Success Stories

From the runways of Milan to med school in Tennessee: serendipity leads alumna to WCSU on first step to fulfilling dream

Olivia Kelly Sosnoski

Olivia Kelly Sosnoski on the runway

Westport resident Olivia Kelly Sosnoski was living an exciting life immersed in the New York fashion industry. As a recent graduate of Staples High School, Sosnoski found herself walking the runway at New York Fashion Week and in Milan. Despite the travel and experiences associated with her life as a model, Sosnoski said, “I missed learning. I wanted to feel more fulfilled.” Because her career was based out of Manhattan, she enrolled at Hunter College to pursue a degree in Nutrition.

Her perspective quickly changed when her grandfather became extremely ill. Sosnoski spent countless hours at his bedside watching the medical staff and physicians who attended to him trying to alleviate his suffering. After he succumbed to his illness, Sosnoski moved to Danbury to live with her grandmother in order to help her. In all of these life changes, Sosnoski realized she was so inspired by what she had witnessed in her grandfather’s hospital room, she decided to change her life’s direction to seek the greater challenge of pursuing a degree that would lead to medical school.

Sosnoski enrolled at WCSU as a Biology/Pre-Med major. She applied for and received financial aid, commuted from her grandmother’s house and worked the entire time she was in school. She also found time to join the WCSU Women’s Volleyball Team and Swimming & Diving Team, where she loved the camaraderie with her coach and teammates. What she enjoyed even more was getting patient care experience as an undergraduate.

Olivia Kelly Sosnoski

Olivia Kelly Sosnoski on the WCSU Swimming & Diving Team

“My primary care physician told me about diabetes research going on at Yale,” Sosonoski said. “I was diagnosed with Type I diabetes at Yale at age 7, so I was personally interested. I reached out to the physician running the study as a pre-med student at WCSU and asked if I could shadow her. Not only did she say yes, but she made me a second co-author on a paper, which was huge!”

Sosnoski said that opportunities like the one at Yale, coupled with the support of the WCSU Biology Department, made a major impact on her studies. “The small student-to-faculty ratio at WCSU was highly influential in my success,” she said. “I was always asking questions, utilizing the faculty office hours. The resources and knowledge in that department are amazing and surprisingly underrated. So many professors just go out of their way to be encouraging and make you feel supported.”

After graduating in 2020 with a Bachelor of Arts in Biology, Sosnoski re-enrolled as a graduate student in WCSU’s Master of Science in Addiction Studies program, from which she graduated in 2021. She was hired by Bristol Myers Squib as a Clinical Research Coordinator conducting leukemia research at Yale New Haven’s Smilow Cancer Hospital.

The promise she had made to herself in her grandfather’s hospital room was not forgotten, and Sosnoski took the next step — applying to about 15 medical schools. Some, she said, she was cautioned against applying to and instead of conceding, she “played chicken” and applied anyway. One of those programs was at the University of Tennessee, the number one trauma center by volume in the country. And it was UT that was the first school to respond and make an offer of acceptance.

Olivia Kelly Sosnoski

Olivia Kelly Sosnoski at her Medical School White Coat ceremony

Now in her first semester of medical school, Sosnoski said courses like “Molecular Basis of Disease” that she took at WCSU totally prepared her. “The genetics and cell biology I had as an undergraduate student are areas I am able to review now as opposed to learning about them for the first time,” she said.

Sosnoski said she made the decision to study to become a trauma surgeon because she wanted to see a wider demographic in patient age groups than she would have in oncology. She will graduate in four years, followed by a five-year general surgery residency and one-to-two years in a trauma fellowship. “I’m going to be a student for the rest of my life,” she said. “There is not anything I want to be doing more or anything else that is worth investing the time in.”

Looking back, Sosnoski said, “I worked in Milan and walked in Fashion Week. I wasn’t supposed to be at WCSU. It was luck; it was serendipity. In hindsight, it was where I was meant to be. Between the faculty, the athletics and the resources, the university is like a hidden little gem that is not on everyone’s radar. I’m really grateful for my time there. It helped me grow as a person and I’m heading into med school with a lot less debt.”



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