Flora D. Darpino, commander of the U.S. Army Legal Services Agency, oversees legal matters affecting the service.
Flora D. Darpino grew up in the sort of Italian-American family that gathers around the dinner table for two essential purposes: to eat and to talk politics. So, it’s hardly an exaggeration to say that she cut her eyeteeth on argument and no surprise that she decided to go into law. What surprised even Darpino CLAW’86, however, is the kind of law she ended up practicing.
Commander of the U.S. Army Legal Services Agency and chief judge of the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals, she saw combat during the first phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom and was the senior military attorney overseeing efforts to rebuild Iraq and reestablish the rule of law. During her second tour of duty, in 2010–2011, she served as command representative on legal matters involving the U.S. embassy, coalition partners, and the Iraqi government, and she was promoted to brigadier general.
When she and her husband, also an attorney, were starting out, “I saw my future as more suburban,” she says, by which she means home, kids, and a career in corporate litigation. (She is indeed the mother of two daughters.) But her husband’s ROTC scholarship required him to give the Army four years after graduation, and her moot court professor at Rutgers School of Law–Camden suggested she join the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps. “I talked to a few folks and found out that you get an incredible amount of experience right out of law school, particularly in litigation,” she says. “I thought, Why not?”
What keeps Darpino in the Army is, in part, the extraordinary diversity of her legal responsibilities. She may be called on to advise a soldier who just received a “Dear John” letter, then counsel a commander on the legal aspects of discipline and another on whether a bombing mission is within the law of war. In Iraq, she was charged with helping to rebuild a legal system whose upper courts were corrupt and whose local courts had been physically destroyed by Iraqi citizens who viewed them as symbols of Saddam Hussein’s oppressive regime. (“We’d go to a town and there’d be a goat pen where the courthouse had once stood,” she remembers.)
That she and her team have seen considerable success in those efforts is gratifying to Darpino, but the most rewarding aspect of Army life, she says, is the fact that “the Army is a team of teams.” Nothing gives her greater satisfaction than picking up the phone and hearing the voice of someone she’s mentored asking for her advice. “Our success is measured by our ability to train those we work with to be as good as we are,” she says. “So the less important you make yourself, the better a leader you are.” •
— Leslie Garisto Pfaff
George C. Hill is renowned for his research into African sleeping sickness and for his promotion of diversity at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
Some people come to their careers automatically; for George C. Hill, the path was a little less obvious. He enrolled at Rutgers–Camden keen on studying history but within a year gravitated to the sciences. It satisfied his increasing inquisitiveness about biomedical questions and allowed Hill CCAS’61 to study alongside his identical twin, Washington CCAS’61, who already was set on pursuing a medical career.
Hill, a renowned researcher in tropical diseases and an advocate for student diversity in medical school, and his brother, an internationally regarded perinatologist, lived at home in Camden as undergraduates. That’s the only way a postal worker and a domestic could afford to send the twins to college—“and there was never a question,” says Hill, “that we would go to college.”
Hill directed his research at African sleeping sickness, a disease that places at risk 60 million people living in sub-Saharan nations. Unlike researchers who seek to eradicate the tsetse fly that transmits the disease, Hill targets the cells that define the disease: his lab was the first to grow disease-causing Trypanosoma rhodesiense in culture, giving scientists an opportunity to target them with drugs. For such breakthroughs, Hill’s research has received support from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Today, he remains involved in research collaborations at the University of Cape Town in South Africa and at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, where he lives. He has been elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies and is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Academy of Microbiology.
Hill says his interest in solving biomedical puzzles—and corresponding disinterest in performing surgery—led him to pursue a Ph.D. rather than an M.D. like his brother, who is younger by three minutes and was inducted into the Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni in 2006. “I received an M.D.–Ph.D. with Washington,” George Hill says. “Because we were in the womb together, I claim that.”
For the past 10 years, Hill has been a tenured professor in microbiology and served as associate dean for diversity in medical education at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, where he has been charged with increasing minority representation. Hill says he accepted the job knowing it would be challenging. Although Vanderbilt was a top medical school, he says it “had a long history of not having a strong, broadly diverse student body.” Hill has helped change that culture. In 2010, Vanderbilt ranked sixth in diversity among medical schools in the nation; in 2009, it ranked 12th. Before he arrived? “We weren’t even on the list,” he says. Twenty percent of the students receiving medical degrees from Vanderbilt this spring were minority students. He now is assistant vice chancellor for multicultural affairs and special assistant to the provost and vice chancellor for health affairs.
Hill has found another way to give back. He and his brother’s joint $200,000 donation enabled Rutgers to create the Hill Family Center for College Access at Rutgers–Camden. The center helps Camden families prepare for college SAT prep classes and offers financial aid workshops and mentoring for Camden high school students. “My brother and I became interested in the opportunity to make a difference there,” Hill says. “We’re not wealthy, but we wanted to make sure there was an opportunity for students like ourselves to have the same opportunities we had.” •
— Angela Boonin
The Circuit Breaker
Kathryn L. Holloway, a professor of medicine and a top neurosurgeon, brings relief to thousands through her administration of deep brain stimulation.
Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a procedure as mysterious as its name. The delicate surgery requires drilling through a patient’s skull and inserting a slender electrode, or “lead,” into the brain along with an extension wire connected to a neurostimulator (a battery source implanted near the collarbone that sends electrical signals to the lead). The effect of DBS is to block malfunctioning circuits in the brain, though exactly how that happens remains unknown. What we do know is that, for thousands of patients with Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, dystonia, tremor, and other neurological disorders, the procedure has been life changing.
Few people have witnessed the effects of DBS more intimately than Kathryn L. Holloway, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine and chief of neurosurgery at the Hunter Holmes McGuire V.A. Medical Center in Richmond. Holloway CCAS’80 has performed hundreds of the procedures but still thrills at their effect on patients. “I can make a big difference in someone’s life on pretty much a daily basis,” she says, “and that’s really rewarding.”
The daughter of a builder, Holloway had an inclination for tinkering that drew her to medicine. She expected to follow two of her siblings into nursing—largely because she didn’t think she could afford medical school—but a chemistry instructor at the Camden College of Arts and Sciences assured her that if she got into medical school, financial aid would be forthcoming. “I credit her with making me a neurosurgeon,” Holloway says.
Her pioneering work has quite literally changed the face of DBS. Until recently, the procedure required that the patient wear a stereotactic frame—a bulky metal “halo” bolted to the skull that impairs vision and motion and is secured to the surgical table—for the length of the operation, which can take up to eight hours. Given that patients are awake for a large portion of that time, the frame, which Holloway likens to “a medieval torture device,” led to claustrophobia and significant discomfort. So Holloway, working with a group of like-minded professionals, devised a method of performing DBS without the frame, using instead five small bone screws and a palm-sized disposable guidance device. “The greatest advantage for patients,” she says, “is that they don’t know or care about the screws because they can’t see them.”
She envisions a day when DBS will be widely used for a broad spectrum of maladies, including tinnitus, obesity, anorexia, addiction, and schizophrenia. She is currently involved in research on applying DBS to treat recalcitrant depression. Speaking like a true tinkerer, she says, “These are all diseases in which you don’t see anything wrong with the brain, but the circuits are functioning poorly. You just have to figure out the circuits, and then you can fix the problem.” •
— Leslie Garisto Pfaff
The Great Communicator
As president of Verizon New Jersey, Dennis M. Bone has overseen the company’s lead role in the state’s telecommunications industry.
Asked to explain the secret to his success in business, Dennis M. Bone invokes the hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky. “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be,” Gretzky famously said, explaining his own path to renown.
