Worlds Ahead Graduates

Spring 2017

Ceremony 1

Andrea Saladrigas
Carolina Chavez
Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing
College of Business
By Ellen Forman

As leaders and teammates, Andrea Saladrigas and Carolina Chavez lifted FIU’s Sales Team into top national recognition. Guided by their faculty mentors, College of Business sales professors Nancy Rauseo and Rafael Soltero, they created a structure for Sales Society success that will serve the organization for years to come.

Andrea (president) and Carolina (executive vice president) led their executive board to a 30 percent increase in Sales Society membership. To help raise the skills of less experienced members, they challenged e-board members to initiate new programs and encouraged every member to build their sales expertise. They also modeled team success at the International Collegiate Sales Competition in Orlando, where Carolina and Andrea placed #3 and #5, respectively, out of 137 individual competitors. The strong showing lifted FIU to a #2 ranking among 70 national schools – and #1 in the competitive Florida market.

The students also shined as individuals.

Grateful for the help she received as a newcomer to sales, Carolina brought her strong administrative skills to establishing a new coaching program for FIU competitors, creating an evaluation structure and the means for mentors to work effectively with newcomers. In addition to a strong academic performance and co-curricular leadership, she is currently training for an associate district manager position at ADP.

In addition to her studies and co-curricular work, Andrea’s strong social entrepreneurship drive led her to start Master Honey, with the goal of supporting local beekeepers and fostering community entrepreneurship. Her unique program places hives with low income women, teaches them business and hive maintenance skills, and buys the honey they produce. Master Honey won the BizVenture Competition hosted by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Foundation and was a finalist on the Philanthropy Shark Tank. After graduation, she will devote herself full time to Master Honey.

Ari Sernik
Bachelor of Business Administration in International Business
College of Business
By Karen-Janine Cohen

Ari Sernik became a social entrepreneur long before he studied the subject. During a trip across Asia after serving in the Israeli army, Ari volunteered with Sunflower Orphanage, a Cambodian group that cares for HIV-positive children. He couldn’t get them out of his mind. So, when back in Florida, he arranged an auction of the children’s artwork, working with a professor from Broward College, where he studied before transferring to FIU.

The $2,000 raised helped the orphanage, while revealing to Ari a career path combining his entrepreneurial energy with his drive to help others. Studying with FIU President Emeritus Modesto A. Maidique helped Ari build competence in bringing community stakeholders together. Adjunct Professor Robert Hacker’s social entrepreneurship class provided tools to help reach his dreams.

With FIU colleagues Ari established Ten-Yad (“Give a Hand” in Hebrew), designed to help other children’s charities establish their brand and sell handicrafts. His idea won the “Shark Tank” themed pitch session before the FIU Foundation Board of Directors. He still continues to work with Sunflower.

Ari has also committed to the Nyah Project, which focuses on developing leaders from underserved communities in Miami through transformative experiences abroad. It will all be preparation for his post-graduate life, where Ari expects to work in business development and keep expanding his vision by traveling the world.

Guy F. Jean Baptiste
Bachelor of Business Administration in Management Information Systems
College of Business
By Cynthia Corzo

The determination to become a successful entrepreneur and a twist of fate led Guy Jean Baptiste to pursue a career in information technology.

When he enrolled at FIU in 2013, many of the classes Guy wanted to take were full, so he selected a business telecommunications class. That settled his future plans to pursue a management information systems degree.

Guy found the discipline required and the workload overwhelming, especially since he was working full-time at JCPenney at the same time. College of Business professors Gladys Simpson and Nicole Wishart offered the guidance and motivation Guy needed to press on.

Guy was born in Haiti and came to South Florida in 2007, joining his father, a former Haitian military officer, and several siblings. His mother and stepfather remained in Haiti; other siblings moved to the U.S. later.

In 2014 Guy cofounded the Cercle des Volontaires por Education et le Progres d’Haiti (CVEPH), an international non-profit organization that provides education and food to children in Haiti with the goal of improving their quality of life. CVEPH board members visit Haiti regularly to award scholarships to young people to study in Haiti.

