B.S. in Cellular & Molecular Biology
When you first meet Drew Falkowitz, you can’t help but appreciate his passion and excitement for science. Like many of his classmates, Falkowitz hopes to use the knowledge he’s gaining today to make a big impact on the world tomorrow. And while his determination and tenacity represent exactly what it means to be a Bull, he’s also in a league of his own. At just 16-years-old, Falkowitz is the youngest person to ever graduate from USF. Growing up, the Tampa native says his parents always knew he was a little different than his friends. At 9-years-old, he started high school through the Florida Virtual School. By 14, he was taking dual-enrollment courses at USF. Now, he’s graduating with a bachelor’s degree in cellular and molecular biology. As part of his coursework, Falkowitz has conducted research at the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute. He says that while people are always surprised by his age, he always received respect and support from the USF community. After graduation, Falkowitz will continue his education at USF – working toward a master’s degree in cellular and molecular biology. Beyond that, he plans to pursue a PhD/MD.
B.A. in Political Science
Taylar-Simone McCants always knew she wanted to be a USF Bull. Growing up in the small town of Haines City, Florida, she knew at a very young age that she wanted to join the big city life. After testing the waters at another Florida university her freshman year, the political science major made the choice to transfer to USF. She says it was the best decision she’s ever made. McCants became hyper-involved at USF. She was a senator in the Residence Hall Association, a 2018 orientation leader, attorney general for USF Student Government and apart of the Dean’s Student Leadership Society for the College of Arts and Sciences, among many others. She says each were experiences that helped shape who she’s become. Now, McCants is preparing to take her next turn – this time toward Dallas, Texas where she will attend law school at Southern Methodist University.
B.S. in Biomedical Sciences
Ben Ward’s life was turned upside down this past year. In August, just as Ward was about to begin his senior year, the biomedical sciences major learned his mother had cancer. She was diagnosed with stage 4 glioblastoma, one of the most aggressive forms of brain cancer. Days later, doctors removed the tumor from her brain and began intensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments. For Ward, trying to focus on school while driving back and forth to Orlando to be with his mom became too much to handle. He considered dropping out and says he likely would have if it wasn’t for his mom’s constant encouragement. She had always been the center of his support system, he says, and even in her toughest times, she still gave him strength and inspired him to push on. Ward will walk across the commencement stage this semester. His mom, who is still fighting her cancer, watching from the stands. He plans to attend medical school in the future and hopes to specialize in neuro-oncology – an area of medicine that’s become a big part of his life.
B.S. in Physics
It’s been more than 20 years since Stephanie Bauman first enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves. Her military service has taken her all over the world – from the Horn of Africa in 2003, to Afghanistan in 2011. As a Blackhawk helicopter pilot during Operation Enduring Freedom, Bauman was part of a medical evacuation company, flying in and out of active war zones to render aid her fellow soldiers. The same curiosity and determination that led her to the military, also helped guide her to becoming a Bull. While pursuing her degree in physics, Bauman has received several prestigious national awards. In 2018, she was named a Tillman Scholar, an honor that recognizes individuals for their military service, leadership and academic excellence. Bauman plans to pursue a PhD in Civil Engineering. Incredibly accomplished in both her military service and academic endeavors, Bauman represents exactly what it means to be a Bull.
Doctor of Medicine
At four-years-old, Gilbert Murimwa moved with his family to the United States from their native Zimbabwe. Like many immigrant families, Murimwa’s parents wanted to give their children a better life with more opportunities to learn and grow. It was an intention that Murimwa never took for granted – and one that propelled him to accomplish so much. Graduating with his Doctor of Medicine degree, Murimwa has sought countless opportunities while at USF. He’s been a member of the Scholarly Excellence, Leadership Experiences, Collaborative Training (SELECT) MD program, which prepares students to be physician leaders who can accelerate change in healthcare. He’s served as the Morsani College of Medicine Student Council President and has volunteered with Discover Healthcare, a student-run group that promotes health literacy and careers in healthcare. An active researcher, USF Health’s partnerships have given Murimwa the chance to study esophageal cancer – a field he now plans to further pursue as a surgical oncologist. Later this summer, Murimwa will begin a seven-year residency and research program at the University of Texas, Southwestern Medical Center.
PhD in Integrative Biology | Concentration in Biology Education
When Kelli Carter thinks back to her life more than 30 years ago, the idea of one day completing a PhD program is almost unimaginable. Carter dropped out of high school in the 10th grade and had no interest in pursuing an education. However, although she says she made some questionable decisions as a teen, those same choices helped lead her down the path she is on today. Graduating with a PhD in Integrative Biology, Carter is USF’s first doctoral graduate with a concentration in biology education. The focus is part of a recent STEM education initiative designed to improve the way STEM fields are taught at the undergraduate level. It was the perfect field of study for Carter, an associate professor of biology at Pasco Hernando State College. Now, Carter says she plans to bring her research full circle, bringing it back to her classroom with the hope that it can help make a positive impact on her students. It’s a story that reminds us that it doesn’t always matter where you came from; it matters where you’re going.
B.A. in Philosophy | B.S. in Biomedical Sciences
When Nader Tabsh decided to pursue his undergraduate education in the United States, the Dubai native knew he needed to find a university where he could thrive. Growing up in a conservative country, Tabsh was forced to hide his identity as a queer man. At USF, he says he’s been free to embrace his authentic self – a transformation that has helped him flourish. Collecting two degrees in biomedical sciences and philosophy, as well as a minor in biomedical physics, Tabsh says he was drawn to USF for its focus on interdisciplinary learning and the biopsychosocial model of health. As the inaugural intern with the Tampa Museum of Art’s Connections program, he’s been able to bring together his passions for medicine, people and art – working to strengthen a program that provides a free mental healthcare community for those dealing with diverse medical conditions. Along with his work and award-winning arts-in-health research at Connections, Tabsh has also served as president of USF’s LGBT+ Pre-Health Alliance, traveled across the Dominican Republic aiding in social and medical service, conducted Alzheimer’s research at the USF Health Byrd Institute, and cardiovascular psychophysiology research at USF Psychology. He plans to begin medical school in the fall and hopes to remain a part of the Bull community for years to come.
