Celebrating the Class of 2023

New graduates look back at their education and share what lies ahead.

After countless classes, exams, projects, rotations and late nights, the Class of 2023 soon will step onto the Commencement stage and join the vast Jefferson alumni community. Nine soon-to-be grads from across the University reflect on what made their time here special and how they will change the world.

Beatrice Barjon, BS in Law and Society
As a student, Beatrice Barjon became a teaching fellow for 1791 Delegates, a First Amendment education firm. (Photos by ©Thomas Jefferson University Photography Services)

Beatrice Barjon, BS in Law and Society
Beatrice Barjon isn’t from Philly, but she made Jefferson her home for the past four years.

“It will be really hard to walk away,” says the Tampa, Fla., native.

These feelings largely come from the intimate setting of many law and society courses, especially in the First Amendment seminar taught by program director Evan Laine.

“We all sat in a circle just discussing the state of the law regarding the First Amendment and how that affects America and the world,” Barjon says. “It’s like talking to family and feels like that Thanksgiving dinner table politics discussion.”

As a student, she became a teaching fellow for 1791 Delegates, a First Amendment education firm. Barjon developed online courses for the non-profit using skills she learned at Jefferson.

Before applying to law school, Barjon is taking a year off and will intern with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.

“Jefferson helped me grow into a full person and made me feel encouraged and supported,” she says. “The world is my oyster.”

Ivy Castelgrande, MS in Organizational Leadership
Ivy Castelgrande wanted a graduate degree to complement her background without pigeonholing her.

Ivy Castelgrande, MS in Organizational Leadership
When Ivy Castelgrande graduated from Jefferson (then Philadelphia University) in 2007, she felt certain her formal education had ended. She bounced around jobs, from the film industry to restaurant and retail management and “embarked on what would become a long journey toward finding my place in the world.”

However, through all Castelgrande’s professional endeavors, she found one constant: She felt the most satisfaction when teaching, training or developing herself and fellow employees.

“I wanted a graduate degree that would complement my background without pigeonholing me,” Castelgrande shares.

A few months after enrolling in Jefferson’s MS in organizational leadership (MSOL) program she began working at Gusto, a software as a service company for payroll and benefits for small businesses. Here, Castelgrande manages a customer engagement department team.

The courses helped her learn more about her leadership style and allowed her to grow and become more flexible and agile to lead her team. Now living in Lakewood, Colo., Castelgrande says having this degree should help her move up in management and, eventually, into executive leadership.

“To anyone considering going back to school,” urges the MSOL Outstanding Student Award winner, “there’s no time like the present.”

Assim De Gabriel, BS in Fashion Design
Assim De Gabriel says the Red Dress Project provided valuable experience in designing high-end garments.

Assim De Gabriel, BS in Fashion Design
Since age 6 or 7, Assim De Gabriel has had a passion for fashion.

“It’s how I express myself as an artist,” says De Gabriel, who plans to work in product development or apparel design production. “I always wanted to be part of the fashion design world.”

Among his favorite times at Jefferson, De Gabriel sites the Red Dress Project, where he gained valuable experience designing high-end garments and improved his problem-solving skills. He also says working on his senior class collection, with the support of faculty, gave him the confidence to succeed in the real world.

“My senior collection defines me as a fashion designer,” he says. “I hope people analyze and appreciate the work that went into it.”

Tara Elmeaze, BS in Nursing
Tara Elmeaze hopes to work in labor and delivery and will likely return to school for her MSN or DNP.

Tara Elmeaze, BS in Nursing
As a mother of four, Tara Elmeaze says the qualities of nursing come naturally to her. “It just made sense for me to go back to school for it,” she says.

That’s not to say she didn’t have any initial jitters.

“Getting off the train the first day and walking onto campus was probably the most terrifying and exciting moment of my life apart from getting married and having children,” Elmeaze says. “I got teary-eyed.”

She quickly fell into a rhythm, though, and became actively involved in the Student Nurses’ Association of Pennsylvania and regularly met with Dean Dr. Marie Marino to provide feedback on behalf of Jefferson nursing students. A member of the Sigma Theta Tau nursing honor society, Elmeaze also Zoomed with high school students to discuss nursing as a career path.

After taking her nursing boards, Elmeaze hopes to work in labor and delivery and will likely return to school next year for her MSN or DNP. Wherever her new career takes her, she knows Jefferson always will be part of her. “I’ve made life-long friends here,” Elmeaze says.

Wynter Henry, BS in Biology
Black Student Union President Wynter Henry will attend Columbia for epidemiology this fall.

Wynter Henry, BS in Biology
Wynter Henry made the most of her four years at Jefferson. She served as president of the Black Student Union and Jefferson Biology Society, traveled to Guatemala to provide care as part of the Global Medical Brigade, and interned with the maternal, child and family health division of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.

Henry also participated in faculty-led research projects, including one on reducing cancer cell viability with gingerol derivatives and another on integrating bioinformatics classes into the undergraduate curriculum.

“It’s bittersweet to be graduating,” she says. “I’ll miss my peers, and I’ve enjoyed my classes and appreciate all the advice from faculty, especially my adviser, Dr. Jeffrey Klemens.”