After graduation, Guy plans to continue working at SunTrust Bank and hopes to eventually enroll in FIU’s Executive MBA program. His ultimate goal is to become chief information officer of a high-profile company.

Ceremony 2

Venu Mehta
Master of Arts in Religious Studies
Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs
By Amy Ellis

One of Venu Mehta’s biggest challenges as an international student at FIU was missing her family in India, particularly her mother, Dr. Purnima Mehta, whom she considers to be one of her greatest influences and mentors.

A strong sense of determination and dedication to learning helped see her through to earn her master’s degree in religious studies, adding to the Ph.D. in multiculturalism through literature education she had already earned in the Gujarat state of India.

Upon her arrival at FIU, Venu immediately stood out to her professors, who were impressed by the cutting-edge social science research she had already done on the Jain community and the American Jain diaspora.

Venu has published an award-winning primer for English speakers to learn the Gujarati language, based on her work as a Fulbright Scholar at Indiana University, Bloomington.

At FIU, she assisted her professors with an effort to catalogue another ancient language, Kacchi, for which there are few dictionaries in North America or Europe. Her work earned her induction into Theta Alpha Kappa, the national honor society for religious studies and theology, for which she is currently president. She also founded the Preksha Meditation Club, bringing a central practice of Jain spirituality to FIU students.

Following graduation, Venu plans to continue her studies at the University of Florida, where she will pursue her Ph.D. in religious studies.

Carlos Leyrer
Master of Business Administration
College of Business
By Jane Schreier Jones

A president of a growing Christian school who is also a busy husband and father recently made time to earn his Master of Business Administration degree and achieve a 3.9 GPA.

In 2006 Carlos Leyrer became pastor at Divine Savior Academy, a Lutheran school, in Doral. He already had a bachelor’s degree and a Master of Divinity degree. The school was only two years old at that time and quickly made a name for itself as a place where students could receive religious teaching along with an excellent education.

Carlos became president of the academy and expanded it to include a middle school and a high school, adding on more buildings. Today, the school which had 20 students its first year now has 850. Carlos and his staff are now working on opening a second campus in Delray Beach.

Carlos turned to FIU’s Corporate MBA program to earn another master’s degree, this time in business administration, to gain the business acumen needed to grow his school successfully. He and his wife, Julia, are also raising their three children, ages 7, 5 and 1.

Carlos says his key to success is to work hard, stay humble and give God the glory.

Fayez Roger Abboud
Bachelor of Business Administration in Finance
College of Business
By Jane Schreier Jones

Born in Brazil, Fayez Abboud was 7 when his family moved to Miami. Not knowing English and struggling with a new culture, he was placed in a special education program where he was expected to do just the bare-minimum.

During a 2006 summer break in Lebanon, a war broke out, with Fayez and his family in the middle of it. Feeling the neighboring buildings collapse from the warfare forever shaped 13-year old Fayez. The family was grateful to relatives and even strangers who helped them get back to the U.S.

Fayez says he will always remember the importance of helping others. In high school, he spent many hours mentoring residents at a children’s home called His House.

In the Abboud family, a business degree is a key to success so Fayez came to FIU to earn his, majoring in finance with a minor in business analytics, while earning a 3.7 GPA.

Combined with the knowledge and connections gained through FIU, he began a partnership between his family’s import-export business and toymaker Hasbro. Since 2012, it has resulted in more than 1,200 toys being donated to children in need in the Miami area.

Fayez has been working part-time at Lynx Development Group in Coral Gables and has been offered a full-time position where he will be working with top developers. He is also hoping to enter FIU’s MBA program.

Ceremony 3

Praew Chantarasinlapin
Ph.D. in Dietetics and Nutrition
Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work
By Galena Mosovich

When Praew Chantarasinlapin arrived in Miami from her native Thailand to start her journey at FIU, it was her first time speaking English to native English speakers. She came for a deep-dive into dietetics and nutrition. Praew flourished in the school’s multicultural environment. She pursued an ambitious timeline to get her master’s and her Ph.D.—both within six years—and the 30-year-old is now poised to return home with knowledge her country desperately needs. In Thailand, the field of dietetics and nutrition is still in its fledgling state and there are only a few registered dieticians there.

