Many brothers and sisters would do anything to avoid attending the same university. Flushing, New York, siblings Elizabeth ’16 and Joshua Ha ’16 are not only both enrolled at Stony Brook, but they also share the same major, many of the same classes and even rent a room together off campus. They are not twins, but they share the same graduation date because Joshua skipped a grade in high school to be with his sister.
Part of their closeness, no doubt, has to do with familiarity — they were home-schooled together from primary school up to high school. The children of physicians, Elizabeth and Joshua gravitated toward the sciences, which led to a love for biochemistry and, once they attended Stony Brook, lab-based research.
Their parents had a home office and their mother began teaching them between appointments, but she eventually discontinued her practice to devote all of her time to their education.
“Home-schooling gave us a very nurturing environment and quite a bit of independence in our learning,” Joshua said. “We were encouraged to pursue whatever interests we had and had more time to pursue those interests.”
Both siblings discovered a love for making music. While Joshua jokes that he “pretends to play piano,” that might be because Elizabeth is an accompanist at her Franklin Square, New York, church and composes digital music.
As members of Stony Brook’s elite Honors College program, the siblings benefit from their intimate surroundings. “Right from the get-go, we got to take classes with small groups of students, often made up of the same students from previous classes,” said Joshua.
Research, however, is where this brother and sister have found their niche at Stony Brook. In spite of all they share, the siblings have chosen very different tracks.
Joshua is examining the interaction among an enzyme, a scaffolding protein and a membrane-bound receptor — the components for cell death in ischemic stroke — in the lab of Mark Bowen, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics.
For Elizabeth, scientific excitement comes from focusing on a molecule called Phospholipase D, which may have research implications for diabetes, atherosclerosis and cancer. She works in the lab of Michael Frohman, MD, PhD, who is a professor and chair of the Department of Pharmacological Sciences.
But it’s not all work for this pair. Joshua enjoys film and writes reviews for The Stony Brook Press. He’s also an accomplished member of the Speech and Debate Club on campus.
Elizabeth sets aside three hours every week for volunteering at University Hospital. In addition to composing music, she is proud of co-authoring a scientific review in an international journal, Biofactors, on mitochondrial morphology and lipids.
Although their lives provide ample space for individual growth, these close-knit siblings find a way to spend quality time together.
“We have a lot of fun studying together — unless we are running short of time and stressing out,” said Elizabeth. “Maybe we compete in a playful way but we work more as a team. For example, in high school we used to take the average of our exam grades to determine our overall grade.”
Joshua has nothing but praise for their teamwork as well. “Although I don’t know if any sibling relationship exists without some competition, it is to my sister’s credit that she never got caught up in any of that. I always have someone to talk to, to study with, someone I can count on for help with anything at all, and someone with whom I can share a nerdy science joke. I am very blessed to have a sister like her.”
— Glenn Jochum; photos by John Griffin