Under extraordinary circumstances, Jefferson graduates look back–and to the future.
At nearly 2,600 graduates strong, the Jefferson Class of 2020 never expected their final few months to be like this when they received their acceptance letters to attend the University.
However, the unprecedented circumstances caused by the pandemic and switch to remote learning in the spring semester won’t dull their achievements, stress members of the class.
“None of it changes what you accomplished,” says Brandon Smith, a mechanical engineering graduate. “It doesn’t affect what you did here.”
Master of public health grad Nichole Holmes agrees, saying that while she wishes world events would have allowed for a traditional Commencement, she’s still looking forward to the University’s upcoming virtual ceremony.
“I worked hard for my degree,” Holmes says. “I’m still being recognized.”
Read more about Smith, Holmes and other members of the Class of 2020 as they reflect on their time at Jefferson and look toward the future.
Alexis Romney, Business Management
Alexis Romney believes in the saying, “Sometimes you need to get lost to be found.” She started college in 2004 but felt the “weighty burden to forge my own educational path, make my own requirements and choose a defined future.”
She temporarily stepped away from a formal education, hoping time would help her find direction. After stops at a large corporation, accounting firm, local university and eventually settling into a career as a paralegal, she entered Jefferson’s accelerated BS degree completion program in fall 2017.
Romney graduated in business management with a 4.0 GPA and was accepted into five law schools. She will attend Temple University Beasley School of Law this August.
“Earning my degree at Jefferson has helped empower me to close the gap between who I am and who I want to be,” says Romney, who received the Outstanding Student Award from the School of Continuing and Professional Studies. “It has impacted my life by strengthening my existing skills and showing me new ones to pursue. Ironically, I thought getting my bachelor’s degree would finally bring an end to the unresolved questions of my education. But in fact, it has only transformed me into a person capable and willing to be a lifelong learner.”
Brandon Smith, Mechanical Engineering
Mechanical engineering graduate Brandon Smith will need to miss Jefferson’s virtual Commencement ceremony—for good reason. He just left for U.S. Army Officer Engineer School at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.
After completing his ROTC training, Smith now is a second lieutenant in the Army Reserves and will use the skills he learned at Jefferson in the Army Corps of Engineers.
“It’s constant problem solving,” he says of his love for engineering. “Every problem is different. You’re always thinking differently and approaching things uniquely.”
Smith excelled in the classroom and the baseball diamond at Jefferson. As a pitcher for the Rams, he made the CACC All-Academic Team three times.
“My best memories will be from my time with the baseball program,” he says. “Coming in as a freshman I didn’t know anybody, but having the baseball team immediately gave me 50 friends. They just took me in, and I had those brothers for four years and will have them for well beyond.”
Doaa Alswaid, Communication
One of Doaa Alswaid’s first jobs came at the Al-Hayat newspaper in Saudi Arabia. This early love of journalism inspired her to attend Jefferson and pursue a degree in communication.
“Studying in the United States will be a wonderful memory and offered me many opportunities that I might never have had in my country,” she says, recalling the black and white photography class as one of her favorites.
Alswaid has returned home and plans to pursue a career in photojournalism at a newspaper in Saudi Arabia.
“No matter what’s going in the world, you should be proud of yourself,” she says to fellow grads. “Because you’ve reached your target.”
Christine Bonaccorso, Doctor of Nursing Practice
As a nurse informaticist and administrative director of cancer services at Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, Dr. Christine Bonaccorso integrates clinical and support services, enhances patient experience and access, and manages aspects of the strategy and direction of the cancer service line.
She interacts across Jefferson’s continuum of care, working with primary and specialty practices to improve quality and outcomes for patients with cancer, and this work continued as a student in the University’s DNP program.
For Dr. Bonaccorso’s doctoral project, she surveyed primary care providers to establish their educational needs concerning ongoing follow-up care and screening for cancer survivors.
“As I read through the literature for cancer survivorship, I found that many of our thousands of cancer survivors are older patients with pre-existing comorbid conditions managed by primary care providers,” explains Dr. Bonaccorso, who was named a Jonas Scholar by the National League for Nursing. “Given that screening and surveillance guidelines change frequently, it’s important for our cancer program to provide the updated information as needed.
“A survey engages primary care providers and prevents us from making assumptions as to what their needs are,” she continues. “Any connectivity concerning transitions of care and ongoing care between primary care and the cancer center is beneficial for our patients and providers.”
Dorothy Fitzgerald, Architectural Studies
The past always is present for architectural studies graduate Dorothy Fitzgerald.
As an intern at the Athenaeum of Philadelphia, she examined archival materials associated with noted architect Thomas U. Walter. For her capstone, she used his account books, diary and architectural drawings to piece together a history of the now-demolished mansion he built for himself in Germantown. Fitzgerald presented her work at a public Zoom meeting in May.
“The project helped me to be more self-directed in my research and challenged me to find ways to triangulate information from a variety of sources in order to form a better understanding of the ‘life’ of Walter’s house,” she says. “But more than that, I gained a sense of independence and ownership of my scholastic and professional path.”
Fitzgerald will continue her journey at Jefferson this fall in the master in historic preservation program.
Nichole Holmes, Master of Public Health
Nichole Holmes laughs about not knowing what a p-value meant when she started the MPH leaders in public health transformation pathway. Now, she eagerly reads research papers front and back, digesting every word and nuance.
“I’m obsessed with research methods,” she says. “I try to get my hands on any type of qualitative research that I possibly can. For me, it’s how I understand public health even more.”
Holmes says she immediately fell in love with the MPH program after participating in the Signs of Humanity Project, a collaboration that explored the interactions between people using signs to ask for help and those who pass by.
“It was exactly what I needed,” she says. “I grew up in this city, and I now look at panhandling and homelessness differently. This project gave me a chance to speak with people on the streets and helped me to see them for who they really are, which are human beings.”
Holmes also joined Jefferson’s pipeline program, an initiative that introduces high school students to various healthcare professions, such as emergency medicine, pharmacy and lab sciences. “It’s my baby,” says Holmes, who hopes to continue working in public health at Jefferson. “I feel like I’m at home here.”
Jefferson’s virtual Commencement ceremonies will be Sunday, July 12, starting at 9 a.m. Visit here for the links to the video live streams, #JeffersonGrad2020 signs and more.
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