For many students, falling in love with a subject means excelling at it as well as having positive learning experiences. While in high school, Tonya gained a new appreciation for mathematics through a great calculus teacher. Having performed well in the subject, she felt encouraged to pursue math or physics in college. “Once I was at Messiah,” she says, “I learned that most mathematics students minored in computer science, education, or statistics. After taking my first statistics course, I knew I wanted to go in that direction.” By letting her positive learning experiences guide her, Tonya was able to begin the often difficult process of discerning a vocation.
Tonya stayed busy at Messiah thanks to her classes and her heavy involvement in extracurricular activities. She was a member of the women’s basketball team and played a number of intramural sports. With the guidance of Dr. Marvin Brubaker she became involved in the Mathematics Association of America
. In addition to all this she still found time to complete an internship, which she set up through the Internship Center
. During the summer before her senior year she served as an intern in Biostatistics at the Center for Biostatistics and Epidemiology at Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey. “After working there one summer, I knew it was an area that I would really enjoy,” she explains. “I loved applying math and statistics to something as meaningful as the health field.” She also interned at the Center for Biostatistics and Epidemiology during both semesters of her senior year. “I had such a good experience there in the summer before my senior year that I continued in my position throughout my senior year and for one year after graduation from Messiah.”
Like many students, Tonya thoroughly enjoyed her undergraduate experience but didn’t seriously consider graduate school. Dr. Marlin Eby encouraged her to think about getting a master’s and Ph.D. Tonya jokes, “I finally agreed to think about getting my master’s degree just to get him off my back.” Thanks to Dr. Eby’s encouragement, as well as the influence of other mentors and her experience with her internships, Tonya felt very prepared to pursue her master’s and doctorate.
• "You will never regret having more education."
• "Listen to your mentors."
• "In my experience, having more education provided for a career that is very flexible and can accommodate working part-time while raising a family."
Dr. Eby helped Tonya get the internship with Dr. Richard Landis in the Center for Biostatistics and Epidemiology in Hershey. This was the first step in a course that would lead Tonya from her internship to graduate school and eventually to a position as an assistant professor. Dr. Landis helped Tonya get an assistantship at the University of North Carolina, where she worked in the Biometric Consulting Laboratory. By establishing a network of mentors, she was able to move fluidly from one step to the next.
Tonya currently works at the PSU College of Medicine in Hershey as an Associate Professor in the Division of Biostatistics. Because she spends much of her time as the primary caretaker of her three children, she generally works from home at night and in the office one day a week. Most of her time at work is spent as a co-investigator for the Asthma Clinical Research Network (ACRN) Data Coordinating Center. “In this role I help to design multi-center clinical trials evaluating new and existing treatment for asthma, perform sample size and power calculations, monitor trials, analyze data, prepare presentations and help to write manuscripts publicizing the results of our trials,” she says. She also helps teach a class each year and assists local investigators in need of consultation. These diverse activities mean no day is really "typical," and each day brings new challenges and variety.
Tonya finds many moments that remind her why she does what she does. “I love to work on a study from start to finish and see a project come to conclusion,” she says. “I love to see results from a study that make sense and can positively influence the care of patients. I am encouraged when I feel good about the work I do and receive affirmation from the investigators that I work with…these moments tell me that I am in the right place.”
On her way to the office each day Tonya prays that she will work with integrity and serve as an example to those with whom she works. “I try to treat others with respect and love, and be an encouragement to them,” she explains. Tonya says a life of faith and her time at Messiah helped ground her in a solid Christian worldview that influences her decisions everyday.
Currently Tonya is very happy as a biostatistician and mother, and she looks forward to continuing to work in her field part-time while raising her family. In 2005 she was promoted to associate professor, which she describes as “a great accomplishment for me since I’ve been working part-time since 2002.”
Discover the career journeys of other Messiah grads who work in higher education:
Stephen Lias, music theory professor/composer
Fabienne Doucet, assistant professor of family studies
Robin Miller, head of slide library
Jon Benda, professor of foreign languages and literature
Kimberly Thornbury, dean of students
Owen Byer, professor of mathematics
Profile by Tyler Baber, April 2006