During Praew’s sophomore year of college, Thailand’s health crisis wreaked havoc on her life. Her father suffered a stroke, and his health issues inspired Praew’s focus on cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes. This led her to Stempel College as part of an inaugural program through which students from Thailand prepare to be researchers and professors in their home country.

Praew immersed herself in cutting-edge research with the guidance of her mentor, Fatma Huffman, chair of the dietetics and nutrition department. Huffman’s research and interdisciplinary training informed Praew’s holistic approach to wellness that emphasizes the need for culturally sensitive interventions in high-risk populations.

After graduation, Praew will return to Thailand to teach undergraduate students at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok—the school that sponsored her time at FIU.

Elena DiMiceli
Doctor of Medicine
Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine
By Ileana Varela

Elena DiMiceli has always felt a need to help the most needy; that’s why she chose the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine whose mission includes addressing the social determinants of health and providing health care access to the underserved. That’s also why she chose to specialize in Emergency Medicine.

It is not a coincidence that Elena “matched” into the Emergency Medicine residency program at NYU School of Medicine which also has a long history of helping the underserved including opening the first public hospital (Bellevue) in the nation. It also boasts a highly diverse population similar to South Florida’s.

Elena said she wants to be a culturally competent physician, something she learned at FIU and wants to hone throughout her career. She is a passionate Panther and student leader—over the past three years she led an initiative to create a student-run clinic for underserved patients at UHI CommunityCare Clinic in North Miami-Dade County, providing free services for children and adults.

In recognition of her leadership and dedication to community service, the 26-year-old received the HWCOM Outstanding Community Service Award and was inducted into the Gold Humanism Honor Society.

She is also an exceptionally talented student—she was her high school valedictorian; graduated magna cum laude from the University of Missouri, and placed in the top 10 percent of her class at the College of Medicine, where Elena was also inducted into Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society.


Giancarlo Zamora
Bachelor of Health Services Administration
Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing and Health Sciences
By Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing & Health Sciences

Giancarlo Zamora is known as a remarkable student and a compassionate friend and mentor who never gives up, despite the circumstances.

Giancarlo awoke one September morning in 2013, during his freshman year of college at the University of South Florida, with stroke-like symptoms on the right side of his body. Doctors soon discovered he had a cavernous malformation of the brainstem, an abnormal cluster of blood cells. He was forced to withdraw from school to receive immediate medical care. One scheduled brain surgery turned into five within a span of 10 days. By the end of the final procedure, Giancarlo was deaf in one ear, mute, blind and immobile from the neck down.

Doctors feared he may never walk again. He proved them wrong. Not only is he walking today, but he is graduating with a 3.9 GPA. He also served as a resident supervisor in the School of Education and Human Development’s Panther LIFE Summer Residential Program, teaching students with intellectual disabilities independent living skills.

After years of physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and rehabilitation, you could say Giancarlo has had firsthand experience with the disciplines of the Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing and Health Sciences. Giancarlo’s completion of his bachelor’s degree in health services administration and certificate in health and fitness marketing is a testament to the dedication of these health professionals to his recovery and to Giancarlo’s determination to complete his education.

Ceremony 5

Jackson Fadely
Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering
College of Engineering and Computing
By Millie Acebal

Jackson Fadely is an honors student, inventor, designer, vocalist, sailor, and now he’s adding mechanical engineer to that list. His mentor, Juan Carlos Espinosa, associate dean of the Honors College, says he’s also a “mensch” with an interest in making things fly.

The two first met when Espinosa handpicked Jackson for the advanced Honors sophomore seminar, The Middle Circle, considered one of the toughest courses in Honors. As a student assistant for special projects at the Honors College, Jackson raised $18,000 to launch and run a Makerspace for students to work on projects.

He also found time to sing for the HEARTbeats, the Honors College acapella group, and volunteer with Shake-a-Leg, which provides watersports for people with disabilities. Throughout middle and high school, Jackson sailed competitively at the international level.

