Moving from Psychology into PreMed, Honors Student Underscores Excellence
“I’m going to be a neurologist, though I don’t know if I’m going to pursue an MD alone or a combination MD/PhD,” says Alina Catrinoiu ’07. “I do know that I want to work with people in a medical setting with a focus on the brain, either through research or through the application of research.” And with her combination of intelligence, hard work, determination and maturity, this honors student—described by professors as “extraordinary”—will.
When Catrinoiu moved to New York City from Romania as an eighth grader, she didn’t see the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at UMass Amherst in her future. In fact, shortly after she and her family finally settled in Massachusetts during her senior year of high school, she was accepted at several good private colleges. “I had a dilemma about whether a public school would offer me the same quality education,” Catrinoiu recalls. “I heard UMass was a great school. The fact that it is big was a plus: more opportunity, more to become involved in, more people to meet and learn from. I also liked the rural setting. The excellence I have found here is amazing—and I couldn’t be happier about my decision to attend.”
Catrinoiu began her university career as a TAP (Talent Advancement Program) student in psychology. This by-invitation-only program is for incoming freshmen who show particular academic promise in their chosen major. TAP students of similar majors live together, attend weekly seminars, and go on occasional field trips to orient them to the university and the diversity of available subjects. “TAP opened so many doors for me,” Catrinoiu says. “It introduced me to the major in a very personal way—how to get involved, who to talk to if I got stuck, how to craft my academic path.”
And what a path it has been. “I decided on psychology because I fell in love with the subject in high school,” Catrinoiu relates. “As I dove deeper during college classes, research, teaching assistantship, advising, tutoring and internships, my appreciation for the field and what it has to offer the world, how it centers on the human condition, grew. I have thrived, gained more confidence, learned perseverance. I was sure I’d be a clinical psychologist—until I took neuropsychology. I found the brain exciting, so this semester I moved into the premed track. Psychology has shown me how much I enjoy working with people, and then medicine came in adding the ‘wonder’ aspect.”
Catrinoiu’s academic career, distinguished with honors and an SBS Opportunity Scholarship, has included a Spanish minor (she speaks French too). Now she is working on a biology minor to complement the premed track. That she has had to add a year to her undergraduate career doesn’t faze her at all—she’s too busy with two research assistantships, one in clinical psychology for three years now with ADHD children, and the second begun this semester in the Center for Neuroendocrine Studies working with rodents’ reproductive behavior, and her honors thesis clinical psychology in which she is looking at factors influencing children’s perceived competence. She has also done two internships: one in social work with The MENTOR Network, a foster care agency and another with the Day School Program at Baystate Medical Center, working with children with a range of behavioral and developmental issues. Plus, she is a TAP ambassador, a freshman orientation counselor and has volunteered with the elderly and in fundraising.
“The truth is that I am in college because I want an education, but that is not all I have done here,” Catrinoiu says. “I go out with my friends to Something Every Friday at the Campus Center, to dances, to concerts and the Outdoor Club puts on great trips for people like me who love hiking. I’m a big fan of the fitness facilities and pools in Totman and Boyden Gyms. And one of my all-time favorites is skating in the Mullins Center. Finding delicious food is never a problem at the many great restaurants in Amherst and Northampton, which is also a delightful place to shop. The fact is that UMass Amherst is not just about academics. There is always something going on.”
Catrinoiu underscores the fact that quantities of help and opportunities exist for all students—“all they need to do is ask and they’ll be pointed in the right direction. Flyers are everywhere, professors announce resources, there are advisors in every major. And in its magnitude, UMass Amherst offers a diversity of backgrounds. Friends aren’t hard to make and every dorm floor has a resident assistant who shapes a friendly and safe community. UMass gave me a great beginning intellectually and personally—and I won’t have tens of thousands of dollars in loans. This is what I call freedom.”
February 27, 2006