Current Students

Why the Class of 2025 Chose Pitt

"Gabrielle Gauldin"Gabrielle Gauldin

BS in biology, minor in honors interdisciplinary studies, James Madison University, 2023

Why I chose Pitt

I was drawn to the Genetic Counseling Program at the University of Pittsburgh for several reasons. First, the program being housed within the School of Public Health was a major draw for me. I recognized the value of integrating genetics with public health, as it allows students the opportunity to gain an interdisciplinary perspective on the field and its societal impacts. Secondly, this program allows me the unique opportunity to customize my degree through the various certificate programs and the option to pursue the dual degree program. This feature allows students to tailor their education to their individual interests and career goals. Lastly, during my interactions with faculty, I was struck by their warm and welcoming nature. The program leadership made their dedication to student success and the field evident, and I am excited to continue my journey at Pitt.


Genetic Counseling Intern (University of South Carolina), Undergraduate Research Assistant (Discipline-based education research, JMU), General Biology Teaching Assistant (JMU), Crisis Counselor (Crisis Text Line) Recruitment Counselor, DEI Committee Member (Alpha Delta Pi), Volunteer (Ronald McDonald House Charities, American Cancer Society), Science Educator (K-12 STEM Camps)

"Courtney McGuire"Courtney McGuire

BS in molecular diagnostics, Ferris State University, 2018

Why I chose Pitt

It was obvious to me after interviewing that the Pitt GC program was my first choice. Leadership was welcoming and enthusiastic, and current students described a supportive environment to succeed in. I was initially drawn to Pitt’s GC program when I learned about its focus on public health and completing most of the course work prior to starting clinical rotations. While I tend to learn best by doing, I also knew I would want to have as much information as possible to feel prepared to enter the clinic. It was clear being housed in the school of Public Health supports a focus on patient- and community-centered health, which became important to me after witnessing the difficulties so many face when seeking care. The diverse population and extensive health system in Pittsburgh provides an excellent environment to focus on culturally-competent care in a variety of specialty clinics. Finally, Pittsburgh has all the benefits of a larger city while still being affordable to live in, which was an important factor when I was looking at relocating from the Detroit/Ann Arbor area.


Shelter and Helpline Advocate (SAFEHouse Center), Shelter and Helpline Volunteer (SAFEHouse Center) Research Technician (DNA Damage Repair defects and disease in the Department of Human Genetics, University of Michigan), GC-CREW (Medical College of Wisconsin), GC Shadowing (University of Michigan), Undergraduate Intern (Translational Parkinson’s Disease Research, Van Andel Institute), Volunteer (Friendly Visitor and Eleventh House Support, Spectrum Health Hospice), Certified Crisis Counselor (Crisis Text Line)

"Swathi Balaji"Swathi Balaji, CCRP

BA in cognitive neuroscience, minor in public health, Rutgers University - New Brunswick, 2020

Why I chose Pitt

The opportunity to be a student at my dream school felt like a long-awaited fulfillment. Several years ago, I was on the verge of embarking on my undergraduate journey here, but the stars didn't align at that time. However, life has a way of bringing us back to our dreams, and now, after all these years, I find myself living the dream and pursuing my passions for public health genetics and genetic counseling. Pitt's diverse representation and world-renowned healthcare systems captivate me, offering exposure to various backgrounds and genetic conditions. Making a positive impact on the well-being of diverse populations fills me with enthusiasm and purpose. With rigorous academics, hands-on clinical experience, and unwavering faculty support, I am excited to finally embark on this long-awaited educational journey as a dual degree (MPH/MS-GC) student at Pitt.


