Celebrating the Class of 2021
If the college experience isn’t already memorable enough, none of the hundreds of Jefferson students will ever forget graduating during the pandemic. Seven members of the Class of 2021 reflect on their many accomplishments at the University and look ahead, full of hope for the future.
Amirah Hutchinson, BS in Fashion Merchandising and Management
It seems like yesterday that soon-to-be-graduating fashion merchandising and management student Amirah Hutchinson began her Jefferson journey.
“Now, I’m just about to walk across the stage with my degree,” she says. “So many emotions, but I’m grateful and happy that I could finish out my four years strong.”
Tragedy almost sidetracked Hutchinson. Her father unexpectedly passed away from a massive heart attack on Christmas Day 2019.
“I never experienced a loss like that,” she says, her voice wavering. “My dad was my best friend. Coming back into spring semester 2020, I didn’t know how I was going to make it through and remain focused. The hurt never changes, but I’ve found ways to manage it and take care of what I needed to do. I know that’s what he wanted me to do in the end.”
Support from faculty members, especially Nioka Wyatt, Juliana Guglielmi and Camille Avent, helped her to overcome the initial grief, she says. These “core three” provided valuable guidance and opportunities at Jefferson as well.
“I call them my school moms,” says the Lawrenceville, N.J., native specializing in buying and merchandising and minoring in graphic design. “They’ve gotten me through a lot.”
Along with participating in the study away program in Paris and the New York immersion program, Hutchinson worked at New York, Philadelphia and Capitol City Fashion Weeks. At these high-profile events, she assisted fashion leaders like Grayling Purnell, David L. Turner and Anthony Williams.
These types of experiences—plus skills learned in the classroom and some hard work and hustle—landed her an internship at Gucci in the King of Prussia Mall late last year. Hutchinson instantly impressed the managers, and they offered her a full-time position as a client advisor in March.
“Since I was 8 years old, I knew fashion would be my career path, and it has always been my dream to be in the luxury field,” says Hutchinson, who hit over $150,000 in sales in her first month on the job. “It’s going really, really well. I’m so excited to see what else the future has in store for me.”
Alexandra Leto, Sidney Kimmel Medical College
Coming into her fourth year of medical school, Alexandra Leto remained unsure about what area she wanted to specialize in for residency. That changed after her work as director of the Jefferson COVID-19 Student Volunteer Initiative, which inspired her to choose internal medicine.
“With internal medicine, there’s such a big emphasis on giving back to the community,” says Leto, who matched at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
As part of this multifaceted volunteer initiative, she manned the buzzing phones during the initial COVID-19 surge. Leto and other students helped virtually triage patients and assist them in transitioning office visits to telemedicine, provided current COVID-related info to the public, and staffed the Jefferson employee hotline.
Her volunteer efforts evolved during the pandemic where she worked with nursing and medical students on other facets of COVID-19 relief, including vaccine administration. Leto calls it an honor to vaccinate some of the first ICU nurses this past January.
“It has been such an incredible experience,” she says. “I’m ready to start a new adventure.”
Ahmed Meselhy, MS in Sustainable Design
Improving life for his community became the focal point for much of Ahmed Meselhy’s time at the University. The sustainable design student worked on a project to plant more trees in the area and fight climate change; organized a United Nations Association panel on happiness and well-being in cities; and spent months developing a sustainable air conditioner that uses 72% less energy than traditional models. He presented his prototype to Jefferson’s Innovation team, and they helped him file a provisional patent for the invention.
In addition, the professor from Egypt and frequent traveler regularly worked with the Office of Global Education and Initiatives to help Jefferson students from around the world get settled and feel more comfortable in Philly.
It’s bittersweet that his time at Jefferson nears an end, admits Meselhy, winner of the University’s Excellence in Sustainable Design Award. However, he looks forward to bringing back the knowledge and experience gained to his students in Egypt.
“I’m sad that I’m graduating, but we have to graduate at some point,” he says with a laugh.
“I think we’re better critical thinkers and better at adapting to change now,” she says. “Employers will see that.”
Loyer always believed she would enter health care, but after watching her sister and father pass away, she knew she wanted to focus on palliative and hospice care nursing. “It felt right to me,” she shares.
At the University, Loyer served as president of the Jefferson Nursing Student Government Association. In this role, she partnered with Philabundance for a food drive and spoke at the opening of the Dixon Campus of the Jefferson College of Nursing.
Loyer says she will look back fondly at her time at the University, especially the tight connections she made with her classmates and the nonstop support she received from professors.
“Our whole cohort would like to thank the nursing faculty,” Loyer says. “They were amazing mentors to all of us, and they made sure we got through everything with the pandemic.”
Daniel McCarty, BS in Leadership in Emergency Services
When Daniel McCarty started at the University in fall 2017, he held the rank of paramedic in the Philadelphia Fire Department. The University’s Leadership in Emergency Services program gave him the confidence to earn the promotion of lieutenant in just a few years.
“It may sound cliché or corny to some, but my experience at Jefferson was life-changing,” McCarty says. “I was blown away, semester after semester, gaining new knowledge. In each class, I felt more like a sponge, just absorbing new skills to utilize either at work or in my everyday life.”
Learning from industry professionals in emergency management preparedness and law enforcement proved to be particularly beneficial, he says.
“That expanded my horizons and allowed me to see a 360-degree view—not just of my profession but how intricate other parts play into it,” says McCarty, who got married and had two children while at Jefferson.
Justin Merced, MS in Biopharmaceutical Process Engineering
After serving in Iraq and Afghanistan as a combat medic and infantryman, Justin Merced returned to civilian life and discovered a love for biology while attending community college in Massachusetts.
The Army veteran went on to earn his undergraduate degree in biological sciences from Rutgers. After working in the industry for several years, he enrolled in Jefferson’s biopharmaceutical process engineering program at the Jefferson Institute for Bioprocessing (JIB).
“I’m drawn to complex things,” explains Merced, the first person from his family to graduate from high school and college. “I could be in the field for 50 years and still learn new things.”
The father of two excelled at the specialized education and training institute for biopharmaceutical processing, and JIB leaders recently offered him a position as an associate scientist.
“I jumped right in,” says Merced, noting he’s excited to be on the front lines of drug development for decades to come. “One idea could branch off into so many directions.”
Bendriel Oniyama, BS in Law and Society
Bendriel Oniyama’s degree isn’t just for her. The law and society student says she owes much to her family, who pushed and inspired her during the pandemic.
“My education is my parents’ education,” Oniyama says.
As a senior, she founded Jefferson’s Law and Society Honor Society, a group that jumped off to a quick start during its inaugural year. Members collected essentials for Philadelphia’s unhoused population, raised money to help fund LSAT courses for peers and organized several roundtables, including one with U.S. Rep Madeleine Dean.
Oniyama, who emigrated from Liberia with her family as a child, is currently applying to be a Fulbright Scholar. She hopes to go to Ghana and study how local customs inform the country’s government.
For other post-grad plans, Oniyama is debating between law school or a foreign service position in the State Department. She’s leaning toward the latter, but she doesn’t want to rush into the next career step.
“I’m a transfer student, so I know you don’t have to have it all figured out right away,” she says. “I’ve learned to be flexible, patient and understanding with myself. I just wake up every day and try to do my best.”