The Mansoor Tetrad: One College, Four Sisters
Mendelian genetics have leapt out of the textbooks and into the halls of the Biology Building at The College of New Jersey, where four sisters are pursuing the same dream: a career in the sciences. In the Mansoor family, a passion for science and a diploma from TCNJ go hand-in-hand.
Though Amtul Mansoor ’12 will toss her graduation cap skyward in May, she’ll return for the ceremony over the next three years. That’s because her sisters Sadia ’13, Sanaa ’14 and Hena ’15 are also budding scientists at TCNJ.
“It was not planned at all,” says Amtul, the trailblazer. Torn between Rutgers University and TCNJ, she chose the smaller school for its professor-to-student ratio and unknowingly established a family tradition. Her younger sisters each contemplated attending other universities, but were inevitably sold on the strength of the School of Science and their sister’s fantastic experience.
“You are not a number to your professors at TCNJ,” explains Amtul. “They know my name. The School of Science provides the individual attention you need. That’s the best part!”
Indeed the foursome are a familiar set of faces in the Science Complex. “We practically live in the Biology Building,” adds Sanaa, while also noting each sister has her own passion within the discipline.
“All four sisters are delightful people,” said Dr. Matthew Wund. “That’s a good thing, since they are in the biology building almost as much as the furniture itself – it’s a guarantee that I’ll find one of their friendly smiles somewhere in the building at any moment.”
Amtul plans to earn her master’s in public health, attend medical school and eventually go abroad to aid developing countries in need of improved health care. “Biology and medicine are a lifelong learning process because there are new technologies coming out daily,” she said. “Even though I am learning so much right now, I am always going to be a student. That’s what I love about biology.”
Indeed, Amtul’s love of biology inspired Sadia, who after visiting her older sister at TCNJ suddenly realized, “Oh my gosh, I love it too.” One of her favorite aspects of the college is the fact that our professors are involved in research. “When they talk about their research in the classroom, it brings you out into the real world,” Sadia explained. In fact, she is such a big fan of research that she is completing it in two different fields: biology with Dr. Matthew Wund in the stickleback lab and psychology with Dr. Shaun Wiley in the Social Change and Collective Identity lab. As a result, she is torn between attending medical school or graduate school for psychology.
“Sadia is incredibly hard working and enthusiastic about every effort she makes, and more importantly, her enthusiasm spreads to the other students around her,” commented Dr. Wund.
Unlike her two older sisters, Sanaa supplements her passion for biology with physics as a biomedical physics major. “The Physics Department is very happy to welcome her,” says Dr. Paul Wiita, Chair of the Physics Department. “She clearly brings a very positive attitude, a lively curiosity, and a lot of drive to her studies, and I’m confident she’ll do really well.”
By the time she was a junior in high school, Sanaa had three years of research experience from the Rutgers Waksman Student Scholars Program and had been published in the PubMed database. That passion for research has translated to her time at TCNJ, where she plans to work with Dr. Danielle Dalafave on a project that combines physics and biology. Over semester breaks, she will also complete research at New Jersey Medical School.
“What a heartwarming experience it has been to work with the Mansoor sisters over the last four years,” said Assistant Dean Patricia Van Hise, who was instrumental in assisting Amtul and Sanaa transition from the open option science program to biology and biomedical physics. “When it came time for the youngest sister, Hena, to apply to TCNJ, there was much excitement and anticipation by all the sisters. The concern and compassion for each other that these young women exhibit is inspiring.”
The youngest Mansoor is still making the transition to college, though it is much smoother than for other first-year students thanks to her built-in support system. “People say they want to get away from home when they go to college, but college can be an experience you face alone or with your friends and family,” Hena said. “It’s good to have someone here, I always have my sisters to fall back on.”
So what’s the greatest perk? “The textbooks get passed down,” says Amtul. Besides this practical advantage, Sadia emphasizes the camaraderie. “It is kind of like living at home, just at TCNJ.”
Around 10 p.m. each night, a mass text is sent out to the four corners of campus, where each sister has her own study spot, to meet in the Student Center for the commute home. Their Route 1 travels are marked by the typical family dinner table conversations, with Amtul, Sadia, Sanaa and Hena trading stories, laughter and advice.
As graduation and inevitable separation loom on the horizon, the sisters say they are cherishing the last year they will all be together at TCNJ. “I had a good experience at TCNJ, the college nurtured me and made me the person I am, but now I am ready to move on to the next step in my life,” says Amtul.
– Jessica Corry