When Mollie McCartney graduated from West Virginia University with undergraduate degrees in history and biology, she had already spent three years researching cancer at the Betty Puskar Breast Care Center. McCartney, from Walkersville in Lewis County, W.Va., had also visited five countries and more states by the time her four years were over.

McCartney was passionate about working as a physician in rural West Virginia, so returning to WVU’s medical school, ranked among the top 10 schools for rural medicine by the U.S. News & World Report, was her best option.

So, too, for Danielle Waltz, who received her law degree from WVU’s College of Law after receiving her bachelor’s degree in mathematics.

It’s not uncommon for college students to return to their alma maters for medical or law school. Staying at their academic homes offers a familiar place during a stressful time, involves no loyalty crises during sports seasons and makes for a smoother transition into what is widely characterized as studying from enough textbooks to build a skyscraper.

But McCartney, who will be in her third year of medical school in the fall, and Waltz chose WVU twice not just to be surrounded by the familiar or to bask in school spirit, but because it would take them where they wanted to go.

“It was a good idea to return in every way,” McCartney said. “WVU Healthcare places a high emphasis on rural populations, which is the demographic I intend to service for the duration of my career.

“Another major plus of returning here was that when medical school began, my only transition was from an undergrad studying schedule to a medical school studying schedule, not a transition to an entirely new city and institution, which would have certainly made my first year of school more difficult.”

WVU enriched McCartney in other ways. She pursued Native American Studies during her undergraduate courses, something that has given her insight into a population she could work with later.

“That connection alone has enabled me to learn about the complexities of Native health issues and culture, while also introducing me to the leaders of Native communities I hope to serve,” she said.

By coming back to WVU she was able to build on the relationships and knowledge she’d gained.

“If I had left for another medical school at a different institution, I would have lost those connections and would have had to start from scratch,” she said.

Waltz is now an associate at Flaherty Sensabaugh Bonasso in Charleston, W.Va. Before she became a civil litigator, she graduated from WVU with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 2003. She asked attorneys, especially those who practiced in West Virginia where she hoped to settle, what the best options were for law school.

She was told WVU would prepare her as well as an Ivy League law program and is the best place to go for someone who wants to practice law in West Virginia.

A Foundation Scholar, Waltz was given a full scholarship to WVU for her undergraduate years. She became active in the Student Government Association and met students who now have roles in the West Virginia House of Delegates and governor’s office.

Waltz, of Weirton, W.Va., knew going into the university that she wanted to be a lawyer, but she wasn’t sure in what direction she wanted to take it. She took an independent study class with political science Professor Robert DiClerico, served as an attorney general for student government and participated in student judicial panels, experiences that helped her to focus her goals.

In law school, she met students who weren’t from West Virginia, but who decided to stay and pursue careers here after attending law school.

“I sort of saw myself as the West Virginia welcome wagon to everybody else who hadn’t gone to WVU,” she said.

When she met lawyers who had earned their degrees from other schools, she felt confident that her skills matched what the industry needed.

WVU had what she was looking for in a law program as it does for many other students who examine its rankings _ U.S. News & World Report placed it in the top 100 law schools nationwide _ and the law specializations offered.

“We are as well trained, if not more well trained, than they are,” she said.

She still encourages young students and their parents to choose WVU, in part because of the way the large university makes itself so accessible to students.

There was a familiarity here from her undergrad days, but because she spent her hours away from the well-worn paths of her early years and at the law school, it had a different feel. And she learned from programs such as the Marlyn E. Lugar Trial Association and the West Virginia Law Review.

“I felt that when I started practicing that I had the skills to hit the ground running,” she said.

By Diana Mazzella
Communications Specialist
WVU News and Information



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