neuropsychologists.

“The mission of Gonzaga Prep sent me forth with a sense of greater purpose toward serving the world. I remember having to memorize the Profile of a Graduate in classes, and the tenants of Open to Growth, Committed to Justice and the others continue to guide the choices and decisions I make. Living the Magis, Cura Personalis, and AMDG continually ground me. Gonzaga Prep offered me the opportunity to observe the world through a social justice lens, and to this day, it continues to shape the work I do and the futures I pursue,” said Nitta.

Her advice to the students wanting to pursue careers in math and science is to gain research experience during graduate school to help with PhD programs. “Keep an open mind to follow a path that drives your curiosity,” said Nitta. “It is important to know that there are MANY careers in Math and Science. You may find yourself working toward medical school, but realize that you have a passion for the brain! You may find that you enjoy computer programming and wish to follow a path of learning the languages of code! There are so many opportunities to utilize and strengthen math and science skills, in ways that fulfill a passion and in ways that serve those around you too. More practically, pursue opportunities for research. Research is just the adult term for getting to ask the questions you want answers too, and math and science fields value curious, thoughtful individuals. Everything you are doing now is preparing you for what you will do in the future. Stay curious.”