Skip to Content


Then and Now: Natural and Health Sciences

January 06, 2020

Maddie Sofia '11

B.S., Biology, University of Mount Union
Ph.D., Microbiology and Immunology, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Denistry

Maddie Sofia ’11 has been in the treetops of Olympic National Forest, spent time with NASA researchers, and simulated volcanic eruptions with scientists from around the world. However, one of her most ambitious endeavors to date is hosting Short Wave, the new daily science podcast from National Public Radio (NPR).

Her passion for science was relatively innate, in having a science teacher for a mother and a veterinarian for a grandfather. These surroundings allowed Sofia the chance to dissect a sheep’s heart with her mother at the age of 14, an experience she jovially describes as a “pretty cool birthday present.” She initially wanted to be a veterinarian, but Sofia’s curiosity stretched beyond the cardiovascular when she began her undergraduate research career at Mount.

“The work that I did at Mount Union was on an amphibian disease, so I was still in the animal world, but I got to do research, and then I just fell in love with scientific research as a whole,” Sofia said. “It was definitely my time at Mount Union, and professors like Dr. Brandon Sheafor and Dr. Kim Risley, that led me to my career path and the pursuit of a Ph.D.”

That realization led Sofia to the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, where she earned a Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology. While there, she had the crystalizing moment for her future as a science communicator.

“I was sitting in a talk and really having a hard time understanding what the presenter was talking about and feeling engaged by it,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘If I am in this program, and I can’t understand what my fellow classmates are talking about, how is anybody supposed to understand what we as a scientific community are doing?’”

Sofia knew she wanted to do something about that problem, so she decided to apply for an internship at NPR. From working as a producer on “Joe’s Big Idea” to leading her own video series, “Maddie About Science,” she has made her mark at one of the most recognized brands in media.

Four jam-packed years later, Sofia finds herself at the helm of a podcast that has the name and support of a network that boasts more than 23 million unique listeners every month, making it the top podcast network in the world according to 2019 Podtrac data. 

She describes her quick career trajectory as “intense,” but recognizes her fortune in getting to live her dream of bringing science to as many people as possible.

“It’s a mixture of excitement and responsibility with a little bit of intimidation, but the team we have put together is amazing, and it’s a really good show,” Sofia said about her new venture.

Sofia remains very active in promoting science outside of her podcast and videos, as she, along with Joe Palca of “Joe’s Big Idea,” co-founded NPR Scicommers, a community of scientists and engineers with more than a thousand members across the country. She has also returned to Mount to speak with STEM students about effectively communicating scientific research.

“People ask me what I think is the best thing about Mount Union,” Sofia said. “I tell them I had such an awesome relationship with my advisors, and when you’re at a smaller school, you get that hands-on, one-on-one research experience you might not get elsewhere. For that reason alone, I try to stay as engaged as I can.”

Short Wave is available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Follow the conversation with Short Wave on Twitter with #NPRShortWave.

Sarah Turley '21

Biochemistry major

It was not until a call came from Suzy (Venet ’98) Pietz, head coach of the Mount Union women’s basketball team, that Sarah Turley ’21 decided to make a visit to Mount Union. It was soon thereafter that the junior biochemistry major declared “love at first visit.”

Although basketball is what brought Turley to campus, it is her passion for medicine that made her realize that Mount Union was the place that could help her reach her future goals.

“I knew that I wanted to go to med school after college, and Mount’s biochemistry major had everything I needed to be prepared for graduate school and the MCAT test,” Turley said. “The minute I saw the high-tech labs, I fell in love with the idea of everything I could be doing.”

The idea she formed during her first glimpse of campus has since become a reality in a very unique way. Although all Mount Union biochemistry majors are required to participate in research their junior and senior years, Turley had the opportunity to get a head start in her sophomore year while working with her advisor, Dr. Keith Miller, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, on immunotherapy and cancer cell research.

“As a sophomore, I was already getting the chance to grow different cancer cell lines and analyze why macrophages are not consuming the cancer cells in a body,” Turley said. “A lot of schools don’t let you do research in this major that early, so it’s a really cool opportunity.”

Turley’s research ambition proved rewarding outside of the lab, as her experience early in her collegiate career helped her earn a selection as one of 165 students across the country to be part of the Summer Pediatric Research Scholars Program at Akron Children’s Hospital (ACH).

Thus, during the summer of 2019, she worked side-by-side with some of the best doctors in the nation, researching infectious disease treatment in pediatric patients for 10 weeks. Turley called her summer at ACH, “one of the most amazing experiences of my life.”

Though she still has a few years left in her undergraduate career, Turley’s experiences have her well on her way to her dream career of being a pediatric trauma physician. Although her academic prospects have her excited, her smile is never wider than when she talks about the support from the people who have made Mount Union feel like home for the past few years. She is grateful to the faculty in her major and her team for their assistance in helping her create a network in her field.

“My advisor, coaches, and teammates provide unlimited support for me with preparation for interviews, study tables, and even bringing me food when I’m studying late at night,” Turley said. “I think having that support system behind me, which continually tells me that I’m not doing this alone, has really helped get me to where I need to be.”

Read the full Fall/Winter 2019 Mount Union Magazine.