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Alumni Profiles

Mark Hunter ’06’s Research Career Takes Him to Stanford’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

By Vicki Mayk MFA ’13


Mark Hunter ’06 pauses outside the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory where he is a staff scientist at the Linac Coherent Light Source. Photo Courtesy Mark Hunter

Ask Mark Hunter ’06 what he does as a staff scientist at the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford University, and you feel like you’ve taken a step into a scientific future that’s still evolving. The work at the lab centers on X-ray lasers that can help scientists better understand how chemical reactions occur, uncover the 3-D molecular structure of an enzyme that transmits African sleeping sickness, and study microscopic components of air pollution at the nanoscale. And that’s just a few examples.

Hunter’s primary role at the Menlo Park, Calif., facility is helping external scientists use the LCLS for biomedical science experiments.  “I discuss the desired experiments with the users and then design and build the experiments while collecting the data the users are interested in,” Hunter explains. He also is continuing his own research into novel ways of doing structural biology at LCLS.

Since its founding in 1962, the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, maintained by the U.S. Department of Energy, has supported ground-breaking research that led to three Nobel Prizes in physics and the 2006 Nobel Prize in chemistry. For Hunter, a Wilkes chemistry graduate who earned a doctorate in chemistry in 2011 from Arizona State University, his current role started with his doctoral dissertation related to protein crystallography using X-rays, is a technique used for determining the atomic and molecular structure of the molecule(s) comprising a crystal by means of X-ray diffraction. Hunter’s research focused on X-ray lasers found at the lab where he now works.

“Much of our knowledge about the chemical structure of matter has ultimately been derived from crystallography, in which you grow a three-dimensionally ordered agglomerate of a sample–similar to a crystal of table salt—and then probe it using X-rays or electrons,” Hunter explains.

However, traditional X-rays can damage the samples. Enter the X-ray laser technology available at the Linac Coherent Light Source and the research that was the basis of his dissertation.

“The new X-ray lasers seek to avoid this damage by having pulses so short that the material doesn’t have time to respond to the X-rays before you collect all the necessary information—damage-free data collection,” Hunter continues. “And what the large team that I was part of showed was that, yes, you can use these techniques at X-ray lasers and avoid the damage caused by traditional X-ray sources.”

Hunter’s career path included time as a research associate – a postdoctoral appointment — at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and then at LCLS at the Coherent X-ray Imaging (CXI) beamline, where he had conducted most of his experiments as a graduate student. Promotions to associate staff scientist and staff scientist followed.

Hunter says that Wilkes prepared him for being a research scientist and enhanced his personal development. “I had a great experience at Wilkes and due to the caliber of professors and mentors I had, I grew much more as a person than can be understood through grades for courses alone,” Hunter states. “The research opportunities at Wilkes definitely helped my resume and the ability to start research at an early stage in the undergraduate degree is very important.”

He cites Wilkes chemistry faculty Donald Mencer and Amy Bradley and math professor John Harrison as incredibly important mentors. He singles out Henry Castejon, a chemistry professor and now chair of the mechanical engineering department, for providing him with “tough love.”

“Dr. Castejon always made sure to let me know when I wasn’t performing up to my potential and that perspective has helped me greatly once I left Wilkes and ventured forth along my career,” Hunter says.

Noting that faculty outside of his major also provided valuable experiences, Hunter concludes, “The cumulative experience (at Wilkes) has helped me be a well-rounded researcher and member of the scientific community.”

Jenna Strzelecki ’07, MBA ’09 Becomes Business Owner with Crossfit Anthracite

By Samantha Stanich MA ’18

When most people wake up for work, Jenna Strzelecki ’07 MBA ’09 has already opened up her gym, CrossFit Anthracite, taught a class and got coffee for the other coaches at the gym. Then she is off to her day job at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine. Later, when her colleagues are calling it a day after eight hours at the office, she is back coaching and encouraging gym members. Jenna 3

Strzelecki’s full-time job is working for Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine in Scranton as the director of curriculum development and assessment. For the past ten years, she has been responsible for managing and providing oversight for all aspects of the medical school curriculum. She added a second job in 2013 when she became part owner of what was DK CrossFit.

“After two years of getting my MBA at Wilkes and being busy, owning a business in addition to a demanding day job seemed like a piece of cake,” she laughs. “Owning a business was always a dream of mine. Being your own boss is something I think a lot of people dream of but they are afraid the risk will outweigh the reward. Opening the gym with a business partner at first eased some of those risks, which was a great start to jumping into the world of business ownership.”

In February 2018, she bought out her partner and reopened the gym under the name CrossFit Anthracite as the sole owner.