Jackson invented lamps, cars and sunglasses made of wood, and is the primary designer and vice president for FIU’s Aerospace Engineering Club, where he oversaw the wing performance and structural design for this year’s model plane. He has also been involved with FIU’s Engineers on Wheels, a community outreach program aimed at sparking a love of engineering in local elementary, middle and high school students.

Prior to graduating, Jackson already had four job offers waiting. This summer, he will study abroad in Japan, and when he returns, he will begin his career at Boeing in Seattle as a materials and process engineer working on the 777 and 777X aircraft.

Danish Saleem
Master of Science in Electrical Engineering
College of Engineering and Computing
By Millie Acebal

After earning an undergraduate degree from the prestigious NED University of Engineering & Technology in Pakistan, Danish Saleem worked for two years at Descon Engineering, a multinational engineering services company.

With his eyes set on getting his master’s, he applied and was accepted to FIU.

He applied for internships, but experienced setbacks because he was an international student. It hit Danish hard. He had successfully represented Pakistan twice at international engineering competitions. He wanted to do the same in the U.S.

Danish eventually secured an internship at one of the leading labs in the world, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado. NREL is a federal lab dedicated to research, development, and commercialization of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies.

NREL offered him a permanent position, working under Erfan Ibrahim, the director of the Cyber Physical Systems Security & Resiliency Department at NREL. This January, he was promoted to lab manager in the cybersecurity department, and is believed to be the company’s youngest lab manager.

In addition to his work as a cybersecurity researcher at NREL, at FIU Danish worked on projects with the potential for global impact, from a 49.5 megawatt wind farm to a solar powered car project for the Shell Eco Marathon & Cyprus Solar challenge. Under the direction of Professor Arif Sarwat, he also collaborated on projects for FPL and the Department of Energy and as president of the Energy Club he motivated K-12 students to pursue engineering careers.

Daria Boglaienko
Ph.D. in Civil Engineering
College of Engineering and Computing
By Angela Nicoletti

Daria Boglaienko stepped off a plane in Miami with just a suitcase and map. Everything she’d ever known – her home and family in Ukraine – seemed a world away. She spoke little English. She didn’t know anyone here. Daria was frightened, but she gathered her courage and hopped on a shuttle that took her straight to FIU.

Nothing has ever stood in Daria’s way of getting an education. She’s loved school since she was a child. The only one in her family to pursue higher education, she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and then spent several years teaching in Ukraine. She dreamed of making an impact through research, but opportunities were limited to her at home. It wasn’t until she applied for the American Councils for International Education’s Opportunity Funds Program that she received the support to apply to FIU.

At FIU, Daria discovered that natural materials, like sand, can be used to treat oil spills in the ocean. When poured on top of a spill, the material captures the oil, preventing it from spreading and harming beaches, as well as aquatic plant and animal life. Her research findings were used by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative to increase awareness for new environmentally friendly oil spill treatment methods.

Daria, who graduates with a 4.0 GPA, also has published nine journal articles. In her spare time, she enjoys taking free online courses. She hopes to stay in environmental research field as a postdoctoral fellow.

Ceremony 6

Alexandra Millet
Bachelor of Science in Recreational Therapy
School of Education and Human Development
College of Arts, Sciences, & Education
By Chrystian Tejedor

At the tender age of 14 Alexandra Millet resolved to find a career where she could help people with disabilities.

While volunteering for Shake-A-Leg Miami, Alexandra met a 5-year-old boy who couldn’t walk. Her emotions gave way to sadness until the boy told her: “You’re sad because you’re thinking of how bad it would be if you couldn’t use your legs. I’m not sad. I’ve never been able to use my legs – I don’t know what that’s like.”

Alexandra helped the boy use a kayak that day. She found her calling. In the years that followed, Alexandra researched her career options and decided to pursue a recreational therapy degree at FIU. She would also become close friends with Raquel Cruz, a Gulf War veteran who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. The two would later go on to become partners in creating Blues for Vets, a non-profit dedicated to training large-breed dogs like American Bulldogs or pit bulls to serve as service dogs for veterans like Cruz.

