The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Retired professor still advises CSUN pre-medical students

Few people on campus remember the inception of CSUN as well as pre-med advisor Daisy Kuhn.

This is due to the fact that Kuhn has seen this campus go through many changes, from only one permanent building and Zelzah Avenue being a dirt road to becoming part of the California State University system in 1972 and even the Northridge earthquake. After retiring in 1992 she has assisted thousands of students begin and complete their journey into medical school purely out of the kindness of her heart.

For the past 14 years since retiring as a professor in the biology department, Daisy Kuhn has volunteered her time, energy and effort helping pre-med students make their way across the tangled web of recommendations, the Medical College Admission Test exams and personal statements to come out the other end alive and well in medical school.

Her commitment to her students is evident the minute you step foot into her office. From the “thank you” cards on her desk from students she has advised over the years, to the plaques commemorating her years of service to CSUN.

Kuhn’s reason for volunteering as an advisor is simple. “I like working with young people,” she said.

Professor Steven B. Oppenheimer, a professor in the biology department who teaches embryology and biology of cancer, has known Kuhn since his arrival on campus in 1971.

Oppenheimer, who has many students that go to Kuhn for advisement and assistance when preparing to apply to medical school, said Kuhn is a very dedicated individual and has very high standards.

“The student’s interests are number one for her, and she’s done this many years without pay,” he said. “This is her life, this is what she lives for.”

Kuhn, who was born in Germany and lived in Switzerland before immigrating to the United States, attended the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and earned a bachelor’s degree in zoology.

After finishing her graduate degree in Microbiology at UC Davis, Kuhn was looking for a job and subsequently arrived at CSUN. She remembers shaking hands with Dean Oviatt, CSUN’s first executive officer, who welcomed her to the “hottest valley in the country.”

Since the numerous buildings and divisions of the campus were still under development, Kuhn and her colleagues in the department had offices on the third floor of the old library, which consisted of a desk, two chairs for each faculty member and one phone for everyone to share.

Kuhn, now an emeritus professor, taught courses ranging in general biology, microbiology, bacterial systematics and graduate courses from 1959 to 1992.

Teaching might have been in her genes, as both her grandmother and sister went into the profession. She was generally fond of school and the sciences interested her a great deal, she said.

“My favorite toy became the microscope,” said Kuhn, who added that she spent a major portion of her life in a dark room, developing and printing photographs of bacteria for publications. Though the digital age of cameras has been around for some time, Kuhn still treasures the Kodak brownie camera her grandmother gave her in 1938 for Christmas.

In her dissertation for her Ph.D., she discovered a new colony of bacteria named Arthobacter atrocyaneus. An illustration of the bacteria is now displayed in Magnolia Hall.

As a professor at CSUN, Kuhn and her undergraduate research team phenotypically characterized a collection of strains from the oral activities of a San Fernando Valley cat. A new species of bacterium has been named Conchiformibius Kuhniae in her honor and has been validated in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Biology.

The type strain came from the mouth of a 13-year-old Angora cat in the San Fernando Valley.

In 2002, her volunteer work to the university was honored in the First Annual Volunteer Award Ceremony, presented by the Alumni Association, and last year, Kuhn was honored by the College of Science and Mathematics for her many years of service to the college. She was also the recipient of the CSUN Distinguished Professor Award in 1980.

As a liaison between the medical world and students, Kuhn does more than just advise. Getting into pre-med school takes a lot of preparation, skill and commitment. Not only do your grades play a part in the process, but your MCAT scores – the SATs of the medical world – also matter a great deal. The MCATs, which are administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges, are comprised of four sections that include physical sciences, verbal reasoning, a writing sample and biological sciences.

Other factors in the tedious application process include how good your people skills are, your understanding of the medical system, your knowledge on issues surrounding the field such as insurance, and your experience with working with patients.

Arranging your schedule to complete compacted science, math and chemistry courses at a steady pace by combining them with general education courses is also important, and something that Kuhn stresses to students who come to see her.

She spends her time collecting letters from various professors for students, writing cover letters and beginning the tedious process of mailing them out. Whether the process takes a long time varies from one student to another she said.

“I had a student once who had eight different transcripts, and it was quite a bit of work to extract everything from her files,” she said.

The busiest season for Kuhn is summer through fall, which is the time when letters are collected from various professors for part of the application process into medical school.

After they have been collected, Kuhn spends her time writing cover letters for each individual student and mailing out applications, which is a great amount of work, considering the fact that every pre-medical student, from biology to business and even music major go to her for advising.

Since two-thirds of the students who come to see her speak English as a second language, Kuhn advises them to never let a language be an excuse to not succeed, she said.

“I know from personal experience how to cope with ESL,” she said. “I started learning English five months before my junior year of college.”

In addition to helping students get ready for the next chapter in their professional lives, Kuhn is known to go the extra mile.

Kuhn is also known to phone a school if she thinks they have made a mistake in not accepting a student, Oppenheimer said.

“Dedication is her middle name,” he said. “She is very scientifically precise on how she handles the files and is extremely meticulous,” added Oppenheimer, who also said he jokes with her about posting confidential recommendations in the hallways of Eucalyptus Hall.

Andrew Crouch, who is working toward a bachelor’s degree in biology and plans to go into orthopedics, said Kuhn was the first real counselor he had come across in college.

“She opened my eyes to the process, from personal statements to recommendations, and has helped me immensely,” said Crouch, who is the recipient of the Prakriti Suri Memorial Award, which is for undergraduate pre-medical students with a GPA of 3.75 or above who have taken the MCAT before the summer between junior and senior year to do research, an experience which is desired by medical schools.

Crouch said he really would not have a clue what to do if Kuhn was not around to advise him.

“Out of the kindness of her heart she does a good job,” he said. “She wants to see students succeed. She has to gather all the information. It’s a massive amount of work, especially since she is volunteering.”

Biology professor Nancy Bishop, who has known Kuhn for her entire career at CSUN, points out that her spirit of dedication and generosity has brought the gift of 14 years of expert pre-med advisement.

“CSUN has been very fortunate that she has served as a volunteer adviser for so long,” Bishop said.

Over the y
ears, Kuhn and Bishop have shared labs, microscopes, materials and many students. They have also worked together in several professional microbiology societies, such as the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi, which was started by Kuhn in 1974.

Kuhn contributes her time and expertise because she enjoys working with students, Bishop said.

“She finds rewards in their success, because she is enormously dedicated to CSUN and because she is very good at advising,” she said. “She knows the nuts and bolts of procedures and deadlines for exams and applications. She knows legions of people involved with professional school admissions. She sees that over many years she has truly made a difference. And she is proud of her students and their accomplishments.”

In her spare time, Kuhn enjoys spending time with her nieces and nephews and their nine children. Owning a large cookbook collection, she concentrates these days on recipes conducive to managing her auto-immune induced condition, type 1 diabetes, she said.

As for what the future holds for Kuhn, she is in the process of gathering information on pre-med alumni to see where they are and what they are up to after leaving her offices to begin several new chapters in their lives.

With her years of expertise and experience, Kuhn definitely finds enjoyment in helping her students succeed. That, after all, is the true mark of a good adviser.

“It was gratifying to assist a most amazing young man with his applications. He was blind, spoke English as a second language and had transfer units from a foreign university,” she said. “Today, he is a successful chiropractor with three offices in greater Los Angeles.”

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