B.S. in Biomedical Sciences
Kayla Rykiel spent her undergraduate years at USF paving her own path toward becoming a doctor. She says she wants to change what it means to be a ‘pre-med’ student by focusing not just on her grades, resume and medical school applications, but on making an impact on communities in need. After she graduates, the biomedical sciences major is taking a gap-year to live and work in rural Alabama as part of a community health fellowship. The competitive program, offered by Project Horseshoe Farm, gives students the chance to help shape community health and contribute to a model for communities across the country. While at USF, Rykiel worked on similar efforts in Tampa Bay. She’s the founder and president of Partners in Health Engage, a USF student organization working to improve access to health care in low-income communities. She’s served as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) ambassador at Tampa’s Sweetwater Farms and has researched food insecurity among teens in Pinellas County. Rykiel has also worked as the director of the TEDxUSF Program and was the student representative on the USF Consolidation Task Force, a role she says she was honored to hold. After completing her fellowship, Rykiel plans to continue on to medical school and keep working to improve the lives of those in need.
B.A. in Global Business | B.S. in Integrated Public Relations & Advertising
Anaely Guerrero’s time at USF has been filled with both success and struggle. While in college Guerrero’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. Soon after, her father was deported. While these experiences challenged her resolve and determination, Guerrero also used them to fuel her focus. She has been extremely active both on and off campus, volunteering in a variety of roles while pursuing two undergraduate degrees. Her commitment to volunteerism has earned her the President’s Volunteer Service Award, the Advertising Endowed Scholarship and the prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. These honors have enabled Guerrero to study abroad in Prague, Czech Republic and provided the support needed to complete degrees in global business and integrated public relations & advertising. Having seen the immense benefits of her efforts, Guerrero went on to start Bulls United Power, an organization focused on providing students with volunteerism opportunities that will enhance their involvement in the community and the world. It’s how she hopes to leave a lasting legacy at USF.
B.S. in Information Systems Management
Yoiri Porrata has overcome many obstacles on his journey to earn a degree. Porrata dropped out of college in order to leave his native Cuba and lost his job and house during the 2008 financial crisis. Then he was denied financial aid when he returned to college 15 years later in the U.S. and struggled to make ends meet while being pushed to the edge of quitting. Now Porrata is earning a degree in Information Systems Management from USF St. Petersburg. What makes it even sweeter is that through his perseverance and support from the USFSP community, he is on his way toward fulfilling a promise and earning his degree at the same time – in fact, the very same month - his son will receive his high school diploma.
M.S. in Marine Science
Makenzie Burrows has always had a love for the ocean. As a middle schooler, she participated in USF’s Oceanography Camp for Girls, a program she says opened her eyes and mind to the microscopic world. As a college student, Burrows continued pursuing her passion for science. She completed her bachelor’s degree at USF St. Pete and went on to a master’s program at the College of Marine Science. She’s conducted genetic research of fish eggs in the Gulf of Mexico and has been able to mentor other local undergraduate students. Burrows has also worked as an instructor in the same camp she participated in as a child – passing on her love of science and oceanography to future researchers. While she’s graduating from USF for the second time, Burrows isn’t leaving the community she’s come to love and will remain a Bull in her new position as lab manager and outreach coordinator in the College of Marine Science.
B.A. in Marketing
Born in an industrial town on the Rhine River in southwestern Germany, Lukas Oest dreamed of coming to the United States to escape poverty and seek a better life. At 16, he turned that dream into reality when he was admitted to a youth exchange program. Placed with a family in Sarasota, Oest focused intently on his studies and endeared himself to members of a local church, who urged him to return the following year to complete his education. The expression, “it takes a village,” proved correct in Oest’s case as church members rallied to contribute toward his college tuition. The fact that he achieved high marks also helped him earn much-needed scholarships. Now, Oest is ready to take the next step. Not only is he first in his family to graduate from college, but he does so as this year’s Outstanding Graduate Award recipient at USFSM.
B.S. in Biomedical Sciences
As a child, Melissa Gonzalez suffered from a severe spinal deformity and scoliosis.The curvature of her spine became so extreme that major reconstructive spinal surgery was needed to prevent further damage to her body. Doctors said they weren’t sure she would ever fully recover, but the lifelong champion dancer was determined to not let her misfortune define her. After months of recovery, Melissa went back to the dance studio with a renewed passion for the art. She continued dancing competitively and began working closely with various scoliosis-support organizations to help others overcome their diagnoses. She also volunteered hundreds-of-hours at local hospitals, work that earned her the President’s Gold Volunteer Service Award. A Tampa-native, Gonzalez says her time at USF has been transformative. She has served as captain of USF’s dance team, the SunDolls, held leadership positions on several honor society boards, and participated in a variety of academic research focusing on neurological conditions, orthopedic surgery and gastric cancers. Gonzalez graduates Magna Cum Laude from the Honors College and plans to attend medical school in the future. She is the recipient of USF’s highest honor, The Golden Bull Award. She says she would like to pursue pediatric orthopedic surgery to be able to help children dealing with the same struggles she dealt with as a child.