Lauren Rachel Zeitels, a 2006 College graduate who was one of the two victims of a deadly avalanche in Alberta, Canada, was remembered by friends and family as utterly brilliant.
Zeitels and Victor Federov, another doctor in residency at Massachusetts General Hospital, were snowshoeing at Banff National Park when they were caught in an avalanche that is believed to have occurred on March 12, according to a report in the Boston Globe.
Their bodies were found on March 17. Zeitels was 32 years old and in her second year of the Massachusetts General Hospital internal residency program.
The New Jersey native graduated as valedictorian from Watchung Hills Regional High School and continued to find academic success during her time at Penn, where she graduated summa cum laude from the College of Arts and Sciences as part of the Roy and Diana Vagelos Scholars Program in Molecular Life Sciences. She also graduated with Phi Beta Kappa honors and a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, as well as a master of science degree in chemistry.
Friends and family said they admired her intellectual capabilities and loved her caring, vivacious personality.
Jason Beiger, a 2006 Penn graduate who also was a member of the Vagelos program, said he looked up to Zeitels, describing her as always “one step ahead of the rest of us.”
“She impacted the lives of so many people in so many places, as the turnout at her memorial service in NYC showed this past weekend,” Beiger said in an emailed statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian. “This world lost an amazing person and an exceptional doctor-scholar. We grieve for her loss, not only for who she was and what she had already accomplished, but also for whom she was growing to be and the many more lives she could have positively impacted.”
At Penn, Zeitels was co-president of Penn’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity, helping three Philadelphia universities raise $40,000 to sponsor a house. She also took charge of the coordination of more than 250 volunteers for projects in New Jersey and Philadelphia, according to her LinkedIn profile.
Zeitels won numerous awards during her time at Penn — a testament to her academic skill. She was a Benjamin Franklin Scholar and the recipient of the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship in 2004, the Dean’s Scholars award in 2004 and the Roy and Diana Vagelos Challenge Award in 2005. She was also the 14th Penn student and one of 40 university students in the country to be awarded the Gates Cambridge Scholarship during her senior year of undergraduate study, through which she pursued a master’s degree in medical science at the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, England.
The founding Director of the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Arthur Casciato, a former Penn faculty member, worked closely with Zeitels when she was preparing her application for the Gates Cambridge Scholarship.
Casciato, who currently serves as the director of the Office of Distinguished Fellowships at Rutgers University, said that although it has been 10 years since he left Penn, he has not gone a single year without telling the story of how Zeitels’ answer to a question during a mock interview for the scholarship convinced him that she would win it.
During this interview, Casciato grilled Zeitels on her work with Habitat for Humanity by criticizing the group as a publicity stunt for politicians.
“In the face of this kind of pressure, students often either capitulate to the interviewer or become too entrenched in their own views. Not Lauren,” Casciato said in an emailed statement.
Instead, Zeitels “responded like a seasoned rhetorician.” After acknowledging Casciato’s criticisms and citing several examples supporting them, she pointed out the ways that Habitat for Humanity nonetheless provided affordable housing to those in need “in the most statistical specificity that one can imagine,” Casciato said.
“It was quite a performance, one I’ll never forget,” he added.
Jerrold Zeitels, Lauren’s father, said his daughter loved Penn and the community she found here. He added that she was especially attracted to the Vagelos program and had always shown a passion for medicine.
“Medicine was a perfect fit for her because not only was she brilliant as far as science comes, but she was a compassionate individual,” Jerrold Zeitels said. “She was always looking to help other people.”
Laura Cappelli, another classmate in the Vagelos program, became friends with Zeitels in 2002, attending both college and medical school with her. She said what made Zeitels unique was her kindness and sincerity towards those around her.
“She took interest in her classmates, colleagues and community. She encouraged people to be their best selves,” Cappelli said in an email where she quoted from her eulogy at Zeitels’ funeral. “She believed in my abilities, often more than I did, and encouraged me to take risks. There will never be anyone with whom I am so bonded both in friendship and academically as I was with her.”
Jake Chanin, another classmate, made similar remarks, describing Zeitels as someone who always enjoyed life.
“If she could give one piece of advice to incoming freshman, it would be take advantage of every little bit and every aspect of college that you can,” Chanin said. “Make sure to excel in your academic activities, but at the same time find what you’re passionate about as well. She was a really wonderful person. It’s a sad loss for all of us.”