Chemistry student Bongiovanni GS dies
Second-year chemistry graduate student Jessica Bongiovanni GS died Sunday, Dec. 2, from osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer. She was 25.
Bongiovanni was born and raised in Manchester, N.J. A memorial service was held in her honor at St. John’s Church in Lakehurst, N.J., Thursday morning.
This was her second year working in chemistry professor John Groves’ laboratory, where she conducted research focused on designing artificial enzymes.
Bongiovanni was diagnosed with osteosarcoma less than six months ago, after she felt what she thought were shin splints in her leg, Groves said. She was taken to the McCosh Health Center, where medical personnel took an X-ray and found an unexplained mass in her leg.
According to Groves, she then visited a specialist, who took bone scans that indicated Bongiovanni had a tumor. Bongiovanni’s doctor suggested chemotherapy treatment to shrink the tumor, followed by surgery, Groves said.
At the time of her death, Bongiovanni was undergoing chemotherapy, and doctors said the cancer was in remission.
“Everything looked very positive,” Groves said, adding that Bongiovanni’s death was unexpected. “We were shocked and dismayed at the loss.”
Groves worked closely with Bongiovanni in the chemistry department and was impressed by her approach to her education and her research.
“She is a very strong student, very excited about science,” said chemistry professor Steven Bernasek, with whom Bongiovanni took a graduate level kinetics course. “She was always very lively and active.”
Groves said he recently looked at Bongiovanni’s application folder from when she applied to the University. In her application, he said she had written that the three things she wanted in life were to be happy, to make a difference and to make her parents proud. Groves said that he was amazed by how frank Bongiovanni was in the application and was impressed by her ability to express exactly what she felt.
“No challenge seemed to be too great for her,” Groves said.
He explained that Bongiovanni approached science with confidence.
“She wasn’t afraid of a bad result,” he said, noting that when various aspects of projects fell through, she knew she could still figure it out. “I really liked that about her.”
Fifth-year chemistry student Kim Graves GS, a friend of Bongiovanni’s, said Bongiovanni believed that through science and research she could improve others’ lives. In particular, Graves said she wanted to use her research to help people who, like her, were struggling with cancer.
“That passion for helping people and improving the world was the embodiment of Jess as I knew her,” Graves said. “The thing that struck me most about her was her passion for science and her passion for life.”
Bongiovanni earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Drexel University in 2009, where she played Division I softball. She received her master’s degree in chemistry from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte in 2011.
Bongiovanni is survived by her parents Kevin and Kathleen, her sisters Katie and Kelsey and her fiance Kristopher Swanson. Bongiovanni blogged about her experiences living with osteosarcoma, discussing living with a prosthetic leg, losing her hair and undergoing lung surgery.