By Bill Bruton
Published June 1, 2023
Eighteen doctoral, 70 master’s and 226 baccalaureate candidates were eligible to receive degrees in biomedical science fields during the May commencement ceremony.
Three graduate students and 10 senior undergraduates were singled out for special honors, including two graduates who received a Chancellor’s Award, the highest State University of New York undergraduate honor.
Graduates completed work in 14 departments or programs of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences:
Graduates also completed the following programs offered in alliance with the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center Graduate Division: cancer prevention and control, cancer sciences, cell and molecular biology and molecular pharmacology and cancer therapeutics.
Allison Brashear, MD, MBA, UB’s vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School, congratulated the graduates for their achievements.
“Despite hardships that all of us have faced the last few years, you have shown great resilience, determination and perseverance in your academic pursuits, qualities I am certain will enable you to make your mark in your respective industries,” Brashear said.
“You are the next generation of leaders, professionals, scientists and researchers,” Brashear added. “Your work will positively impact research aimed at ensuring equitable health outcomes across diverse patients and populations, while supporting the Jacobs School’s ongoing commitment to justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.”
Brashear emphasized the importance collaboration has had on their studies, and will continue to have in their careers.
“While your training may differ, at UB you learned that teamwork is essential, and that a diverse group working together can leverage its strengths and expertise to institute change,” Brashear said. “It is that type of collaboration that is fueling medical breakthroughs and the faster development of treatments and medications that impact patients’ lives.”
She spoke about how medical innovations — including artificial intelligence — will transform health care.
“This is only the beginning. The coming years will usher in a revolution in patient-centered care with the digitization of medical records, the development of biometric technology, and advancements in biology and life sciences,“ Brashear said. “While the industry is changing at a record speed, your UB degree has prepared you for a diverse job market and to remain versatile as scientists.”
“Your creative and critical thinking will continually push the bounds of scientific discovery and new technologies. It has been my honor to watch you grow and thrive, make new discoveries, and shape your goals to change the world,” Brashear added. “I applaud each and every one of you on achieving this next step in your journey and I wish you all the best in your bright futures.”
A. Scott Weber, PhD, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, conferred the degrees during the May 21 event at UB’s Center for the Arts.
“Your UB education has prepared you to be flexible and responsive to the shifting needs and opportunities, and to meet the challenges we face head on, however vast they may seem,” Weber said.
“You’ve impacted our local and global communities through enhanced learning and engagement opportunities. Throughout your time at UB, you have proven that you are talented, compassionate, dedicated and strong. These truly are the attributes that will enable your future success,” Weber added.
Doctoral graduate Christopher Campomizzi was honored for research that received national or international recognition and for being selected to give an oral presentation at a major national or international meeting.
Dissertation: “19F NMR Studies of CYP121 from Mycobacterium Tuberculosis Illustrate the Importance of the Protein Dimer”
Doctoral graduate Sarah Rose Chamberlain was the recipient of this award for outstanding research for her dissertation titled “Novel Approaches of Photodynamic Therapy for Lung Cancer”
Mentor: Gal Shafirstein, DSc , professor of oncology, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center
Doctoral graduate Murat Can Kalem was the winner of this award that recognizes demonstrated excellence in research.
He was honored for his dissertation: “Arginine Methylation and the Control of RNA-Binding Proteins in Cryptococcus neoformans”
Doctoral graduate Murat Can Kalem was honored for his dissertation “Arginine Methylation and the Control of RNA-Binding Proteins in Cryptococcus neoformans”
Haeni Lee and Richard Pasternack were recognized with the Chancellor’s Award. It recognizes students for their integration of academic excellence with other aspects of their lives that may include leadership, athletics, community service, creative and performing arts, entrepreneurship or career achievement.
Lee graduates with a Bachelor of Science degree in biomedical sciences with a public health minor. Lee is an international student from South Korea and a University Honors College Scholar.
She has been a senator in the Residence Hall Association, teaching assistant, research assistant and intern in several laboratories and a company. She has worked in the UB Maternal and Child Health program, contributing to work on helping pregnant women quit smoking and studying maternal substance use related to pandemic.
Pasternak, a native of Alden, New York, graduates with a Bachelor of Science degree in biomedical sciences. He is a recipient of UB’s Excellence in General and Organic Chemistry Awards and a member of Phi Beta Kappa.
Pasternack works as a research aide studying bicarbonate transport and is a medical assistant for an endocrinology practice. He volunteers at the Pediatric and Adolescent Urgent Care of WNY and is a board member for the Alden Community Scholarship Foundation.
The following awards honor high academic performance and involvement in the campus community and external organizations:
Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, Biomedical Informatics
Nuclear Medicine Technology
Pharmacology and Toxicology
Commencement speaker Arturo Casadevall, MD, PhD, distinguished professor and chair of molecular microbiology and immunology at Johns Hopkins University, told the graduates they will play an important role in shaping the world.
“I have a very simple message for you. You are humanity’s best insurance policy, and that makes you the most important scientific generation in the history of science,” Casadevall said. “This is no hyperbole, because you are graduating at a time of great challenges to our species.”
He went on to explain that when he got his degree, DNA sequencing was still a novelty, the life expectancy of someone with AIDS was a matter of months, the cause of cervical cancer was unknown, organ transplantation was rare and carried huge risks of organ rejection and infection, while ulcers were attributed to acid secretion and a type A personality.
Today, he said, DNA sequencing is commonplace, you can know your genetic ancestry for a few dollars, HIV is a treatable disease, there is a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer, organ transplantation is a routine procedure, and ulcers were found to be caused by bacteria and can now be treated with antibiotics.
“This progress was made possible because of new scientific knowledge. Basic science combined with clinical research to make discoveries that translated into new therapies,” Casadevall said. “To get here we needed new knowledge that in turn required approaching problems with the tools of science.”
The speaker also related that when he was 19, his father didn’t think he was going anywhere in life and insisted that Casadevall go to school to get a pest control operator license.
The classes were held at night in a community college in Brooklyn.
He still has that diploma proudly displayed in his office.
“Why am I telling you this? Because I want to make the point that life has many branch points and that the road to this podium was by no means straight or assured. In fact, I feel very lucky to have gotten as far as I have,” Casadevall said. “In medicine, I specialized in infectious disease and my research is in killing microbes. Hence, I am indeed in the business of killing bugs, and you could argue that I did take my father’s advice but just kept going.”
He offered hope to the graduates as they continue on in their research.
“I believe a day will come when one of you will give a commencement address, and you will tell the graduates that you remember a terrible time when many cancers were incurable, when many elderly individuals developed dementia, and when we feared that climate change was irreversible,” Casadevall said. “When that day comes, I hope you will reinforce the message that the way forward is to continue to generate knowledge to ensure an even better world built with the tools of science and ethics, on the wings of curiosity and the human spirit.”