Ready for the next chapter, over 920 undergraduates join the University family.
Deema Alhamada has always wanted to be a brain surgeon. Even as a child in Baghdad, she dreamed of using her skills to help others. However, Alhamada’s mother, Summer, knew her four kids couldn’t safely stay and thrive in the war-torn country after their father died. They all fled Iraq for a better life in 2016, settling in Philadelphia.
Alhamada’s love of medicine and science grew at Lincoln High School. Her English teacher spent hours helping her learn the language and fine-tune her college essays. One application landed at Jefferson after Alhamada toured the campus and she saw the sense of community around her. “Jefferson felt like where I belong,” Alhamada says.
The visit reminded her of an inspirational trip to her mom’s college before they left Iraq. Here, Summer—a constant source of support and motivation—pushed Alhamada to continue her education after high school despite the obstacles ahead.
Driven by her lifelong goal and fueled by her mom’s words, the biology student plans to attend medical school after graduation.
“I want to get familiar with some big words first,” Alhamada says with a laugh. “I’m excited to start a new journey.”
She’s one of the 920-plus undergraduates recently recognized at Convocation at East Falls Campus. The Class of 2027 (and 2028 and 2029 for five- and six-year programs) hails from 28 states and 16 countries outside the United States.
Before the Aug. 17 ceremony began, new students and their families marched down the “Welcome Walkway” to the claps and cheers of Jefferson staff, faculty and leadership, including Interim University President Dr. Susan Aldridge.
In her remarks in the Gallagher Center, Dr. Aldridge thanked loved ones for entrusting Jefferson with their students’ education and professional development and told students they’re entering the University at a special time.
“We will soon celebrate Jefferson’s 200th birthday and its two centuries of leadership in higher education and research,” she says. “That means that you, collectively, represent the vanguard of this University’s third century. And I can tell you that its future—like your own—is bright.”
Convocation showcased the Centennial Educator Award winners as well. In a Jefferson tradition, members of the incoming class nominated a remarkable high school educator who has impacted their academic lives.
Honorees included Vanessa Drago, Philadelphia’s Parkway West counselor, nominated by health sciences/pre-medical laboratory sciences and biotechnology pathway student Oumou Gamby; Courtney Werley, science teacher at Daniel Boone High School in Birdsboro, Pa., nominated by health sciences/pre-pharmacy pathway student Thavie Inthaphone; and Alhamada’s English teacher, Jennifer Porcelli, who says she fully anticipates her former pupil being a neurosurgeon in about 15 years.
The ceremony also featured encouraging words from Student Government Association President Shannon Campbell and alumnus Drew Morrisroe, chair of the Jefferson Academic Affairs Committee.
“You have chosen a path full of promise, potential and excitement,” Morrisroe says. “Embrace every challenge, cherish every time and remember, Jefferson—and this campus—is now your home.”
With her eyes on the future, new student Aleah Anderson plans to be an infectious disease physician. A childhood illness and emergency hospital trip showed her the power of medicine and quick-thinking physicians. She enrolled in the health sciences/pre-medical laboratory sciences and biotechnology pathway program to provide the career building blocks.
“I didn’t want to commit to one area of science, and this major combines everything I want to learn,” says Anderson, who also looks forward to gaining hands-on clinical experience.
Classmate Yamilette Santos also found inspiration for her career direction at an early age. While in the Dominican Republic for vacation, she saw her grandmother sew purses from old jeans.
“I could sit there and watch her for hours,” says the first-generation college student. “It was so intriguing.”
Santos started her own business at age 11—first creating doll clothes and by high school, designing dresses for special occasions. She made seven gowns for her senior prom, including her own. “Seeing them in person was such an amazing experience,” Santos says. “I couldn’t even believe it.”
Industrial design student Ella Petree shares a similar creative spirit with a deep interest in product design, mechanics and iteration.
She has postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome and chronic pain, which forced her to miss much time in high school. Fortunately, a service dog and mobility aids have improved her quality of life.
“Once I became disabled, I learned more about accessibility and how we need better representation for people with disabilities,” Petree says. “I’m interested in designing assistive devices to help people gain more independence.”
She knew Jefferson would be the best fit after learning about the industrial design program’s focus on solving real-world problems in transdisciplinary teams and partnering with industry on sprint projects.
Now that classes finally have arrived, Petree struggles to narrow down what she’s most excited about with starting this next chapter. “Everything,” she says.
See more scenes from move-in day and Convocation below. (Photos by ©Thomas Jefferson University Photography Services)