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Luke Tortora

A recent UPenn graduate working in the healthcare field shares thoughts on his Italian heritage and the CCF Scholarship he received

I am a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania (C’19) where I pursued a major in Health and Societies, minors in Healthcare Management and Neuroscience, and supplementary coursework through Wharton. Currently, I work as an Associate Consultant at Putnam Associates, a strategy consulting firm serving global biopharmaceutical clients, where I have to date worked on engagements supporting cancer diagnostics and therapeutics, along with the global commercialization of several new vaccines. Outside of work, I enjoy cooking Italian cuisine, playing the drums, and drawing portraits.

As I reflect on my time at Penn, I consider how the support I received from the Columbus Citizens Foundation enabled me to avail myself of so many of the opportunities I was provided. At Penn, I was fortunate enough to be involved in several pre-professional and community initiatives. On the pre-professional side, I served as a Project Leader on the Social Impact Consulting Group, a pro bono student-run consultancy. On the community side, I served in several leadership roles and advisory capacities at the Netter Center, Penn’s hub for civic engagement in West Philadelphia. I also was active as a senior staffer for Model United Nations and wrote for Wharton’s student policy blog. CCF’s backing gave me the freedom to explore my passions at Penn, and I am so grateful to have had the chance to do so.

CCF was also instrumental in placing me for an internship after my junior year. I spent that summer working with the Support Center for Nonprofit Management, a nonprofit serving peer nonprofits with consulting, placement, and business development services. I spent the summer conducting a market analysis to advise a large community center in Queens on the launch of an after-school program; in short, CCF found the perfect opportunity for me to combine my interests in consulting and civic engagement.

Underpinning my work is a sense of integrity and ethic, which I credit to my Italian heritage, and more specifically to my grandfather, who was (and is) my biggest role model. My grandfather lived the true American Dream: he emigrated from Sicily after the Second World War, withstood discrimination in the States despite having a university education, and rose from humble beginnings working in a laundromat to become the owner of several businesses and a respected leader in his Brooklyn community. In addition to instilling in me an understanding of Italianità, and a love for all things Italian and Sicilian, my grandfather’s struggle and success paved the path for me to pursue my passions. During late nights at school or work, or in times of uncertainty or adversity, the thought my grandfather’s resolve inspires me to soldier on.

My appreciation for the Columbus Citizens Foundation is partly due to how intimately they understand stories like mine and my grandfather’s; it is incredibly encouraging that they continue to support Italian diaspora like myself and seek to promote our rich culture and history. I continue to stay involved with the Foundation through the Young Adults Auxiliary and I look forward to many more years of engagement and community!

March 18, 2020

Francesca Santacroce

A first-generation college graduate reflects on the impact of her
CCF Scholarship and Internship Program

Francesca Santacroce Scholarship Recipient

My interest in changing peoples’ lives has heavily influenced my goals, ambitions, and plans to pursue a medical degree after completing a Bachelor of Science degree in Biomolecular Science with a concentration in Biomedical Engineering, at New York University Tandon School of Engineering. My experiences as a woman in a STEM field and a first-generation college student have greatly impacted my personal and professional goals. While at NYU, I was fortunate enough to participate in numerous educational projects that taught me professionalism and gave me a solid foundation in applied sciences, granted through my strong Italian work ethic, NYU faculty, and the Columbus Citizens Foundation.

As a teaching assistant at NYU, I have educated and mentored students from all walks of life with diverse interests. I managed a sector of biomolecular science courses, leading a staff of ten graduate students to efficiently carry out laboratory experiments and fairly grade student reports. I was recommended to be lead researcher after completing my freshman year for a project called “The Staff of Gandalf,” where ultrasound and infrared sensors are incorporated into a basic white cane to safely and efficiently help the blind community. As an avid yoga practitioner and instructor, I designed and co-founded a yoga and physiology course and scientific research conference at NYU to educate the community about the data that supports biological, psychological, and physiological benefits of yoga.

From the start of my college career, the Columbus Citizens Foundation has played a significant role in the professional opportunities I have obtained in my undergraduate and graduate career. I was fortunate enough to become a CCF College Scholarship recipient and when CCF began their internship program, I was offered an opportunity at Weill Cornell Medical College in their ophthalmology department. Then I started an internship with Dr. Joseph Lombardi. There, I learned the importance of patient care, compassionate bedside manner, and clinical procedures. I am now an Assistant Supervisor for Edison Spine Center with Dr. Lombardi at Edison Metuchen Orthopedic Group. I am applying to medical school for the 2021 school year and I aspire to open my own practice in the future.

My strongest influences in life have been the women in my family. My grandmothers, both immigrants from Italy, and my mother are the reasons that I am not only the first woman, but the first person to graduate from university in my family. My mother also suffers from Autosomal Dominant Polycystic Kidney Disease, a rare genetic disorder that results in end-stage renal failure. Her strength and determination to wait on the long and frustrating organ donation list inspires me to be patient and unwavering throughout medical school and in my career as a physician. Outside of work and academics, I volunteer as a crisis intervention counselor for RAINN, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, helping survivors and loved ones of those who have been affected by sexual violence.

I am so honored to be a member of the Columbus Citizens Foundation, not only as a scholarship and internship recipient, but also as a Young Adults Auxiliary member. It is the young people who truly make changes and a difference in the world, and we must support them to obtain educations and solid foundations. Thank you to the Columbus Citizens Foundation, from the bottom of my heart, for the morals by which they stand, and for what they do for young professionals such as myself.

January 10, 2020