You may think Gabrielle Spagnuolo is a bit of an overachiever, what with making the walk three times at Wilkes University’s commencement Saturday to pick up three separate bachelor’s degrees, all earned in a single four-year college stretch.
It’s the first time that ever happened at Wilkes, university officials say.
Then there are those two minors she has also earned, plus the part-time jobs she held through her college career. And the fact she was named outstanding graduate for two of the university’s colleges (science and engineering; arts, humanities and social sciences) — possibly the first time that has happened, too.
But she’s not perfect. After all, Spagnuolo only nabbed a 3.98 grade point average, thanks to that 3.5 in organic chemistry. And while it sounds impressive when she notes she took 182 college credits in the same time most students take 122, you have to remember she started her college career with about 31 credits courtesy of eight Advanced Placement classes she took while attending Wyoming Area High School.
And even there she showed a little weakness, only passing six of those eight AP classes.
Truth is she has a lot to brag about, but you’re unlikely to hear the Wyoming Borough native brag.
“It was challenging, but manageable,” she said humbly of her unusual accomplishment. “I had a lot of help along the way.”
Oh, she adds, “Coffee and I get along very well.”
How did Spagnuolo end up getting bachelor degrees — and please note these are full degrees, not simply a single degree with three majors — in biology, neuroscience and history, all with minors in chemistry and psychology?
As a kid, she said, she wanted to follow in her dad’s footsteps and become a dentist. Once she realized she loved science, she decided to take biology in college because, well, “everyone says when you love science you go into biology.”
“That’s what I was told in high school.”
And once she started biology, she took a neuroscience course, and was hooked on that, so that explains the first two degrees.
Easy to see that link, but history? Spagnuolo gladly admits to loving history from an early age, but it became her third degree because she, um, didn’t have enough to do.
“I was a pharmacy major, and I came in with too many credits.” In her second year, she already had credits she would have been required to take in that program to remain a full-time student. “They told me I had to do something else, so I said I guess I’ll take history.”
After deciding to get three degrees in four years, adding two majors was a relative piece of cake. She did it “because it worked out. The way the programs are set up, it’s very easy to get them. I guess I thought ‘what’s a little bit more’.”
Spagnuolo praises Wilkes to no end. “I have had some of the best faculty that I could have ever imagined. They go above and beyond, and they tolerated everything. When I said ‘you know, I think I want to do this,’ they looked at me for a second and just said ‘OK’.”
On path to Ph.D.
What’s next? Thomas Jefferson University and a push straight to her doctorate, followed by a career, at least initially, helping people suffering from neural degeneration, like those with multiple sclerosis.
Her motivation is the same you’ll often hear among those looking to find solutions to tough medical problems: It’s personal.
“My aunt has MS,” she said.
But for now, Spagnuolo concedes, she has started to slack off. She took 18 credits a semester throughout college, and took courses in the summer. “This semester I only took 17,” she smiles. And this will be the first summer in years that she doesn’t take classes.
And once she’s back in the academic swing, how long does she expect it will take to get that doctorate?
“The national average is five-and-a-half years. I am hoping to be under five.”
Oh, come on, three degrees in four years, and you expect anyone to believe she’ll switch to such a leisurely pace?
“Well, I’m going to go for four years.”
And two doctorates, right? Just because, you know, history says you’ll outperform your own goals, and you have a history degree.
“We’ll see,” she says with a modest smile. “It’s never intentional.”
Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish