|Matt Manganaro '09, running back for the Red Devils and an "excellent example of a true student athlete" according to Head Coach Darwin Breaux.
Getting bitten by his dog when he was 7 years old might be the best thing that ever happened to Matt Manganaro ’09. The scar above his eye is faint, but the outcome of that experience is clear. The compassionate emergency-room doctors, the exceptional care and the ice pop that eased the pain made young Manganaro contemplate a career in medicine. He also had role models in his dad, an emergency-room physician, and his mom, a registered nurse, but they never pushed him toward a career in medicine.
“My dad actually said, ‘Don’t do this,’ ” Manganaro recalls. Despite his father’s warning about long hours, difficult cases and the emotional consequences, Manganaro was undeterred.
“Medicine fits me,” he says. “It’s a lot of work, takes effort and is dynamic, requiring a certain set of skills. It’s a lot like sports.”
Manganaro grew up playing baseball, basketball and football. If he could have continued all three in college, he would have.
“I’m too short for college basketball,” he confesses. “There’s no room for 5-foot 8-inch Italian kids. I
wasn’t as good at football as baseball, but I like football more.”
His college search focused on finding a place that would allow him to play two sports and get a quality education that would prepare him for medical school.
“I realized that I’m not going to play in the majors or the NFL, but I knew I wanted to go into health care,” he says. “I visited Dickinson, met some professors and was impressed with the percentage of grads who go on to medical school. I knew I could come here and be successful.”
But success didn’t come without effort. Manganaro’s athletics schedule required a demanding routine. During the fall football season, the running back had three- to four-hour practices each evening and games every Saturday. After a week of recuperation in January, Manganaro started preseason training for baseball. With three games a week (not including double-headers on the weekends) plus batting practice, the second baseman had time for few extra science or sports activities—but he thrived on the combination.
“Sports were really refreshing for me,” he says. “They let me escape from paper and pencils. I couldn’t memorize the citric acid cycle for six hours straight.”
When Manganaro had to choose between a baseball game or a biochemistry lab, the choice was simple. And this spring, he hung up his cleats to focus on science.
“The labs here are really cohesive with the class,” he explains. “First you listen and write it down, then you see it and do it. Plus, the reason I’m here is to prepare me for my next level of education.”
Manganaro’s preparation included a double major in biochemistry & molecular biology and biology.
“There’s a lot of crossover, but I’m not a biologist,” he says. “The difference is that a biologist looks at a macro view of the world, and a biochemist focuses on genes and DNA.”
And, Manganaro declares, he’s “big into genes and DNA. My favorite classes were Genetics, which studies problem solving in the context of the human body, and Genomics, which is centered on disease and the dysfunctions that cause them.”
Early on, several Dickinson professors involved him in top-level research. He worked with Professor of Chemistry Mike Holden in bioorganotransitionmetal chemistry, specifically researching the anti-malarial properties of organometalics.
“There are a lot of research opportunities to come out of Dickinson,” Manganaro says. “The science technology here is way more advanced than I had imagined, and the faculty are looking at groundbreaking things.”
And they’re including promising students like Manganaro. Last summer, Kirsten Guss, the John R. and Inge Paul Stafford Chair in Bioinformatics and associate professor of biology, asked Manganaro to join her research team at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo.
It was the first time she invited an undergraduate. “I knew that the student needed to be bright, have the right lab background and be easy to interact with,” Guss says. “Matt has proven to be an ideal choice.”
“We were visualizing neurons in fruit flies,” Manganaro explains. “The idea is that by studying complex behaviors in a simple organism, we can branch out to humans.”
Between research at Dickinson and Wash. U., training for and playing two sports, and maintaining high performance in a challenging double major, Manganaro also squeezed in medical rotations at hospitals near his hometown of Horseheads, N.Y. He’s sampled internal medicine, family practice, pediatrics, orthopedics, interventional radiology, emergency-room medicine and neurology, and he was an ambulance volunteer.
“I’m getting my feet wet,” he says. “I don’t know what specialty I want to pursue or where I want to work. Medical schools love seeing that you’ve done research and that you’re interested in knowledge. In the medical field, you never stop learning. You need to go beyond what’s required.”
Manganaro applied to more than a dozen medical schools, big to small, East to West Coast. He spent his holiday break interviewing and soon had his first acceptance.
According to Guss, “It’s easy to picture Matt’s future as a very capable physician in whom his patients have confidence, as a good colleague and as an all-star little league coach. I would happily send one of my family members to the future Dr. Manganaro.”
To watch a video of Matt Manganaro discussing his experiences in the lab and on the football field, visit "Video Feature: Crossover Conversation."