Her passion and dedication to succeed along with her business knowledge allowed Strzelecki to continue fulfilling her goal of bettering people’s lives through health and fitness. At the gym, she is also the head coach. She earned her Level 1 CrossFit Certification in 2012 as well as her Level 2 and Kids CrossFit certifications, allowing her to lead members and fellow coaches.

“I loved being able to impact people’s lives in a healthy and positive way,” says Strzelecki, who earned her bachelor’s degree in business with a marketing concentration. “The gym is not necessarily my passion, but helping people realize their potential is my passion. I share my love for CrossFit and the gym with people to help them better themselves.”

Maintaining a routine and intricate schedule helps her to balance her two jobs. Strzelecki credits her MBA from Wilkes for the confidence, knowledge and skills needed in making important financial business decisions and “ensuring the everyday operations of the business were handled professionally and to highest standards possible.”

“My MBA at Wilkes taught me to understand what it takes to make a mark in the ever-changing world of owning and operating a business,” she explains.

She knows her schedule is hectic but she is confident in her abilities to handle anything thrown her away.

“If you want something badly enough you make time for it. You make time for what matters in your life no matter how hectic your days become and how late your nights go,” she says. “I am fortunate to work with two great teams that allow me to easily navigate both jobs.”

Levi Leyba MBA ’16 Creates Bilingual Books for Children

By Sarah Bedford ’17 MA ’19

Levi Leyba MBA ’16 became inspired after writing a research paper in one of his Wilkes MBA classes on childhood literacy and its relationship to educational and economic success. Once he completed his degree, the Mesa, Ariz., native took that inspiration and created a publishing business, writing and illustrating bilingual children’s books. Part of that plan was to donate books to students in need.

With guidance from his Wilkes mentor, retired business professor Anthony Liuzzo, he set forward. “Dr. Liuzzo helped me with my final research paper setting up the guidelines that I should follow to properly research the topic of early childhood literacy.  Without his experience and knowledge, I’m not certain that the type of research I made myself do would have resulted in publishing bilingual children’s books,” Leyba says.

Levi Leyba Holding Young Series Bilingual Childrens BooksThe books, now known as the “Young Series,” are helping Leyba connect with Spanish and English language learners and low-income communities to make a difference in children’s lives.

“The ‘Young Series’ are bilingual children’s books that promote childhood literacy and parental involvement,” Leyba explains. Right now, titles include stories about young Susan B. Anthony, John. D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin.

“The stories introduce each character, announce a problem or situation that each character must overcome, and close with a resolution to the earlier mentioned obstacle,” he adds.  With the Amazon sale of each Young Series book, Leyba donates a book to a child in a low-income community.

“In 2012 I started a 501(c)3 non-profit called Guardian Angel Council,” Leyba says. “Through my charity, I have partnered with Title I elementary schools that help with the distribution of books to those who need them the most….with every book purchased, one will be donated.  I do this with Guardian Angel Council and its Book for Book program.”

A Title 1 elementary school has large concentrations of low-income students and receives additional funding to assist in meeting educational goals for students. Though his target age group is preschool through sixth grade, Leyba explains that there is value in adults reading the series, too.

“Through my research, I learned that when someone wants to learn the English language, the first thing they do is check out children’s books from the local library,” he says. “So in reality, any age-group can benefit from these bilingual books if they are interested in learning English and Spanish.”

Leyba also serves as an adjunct faculty member in business at Mesa Community College and on the board for A New Leaf, a 46-year community nonprofit organization, providing a broad spectrum of support services to help individuals and families in crisis.

Marlon James MA ’06 Releases New Novel to Critical Acclaim


Photo by Earl & Sedor Photographic

Marlon James MA ’06 has released “Black Leopard, Red Wolf,” the first book in a trilogy that has been described as an African “Game of Thrones.” The book’s release has garnered media attention from The New Yorker, The New York Times, Time, Vanity Fair, Variety and in dozens of other media outlets. James also was interviewed on Late Night With Seth Meyers.  The film rights for the novel have been optioned by Michael B. Jordan’s Outlier Society and Warner Bros.

In April 2019, James was named to Time magazine’s list of “100 Most Influential People.” He is listed in the category of “Pioneers.” Legendary author Salman Rushdie wrote the Time tribute to James, calling him “one of the most important voices of his literary generation.” Talking about “Black Leopard, Red Wolf,” Rushdie describes the book as having “echoes of Tolkien, George R.R. Martin and Black Panther, but highly original, its language surging with power, its imagination all-encompassing. Marlon is a writer who must be read.”

James has been on the fast track to literary stardom since his novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings won the Man Booker Prize in 2015. As the first Jamaican to win the international prize, the award put James in the company of such notable authors as Rushdie, Hilary Mantel, Philip Roth and Alice Munro.