Health Equity Content Creator (IMPLICIT Network in PA); Clinical Research Coordinator - Melanoma/Sarcoma (Columbia University Irving Medical Center); CCRP (Certified Clinical Research Professional through SoCRA); LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities) Medium Term Trainee (University of Pittsburgh); Communication Committee Member (Pitt Genetic Counseling Club); Genetic Counseling Internships (Northwestern University & Columbia University); Volunteer Crisis Counselor (Crisis Text Line); Volunteer 1:1 Math Tutor for students with Down syndrome (GiGi’s Playhouse, NYC); Volunteer Wish Granter (Make-A-Wish Foundation)

"Grace Ferrell"Grace Ferrell

BS in natural sciences, minor in social work, certificate in conceptual foundations of medicine, University of Pittsburgh, 2023

Why I chose Pitt

I attended Pitt for undergrad and was lucky enough to take part in its genetic counseling club. This allowed me to speak with current Pitt genetic counseling students, and year after year, they spoke positively of Pitt’s program, from its welcoming and supportive faculty to its high quality of education. As I started to apply to programs, I found myself drawn to the parts of Pitt’s program that make it unique, such as its confidence building model of learning and its immersion within the School of Public Health. I loved how the program promoted a multidisciplinary approach to education by having both dual degree and certificate options. I appreciated having the freedom and flexibility to explore personal interests alongside my MSGC coursework. Lastly, I was enticed by the LEND traineeship opportunities available to be completed within the second year of the program as it is yet another valuable experience that allows students to learn more about providing family centered and culturally sensitive care. Ultimately, I knew that Pitt was the program that would nurture me into the best genetic counselor that I could be, and it doesn’t hurt that it is located within a beautiful and fun-filled city!


LEND Medium Term Trainee (University of Pittsburgh), GC Shadowing (Columbia University Pre-GC Experiential Practicum, UPMC Precision Medicine Clinic), Certified Crisis Counselor (Crisis Text Line), President (Pitt Genetic Counseling Club), Undergraduate Genetics and Biology 1 Teaching Assistant (Pitt Department of Biological Sciences), Research Assistant (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia), Volunteer Bocce Coach (Special Olympics)

"Curtis Weaver"Curtis Weaver

BS in biology, minor in Spanish, Bucknell University, 2019

Why I chose Pitt

Being a native Pennsylvanian, the Pittsburgh GC Program was on my radar the moment I decided genetic counseling was the career I wanted to pursue.  Having had the opportunity to shadow an alumnus of the Pitt Program during my time at Geisinger, I was able to see the success of the program in action.  The more I learned about Pitt, the more I could see myself excelling here.  The strong affiliation with UPMC, the extensive alumni network as one of the oldest GC programs in North America, and the incredible faculty I was able to meet during my interview were just some of the many things that influenced my decision to choose Pitt.  Pitt’s position within the School of Public Health is also a huge benefit because of the natural synergy genetic counseling has with public health genetics. The city of Pittsburgh has plenty to offer as a student with many genetics-focused clinics and hospitals nearby as well as tons of things to do on the weekends.  I couldn’t be more excited to begin my genetic counseling journey here in the Steel City!


Research Project Coordinator for Simons Searchlight (Geisinger); Research Project Coordinator for SPARK (Geisinger); Patient Companion (Geisinger); GC Shadowing (Geisinger)

"Jerome Doerger"Jerome A. Doerger

BFA in acting with an emphasis in musical theatre, Wright State University, 2009

Why I chose Pitt

In response to the recent COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on healthcare and its illumination of public health, I felt a strong calling to redirect my professional career and pursue genetic counseling. Pittsburgh stood out as the perfect choice, offering a program with a historied legacy of training genetic counselors in diverse disciplines within the region's leading medical centers. The program's structure with a confidence-based learning system and hands-on clinical experience, bolstered by a comprehensive focus on public health, seemed like a great fit. In my previous work in genetic research, I learned of the importance of expanding patient access to genetic testing and education, especially in underserved and chronically neglected populations. I am excited by the opportunity to have experiences in genetic counseling coupled with public health and hope to help bridge the gap between individualized clinical care and broader population health.


Study Coordinator (DHREAMS CDH Study, CARE EA/TEF Study, Natural History Study of Rare Genetic Disorders at Columbia University Irving Medical Center/CUIMC); Research Assistant (eMERGE Study, Studies of Pulmonary Hypertension, The Collaborative Registry for Williams Syndrome at CUIMC); GC Shadowing (CUIMC); ‘Pre-Genetic Counseling Experiential Practicum’ (Columbia University); ‘Why Genetic Counseling Wednesdays’ (Sarah Lawrence College); Supporting Artist for the CO/LAB Theatre Group which provides individuals with developmental disabilities a creative and social outlet through theater arts. In a previous life I was an actor who had the pleasure of spending a summer on the Benedum Center stage as an ensemble member of the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera.