Henry will attend Columbia University in the fall for her MS in epidemiology, a field that combines all her interests, including microbiology and immunology. She hopes to be on the front lines of stopping the next pandemic.

“I’m looking forward to focusing research on emerging infectious diseases,” she says.

Najia Javaid, MS in Interior Architecture
“I love designing and connecting with people from the industry,” Najia Javaid says.

Najia Javaid, MS in Interior Architecture
In Pakistan, Najia Javaid attended one of the country’s oldest and most-respected schools for architecture, the National College of Arts. After earning her undergraduate degree in 2009, she worked for an architecture firm, hosted a TV show on sustainable architecture and started a clothing brand.

Javaid got married and moved to the United States in 2013. Following some time off from her career to raise her two young boys, she (somewhat anxiously) returned to school for her MS in interior architecture.

“During the first semester, I was like, ‘OK, I can still do this,’” Javaid says. “I always felt supported by the faculty.”

The coursework expanded her knowledge of spatial design, the human experience, sustainable design, lighting design, construction, building codes and more, she says. “I’m a big fan of spatial design, how ergonomics work, and how to bring your plans to life by adding color, materials, textures and lighting—that’s where my strengths are.”

She recently received honorable mention in the Illuminating Engineering Society’s Design With Light competition (and won the Illuminating Engineering Society Philadelphia Scholarship), presented a paper at the Public Interiority Symposium, and earned Jefferson’s MS in Interior Architecture Award for Academic Excellence.

Javaid is still weighing her post-Jefferson plans, likely between teaching or working in commercial design, perhaps hospitality. Regardless of what path she chooses, Javaid says she knows she made the right decision to return to school.

“I love designing and connecting with people from the industry,” Javaid says.

Logan Lawson, Master of Public Health
Food insecurity is of particular interest to Logan Lawson, a topic she has researched for years.

Logan Lawson, Master of Public Health
Before Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) student Logan Lawson begins her residency, she wanted to explore public health and work with people who care about the field as much as she does. The two institutions have a partnership that allows DO students to receive an MPH degree from Jefferson while completing their coursework at PCOM.

“On the day-to-day in clinical rotations, there’s such a high acuity,” she explains. “You have to address someone’s short-term goals, but public health goes beyond that. Why do they keep presenting to the hospital? Why are they having barriers to accessing their medication or food that would help their diagnosis? I want to really understand what’s going on at a systemic level.”

Food insecurity is of particular interest to Lawson, a topic she has researched for years. As an undergraduate, she taught high school science for Teach for America and saw firsthand how food insecurity would contribute to her students’ lack of engagement. Lawson also believes more colleges should offer resources to students, like Jefferson’s Ramily Market.

With Commencement almost here, Lawson thanks program director Dr. Rosie Frasso for being a constant source of inspiration and motivation during her time at the University.

“She’s a mentor, teacher and more. Her energy is contagious,” says Lawson, who soon will begin her residency at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health for family medicine. “I’m happy to start this journey. As a specialty, family medicine values public health, and as a primary care provider, I will use my degree to reimagine how to deliver health care.”

Kathryn Martin, Innovation MBA With Taxation and Accounting Concentrations
Kathryn Martin now works at Ernst and Young’s tax accounting department in Boston.

Kathryn Martin, Innovation MBA With Taxation and Accounting Concentrations
After earning her BS in finance from Jefferson, Kathryn Martin didn’t hesitate to continue her education at the University. She’s now at Ernst and Young’s tax accounting department in Boston. On the diversified staff group, Martin does “a little bit of everything,” but she focuses on compliance with real estate companies.

“I’m consistently learning something new, from legislation to tweaks for certain calculations of tax forms,” says Martin, thanking her Jefferson professors for helping her transition to the real world. “Many are working professionals at major accounting firms. Having that knowledge in a classroom setting, I felt prepared to leave Jefferson and head right into the workforce.”

Among her many University highlights was a 10-day study away trip to Madrid as part of her international business innovation course. In Spain, she immersed herself in the subject and gained more insight from faculty.

“I love how caring the staff and professors are and how willing they are to give to their students,” she says.

Evan Schwarzmann, BS in Biochemistry
Evan Schwarzmann had two peer-reviewed studies published, an impressive feat for an undergraduate.

Evan Schwarzmann, BS in Biochemistry
Everything in life, says Evan Schwarzmann, can relate back to chemistry.

“And I love finding the little connections between everything,” he says.

An active researcher and member of the chemical sciences fraternity Alpha Chi Sigma, Schwarzmann had two peer-reviewed studies published, an impressive feat for an undergraduate. Being a research assistant provided him with extra lab time for data collection and analysis for the papers.

Schwarzmann also presented a poster at the American Chemical Society National Conference in Indianapolis. The work examined total antioxidant capacity in spent coffee extracts, comparing French press brew, 24-hour cold brew and espresso.

He wants to work in academia, teaching chemistry, but before Schwarzmann gets there, he plans to earn his graduate degree and explore the chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturing fields.

Schwarzmann, captain of Jefferson’s ultimate frisbee team and a teaching assistant, says his time at the University gave him the tools needed for the next career step.

“It allowed me to hone my skills to be adept in a variety of applications,” he says.

Visit here for more info on Commencement, including ceremony dates and times.

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