Forever a Westfall Scholar

[University of Nevada, Reno] Forever a Westfall Scholar

At the end of each semester, graduating seniors who have earned the highest GPA in their respective departments are honored as Westfall Scholars. Previously known as Dean’s Senior Scholars, the award was renamed when David Westfall, the founding dean of the College of Science who created the award, retired in 2007. Westfall taught at the University and continues to support and recognize high achieving students through the biannual award ceremony. The following alumni are all Westfall Scholars whose exceptional success did not end at graduation.

Sadeea Abbasi - Class of 2004, Chemistry

Sadeea Abbasi was a Westfall Scholar when she graduated from the University in Spring 2004. She was involved in the chemistry club, several volunteer organizations, the Golden Key honor society and the Honors program at the University. The chemistry student then attended the University’s School of Medicine and completed a dual doctorate degree (MD, PhD) in 2011. Abbasi completed her residency and fellowship at Los Angeles County + University of Southern California Medical Center in internal medicine and gastroenterology. She completed an advanced fellowship in inflammatory bowel disease at Cedars-Sinai (CS) Medical Center and now works at CS-Santa Monica Gastroenterology. Abbasi is passionate about patient and physician advocacy and frequently meets with lawmakers for patient-centric legislation.

What did you gain from the University?

I have fond memories of the University. Not only did I gain a valuable and comprehensive education, but I made and retained lifelong friendships with my classmates. I still communicate with several professors and mentors and feel very much part of the University of Nevada, Reno community through alumni organizations all these years later.

What is your favorite part of your job?

The combination of different patient pathology and the different roles I have during the day are my favorite parts of my job. I love working with patients and find gastroenterology unique in terms of the many different types of patients I see during a day, ranging from screening for colon cancer to starting biologic therapy in severe colitis to referring for liver transplantation. Being able to see patients in different clinical scenarios is also the best part of my day because I get to help patients during major life milestones, such as when they are seeing a doctor for the first time to discuss an issue or in the hospital when they are acutely ill. Being a physician has been the best career choice for me, and if I had to do it all over again, I would be in the exact same spot I am now.

Chantal Reyna - Class of 2004, Biology

Chantal Reyna graduated from the University with her bachelor’s degree in biology and a minor in chemistry with distinction, summa cum laude. She was the inaugural goalkeeper for the University of Nevada Women's Soccer team, attending the University on a soccer scholarship. She was a resident advisor and a member of the health preprofessional honor society Alpha Epsilon Delta. Reyna then continued at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine and received the University of Nevada School of Medicine Surgery Student of the Year award and was elected to the Honor Medical Society Alpha Omega Alpha. After completing medical school, Reyna was a general surgery resident at the University, where she met her husband and received the Chairman's Professional Conduct Award.  Following her passion for breast cancer care, she pursued a fellowship in breast surgical oncology at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa, Florida. After her fellowship, Reyna became an assistant professor of surgery at the University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center. She then moved to the University of Cincinnati where she was promoted to associate professor of surgery. Most recently, Reyna was recruited to Crozer Health in Pennsylvania and serves as the medical director of the Breast Program and chief of breast surgery. She is currently obtaining her master’s in health administration. Reyna is a member of the American College of Surgeons, the Association of Women Surgeons, the American Society of Breast Surgeons, the Society of Surgical Oncology and the Latino Surgical Society. She is an avid soccer fan and enjoys reading and traveling internationally.

What did you gain from the University?

Between collegiate sports and resident advising, my interpersonal skills grew tremendously. From the coursework, I learned how to learn, how to question and how to think critically, which has served me well throughout my life and career.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I love my patients, and my profession has allowed me to build lasting relationships with everyone involved. Being able to see someone through diagnosis to treatment to survivorship is truly a blessing. I am fortunate to have a career for which I am passionate. I have always loved working with a team, which is so critical to cancer care. I am grateful every day for it.

Jenessa Haarala - Class of 2005, Mining Engineering

In 2005, Jenessa Haarala graduated from the University where she majored in mining engineering in the Mackay School of Earth Sciences and Engineering. During her time at the University, she was a member of the Society of Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration (SME) and the Society of Women Engineers. She also participated in the International Intercollegiate Mining Competition, was part of the John Mackay Club and had internships with Barrick and Queenstake Resources. After graduating, Haarala worked for Queenstake Resources. After her time there, she worked with various companies, including Barrick Gold Corporation, Oceana Gold (where she worked in New Zealand), Newmont Mining Corporation and Cementation Americas. Most recently, she started her own company in which she works as a principal mining consultant.

Haarala remains a member of the SME, where she sits on the Mining and Exploration (M&E) Division Executive Committee and the 2021 M&E scholarship committee that helped distribute $20,000 in scholarships to students. She also advocates for inclusion in the mining industry. She was a member of Newmont’s Women and Allies Business Resource Group and has chaired inclusion-related sessions at the past two annual SME conferences. In 2018, Haarala received the national SME M&E Division’s Outstanding Young Professional Award. In 2019, she was named a College of Science Young Alumna of the Year. She is a volunteer in the STEM Outreach Lab at the Natural History Museum of Utah where she hopes to help inspire young students to consider careers in STEM.