"Alex Stauff"Alex Stauff

BS in biology, Gannon University, 2020

Why I Chose Pitt

Location was very important to me while looking at GC programs - both in terms of the healthcare systems in the area, and the community outside of school. As a lifelong yinzer and lover of this "big little" city, I am so excited to spend two more years learning and growing here. Pittsburgh is big enough that if you're interested in something, there's probably likeminded people already doing it. And it's small enough that you can become good friends with them! (Climbing and line dancing have been those things for me.) I loved the emphasis Pitt's program leadership placed on mentorship and student feedback. And it was clear to me in every interaction I had throughout the interview process that faculty and students truly care about one another and the work they're doing here.


STEM Center Tutor (Gannon University); Resident Assistant (Gannon University); Certified Pharmacy Technician (Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh); Girls on the Run Coach (Greater Pittsburgh Area); GC Shadowing

Work Position

GCA at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital  

"Megan Piechowicz"Megan Piechowicz

BS in biology, minor in genetic counseling, University Honors Program Scholar, Magna Cum Laude, Eastern Connecticut State University, 2023

Why I chose Pitt

Pitt’s reputation of successfully training numerous Genetic Counselors made me intrigued to explore the program. After shadowing an alumnus of the Pitt program while in my home state, and hearing about her positive experience, my interest grew. Faculty and other students within the program embodied kind, welcoming, optimistic, motivating, and encouraging energy that made me feel comfortable. Coming from a small undergraduate institution and program, the concept of cohort collaboration is one that I value. Lastly, the abundance of different clinical rotation options and connections that the program has throughout the city of Pittsburgh solidified my selection. I am very excited to begin the next chapter of my education as a Pitt graduate student.


Genetic Counseling Internship and Shadowing (Middlesex Health), Crisis Counselor and Peer Support (Crisis Text Line), Aquatics Director and Water Safety Instructor (Town of Manchester, CT Recreation), University Honors Thesis and Independent Research - President's Award and Thesis Award Recipient (Eastern Connecticut State University), Genetics Teaching Assistant (Eastern Connecticut State University), Pre-Health Society Co-President (Eastern Connecticut State University), Student Ambassadors Co-President (Eastern Connecticut State University), Honors Club Vice President (Eastern Connecticut State University)

"Jennifer Reif"Jennifer Reif

BS in biology, College of William and Mary, 2023

Why I chose Pitt

When choosing a graduate school, I was searching for a place where students were passionate, curious, and excited to make the world a better place. I quickly discovered that The University of Pittsburgh perfectly embodied these values and went far above and beyond them. While encouraging an enthusiasm for learning, the Pitt School of Public Health also provides GC students the opportunity to learn about genetics through a broader population lense and understand the bigger implications of rapid scientific change. I also loved that the School of Public Health allows students to customize and specialize their education through unique certificate programs. Another extremely important factor when making my decision was Pitt’s dedication to inclusion and value of diversity. Not only does the program incorporate BEDI into the core of its curriculum, the extensive Pittsburgh hospital system serves diverse populations and, as a result, provides a learning environment where the future patients I will be working with are represented. Finally, I really valued the close mentor relationships within the program. The faculty deeply care about students’ success and goals and respect them as future colleagues. This dedication is exemplified through their active effort to communicate and check in with students, provide support and resources, and their willingness to meet with students at any time about a point of confusion, question, or just for a fun conversation about genetics! Likewise, the collaborative and caring environment between the students within the program made it clear that Pitt was the place I was meant to learn and grow into a GC.


