For decades Rutgers University–Newark has been a beacon of opportunity for students of modest means and first-generation immigrants from around the world by providing the learning and research opportunities of a top-tier research university at an affordable price.
The sibling trio of Nancy, Niveen and Maged Hanna reaped the rewards of RU-N’s commitment to these ideals in the 1980s and ’90s, when in succession they received degrees from the School of Arts and Sciences after emigrating with their parents from Cairo, Egypt, and growing up in Jersey City, NJ.
When they arrived in the U.S. in 1980, Nancy was 11, Niveen 10 and Maged 7. Coptic Orthodox Christian by faith, they all attended catholic schools in Jersey City, learning English via ESL classes while speaking Arabic at home, and focusing on their studies as they adjusted to life in the U.S.
It wasn’t always easy. There were bumps in the road. But their parents were committed to the children’s education and pushed them to achieve. The trio responded by becoming exemplary students and going on to successful careers in medicine and law, all while exemplifying RU-N’s singular place in the landscape of higher education in New Jersey and beyond.
Nancy Hanna (SASN Class of 1989)
Nancy, now 49 and the oldest of the three siblings, arrived in the U.S. just before middle school. As she learned the language of her new home, she struggled with subjects like English and history while gravitating toward science and math, eventually acclimating and getting excellent grades through high school.
When she started at RU-N in 1986, she majored in chemistry and took many additional courses in biology and zoology, finding her professors challenging and accessible, the work interesting and her peers helpful.
She also found the campus brimming with diversity and a warm, welcoming spirit, and she
thrived socially, starting an Arabic club to introduce pan-Arabic cultures to the campus at large.
“We had a vibrant community of Christians and Muslims from Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria and other countries sharing our cultural heritages,” she says. “We threw parties with belly dancers, food and Arabic bands in the Robeson Center. It was wonderful.”
At the beginning of her junior year, Nancy realized she wanted to be a dentist and applied immediately to what was then the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ). Having taken enough science pre-requisites to qualify, she was accepted with a scholarship early and skipped her senior year at RU-N to get started on the full four-year program in the fall of 1989, a rare scenario she says would likely not be possible for students now.
After graduating, she did a one-year oral-surgery residency at Catholic Medical Center of Brooklyn and Queens, which was part of New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center at the time, followed by a year of part-time dentistry work before taking over a retiring dentist’s practice in Jersey City in 1996.
She’s been there ever since, moving two blocks at one point to merge with another dental practice after buying their building, and working with that older dentist a few years before he, too, retired. Since 2011, she’s been on her own, running her practice in family and cosmetic dentistry to the delight of generations of patients.
“I’ve seen many of my patients for decades and watched them have children and grandkids, and I’ve gotten very attached to them and their families,” says Nancy, who lives with her husband and three children in Edison, NJ. “It’s been wonderful.”
She says she’s been blessed with a great career and family, along with loving siblings with whom she remains close. She also looks back at her time at RU-N with great fondess.
“Rutgers-Newark gave me the structure to move on academically at a much higher level than high school, and academically and socially I had it all,” she says. “I loved waking up and going there every day. It was the best three years of my life.”
Niveen Hanna (SASN Class of 1992)
Like her older sister, Niveen, now 48, found life in the U.S. challenging after they moved. Yet she, too, was a great student and received a scholarship to RU-N, where she also majored in chemistry, with a minor in biology.
At RU-N she dove into her studies, doing summer research in the lab of one of her chemistry professors, winning a departmental award, and tutoring other students in chemistry between classes for extra money. She also was part of a thriving social scene on campus and overlapped with both of her siblings at RU-N, which made her time there even more enjoyable and meaningful.
“I can’t say enough about RU-N. My chemistry professors were phenomenal. I had friends on campus, and I never actually wanted to go home,” she says. “College was fun, especially compared to high school.”
After graduating in 1992, Niveen followed in Nancy’s footsteps and went on to medical school at UMDNJ. By her third year she knew she wanted to be a surgeon, focused her rotations accordingly, and went on to do a five-year residency at Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx, where she trained in general surgery and gained exposure to trauma surgery as well. In 2001, she started working at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, NJ, where she remained until 2014.
