"To be in the United States is a wonderful, life-changing opportunity," says Verica Milivojevic, a 2004 graduate in biology. "The friendly, close-knit family atmosphere at Albertus helped me make the transition to a new culture and a new language."
Early in the 1990s, war in their country turned many Bosnians into refugees. After moving to Germany in 1992, where Verica lived for eight years and also attended high school, she and her mother resettled in America in 2000. While taking courses for a U.S. high school diploma, Verica's high school biology teacher, an Albertus alumnus, recommended the school.
At Albertus, Verica found a safe place where she could "be known and find help." She made many lifelong friends among her peers and developed positive ongoing relationships with AMC's faculty members, as well as with the Dominican sisters. "They are some of the most wonderful women I've ever met. They know and care about all of the students at Albertus."
As a biology major, Verica pursued her interest in how the brain works and how it affects behavior. "In my genetics class with Dr. Mark Barreuther, I was fascinated to think about humans as being ‘programmed' in a way. Given that characteristics are passed on from generation to generation, nothing is completely random. Everything has a purpose." Verica also enjoyed how deep thoughts bubbled up in Dr. Sean O'Connell's philosophy course. "He asks you to consider the ‘big picture' questions about life, which led our class into many interesting discussions that I enjoyed very much."
An AMC internship at Yale University between her junior and senior years brought Verica to her current position as a neuroscience Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Connecticut. During the internship, she worked with Dr. Rajita Sinha in the Yale Department of Psychiatry to study gender differences in substance abuse, the effects of stress on substance abuse and gender differences in response to stress. Starting with data collection and entry, Verica's responsibilities expanded to include taking personal histories, processing blood samples for analysis of various stress hormones and asking participants the research questions involved in the experiments. As a result of her work, she was offered a full-time position with Dr. Sinha, beginning the week after her graduation from Albertus. Over her next three years with the Yale project, where she also conducted fMRI studies and clinical assessments, Verica decided to pursue a doctorate in neuroscience.
"Albertus provided the basic science knowledge I needed for my biology major," says Verica. "But more importantly, I learned what you can't get from books - how to interact with people and communicate clearly on a daily basis. The small classes are very interactive so you have to get involved. The Dominican tradition at Albertus also models the importance of community service, how to be part of a community and how giving back helps us all." Verica took that learning to heart and volunteered each week at a New Haven guidance clinic for families in distress. "While the social worker counseled the parents on finances, how to manage behavior and conflicts and other issues, I would play educational and therapeutic games with the children to help them cope with the family stress," says Verica. "I benefited from the generosity of many people at Albertus, and I want to pass along the kind of help I received."
When she's not conducting experiments or hard at work on her doctorate, Verica enjoys reading novels or running long distance. After all, she was a member of the Albertus cross-country team. She also burns off stress through capoeira, the Brazilian martial art that incorporates choreographed movement, playing unique musical instruments and learning to sing in Portuguese. "It's very social, all done with partners or in groups, which is a natural extension of the community atmosphere I found at Albertus," says Verica. "At AMC, you get an excellent education, and you learn how to be social, how to be part of a community. You really learn to become a good world citizen."