Three students named co-valedictorian for the Class of 2017

For the second year in a row, Stevens honors three seniors with the distinction of co-valedictorian, each graduating with a perfect 4.0 grade point average.

Sara Vitkus, Mark Liotta, and Alexandra Masciana could not be more different in terms of their academic journeys. While Vitkus is graduating with a B.E in Computer Engineering, M.E in Systems Engineering and a graduate certificate in Software Engineering, Liotta will be leaving Stevens with a B.E in Biomedical Engineering. Masciana hails from a completely different discipline, soon to be graduating with a B.S in Business and Technology. Although their interests and career paths remain distinct, it is evident that all three share a common value: unyielding discipline.

The rigorous curriculum offered by her high school Loudoun Counties Academy of Science pushed Vitkus to seek a technical school such as Stevens for computer engineering. “I took Computer Math and AP Computer Science as electives, and I had a phenomenal teacher that inspired me to go the computer route.” She says that she did not know what path to take for her graduate degree until entering her junior year, but ended up choosing Systems Engineering after “getting a feel” for the various programs available to her.

Vitkus looks back fondly on her experience with Professor Mazmanian for Differential Equations and Software Engineering Professor Stacey Gelman, who served as a “huge inspiration” in her studies. “She brought with her a ton of experience, given that she had worked for Merck as a software developer and eventually manager,” said Vitkus, who appreciated her real-world examples and strong female presence in class.

In addition to her rigorous and carefully planned academic schedule, Vitkus made time to serve as an active sister within the Phi Sigma Sigma Sorority, serving as the Scholarship Chair and most recently as Bursar. “Being from far away, it’s been really nice to have a family up here, as cheesy as it sounds,” said Vitkus. Among other things, Vitkus has also conducted Scholars Summer research, worked as a tutor, and co-founded a software startup through the Stevens Venture Center, which has helped her in entrepreneurial pursuits.

Upon graduation, Vitkus will be working as a systems engineer for Entegra Systems, a government contractor in Virginia that designs, develops and deploys advanced technology and performs critical analytical roles to support our nation’s most important intelligence missions.

Vitkus would agree that she has learned many things here at Stevens, yet most of all she hopes to bring “the ability to solve problems” to her career at Entegra. “That’s something my teacher in high school told me. Pick a college that’s going to teach you how to think and learn, because no matter what you do, you will need that skill.”

Liotta was originally undecided in his career trajectory, but soon came to the realization that biomedical engineering would satisfy his interests in both medicine and technology. He notes that he chose Stevens for a multitude of reasons, including its desirable location and its “entrepreneurial spirit,” which aligned well with his goals. “[Stevens] was the only tech school I applied to,” said Liotta. “Looking back on it, I wouldn’t have had the opportunities I had here elsewhere.”

Recalling the various organizations he has been a part of, Liotta notes that his experiences on the Stevens Honor Board have served him well. “I liked the idea of academic integrity within the Stevens community,” said Liotta. “People should be held to a certain standard at Stevens.” In addition to serving as a member of the Honor Board, Liotta has worked as tutor for various courses and held positions in Tau Beta Pi and Stevens Crew.

As a biomedical engineering student, Liotta found Transport in Biological Systems with Dr. Carrie Perlman to be the most interesting. “It was the first time I got to apply all of the math and science into actual fluid flow in the body,” said Liotta. His keen interest in fluid flow did not end with Transport—in fact, his Senior Design Project focuses on the most important pump there is to know: the heart.

“Our project is a control system for a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) which helps pump blood and relieve pressure of the heart that is in failure,” said Liotta. He explained that LVADs on the market operate only at constant flow, but his team’s design includes sensors to detect pressure changes of the heart to adjust the LVAD to match the heart’s speed, preventing further damage.

Liotta has expanded his learning beyond the gates of Stevens within the last four years, working as a medical scribe at Hoboken University Medical Center, performing research at Hackensack University Medical Center, and completing a biomedical engineering internship program at CooperSurgical in Connecticut. “I’ve been able to do ‘hardcore’ engineering,” said Liotta. “Because I’ve taken the less traditional path to medicine, I think I have a unique set of skills that other medical students might not have.”  Liotta will continue his education at New Jersey Medical School this summer, where he hopes to combine the engineering principles with medicine to develop new surgical devices and advance the field of surgery.

Masciana took the road less traveled, beginning with an aspiration to be a marine biologist. “I went to a marine biology-meets-military school, but I realized that it wasn’t for me.” Her interests then switched to a possible career in architecture, but upon careful consideration, she discovered that she wanted to combine her desire to help others with her keen interest in technology. Her involvement in the Technology Student Association in high school influenced her to ultimately decide on the Business and Technology program here at Stevens.

She recognizes Dr. Donald Lombardi, Distinguished Industry Professor within the School of Business Professor as someone who has positively influenced her during her tenure at Stevens. “Dr. Lombardi taught me a lot of life lessons that I wish to carry not only into my career, but also into my everyday life.” She recommends all Business and Technology students—as well as engineers—to take one her favorite classes, called Organizational Behavior and Social Psychology. “This class allows you to learn about yourself and how you work with others,” said Masciana. “You learn how to function best in the work place and lead others in the most effective way possible, things that I hope carry over as I enter the workforce.”

Many experiences have shaped Masciana to be the individual she will be graduating as, including her time spent as an SGA senator, her Stevens Scholar research experiences in the summers, her internship with Ernst &Young, her time spent as a member of the Stevens Women Tennis team, and her sisterhood within the Phi Sigma Sigma Sorority. “Every organization I was in, I was in it for a reason; I really found my way here.” Like Vitkus, Masciana has greatly enjoyed her experience within her sorority. “I’m a very focused person, but my sisters helped me have more fun, which is something I really need at the time when I joined,” said Masciana. “I really grew a lot within the sorority.” Masciana has also served as a Resident Assistant for the past three years, a commitment she finds to have “definitely shaped my college experience and pushed me in the right direction.”

“Being an RA teaches you to be selfless and put others first,” said Masciana, a value that has been inculcated within her between her various responsibilities on campus. Her dedication has been proven multiple times over, given her involvement in various honor societies, including Gear & Triangle Honor Society, Order of Omega Honor Society, Beta Gamma Sigma business honor society, and Rho Alpha Sigma residence life honor society.

Upon graduation, Masciana will working as a technology advisor for financial services with the same company she interned with last summer, Ernst & Young. “I’ll be helping clients solve their problems,” said Masciana. “So again, helping people!” She recognizes the help and support from her family, friends, and mentors, whom she attributes much of her success to.

Vitkus, Liotta and Masciana have served as exemplary leaders within their academic and extra-curricular domains here at Stevens. The three co-valedictorians along with the rest of their class will be honored at this year’s graduation, to be held at the Meadowlands Expo Center on May 24.