“I was certified and hired there as a general surgeon, but I did far more trauma during my first three years,” says Niveen. “The more I did trauma, the more I liked it.”
In 2004-2005, she took a leave of absence and returned to Lincoln Hospital to do a trauma/critical care fellowship, was double-certified in general and trauma surgery, and hasn’t looked back since. She became the Associate Director of Trauma/Surgical Critical Care at Jersey Shore and is now an acute-care surgeon at Capital Health Regional Medical Center in Trenton, NJ.
“You never know what you’re going to get in an acute-care setting. Every patient is different,” she says. “I’ve seen it all: gunshots, stabbings, impalements, patients struck by cars. It’s fast-paced. You need to be very quick on your feet and very creative in using the resources around you, and you need good leadership skills.”
In fact, Niveen was on-call at Capital Health the morning of June 17 of this year, when a gang-related mass shooting took place at the Art All Night festival in Trenton. Twelve gunshot victims rolled in that day, she says. Her and her team had to triage all of them and decide who went where and in what order they were called in.
She says thriving in such a demanding profession wouldn’t have been possible without the help of her husband, John, who has pulled back on his work in finance to manage their home in Howell, NJ, and look after their two boys, ages 9 and 13. Of the 100 or so trauma surgeons in New Jersey, according to Niveen, only 10 are women.
Not many women want the lifestyle, she says, but for her the work is incredibly rewarding.
“To have a patient with so many injuries, take them through ER, OR and ICU, and then watch them walk out of the hospital in a few weeks, that’s really gratifying. I feel privileged to do this work.”
Maged Hanna (SASN Class of 1995)
As the youngest child, Maged, who is 45, had a smoother transition after the family emigrated to the U.S. He picked up English quickly and remembers watching the TV show L.A. Law as a child, fascinated when the partners reviewed cases together. In high school he thrived, delving into English literature and history, exploring business law classes and participating in the debate team.
When he arrived at RU-N in fall 1995 on a four-year Presidential Scholarship, he majored in English literature and immediately joined the debate team, becoming co-captain sophomore year and representing RU-N, along with his other co-captain, at the World Universities Debating Championship at Oxford University. They placed in the top 40 among hundreds of schools present, and followed that up with an equally impressive performance at the next year’s competition, held at the University of Melbourne.
During the year, the team debated every couple of weeks at schools up and down the East Coast. Maged remembers watching Republican Senator Ted Cruz, of Texas, debate for Princeton University at some of the meets, which drew around 30 schools. The team was also featured in a NJ Star-Ledger story.
“We jumped through hoops to get funding for the international trips, lobbying the program board and provost’s office,” says Maged. “We were really persistent because we thought it was important for Rutgers University to have a presence at these tournaments. At the time, not even the New Brunswick campus was participating.”
At RU-N, Maged also wrote for The Observer and served as editor-in-chief his senior year, regularly staying until 1 or 2am to get the paper out, publishing some controversial editorials, and appearing on PBS’ Caucus New Jersey TV show with host Steve Adubato.
“Even though I was a commuter, I practically lived on campus from sunrise til way past sunset, and I enjoyed every minute of it,” says Maged. “I made great friends, met my wife and grew so much there.”
After graduating, he attended Rutgers Law School in Camden but took the majority of his courses in Newark before graduating in 1999 and starting his career at a boutique criminal defense firm in East Brunswick, NJ. In 2002 he joined his current firm, Craner, Satkin, Scheer, Schwartz & Hanna, which has offices in Scotch Plains, NJ, and New York City, and became partner in 2009.
There his practice in civil litigation focuses on a number of areas, including employment, personal injury and real-estate contract law. He loves the work and relishes how his life is about to come full-circle when his oldest friend from RU-N joins his firm as partner later this year.
He currently lives with his wife and three children in Marlboro, NJ, and reminisces fondly about the pivotal role his undergraduate years played in his life.
“At RU-N I was challenged, learned how to write and think critically, expanded my intellectual life, and made lifelong friends,” says Maged. “I felt like I went to the greatest college in the world.”