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Stockton Grad Battled Leukemia While Compiling 3.65 GPA
The normal struggles associated with obtaining a college degree became secondary to Preeti Matama two years ago when she was diagnosed with leukemia.
The 29-year-old art major came to Stockton in 2000 as a transfer student after completing a degree in industrial and fine art from Makerere University in Uganda. Self-taught in many traditional art media, she wanted to explore the United States and "get an edge" in the job market.
"It was very hard at first because I knew hardly anything about computers," she said. "I had no car and was living with relatives in Egg Harbor City, NJ. Just getting back and forth to classes, learning how to get around was difficult at first."
Matama said the culture shock and difficulties of dealing with the new school were eased by the friendships she made.
"I loved Stockton right away because the people were more like family than just mere friends," she said. "Everyone was willing to help in any way they could. I became more comfortable working with computers and I really loved working with my professors."
One such faculty member was Professor of Art Michael McGarvey, who took an interest in Preeti's work and became a mentor.
She did well in her studies, achieving a final grade point average of 3.62 (out of a possible 4.0) and became active in co-curricular activities. She was a member of the Art Club and Stockton Christian Fellowship. She also helped defray the cost of her educatiuon by working in the Office of College Development.
Things were moving along better than she ever could have imagined until early in 2002, when she "began to feel weak and (her) ankles started to swell."
The problem worsened and she sought medical attention. Following an initial misdiagnosis, leukemia was discovered and Matama was forced to leave school for the 2002 and 2003 academic years while she underwent chemotherapy and other treatments at four different New Jersey hospitals.
Preeti endured the chemotherapy and radiation treatments for about a month before the disease was found to be in remission. She was evaluated for a bone marrow transplant and Preeti said doctors told her she was a "borderline case". The decision was initially made to continue closely evaluate her condition and not to do the transplant.
"I was blessed to go off the chemo and come off the bone marrow tests not needing a transplant," she said. "I heard from the social workers at the hospital about Gilda's Club (a cancer support group) and that was a great help to me."
As she began to visit Gilda's Club and found she was able to put the disease "in better perspective," Preeti was able to move forward. "I met people with more than one kind of cancer; I met people with cancer who also had heart disease and other problems far worse than mine. Meeting these people taught me that my problems weren't that much of a big deal and that I needed to be more patient. When you are a member of this club you learn that your life doesn't stop because you have this illness it just got interrupted. You have to respond positively."
Preeti said she was thankful her cancer did not surface when she was at home in Uganda. "That is a developing country that would not have given me the access to the type of care I am receiving here. Again I am blessed."
She returned to her classes at Stockton for the Summer 2003 semester, and made up for the time she lost battling her illness. She credited McGarvey and Associate Professor of Art, Hannah Ueno-Olsen, for help developing her art talent and Dianne Hill, Assistant Director of Student development, for "giving me rides and moral support."
For her senior year, Preeti moved on campus and lived in student housing for the first time in her Stockton career. She said the move not only simplified her life, but completed her experience as an American college student.
"This year was really the best, as all things came together for me. "One thing the illness has taught me is to not be so serious about the little things that used to bother me."
She took part in the senior Art Exhibit, displaying her unique talents. Preeti produced a children's book, The Elephant and the Hare" using a medium, clapboard, in which black and white images are scratched into the surface and the images are then scanned into a document and laid out as a book.
"It is a fable not unlike the Tortoise and the Hare, but this time the Hare is the clever one," she said. She hopes one day to see the book published.
With graduation behind her and art degree in hand, Preeti was ready to embark on a career in commercial or fine art when she learned she would face the challenge of battling cancer again. New tests revealed the leukemia had returned. She would require a new round of chemotherapy, radiation and a stem cell transplant.
But with typical resolve, she is facing the future with hope and optimism.
"I have the best doctors, I feel fine, and I am not about to quit," she said, and then let out a hearty laugh.
through the past two years, it would seem nothing is beyond Preeti Matama.
The 19th Century met the 21st recently at the Carnegie Library Center in Atlantic City - and the results were nothing short of spectacular.
More than 200 community members, dignitaries and Stockton College staff and faculty turned out for a ribbon-cutting and open house of the "new" Satellite Center for the College in the heart of the casino district.
The 100-year-old former library itself was the star attraction. The beaux arts style building was a gift to the city from philanthropist and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie in 1905, and served as Atlantic City's main public library for 80 years. It stood vacant for over a decade, and was restored to its original luster thanks to grants from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) and the city, and retrofitted for state-of-the-art higher education by Stockton. In addition to offering courses there, Stockton will maintain the building under the terms of the under-market-value lease.
The building boasts smart classrooms with flat-screen monitors, a modern lecture hall with data ports at each of the 75 seats, internet access and security cameras throughout. All these technical innovations are showcased in a historic edifice of granite, stone and terra-cotta exterior and terrazzo marble floors dominated by large ornamental iron staircases with original wood rail caps. A dramatic third floor outdoor terrace provides a magnificent setting for business meetings and conferences.
The College will offer graduate and undergraduate level courses, including its hospitality management program to serve the city's thriving casino industry.
"We are Stockton on the Shore," President Herman J. Saatkamp, Jr. said. "We have a commitment to being part of this city's renaissance, as evidenced by the inscription on the front door of this building: it says 'Open to All' and we will live up to that motto."
Gerald Weinstein, Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees, said CRDA's investment in the building "provided the spine. It is up to Stockton to give it back its heart and its soul."
into Atlantic City represents a return of the College to its Atlantic
City roots. Before the College's main campus opened in Galloway Township
in 1971, it was temporarily housed in the defunct and now demolished Mayflower
Hotel formerly located less than a mile from the Carnegie Library Center.
Stockton Receives Coastal Research Contracts
The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey has been awarded a two-year contract from the New Jersey Department for Environmental Protection's Bureau of Coastal Engineering totaling $858.470 for a variety of coastal research services including monitoring the state's shoreline municipalities.
Stockton's Coastal Research Center will perform annual or bi-annual surveys on 100 different ocean and bayside coastline locations. Stockton provided a 15-year study of New Jersey beach profiles, as well as individual surveys for the various municipalities.
The surveys will provide useful data for making policies and designing plans for improvements in beach replenishment and sand retention for New Jersey's beaches, coastal construction set-backs and beach/dune designs.
"This is a multi-task effort involving twice-annual surveys of each location with at least one survey site in each coastal municipality in the state," said Stewart Farrell, Professor of Marine Science.
New Jersey Beach Profiles Network Survey is based on the NJ Shore Protection
Master Plan that calls for periodic and long-term mapping programs. The
data for the maps is gathered through regular aerial photography of the
coastal sites and on-the-ground measurements and sampling.
• Surveys of beaches to monitor the effects of storms on individual locations
• An examination and critical look at existing New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection coastal projects intended to preserve New Jersey's coastline. Stockton is essentially providing opinions on how well these DEP efforts are working based on the Coastal Research Center data.
• A study comparing the effectiveness of two different types of sand-retaining structures off Cape May Point. Both are submerged offshore concrete barriers that serve as artificial reefs. One type is specifically designed for this purpose and the other is a less expensive version, essentially mass-produced floor deck sections used in the construction of parking garages.
For a more detailed look at the 15-year Beach Profiles Network Survey and the individual municipal surveys as they are completed, log onto the Official New Jersey Beach Profile Network.