Alexandra is thankful for her family and friends, her advisor Sophonie Joseph-Laurore, and her mentors, professors Cari Autry and Alexis McKenney, for encouraging her on her journey.

After commencement, Alexandra will pursue a master’s degree in occupational therapy at FIU and will continue serving as vice president of Blues for Vets.

Remy Dou
Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction
School of Education and Human Development
College of Arts, Sciences, & Education
By Chrystian Tejedor

Remy Dou always dreamed of a science career. That dream, Remy hoped, would be realized at Harvard. He applied. He never heard back.

Remy found a home at FIU and became a biology teacher in Miami. Later, he worked for the White House developing education programs for minority students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

But he wasn’t done with the classroom. Remy wondered why students give up on promising STEM careers. Now earning a Ph.D., Remy pushed to find answers, according to his mentors, Eric Brewe, Zahra Hazari and Laird Kramer of the STEM Transformation Institute.

Together, they discovered students were more likely to succeed in STEM if their peers and their professors offered recognition and helped students see themselves as biologists, physicists or chemists. Their grades didn’t make a difference.

Remy now plans to further his research through a post-doctoral appointment and eventually become a professor.

Not long ago, Remy was sorting through papers in his parents’ home. He came across an envelope with the Harvard emblem. He had been accepted. His parents, fearing the financial costs, thought the dream was out of reach. They hid the letter hoping to protect Remy, a decision they have long regretted. But today, Remy says he isn’t fazed by it. He knows his parents were acting out of love. He found his calling at FIU, a place that allowed him to grow as a scientist and an educator.

Vanessa Morales
Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education
School of Education and Human Development
College of Arts, Sciences & Education
By Talia Gonzalez

School is Vanessa Morales’ safe haven. After her parents divorced, she spent her youth moving from home to home. Not much changed when she enrolled in college. She never really viewed herself as homeless, but by her junior year at FIU, the self-described nomad had run out of places to stay. She was living on campus in her car. When someone called FIU police, Vanessa thought she was in trouble, but the responding officer told her they were going to find her a place to sleep that night.

She was introduced to Ana Ramos, director of Fostering Panther Pride, which supports former foster youth and homeless students at FIU. Vanessa found a place to live and received a tuition waiver. She was able to concentrate on school and became a regular fixture on the dean’s list. She served as the president of the FIU Baptist Collegiate Ministry, and became a Panther Pal Mentor to help others in Fostering Panther Pride. She even went on a mission trip to Haiti, helping rebuild an orphanage destroyed by Hurricane Matthew and working with local schoolchildren there.

This spring, she will graduate with a degree in elementary education, a field she chose because she wants to teach children they have a purpose in life. She has already received three job offers and plans to continue her education at FIU. She hopes to someday open her own learning center for at-risk and foster youth.

Ceremony 7

John Kett
Bachelor of Science in Hospitality Management
Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management
By Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management

Growing up, John Kett loved science and his parents expected him to pursue a medical career. But, one year into pharmacy school, John realized that his parents’ hopes were no substitute for passion, as his interest and drive waned.

He decided to combine his love of food and science at the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management. His parents are now proud of the work he is doing and his accomplishments. It was largely his parents’ backgrounds in hospitality, and John’s upbringing in a multicultural home with a Filipino mother and British father, that forged his love of food and beverage innovation.

At FIU, John worked as a culinary lab assistant for Chef Roger Probst – a mentor – and served as a team leader for the Food Network and Cooking Channel South Beach Wine and Food Festival for three years. He also participated in competitions and research projects to create new spices for Badia Spices under the guidance of Professor Michael Cheng – another mentor and close advisor.

John joined PepsiCo’s Global Snacks Culinary Team as an intern in 2015 and earned a full-time position six months later. He is now a research and development chef for Frito-Lay’s Culinary Innovation Center in Dallas, Texas, turning creative ideas into tasty recipes.

John hopes to continue his research and development career, and dreams of one day opening a bar and restaurant, spending the rest of his days doing what he loves most.

