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Alumni Stories

Christina Vallianatos (BA 2010)

Christina graduated from the University of Michigan in 2010 with a dual concentration in Neuroscience and Modern Greek Studies. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Human Genetics at the University of Michigan, where her thesis research unites the fields of neuroscience and genetics to uncover new information about the roles of specific genes in brain development and function. Christina loves making science accessible and relatable to everyone. She shares her passion and enthusiasm for science as the founder and director of Michigan DNA Day, an outreach organization that brings interactive lessons about genetics into high school classrooms across the state. Christina hopes to pursue a career in science advocacy and help shape science policy and education standards. 

"I'm so glad I chose to major in Modern Greek! My degree in Modern Greek complemented my science classes during college, and provided me a creative outlet. Especially with my interest in science communication, I learned so much about creating thinking, writing, and communicating, and use those skills constantly. I'm also grateful for the opportunity to connect with my Greek heritage on a deeper level."

Thomas Havlichek (BA 2018)

I love my Classics Degree for a variety of reasons, beyond the fact that it gave me a long list of places I want to visit someday. One is that my undergraduate education is much different than most of the students in my class. It allowed me to become a more rounded individual, who doesn't view things strictly from a scientific perspective. Furthermore, over my years in the program, I saw improvement in my ability to effectively craft an argument. I also noticed considerable improvements in my writing and speaking, which comes in handy whether I'm in the dental clinic talking to patients or writing a speech.

I find that the most useful skill I honed while taking classics courses was the ability to speak efficiently and effectively. Most of this skill was sharpened by fellow classmates. Listening to and debating with other students on a daily basis was invaluable and I am very thankful for the courses I took while in the program. Overall, my Bachelor of Arts has provided me with a set of skills and knowledge that will be valuable as I progress in my career. 

After dental school, I will be joining the Army as a dentist. I was the recipient of the Health Professionals Scholarship program, which pays for dental school in return for  4 years of service. I am excited to see where life takes me once I'm out, but for right now I'm just focusing on taking 27 credits at the same time!

Nico Lanzetta (BS 2017)

After graduation, I spent one year working as a nurse’s aide in a retirement home as well as continuing research on obesity-induced inflammation at Michigan. Since then, I have been studying at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University and will earn my MD in 2022. I believe learning the complexities of Latin language provided me with a unique advantage in developing an attention for detail. Furthermore, my Classics coursework challenged me to answer questions with the perspectives of many disciplines in mind including philosophy, linguistics, and law. In a similar way, I look forward to tackling issues in medicine using biological, sociological, and clinical knowledge.

Braden Engstrom (BA 2016)

After receiving my BA in Classical Languages and Literatures and completing my thesis on Horace, Maecenas, and poetic patronage, I began the second phase of my academic career. In addition to helping my sister in her 8th grade Latin class,  began working in an immunology research lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital back home in Boston, MA. There, while investigating lipid mediators of inflammation in the context of sepsis and ARDS, I was able to use the skills I learned writing my thesis to publish several journal articles. During my time in the lab I applied to medical school and in 2017 I began my training at the University of Michigan Medical School.


Even in medical school, my classics studies have remained an integral part of my identity. I have sought out poems or phrases relevant to the week’s material as inspiration for my studying (and as a source of procrastination). Additionally, I have been able to continue studying Latin as a part of the Medical Humanities Path of Excellence. Here I have been able to translate the Hippocratic oath for myself and read primary works of ancient physicians. As a part of this program I will be continuing to research ancient medicine during my studies, applying the texts of old with current medicine in a true fusion of my academic passions.


Of my academic endeavors, I am still most proud of my time in the Classics department and the completion of my honors thesis. These experiences are a core part of my identity that will forever frame how I care for patients and approach my career.

Ana Maria Guay (BA 2015)

Ana Maria Guay graduated from Michigan with a BA in Classics in 2015 and went on to receive an MPhil in Classics from the University of Cambridge (2016), where she was a Gates Cambridge scholar. Now finishing up with her third year in the Classics graduate program at UCLA, she looks forward to discovering a career that is classics-inflected, if not necessarily in Classics academia. She is currently writing a collection of creative essays on the body in archaic Greek lyric poetry.

