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Armando Villafane ’08 took an unconventional path to his job as a staff research biologist with Merck & Co., Inc. After attending a local community college, Villanfane became a Greyhound at the age of 24, choosing Moravian for its small class sizes and opportunity for close interactions with faculty.
He made the right choice, he says. Villafane quickly connected with Frank Kuserk, professor of biology and his advisor for the SOAR program and, later, for independent research. Villefane’s study of heavy-metal contaminated soils helped him clearly envision a career path in biological research. As a student, he even had the opportunity to present his findings to state legislators in Harrisburg, Pa., at the Undergraduate Research at the Capitol-PA event, at the Regional Microbiology Educators Annual Research Symposium in Swarthmore, Pa., and at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in Salisbury, Md.
Villafane is certain his SOAR project and independent research helped him obtain a position with Merck, where he now conducts release and stability testing of drug substances to support clinical trials. One of his current projects involves creating a pilot “good manufacturing processes” lab to support phase three studies of a biologic drug treatment for diabetes. He is just as excited today about lab research as he was as a student.
The labs of Moravian’s Collier Hall introduced Villafane to scientific research, while the Professor Kuserk’s mentorship (who received the first Biology Mentor Award last summer from the national Council on Undergraduate Research) helped him hone the skills that he uses every day at Merck.
“Dr. Kuserk was instrumental in offering guidance, leaning upon his own personal experiences,” recalls Villafane, who was a lab assistant and member of the Beta Beta Beta biology honor society. “He wanted to help, and he gave me the opportunity to showcase my talent and abilities. He gave me the confidence to succeed.”
Villafane is proud of the fact that he has been able to “give back to the college that gave (him) so much” through a recent donation of lab equipment which Merck no longer needed, but Moravian’s science labs did. “The department has informed me they are making great use of the items, and I’m glad to hear I could help.
"Dr. Kuserk was instrumental in offering guidance, leaning upon his own personal experiences. He gave me the opportunity to showcase my talent and abilities, and he gave me the confidence to succeed."