Graduates of City Honors School who are in the Class of 2023 at the Jacobs School include, from left, seated: Fiona Hennig and Lillian Dixon; standing: Aleena Jafri, James Ghosen and Hani Al-Jabi-Lopez. Joseph Nathanson is the other City Honors graduate in the Class of 2023.

Jacobs School Class of 2023 Includes 6 City Honors Alumni

Published December 11, 2019

story by bill bruton

They spent their middle school and high school years with a firsthand view of the development of the burgeoning Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, including the sparkling new downtown building that houses the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

I chose the Jacobs School because of family and friends living in the city, because Buffalo is home, and also because this school offers a truly high quality medical education with programs and opportunities in areas that are of interest to me.
Aleena Jafri
City Honors graduate and first-year medical student

Now, amazingly, six graduates of City Honors School at Fosdick-Masten Park find themselves in the Class of 2023 at the Jacobs School.

School Prepared Them Well for Journey Ahead

Those half-dozen first-year medical students — Hani Al-Jabi-Lopez, Lillian Dixon, James Ghosen, Fiona Hennig, Aleena Jafri and Joseph Nathanson — are all graduates of the historic Buffalo school that houses grades 5-12 and often shows up in rankings of the best public schools in the state and even the country.

Hennig graduated from City Honors in 2012 and Dixon in 2015, while the others graduated in 2014. All six were enrolled in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program, a program that prepares students in high school for the rigors of college.

“City Honors is one of our stronger inner city schools, so it’s not a surprise that they are preparing students that eventually end up in medical school,” says Dori R. Marshall, MD, associate dean and director of admissions. “Our hope is that we can help foster relationships with other high schools through our pipeline programs so the other Buffalo public schools also see that success with students.”

The Jacobs School does not break out official statistics for the high schools their medical classes attended. However, James J. Rosso, admissions adviser in the Office of Medical Admissions, says that in the last 25 years there have not been that many graduates of one high school in a medical class at the Jacobs School.

Positive Impression of Faculty, Surroundings

The six are adjusting well to medical school, and have been impressed with the faculty and staff and the new building that houses the medical school.

“The professors and the deans really care about you doing well, and really try to help us out if we’re struggling,” says Al-Jabi-Lopez, who earned bachelor’s degrees in behavioral biology and Spanish in 2018 from Johns Hopkins University.

“The facilities are also very impressive,” adds Al-Jabi-Lopez, who plans to work in a clinical setting after residency and is also interested in academic medicine.

Future Surgeon Appreciative of Family, School

After graduating from Cornell University with a bachelor’s degree in biology in 2016, Hennig moved to Oakland, California, and spent three years working and enjoying some time off before applying to medical school.

“Therefore, all my fellow Centaurs (the school’s mascot) were two or three grades below me in high school,” Hennig says. “We knew of each other, but now being in the same medical school class I have gotten to know each of them a little bit more.”

“I think it is no surprise that City Honors graduates excel in whatever they choose to pursue,” Hennig adds. “I personally am very fortunate to have had many resources throughout my high school and undergraduate career, including a loving, supportive family.”

The Jacobs School is also given high marks.

“I really like the environment that the deans and faculty have created. I feel lucky to be in this high-tech facility,” says Hennig, who has been especially impressed with the anatomy lab, which is not uncommon for current and prospective students.

“Every week, on the tours, we hear students say it’s the best anatomy lab they’ve ever seen — and it is,” says Marshall, who is also associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry. “I’ve heard people who’ve toured anatomy labs in the whole country who say this is the most beautiful anatomy lab. It’s bright, it’s clean, it’s new. The rooms are equipped with the newest technologies to enhance their education.”

After medical school, Hennig hopes to pursue a surgical residency.

“My goal is to become a surgeon specializing in gender affirming surgeries for the LGBTQ+ community,” Hennig says. “I hope to make an impact on the future of medical education and curriculum and bring more awareness to LGBTQ+ health care wherever I end up.”

Supportive Atmosphere Beneficial to Students

Dixon, who earned bachelor’s degrees in molecular genetics and psychology in 2019 from SUNY Fredonia, also finds the Jacobs School a nice fit.

“The environment here is supportive and a lot more relaxed than other medical schools that I’ve seen,” Dixon says. “It’s more focused on our health and happiness.”

Longtime Friends Making Mark in Hometown

Ghosen and Nathanson have been good friends since they arrived at City Honors in fifth grade.

“More than anything, City Honors prepares its students for the rigors of undergraduate life, and this in turn enables us to pursue competitive fields of study,” Ghosen says. “Many of the premedical students I met in college had never been exposed to such a large and difficult workload, and coming from City Honors, the transition wasn’t as difficult.”

Ghosen, who earned a bachelor’s degree in biology in 2018 from SUNY Geneseo, enjoys the collaborative atmosphere at the Jacobs School.

“The workload is definitely an adjustment from undergrad, but everybody in the class has been really great,” Ghosen says. “It’s not cutthroat — everybody kind of works together — and that helps.”

And he can think of nothing better than staying in his hometown after he gets his degree and completes his residency.

“I definitely plan to practice in the Buffalo area, and could one day see myself teaching medical students from the Jacobs School,” Ghosen says.

That’s music to Marshall’s ears.

“Whether they do their residency here or somewhere else, our hope is that they will come back here and make this their home because there is a physician shortage here,” Marshall says. “We need our graduates to stay here and work.”

Nathanson, who earned bachelor’s degrees in biological sciences and psychology in 2018 from UB, appreciates the solid academic foundation that has prepared him for medical school.

“I think that City Honors is second to none when it comes to preparing their students for furthering their education in an advanced setting,” says Nathanson, who hopes to one day run his own medical practice. “I was lucky enough to already know how to study before getting to college, and have carried some of those same techniques that I used in high school all the way to medical school.”

Taking Advantage of Available Opportunities

Jafri, who earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Cornell University in 2018, also likes being back in her hometown.

“I chose the Jacobs School because of family and friends living in the city, because Buffalo is home, and also because this school offers a truly high quality medical education with programs and opportunities in areas that are of interest to me,” Jafri says. “The tremendous development of the surrounding medical complex and the many hospitals affiliated with the university was also a big plus.”

“They are continually making adjustments to the curriculum to improve the quality of our education and to cultivate a good environment that doesn’t lead to burnout,” Jafri adds.

William Kresse, principal at City Honors, says there has been an upswing of students from the school headed into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields over the past decade and indicated that City Honors has also expanded its intensive four-year science research program at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

“We are excited that so many of our alums are making their way to the Jacobs School,” Kresse says with pride.