Spotlight on an Alum

Meet First Tiger John Lichtenberger '00!


Coming from a military family, John Lichtenberger ’00 was constantly on the move throughout his youth, spending significant time in Korea and Oklahoma City. When it came time to apply to college, it seemed inevitable that he would attend one of the military academies. Upon receiving an admission offer to Princeton, however, his father encouraged John to get an education independent of his service.

For John, Princeton created stability in his life, especially at the end of his junior year when his father passed away. The university allowed him to take his final exams from a local university so he could be with his family. But John faced a far more pressing matter than his studies:  without his father, his family suddenly lacked any source of income. When he found his way back in the fall, the financial aide office worked with him to ensure he could complete his education without worrying about his financial situation. Eliminating that stressor from his life made all the difference:  “I have a strong fondness and a profound sense of gratitude for Princeton and what it provided me at a desperate time in my life.”

When he first got to campus, John quickly realized that just getting to Princeton wasn’t enough. He had aspirations to pursue a career in medicine but he lacked relatable mentorship. He presumed a career in medicine meant majoring in a STEM field. This rationale led him to the Molecular Biology department, which provided a solution to his mentorship problem in former President and Professor Emeritus Shirley Tilghman. John realizes he was fortunate that his path of study led him to a premier mentor but he realizes many students don’t have that luxury and don’t know who to ask for help.

Through working with Professor Tilghman John learned the importance of the process of learning. By prioritizing the process over the product, he honed his ability to think critically and ask the important questions. These skills led to not only meaningful independent academic research, but to some of the more memorable friendships John made at Princeton. On one occasion, John and his friends debated sustainability and consumer economics after the dishwasher in the dining hall broke and students were left eating with plastic plates and utensils. “In and out of the classroom, Princeton taught me how to engage in meaningful dialogue with people,” John reflects. “Very rarely do you acquire the knowledge you will need in your career on your own; you learn most through the special process of engaging with others.”

And because it was the people that made John’s time at Princeton so special, John is a strong advocate of restructuring the social scene at Princeton, even if that involves dismantling the eating clubs. “We’re such a small school and we spend so much time together in the residential colleges, my hope is that we can compromise to find ways to bring us closer as a university community.”

John hopes current SIFP Fellows won’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. “Early on I felt lost,” he reflects, “but I learned to seek guidance and it really helped me out. It can be tempting and very easy to seclude yourself from the bankers, from the independently wealthy, from the hardcore scientists on the cover of Nature. It can feel like you don’t have any way to relate to some of your classmates and professors or that your path will be vastly different from theirs, but Princeton is your opportunity, too.”


At A Glance: John Lichtenberger ‘00

Major: Molecular Biology and although he took a number of courses in the East Asian Studies department and spent a summer in Korea as part of a language and cultural immersion program, he ultimately did not pursue the certificate program.

If you could be any building on campus which would you be and why? “I met my wife, Angie Lai ‘01, at Blair Arch and fell in love. That was by far the greatest thing that happened to me at Princeton or anywhere else.”

Where is he now? John is an Associate Professor of Radiology and Section Chief of Cardiac Imaging at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Contact John! John welcomes current Fellows to contact him. In addition to the time he spends as a SIFP Alumni Buddy, he enjoys meeting new students and is eager to help in anyway he can. He can be reached at