COMMENCEMENT REMARKS

Dear class of 2020 graduates,

I join with you today in celebrating and recognizing the successful completion of your academic studies, which has earned you a master’s degree!  The journey has been a remarkable one, and the scientific knowledge and training you have received during your graduate studies will undoubtedly open up new opportunities in your future career paths and empower you to benefit and enrich the lives of others. 

To earn a master’s degree in the demanding fields of the medical sciences requires commitment, years of hard work and great sacrifice. That is why I ask you to never forget, and please stay connected with, those who helped and supported you through this years-long effort: your family, friends, fellow students, and faculty.  I am proud to have you as a lifelong member of our Gator Family.  Congratulations on reaching this important milestone, and I wish you all the best in your future endeavors!

With respect and admiration,

Thomas Rowe signature

Thomas C. Rowe, Ph.D.
Associate Dean for Graduate Education

CLASS OF 2020

A message from the interim dean

Joseph A. Tyndall, M.D., shares a special message with the UF College of Medicine's new MS graduates.

Doctor Tyndall wearing a white U-F Health lab coat in front of a U-F Health backdrop Play Video

CLASS OF 2020

A message from the president and keynote speaker

UF President Kent Fuchs and pro athlete and Gator great Thaddeus Bullard (aka Titus O'Neil) share words of congratulations with graduates of the class of 2020.

President Fuchs wears graduation attire in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium Play Video

meet our ms graduates

Major: medical Sciences

Rubin Daniel Acosta

Concentration: Gerontology

Alligator head poking out of swamp water

Program director: Shinichi Someya​, PhD

Rubin is a first generation born in the United States. He is the first in his family to get a degree, and now through hard work and the support of his family, he has completed his master’s degree in Gerontology. He is grateful, humble, and appreciative of the support and encouragement he’s received from his family. Rubin’s degree will support his current career and academic goals. In 2008, he started as a certified occupational therapy assistant. He completed his bachelor’s degree in Health Administration in longterm care in 2017. He completed his licensure requirements with the Department of Health for nursing home administration in 2019. Now with the skills and knowledge he has developed through his new degree, he will set out to make a difference in the skilled nursing field. Today he joins his wife as a Gator and wants to thank the University of Florida, his professors, and his family.

MAJOR: MEDICAL SCIENCES

Richard Joseph (Joe) Dragone

Thesis: Effects of Aging on Risky Decision Making and Brain Functional Connectivity in a Rat Model

Joe Dragone headshot

Mentor: Barry Setlow, PhD

In Joe’s thesis work, he used a rat model to investigate how risky decision making changes at advanced age. He showed that, similar to aged humans, aged rats are more risk-averse than their young adult counterparts. He then used functional MRI to show that aged rats exhibit changes in connectivity between brain regions that regulate risky decision making. His results reveal potential brain mechanisms by which decision making changes over the lifespan.

MAJOR: MEDICAL SCIENCES

Alexis Morgan Fohn

Thesis: Melanocytes in the Leptomeningeal Region of the Fetal Sheep Cerebral Cortex

Alexis Fohn headshot

Mentor: Charles Wood, PhD

Alexis performed research in Dr. Wood’s laboratory aimed at better understanding the response of the late-gestation fetus to stress. She discovered the presence of melanocytes (pigment-producing cells) in the fetal brain. She discovered that exposure of the fetus to stress increased pigmentation in the fetal brain. While the role of the brain melanocyte is not known, Alexis established that it is a cell that is involved in the fetal stress response and may be an important part of the process by which the fetus readies for a normal and successful birth.

Major: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Eliot M. Gunn

Thesis: Zinc Finger Production, Purification, and Direct Delivery: Targeting an Oncogenic Super-Enhancer of TAL1 in Jurkat Cells

Eliot Gunn headshot

Mentor: Jorg Bungert, PhD

Eliot project focused on protein engineering and gene regulation, generating synthetic DNA-binding proteins that can be directly delivered to human cells. These proteins bind to and neutralize specific DNA-regulatory sequences in the genome. Eliot generated three different proteins that target a super-enhancer driving high-level expression of Tal1 in leukemia. Our collaborators at the University of Washington (St. Louis) have shown that expression of the synthetic DNA-binding protein reduced expression of Tal1 and decreased proliferation of leukemic cell lines. He generated two additional proteins, the first expressed the DNA-binding domain together with a repression domain that would confer long-term inhibition of Tal1 expression. The second expressed the DNA-binding domain together with a single chain antibody specific for the transferrin receptor, which is frequently expressed on the surface of leukemic cells. Eliot was able to show that the protein with the repression domain exhibited high affinity interactions with the regulatory DNA-sequence in the Tal1 super-enhancer.

