Five questions with the Florham Campus Pinnacle recipient: Marialaina Nissenbaum
By Kenna Caprio
May 4, 2018 — Florham Campus Pinnacle Award winner Marialaina Nissenbaum, a psychology major, is experiencing a whirlwind of emotions as she gets ready to leave the tight-knit University community. “I’m definitely going to miss walking around and always knowing somebody — going into any building and being able to wave to someone or sit down in the cafeteria with them. I’m going to miss the random and spontaneous fun things my roommate and I would do together, like late-night Taco Bell runs and watching ‘Jersey Shore.’
She recommends incoming students build strong connections with faculty. “All the professors I’ve had have open-door policies. If you go to them, they’ll help you stay on track.” Nissenbaum would know: She’s completed her undergraduate thesis in the University Honors Program and is a member of three honors societies: Beta Beta Beta Biology Honors, Phi Zeta Kappa University Honors and Psi Chi.
FDU: What motivates you academically?
I set my standards very high. I’ve always been like that. My parents would have to tell me to relax. I’d be bent out of shape when I got a 90% as a kid; I don’t react that way now, but I’ve always wanted to go past undergrad.
FDU: Name a moment when you felt uncomfortable because someone or something challenged your understanding of the world. How did you grow?
I went to Catholic school and in the classroom it’s a very specific point of view. To come here and meet people who were doing things differently than that helped me form my own opinion. My faith is something I had to choose. I started going back to church and joined Bible study and it snowballed into a position with Catholic Campus Ministry.
FDU: How has a failure, or a seeming failure, led you to future success?
In high school and into my freshman year of college, I was in an abusive relationship. I felt trapped and isolated, like I wasted that first year at FDU and academic opportunities. As a result, when I finally got help and spoke up, I was able to make changes and I got to be myself. It’s made me a stronger person. I can use that experience to help other girls and that experience is motivation. It’s crazy to think about where I am now, compared to then.
FDU: How are you making the world a better place?
Through my volunteer work, which includes founding FDU GlamourGals. The organization connects young volunteers with female senior citizens to provide ongoing companionship and complimentary makeovers. Volunteering is very symbiotic —you’re doing something good for someone else and in turn, you feel better, too. I’m very positive. I smile and say hello to people even if I don’t know them.
FDU: What's next for you after graduation?
I’m attending Rutgers University, working toward my doctorate in behavior and systems neuroscience. I want to study Alzheimer’s disease because I really love senior citizens. With the growing senior population, people are living longer and Alzheimer’s is becoming a bigger problem. Music and exercise, dance and yoga programs are helpful for patients. I want to get certified to teach yoga so that I can do chair yoga for seniors.
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