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Leaders Celebrating Leaders honors accomplishments, commitment of students

Each year, Penn State College of Medicine honors student leaders from the graduate, medical, nursing and physician assistant programs.

Because of COVID-19, however, in-person recognition for the 2020-2021 academic year was canceled. The offices of the Dean, Vice Dean for Educational Affairs, Vice Dean for Research and Graduate Studies and Nursing chose to virtually highlight student leaders for their hard work and accomplishments.

“The most important attribute of a leader is a sincere commitment to improving our world. All of these students are shining examples of that commitment,” said Dr. Kevin Black, interim dean of Penn State College of Medicine. “They’ve spoken out against injustice, cared for those who are often forgotten, advocated and encouraged patients, organized events that improve our college and our community, and served our country. So many people are better off because these students cared.”

See a list of student organizations and their officers here.

As part of the annual Leaders Celebrating Leaders program, class officers and representatives from the medical doctor (MD), physician assistant (PA) graduate and nursing programs acknowledge fellow students and their good work, commitment and service to the College of Medicine and community.

Below is a list of this year’s honorees nominated by their peers, along with excerpts from their nomination letters:

MD Class of 2021: Saher Ali, Alice Cai, Rahima Khatun, Diana Lin, Crystal Lovelace, Jessica Poulsen and Matt Conboy

“The Class of 2021 would like to recognize several of our incredible peers for being the first to demonstrate true leadership by courageously sharing their emotions and calling others to stand in solidarity with our Black colleagues in light of the recent highlighting of systemic injustice and health care disparities. These colleagues have been using their voices to speak out about injustice in our society. They have contributed a large amount of their time and energy to speak up and engage with others. We are thankful for those who educate us, and we seek to proudly proclaim that our Black colleagues have incredibly strong voices and informed opinions and have been speaking their whole lives without recognition.”

MD Class 2022: Mike Anderson

“From Day One of Medical School, Mike has distinguished himself as a selfless and talented leader working for the good of the college, hospital and community. As an admissions chair, he has continuously worked above and beyond his duties, organizing a highly successful Second Look Day in 2019 and volunteering for numerous student government projects. As an MS2, he was extremely involved in student organizations, including as Project Fellowship president, Sports Medicine Interest Group vice president, Ultrasound Student Educators vice president and American Medical Society, Penn State College of Medicine Chapter, secretary. His standout project was organizing Kiss Hershey Back, which brought together more than 100 volunteers from Penn State College of Medicine, Penn State Health and the Hershey community to organize cleanup and tree-planting projects around town. As an MS3, Mike responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by helping to create a tutoring program for children in the community, providing academic support for 75 students. Outside of the College of Medicine, he helped organize the 2019 Be The Match campaign, which registered 300 new participants to the National Bone Marrow Registry, and volunteered with Live Like Lou, which supports local families living with ALS.”

MD Class 2023: Marina Gonzalez

“As vice president of the Latino Medical Student Association, Marina runs the International Healthcare Professionals Program, a tutoring program for international physicians studying for their Step 1 examination to become certified physicians in the U.S. Additionally, Marina runs a biweekly Medical Spanish Interpreting class for fellow students, using the knowledge she gained from her medical interpreter training. Marina is passionate about providing equal health care to patients of limited-English proficiency and hopes to spread awareness of how to provide these patients proper interpretation. She also serves as the diversity representative for the Health Professions Student Assembly, working diligently to support diversity organizations, underrepresented in medicine students, and recruitment of diverse prospective students. Lastly, she is the lifestyle educator at LionCare clinic, educating patients on diet and exercise to improve their health. We are proud to have Marina as our classmate, and she deserves this recognition for the many ways she serves the community in and outside the College of Medicine.”

MD Class of 2024: Adam Finkelstein

“The class of 2024 is pleased to recognize Adam Finkelstein because of his dedication to improving the lives of pediatric patients with chronic diseases. Notably, Adam spearheaded a new program, Med Mentors, with the Student Pediatric Society that pairs medical students with health conditions to pediatric patients with that same condition. In addition, Adam is a self-published author of a book on his experience living with inflammatory bowel disease, which he plans to give to the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition at Penn State Children’s Hospital. Adam is a true role model in the class for his ability to balance his extracurricular and academic involvement!”