Certified Crisis Counselor (Crisis Text Line); Spanish Medical Interpreter (Eastern Shore Rural Health); Spanish Tutor (for students at Myers Park High School), Undergraduate Molecular Biology Teaching Assistant (College of William and Mary); Undergraduate Hispanic Studies Teaching Assistant (College of William and Mary); Undergraduate Research Assistant (Wawersik Stem Cell Genetics Laboratory in the department of Biology, William and Mary), Volunteer (The Arc of Greater Williamsburg)

"Alejandra Bernal"Alejandra Bernal

BS in bacteriology and clinical laboratory, Universidad Colegio Mayor de Cundinamarca, Colombia, 1991

Why I chose Pitt

From the beginning, Pitt got my attention as it has one of the most comprehensive websites of all genetic counseling programs. I appreciated how well organized and forthcoming the program is. As part of the School of Public Health, I felt that Pitt’s approach to patient care is more holistic and its J.E.D.I efforts would allow me to be involved in initiatives that aim to improve access to genetic services for historically marginalized communities. Pitt’s balanced curriculum would provide the foundation to start my career and the tools to navigate the constantly evolving field of genetics. The program’s confidence building approach to training also fits my learning style: I prefer to master the theoretical principles before moving on to patient care. As I learned more about the program during virtual and open house events, Pitt’s faculty conveyed how invested they are in their students’ learning process, wellbeing, and professional success. Talking to alumni and current students, I noticed how happy they were with their experiences at Pitt: they all described a positive and supportive environment. As someone mentioned during interview day: students are the best ambassadors of Pitt. Furthermore, being the second oldest program in the country, Pitt has a superb network of clinical sites with a substantial number of cases.  This was very important for me, as I believe that professional skills are built through practice. Having access to renowned health networks would allow me to learn from knowledgeable counselors in diverse settings while becoming a more culturally responsive and competent genetic counselor. Final deciding factor? Pittsburgh! It is the perfect size, with a growing population that is becoming more diverse, amazing parks, a vibrant cultural life, and the city I have called home for the last few years. 


Volunteer, Therapy dog team (UPMC St. Margaret Hospital); Andrology and Endocrinology Laboratory Supervisor (Center for Reproductive Medicine, AHN Pittsburgh); Senior Embryologist (American Fertility Services NY); Preimplantation Embryologist (ARGC UK); Senior Embryologist, Cryo-storage Supervisor (Reproductive Genetics Institute, Chicago); Embryologist (Conceptum, Colombia); Embryology Fellow (Institute Valenciano de Fertilidad, Spain); Bacteriologist, clinical laboratories (Colombia).

"Samantha Pokorny"Samantha Pokorny

BS in genetics, University of Georgia, 2021

Why I chose Pitt: After starting my genetic journey in Pittsburgh as a genetic counseling assistant and then furthering my education with an MPH at Pitt, I was able to have an intimate understanding of the unique educational approach taken by the Human Genetics department – one that expresses the need for clinical and public health genetics in all facets of the field. I was glad to see my values reflected in the program - a holistic understanding of the profession, patient advocacy, cultural competence, and effective communication.  The vast array of specialties, the multi-hospital rotation opportunities, lessons on the importance of ethical and psychosocial awareness, and the confidence-building model are all reasons that Pitt stood out to me as a program. It is here where I took my first steps into the field as a genetic counseling assistant, where I am growing my education as a master-level student, and where I will continue writing my story by becoming a genetic counselor.

Background: Unpublished Research on Analysis of Allegheny Health Network’s Colorectal Cancer Oncology Department Referral Rate to Cancer Genetics for Genetic Testing of Lynch Syndrome; GC Shadowing (UPMC Children’s, AHN Cancer, AHN Prenatal); Spanish for Successful Communication in Healthcare Settings Certificate (Rice University); Minor in Biology (University of Georgia); Global Education and Leadership Certificate (University of Georgia); Crisis Hotline Advocate (The Cottage: Sexual Assault Center & Children's Advocacy Center); Undergraduate Laboratory Research Assistant (University of Georgia’s Devos Laboratory); Director of Pre-Allied Health Division-Hospital Relations (Georgia Pre-Health Shadowing Association); Genetics Mentor (University of Georgia’s Genetic Education and Networking Society); Statistics Tutor (University of Georgia)