The Catholic University of America

Aug. 22, 2014

Professors Share Similar Journeys to CUA

  CUA Professors (from left) Nancy Adleman and Sahana Kukke

Though they never knew each other before joining The Catholic University of America’s faculty during the 2013-14 academic year, Nancy Adleman and Sahana Kukke had very similar life paths to get to the University.

Both women graduated from magnet high schools in the Freehold Regional High School District in New Jersey in 1995. Though they studied different subjects, both earned their doctorates from Stanford University in Stanford, Calif. — Adleman in 2008 and Kukke in 2009. And both completed postdoctoral fellowships at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Md.

Along the way, they shared friends. They worked in some of the same labs. They took similar classes. But they had never met.

Now, Adleman is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology who researches the neuropathophysiology of pediatric mood disorders. She began working at CUA last September as a visiting professor. Kukke, who has worked at the University since January, is an assistant professor of biomedical engineering who studies impaired motor control in individuals with childhood-onset brain injuries.

The two finally met after Kukke spoke with James Howard, who is a Wylma R. and James R. Curtin professor in the psychology department, at a meeting on brain plasticity this spring. After learning about her work at NIH and Stanford, Howard asked if she was acquainted with Adleman. Though Kukke didn’t know Adleman from the world of academia, she recognized her name from childhood, when the two shared mutual friends.

“It was the funniest thing,” Adleman said. “Jim came to me and said, ‘Do you know someone named Sahana Kukke? She said she knows you from when you were a kid. You should email her.’”

After connecting over email, the two women shared coffee at the Edward J. Pryzybyla University Center. Only then did additional connections come to light.

Kukke graduated from Freehold Borough High School, while Adleman attended Freehold Township High School. After completing their bachelor’s degrees, both women worked in research for a few years before earning their doctorates. Both women research subjects related to the brain and have spent time in Stanford’s neuroscience labs. At one point, Adleman was a teaching assistant in one of Kukke’s graduate neurobiology classes.

“We could have passed each other millions of times,” said Adleman. “It is amazing that we wouldn’t have had more overlap, especially since we work in similar fields.”

Since both women are still relatively new to CUA, they said they are happy to have found each other.
“I feel like there is so much good fortune and luck in all of this,” Kukke said. “I’ve only had one semester and there are no women in my department, so it was really exciting for me to meet a woman who was also in the same position.”

“Because of our similar story, we have similar challenges, not only academically, but personally,” Adleman said. “It’s nice to have somebody to relate to and say, ‘I feel that pain, you’re not alone.’”

The new friends said they are also excited about the future. Since both research topics related to pediatrics and brain behavior, there is potential for interdepartmental projects.

“One challenge when you’re creating your own research program is to create new collaborations rather than continuing to work with already existing partners,” Kukke said. “Maybe a few years from now when we are both settled, we could collaborate on projects or even give guest lectures in each other’s courses.”

In the meantime, both Adleman and Kukke said they’ve been impressed by the supportive and friendly community at CUA.

“In my department, everyone has bent over backward to help me and it’s just been fantastic,” Adleman said.
“At Commencement, I could already see people who I had established a relationship with,” Kukke said. “I’m thinking, at a much larger university, you wouldn’t have that sense of community so quickly.”



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