Biology Alumni Stories

2 Sets of Twins Pursue Physician Dreams
Two sets of twins and Canisius Biology alumni take different paths to success

Max Belfatto 

Biology degree leads Max Belfatto rewarding career in clinical research

Max Belfatto likes his job because he is involved in something that can give people hope. Belfatto is a clinical research associate with the international company ICON, a clinical research organization that assists pharmaceutical manufacturers with testing and data analysis in the development of new drugs. Working from Buffalo, his position takes him to hospitals across the United States where he reviews and analyzes data collected as part of clinical trials.

“We act like a second set of eyes, ensuring that data is collected and reported properly, with patient safety the priority,” Belfatto explains. “It’s great to see a new drug come to market knowing we played a part in something that can help more patients.”

Belfatto earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Canisius where he says long, three-hour labs and challenging coursework taught him the importance of patience and accuracy. He worked as a research assistant in the Biology Department and as a teaching assistant (TA) for an anatomy and physiology lab. During his junior and senior years, Belfatto assisted Biology Professor Daniel Haeusser, PhD and a fellow student with research on the effects of bacteria.  He later presented on the research at several conferences.

With an eye toward working as a microbiologist after graduation, Belfatto felt his research experience and studies at Canisius would serve him well in the field. A job offer from a leading cancer research hospital changed his trajectory. 

Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo hired Belfatto right out of Canisius as a clinical research associate to assist with the center’s nationally renowned research mission.

“I think Roswell Park noticed all the research, labs and teaching I had done at Canisius, and it was nice to know this combination of experience mattered,” Belfatto recalls. “My education prepared me for reading charts, transcribing data and other protocols so I could hit the ground running.”

Belfatto was promoted to regulatory research coordinator at Roswell Park, before taking a position in clinical research with IQVIA, a provider of biopharmaceutical development outsourcing services. From there he joined ICON as a clinical research associate, and he has recently been promoted to a level two position in the department.

While his current work lies outside the field of microbiology, Belfatto says he uses the skills and knowledge he gained at Canisius every day in his clinical research job. He believes the close-knit community at the university made all the difference, with professors who knew him by name and who took the time to help him discover his career goals.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important it was to make the kind of connections at Canisius that you would never find at a larger university,” Belfatto concludes. “I never felt like I was just a number – teachers and students supported one another, we worked together. It’s key to a well-rounded education.”

Laura Hayes

Current position
  • OMSII – Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine
  • All College Honors Program
  • BBB National Member
  • Canisius Earning Excellence Program
  • Biology Department Senior Award

One of the most valuable things Canisius has to offer is the ability for each student to find their own niche, and excel in it. At Canisius, I was able to participate in a research project and publication that I truly cared about. This research influenced the lens through which I now study medicine, through allowing me to learn with a critical and analytical eye. Aside from research, my most memorable moments at Canisius were participating in the medical mission trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua, and the Service Immersion trip to India. These trips allowed me to practice core Jesuit values and service for and with others. The lessons I learned while traveling with Canisius have influenced my decision to continue participating in medical trips to underdeveloped countries, and spread the ideals of spirituality, solidarity, social justice, and simplicity.


Jason Spence

Current position
  • Associate Professor, University of Michigan, Department of Internal Medicine and Department of Cell and Developmental Biology
  • 2004 – Miami University, Outstanding Performance in Research as a Doctoral Student in Zoology Award
  • 2005 - 2006 – Foundation for Fighting Blindness, Canada. Student Research Fellowship
  • 2008 - 2010 – Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) Postdoctoral Fellowship Award
  • 2011 – University of Michigan, Biological Sciences Scholars Program (BSSP) Scholar
  • 2013 – March of Dimes Basil O’Connor New Faculty Award
  • 2013 – American Gastroenterological Association/Gastrointestinal Research Group (AGA/GRG) Scholar

Two things come to mind when I think about what I valued most at Canisius. First, I appreciated the opportunity to study the broad range of subjects that was built into the curriculum. I think that the Canisius philosophy of developing well-rounded individuals with a breadth of knowledge helped my ability to put ideas into a broader context and to think about questions and problems from multiple perspectives. In my professional career, the ability to approach scientific problems from diverse perspectives is important for creativity in experimental design, and for critical evaluation of data. Second, I valued the close-knit community and interpersonal relationships that Canisius fostered. I believe that these connections are unique to an institution like Canisius, allowing students to develop meaningful relationships with faculty. I think the ability to build these relationships highlights the commitment of the faculty to the success and achievement of each individual student.

My time at Canisius was a blast, and I have so many fond memories, but there is not an individual experience that I would consider most memorable. Instead, I think the most memorable part of my time spent at Canisius, distilled into a singular experience that is really representative of my whole four years, was the experience of being part of an amazing community. In almost every individual memory that I have, I recall being surrounded by my friends; at the hockey rink, in the library, in the lab, during work-study at the athletic center. Everybody was different, and had their own personal views and beliefs, but as friends we shared that point in time, and created our unique Canisius experience together. Thinking back, taking part and helping to build that community was my most memorable experience.


Jena Walczyk

Current position
  • PhD Student at Roswell Park Cancer Institute Graduate Division of University at Buffalo
  • Program of Molecular Pharmacology & Cancer Therapeutics
  • Presidential Fellowship, University at Buffalo
  • Full tuition scholarship and Research Assistantship, Roswell Park Graduate Division
  • 2014 - 2015 – Excellence in Epigenetics Research Award, Canisius University Biology Department
  • 2014 - 2015 – NSF Science Scholars, Scholarship Recipient
  • 2014 - 2015 – Canisius Earning Excellence Program (CEEP) Grant Recipient
  • 2011 - 2015 – Dean’s Academic Scholarship

Canisius University not only provided me with an exceptional education, but also paved the way for my future. One thing I truly valued about my Canisius University experience was the ability to have one-on-one interaction with faculty. The majority of my professors knew me by both first and last name, which is something I grew to appreciate especially after enrolling in a larger university after graduation where this is not the norm. Canisius supplied me with the knowledge and confidence to seek out a research position within the college, which provided me with a wonderful mentor and gave me the experience necessary for acceptance in a highly competitive graduate program. My most memorable experience at Canisius was the ability to travel to and attend a National Conference in my field of research with my mentor and fellow students where we were able to present our research to the larger scientific community. It provided a great sense of belonging to be able to present research as an undergraduate student to such a diverse audience of faculty, post-docs, and students from institutions all over the country. Canisius gave me not only an education, but also friends and memories that I will keep for a lifetime.