As president of Verizon New Jersey, a company with more than 15,000 employees, Bone RBS’84 has kept a sharp eye on the future—his company’s and the state’s. He’s guided the company through unprecedented advances in telecommunications technology, including a fiber-optic network that transformed the way the company delivers internet, television, and phone service. And as the chair of both the New Jersey State Employment and Training Commission and Choose New Jersey, a statewide business-recruiting campaign, Bone is working to strengthen the state’s labor pool as well as New Jersey’s overall business climate.
“We are a terrific state for so many industries,” Bone says. “What we’re doing is all the work—the market research—trying to understand exactly how to position the state. We’re working to polish the image of New Jersey and to bring out its strengths.”
One of New Jersey’s highest-profile business leaders, Bone also volunteers to serve on the boards of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, the Liberty Science Center, the state Chamber of Commerce, and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. Bone went to work for New Jersey Bell in 1979 and became president of its eventual successor, the Newark-based Verizon New Jersey, in 2000. Maintaining his ties to Rutgers through the years, he delivered the commencement speech to Rutgers Business School–Newark and New Brunswick in 2005 and served as co-chair of the 2008 gala that celebrated the 100th anniversary of Rutgers–Newark.
When he addressed the business school’s graduating class in 2005, Bone offered insight into preparing for a changing world “because the business world has changed dramatically over time,” he says. “What I have learned over the years about the most successful people is their flexibility to change course quickly and to have a mindset that’s open and curious.”
And, of course, looking to the future. Bone is particularly proud of a recent Kauffman Foundation survey that ranked New Jersey’s broadband telecommunications industry number one in the nation. “I know my company has had a lot to do with that in our investment and the networks we’ve built,” Bone says. “It’s been an exciting ride to help position the company for investment and growth in New Jersey.” •
— Christopher Hann
The Life Saver
Oncologist David E. Schuller is a pioneer in treating cancers of the head and neck, with improved survival rates and quality of life.
In his 40-year medical career, David E. Schuller has seen the diseases collectively known as cancer go from uniformly fatal to highly controllable and often curable. As a world-class oncologist, he’s helped make those gains possible. Schuller RC’66, a member of the medical school faculty at The Ohio State University since 1976, has put his stamp on cancer treatment by developing novel approaches to treating malignancies of the head and neck that increase survival rates and offer patients a better quality of life. He has co-chaired the National Cancer Institute’s head and neck cancer committee for most of the past 25 years and has led or been part of many major treatment advances.
A signature breakthrough occurred decades ago when Schuller began investigating whether radiation combined with chemotherapy could deliver a one-two punch to nasopharyngeal carcinoma, an oft-seen throat cancer that afflicts mostly Asians and is the second-most common of all malignancies. His research proved correct, as borne out by clinical trials, and the new approach doubled survival, to about 75 percent, and has become the standard of care for that cancer.
Schuller says he knew he wanted to be a doctor when he came east to Rutgers from Cleveland in 1962, choosing Rutgers, in part, because of its superb reputation for placing premed students in medical schools. “My Rutgers education provided the foundation for me to do what I’ve been doing for the past 40 years,” he says. “It would not have been possible without an excellent foundation.” Being a member of the university’s 200th graduating class has always held significance as well.
Schuller, whose name regularly appears on “top docs” lists in the media, says he chose to specialize in head and neck cancers early in his surgical training after becoming intrigued by the ability of surgeons to reconstruct defects created by the removal of such cancers. Several of his professional papers address the subject of facial and vocal reconstruction following tumor removal.
Schuller traded in his stethoscope for a hard hat two years ago to become part of a group to oversee a $1.1 billion Ohio State medical center expansion that includes a new cancer hospital. The project will marry the missions of research, education, and patient care into one cohesive effort and represents the culmination of a career dedicated to improving the lives of cancer patients. “I couldn’t have gone forward without being personally convinced that research is making a difference with this disease,” he says. “That’s why I’ve thrown everything at it.”
What will the doctor do once the ribbon is cut in 2014? “Then Dave Schuller becomes a fishing guide in Canada,” he says. •
— Angela Boonin