MAJOR: MEDICAL SCIENCES

Emily A. Jacobs

Concentration: Gerontology

Alligator head poking out of swamp water

Program director: Shinichi Someya​, PhD

Emily Jacobs is originally from Long Island, New York where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Recreation Therapy in 2014 and became certified as a Therapeutic Recreation Specialist. Emily works as a Recreation Therapist for individuals living with various stages of dementia in a memory support community. Obtaining a master’s degree in Gerontology will greatly benefit her approaches to maximizing quality of life for those across the spectrum of dementia and related diseases.

MAJOR: MEDICAL SCIENCES

Kaitlyn Grace Laventure

Concentration: Forensic Medicine

Kaitlyn Laventure

Program director: Lerah Sutton, PhD

Kaitlyn Laventure knew from a very young age that she wanted to attend the University of Florida and be a Gator. She received her bachelor’s degree in Criminology from UF in 2018. From there, she decided to continue her education at UF and pursue a master’s degree in Forensic Medicine. After graduation in May 2020, she plans to obtain a job working in federal law enforcement, as law enforcement is something she has been passionate about since the beginning. She is enthusiastic about forensic medicine and hopes to utilize everything she’s learned throughout her master’s degree in her future career.

MAJOR: MEDICAL SCIENCES

Jessica Lewis

Concentration: Molecular Cell Biology | Thesis: The Role of USF1 in the Regulation of Lipogenesis and Breast Tumor Progression

Jessica Lewis headshot

Mentor: Daiqing Liao, PhD

Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer type and the second-leading cause of cancer-related mortality in American women. New treatments are urgently needed to improve survival for patients with breast cancer. Jessica Lewis’ thesis work highlights a potential oncogene that promotes breast tumor growth and disease progression. On the basis of this important work, scientists may one day develop effective therapies by targeting this oncogene to combat breast cancer. We are proud of Jessica’s dedication to this critical area of scientific research and celebrate her accomplishments. Jessica will continue her scientific research career in pharmacogenomics in Japan. We wish all the best for Jessica as she embarks on her new journey.

MAJOR: MEDICAL SCIENCES

Sharon Gail Montani

Concentration: Gerontology

Alligator head poking out of swamp water

Program director: Shinichi Someya​, PhD

Sharon is a social worker and a registered nurse with a master’s degree in nursing. She has worked with older adults in long-term care and long-term care regulatory settings for her entire career. She is currently a board certified advanced nurse executive, and board certified in gerontological and pain management nursing. Sharon is a Director of Nurses at the Texas Masonic Retirement Center in Arlington, Texas. She plans to continue in her current role.

major: medical sciences

Corey Michael Moran

Thesis: Overexpression of Plaque Associated Proteins Pleiotrophin and Midkine Alter Amyloid Beta Deposition in Alzheimer’s Disease Models

Corey Moran headshot

Mentor: Todd Golde, MD, PhD

The work Corey did reveals that two proteins (called midkine and pleiotrophin) that co-accumulate in the Alzheimer’s disease brain along with beta-amyloid, can regulate both the amount of amyloid deposition and its location in the brain. The deposition of beta-amyloid is thought to cause Alzheimer’s disease, so finding two proteins that regulate its deposition opens up new biology and also suggests that these proteins may be new therapeutic targets. As there is no approved therapy that slows down or prevents Alzheimer’s disease, these initial studies open up a whole new approach to thinking about the role of these and other beta-amyloid associated proteins, and possibly leveraging this insight into new therapeutic strategies.

major: medical sciences

Jordan Caroline Moretta

Concentration: Pharmacology | Thesis: Loss of Arl13b in Olfactory Sensory Neurons Leads to Age Related Olfactory Impairment

Jordan Moretta headshot

Mentor: Jeffrey Martens, PhD

Jordan Moretta is the first graduate of our department’s newly created master’s program in Pharmacology & Therapeutics. Jordan is an extremely talented young scientist whose work has focused on understanding the mechanisms of how the olfactory system is maintained and eventually lost with age. She has identified an important protein in cilia of olfactory sensory neurons that, when lost, leads to early aging of the olfactory system and results in loss of smell. Her work will result in multiple publications and form the foundation of new grant proposals from our laboratory. Following graduation, Jordan will be entering medical school.

Major: Medical sciences

Tameishia Latrice Olden

Concentration: Forensic medicine

Tameishia Olden headshot

Program director: Lerah Sutton, PhD

Tameishia Olden is from Texas and has 12 years of experience in criminal justice and social services. She has an AS in Natural Sciences and Mathematics with a concentration in Biology, AAS in Environmental, Safety and Security Technologies, BA in Social Science, BS in Business Administration with a concentration in Computer Information Systems, Master of Security Studies along with a graduate certificate in Terrorism and Counterinsurgency Studies, and now an MS in Medical Sciences with a concentration in Forensic Medicine from the University of Florida. Tameishia will continue to work on her dissertation for the Criminal Justice PhD program at Texas State University. Tameishia is currently a Revenue Officer with the Internal Revenue Service and hopes to secure a position with a federal agency in a public health role.