What did you gain from the University?

My time at Mackay was a great mix of challenging classes and hands-on learning. Those experiences, along with my internships, really boosted my confidence when I started my first full-time job after graduation. Through my involvement in extracurricular activities, like SME and the International Intercollegiate Mining Competition, I made a lot of valuable industry contacts and formed some lifelong friendships.

What is your favorite part of your job?

The mining community is fairly small, and while I really enjoy the challenges of designing and scheduling underground mines, my favorite part of my job is the amazing people I have become friends with over the course of my career.

Eve Chung - Class of 2008, Biology

Following graduation from the University where she majored in biology with a minor in Japanese, Eve Chung went on to obtain her Doctor of Dental Medicine Degree at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, School of Dental Medicine (UNLV SDM) in 2012. After several years of working in private practice, she found her passion for teaching and is now working as an assistant professor in residence at UNLV SDM. She works as a clinical instructor for undergraduate dental students working in patient care and serves as director for pre-clinical courses such as Dental Anatomy and Occlusion, as well as preparatory clinical courses for the school’s international program. Chung is an international guest lecturer, having taught courses in Nankai University of China and in Lanzhou. She has also lectured virtually for King Khalid University of Saudi Arabia.

In addition to training future dentists full time, Chung is also a lifelong learner. She obtained a Masters in Higher Education from UNLV in the spring of 2022, and has gone on to pursue a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction, with a focus in Career and Technical Post-Secondary Education.

What did you gain from the University?

I am thankful to all the office hours, staff, professors and teaching assistants at the University of Nevada, Reno who tutored and taught me through so many helpful programs so that I could be as successful as possible. I remember the University as a beautiful green campus with rustic architecture, and it was the perfect college start to my career path.

Westfall Scholars

Chase Hartzell - Class of 2014, Physics

Before his time at the University, Chase Hartzell served for eight years in the U.S. Navy as a nuclear machinist. He participated in the naval nuclear power training command and then operated and maintained a nuclear reactor on the USS Los Angeles submarine while managing and training other sailors. Then, during his time at the University, Hartzell studied physics and worked in an experimental physics laboratory and raised his two children. He graduated from the University in fall of 2014.

After graduating, Hartzell began working for the U.S. Department of Energy at the Idaho National Laboratory. He works as a facility representative responsible for safety and compliance and as a physical scientist.

What did you gain from the University?

Beyond a wealth of knowledge from an extremely nurturing and mentoring faculty and staff, I gained a serious appreciation for the interrelation of the various STEM fields. Here at the Idaho National Laboratory, we rely heavily on the cooperative efforts of people from all different backgrounds to be able to perform some of the world's leading nuclear research. The ability to effectively interface with other STEM employees from differing backgrounds is what makes us such an effective research laboratory.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I have been involved in a huge variety of programs and activities including restarting a 60-year-old nuclear test reactor that is designed to intentionally melt down fuels, performing radiological security for the United Nations General Assembly, awarding research grants to educational institutions across the country, and designing new methods for treating and disposing of nuclear wastes.

However, the thing that stands out as my most proud moment in my career would have to be my involvement in the assembly and fueling of the Mars 2020 Perseverance nuclear power source. Known as an MMRTG (Multi-Mission Radioisotopic Thermoelectric Generator), I was directly involved in the oversight of its assembly and fueling with Plutonium-238. It's hard to imagine the raw power of the atom until you are feeling the heat of radioactive decay emanating from a tiny amount of transuranic material.

Kirsten Casey - Class of 2016, Physics

Kirsten Casey graduated from the physics program in the fall of 2016. During her time at the University, she was heavily involved in curricular and extracurricular activities, including the Astronomy Club, the McNair Scholars Program, the Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) Living Learning Community and NevadaTeach.

Casey is currently a graduate student at The Ohio State University studying astronomy and was part of an NSF grant to study dark matter. She has won two awards in the graduate physics department, for leadership in the Polaris Mentoring program and for helping to revitalize the Society for Women in Physics at the school. She is also a member of the American Physical Society’s Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Alliance.

What did you gain from the University?

I think the most significant thing I gained from going to the University of Nevada, Reno was meeting so many wonderful people who encouraged me to pursue a PhD in astronomy/physics because that was something I wasn’t sure I could do before. My advisor, Dr. Melodi Rodrigue, was particularly inspiring to me and I owe a lot to her and many others.

What are you most excited about in your research?

As for my current research, I am trying to use something called surface brightness fluctuations to measure the distance to a small galaxy. We want to learn about its local environment and how that has impacted its star formation. I’m most excited about finally getting my first first-author paper out about it. I hope to have it submitted for review to a journal in the next month or two.