MD University Park Curriculum Class: All 2021 graduates

“When we — Tom Laux and Daniella Lipnick — reflect on our time as co-presidents, the words “team effort” immediately come to mind. Our University Park (UP) community has been built, sustained and improved through the work of each and every one of you. This award goes to you all. From the public health spirit of Jason Spicher and Katelyn Edel innovating on how a Family Medicine Interest Group can ignite community service and skills practice, to the systems logistics of Saher Ali and Jay Mascoe expanding free clinic access while simultaneously teaching our junior medical students. Also, from the scientific minds of networking research collaborators Zena Saleh, Jenny Dobson and Kaitlyn Ruffing, helping to develop a culture of scholarship at UP, to the design thinking of Morgan Decker and Duncan McDermond, as they developed and piloted the program we now call home. For all your successful events and your passion projects, whether they are named on your CVs or remembered in the hearts of your peers and community members, we say thank you.”

PA Class 2021: Rachel Fletcher

“The Class of 2021 is pleased to recognize Rachel Fletcher who is a compassionate physician assistant (PA) student with an excitement and dedication to quality patient care. She was selected for the National Health Service Corps Scholarship and has pledged to serve a role in primary care. The PA program emphasizes the importance of primary care, and Rachel has exemplified that mission. She is a positive and uplifting person who is a friend to everyone. She will do great things, and we would like to honor her for her amazing accomplishments thus far.”

PA Class 2022: Todd Herbert

“As a member of the U.S. Army National Guard, Todd Herbert has been called to duty several times throughout the course of our program. He has been able to honor both commitments with an inspiring sense of grace. To be asked to serve and also keep up with the demands of physician assistant school in the middle of a pandemic is extremely commendable and worthy of recognition.”

Physician Scientist Student Association: Brianna Evans

“Brianna Evans is a third-year MD/PhD student and is completing her first year of graduate school in the laboratory of Dr. Patricia “Sue” Grigson-Kennedy. Prior to attending Penn State, she completed her undergraduate studies in East Asian languages and civilizations, with a minor in chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania. As a medical student, Brianna has volunteered for and led multiple campus organizations that mentor premedical students from underprivileged backgrounds. She served on the Physician Scientist Student Association (PSSA) retreat committee and recruited speakers for the MD/PhD professional development sessions. Notably, Brianna is now the diversity chair of PSSA and has been working tirelessly with the Penn State College of Medicine Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Her efforts promote the combined medicine and biomedical research track as a career path for underrepresented minorities and ultimately help nurture a robust and diverse pipeline of future physician-scientists.”

Graduate Student Association: Anna Ssentongo

“Anna Ssentongo is an MD/PhD student concentrating in epidemiology and biostatistics. She is a long-time alumnus of Penn State, completing both her bachelor of science in neuroscience and master of public health degree at Penn State. While at Penn State, Anna has been a part of more than 40 publications and also volunteered to help victims of sexual assault and human trafficking. Most notably, she is the founder and CEO of a newly formed nonprofit organization called the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Human Trafficking, which aims to educate and empower individuals to fight human trafficking. Anna is a true representation of a dynamic and inspirational leader in our graduate community, and we look forward to her future success.”

Student Nurses Association at Penn State: Jessica Satterthwaite

“Jessica is a senior nursing student at Hershey and the co-president of the Multicultural Student Nurses Association (MSNA). Jessica and a group of nursing students at University Park launched this new organization in the summer of 2020 and worked this semester to hold meetings and get MSNA recognized as an official student organization at Penn State. Below is what one of our Student Nurses Association at Penn State board members and a member of MSNA had to say about Jessica:

“Starting a new organization takes an extraordinary amount of time and effort, as well as exceptional leadership skills. This is even more true during a pandemic when resources are scarce, and platforms are being shifted completely online. Jessica not only exceeded beyond the barriers she faced as co-president of a new organization but was able to do so while staying on the Hershey campus. During a normal year, it can be strenuous to maintain an engaging connection while completing coursework at Hershey, but Jessica was able to carry MSNA through its first successful semester with the help of her other board members. She sets an example for every nursing student of a nurse leader taking initiative during a time of need and being a voice for an underrepresented population of the College of Nursing while our country faces a time of adversity.”

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