Kate Topham (BA 2016)

After graduation, I spent a summer interning for the Paideia Institute in Rome conducting research and connecting with alumni. During the following year, I worked at the Ann Arbor District Library I'm now a second year master's student at U of M's School of Information, studying Library Science with a focus on digital humanities, collections management, and digital curation.  In the future, I hope to work as a Digital Humanities Librarian, managing digital exhibits and helping scholars and students teach, learn, and conduct research with technology.

Erich Heiden (MAT 2014)

After my completion of a B.A. in Latin Language and Literature, and the M.A.T. program at the University of Michigan, I got a job at Divine Child High School, taking over the Latin program there for J. Mike Courage (a former M.A.T. himself), who became the school's assistant principal. I'm now teaching in my fifth year at Divine Child, offering Latin 1 through AP. Committed to Southeast Michigan, the only home I've ever known, my wife, Giulia (U of M class of 2012), and I moved to Dearborn from Detroit in 2015, and still enjoy visiting Ann Arbor for nostalgic walks and great food. Our son, Domenico, was born in 2016, and is already a Michigan fan, proudly shouting, "Daddy! Go Blue!" 


Professionally, I have been to many conferences throughout the last 5-6 years, representing the state and the University of Michigan at the ACL conference twice as a speaker. One of my proudest moments was to be able to speak with Dr. Ross and Dr. Markus not just on linear and grammatical reading strategies in Latin, but on the cooperation and coexistence of the "grammar approach" and the CI approach to Latin pedagogy. Recently I've begun to revise the curriculum at Divine Child to not only prepare students with the grammatical tools of Latin, but to also read ancient texts whose messages are meaningful to our society today including Cicero's In Catilinam and Pro Archia Poeta in the Latin 3 course. Doing this has also moved me to dig deeper into Latin outside of teaching, dusting off my old copies of Cicero's De Republica and Horace's Odes. Providing these texts in pieces, and the lessons they provide to my students has been the greatest gift that my degree has brought for me. They leave my classroom more able to see that the ancient world was a very different place than our modern on, but in many ways was eerily similar. Perhaps inspired by an ancient voice, some students can find their voice in their world.

Eli Cornblath (BS 2015)

After graduation, I began training as a combined MD-PhD student at the University of Pennsylvania with a focus in neurology and neuroscience. In my PhD research, I use network models and machine learning to understand brain dysfunction in psychiatric illness and neurodegenerative disease. In addition to satisfying my curiosity about ancient Roman culture, my experience learning the semantic structure of Latin language prepared me to think systematically about pathways in the nervous system.

Alexis Jones (BA 2018)

Alexis graduated in 2018 with a major in Biochemistry and a minor in Latin Language & Literature. In the Spring of 2018, she won a prestigious award, the Bonderman Fellowship, allowing her to travel far and wide for enriching studies. We asked Alexis a few questions about her time with Classical Studies: 

What did you think your field of study would be when you first started at U-M?

When I started at Michigan, I knew that I was going to study the sciences; however, I had enjoyed taking Latin throughout high school and did not want to stop studying it. I chose to minor in Latin to complement my degree in Biochemistry. 

What specifically about Classical Studies interested you?

From fairly early on in my studies, I fell in love with the idea that despite the thousands of years of separation between when things were written to now the themes of humanity have not changed much. I felt as though many of the works I read had relevance today and told us about the nature of humanity. 

What important life and/or career skills did you learn because of Classical Studies? More broadly, how did Classical Studies have an impact on you?

Classical Studies taught me to read carefully and to pay attention to detail. In reading Latin, word order plays such an important role and often times the text can seem like a puzzle. This complemented my work in biochemistry nicely and was also a nice break from the hard sciences. 

What do you think is important for undergraduates to know / understand about Classical Studies as a major?

I think it is important to realize that the Classics have relevance in today’s world. It is not simply about reading ancient texts but about applying what you read to the world in which we live. 

Would you recommend Classical Studies to undeclared students? Why?

Regardless of whether or not you chose to major/minor in Classical Studies, I think it’s important to take a class or two to understand the role that the classics played in shaping our world today.