More than 30 years ago, Professor Sharon Kapica then a college freshman participated in research that underpinned the first published study linking cigarette smoke to cancer in animals. From that point on, she was hooked on science. She obtained a graduate degree in biochemistry, then took a position as chief biochemist at the University of Illinois Medical School in Surgery.
There, she performed research exploring the causes and possible ways to prevent bleeding-induced shock, a condition in which the organs and tissues of the body do not receive an adequate supply of blood.
"In the surgery department, people were often admitted in shock from bleeding, but many people didn’t survive shock," Kapica says. Her research was among the first that linked nutrition prior to trauma with shock response on a sub-cellular level.
Kapica never intended to enter teaching. "Both of my parents were teachers and I saw how exhausting it was if you are a good teacher," she says. While pregnant with her first child, however, she took a full-time teaching position at the College of Saint Elizabeth. To her surprise, she fell in love with the profession.Her next position was teaching chemistry at County College of Morris. That was 32 years ago. Today, she is chair of the Biology/Chemistry Department, a position she has held for 20 years.
"Each time a student succeeds, that’s what keeps me going," says Kapica.Initially, she feared teaching would be boring, but she says the ever-changing landscape of science keeps that from happening. "There’s always something new to learn.I still have a sense of awe about science."
The years have flown by, but occasionally something happens that reminds her of her more than three decades in front of the classroom. "When I began teaching, I would get new students referred from friends who were past students. Then I began getting students who were the children of former students. Any day now, I’m expecting the grandchildren!"