Jovani Salceiro
Master of Science in Hospitality Management
Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management
By Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management

Growing up in Little Haiti in a Cuban family, Jovani Salceiro is the first in his family to attend college or even finish high school. Since being diagnosed at age 10 with epilepsy due to a brain tumor, he has lived with frequent seizures. He almost dropped out of high school and never thought of going to college, but he promised his grandmother, who lost her battle with cancer in 2004, that he would earn a bachelor’s degree.

After nine years in the hotel industry, he felt his career had reached its ceiling. Remembering his promise to this grandmother, Jovani earned his associate degree from Miami Dade College in 2013, with a 4.0 GPA. He transferred to the Chaplin School at FIU, and left his job to focus full-time on school and help raise his two young sons, Jayden and Jayson, while his fiancé, Lovely, continued working.

During his 15-year career in hospitality, Jovani always wanted to work for Marriott International. In 2015, he secured a position at the New Residence Inn Miami Beach South Beach, a Marriott property, and currently serves as assistant general manager.

A recipient of several prestigious scholarships, including the Hyatt Hotels Scholarship for Minority Lodging Management Students, the Statler Foundation Scholarship for Excellence, Hilton Worldwide Scholarship, Carnival Cruise Lines Scholarship, and Anthony G. Marshall American Dream Scholarship Jovani credits his success to the faculty and advisors at the Chaplin School, particularly faculty mentors Miranda Kitterlin and Sean Chang.

Ceremony 8

Sophia Younes
Bachelor of Arts in English Literature
School of Environment, Arts and Society
College of Arts, Sciences & Education
By Jessica Drouet

Sophia Younes’ family motivates her. As young adults, her parents left behind everything they knew to build better futures in Miami. Her father fled Lebanon during its civil war. Her mother left Colombia because her family was in danger.

Sophia has taken her parents’ sacrifices to heart, working hard to achieve her dreams and make her family proud.

By attaining merit-based scholarships, Sophia made opportunities for herself. While completing her bachelor’s degree in English literature with a 4.0 GPA in the Honors College, she began her master’s degree in linguistics through the Linguistics 4+1 Accelerated Master’s Program.

An accomplished student, Sophia strives to find a balance between her social life and her responsibilities as a student leader. Through involvement in extracurricular activities she met new people and embraced new opportunities.

As secretary and president of the FIU chapter of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars (NSCS), Sophia helped organize March to College, an event which encourages first-generation students to pursue higher education. As president, she led NSCS in recruiting double the amount of inductees for the fall 2017 term.

Sophia is also enjoying “the best job she has ever had” as a writing consultant at FIU’s Center for Excellence in Writing. For Sophia, her work goes beyond reviewing grammar – she pushes student writers to find their voice.

As she looks to the future, Sophia’s dreams include possibly being a book editor, a university professor, a linguistics researcher, or perhaps all three.

Brian Ho
Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences
School of Environment, Arts and Society
College of Arts, Sciences & Education
By Evelyn Gonzalez

Brian Ho has had a passion for science since he was a young boy growing up in Antigua. He naturally gravitated toward biology in high school. When the time came to apply for college, he recalled a degree hanging on the wall in his doctor’s office. It was from FIU. With family in Miami, he decided to apply.

Brian is part of FIU’s Quantifying Biology In the Classroom (QBIC), a program for students wanting a more in-depth approach to studying biology, and the Minority Access to Research Careers Undergraduate Student Training for Academic Research (MARC U*STAR), a program that provides funding for students doing research. He was a research assistant in the lab of Alexander Agoulnik, professor in the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, studying the hormone Relaxin and whether it can be used as a possible cancer treatment. He studied protein response in yeast at University of California San Francisco through the Exceptional Research Opportunities Program (EXROP), a national program offering research opportunities to undergraduates at Howard Hughes Medical Institute labs. Brian also did research on E. coli at Columbia University through the Amgen Scholars program.

After graduating, Brian will study host-pathogen dynamics as a paid researcher with the National Institutes of Health. He also plans on pursuing a Ph.D. in biochemistry. His goal is to become a university professor so he can teach, conduct research and mentor the next generation of scientists. He wants to help them discover their passions, just how his mentors did for him.

Bradley Klotz
Ph.D. in Geosciences
School of Environment, Arts and Society
College of Arts, Sciences & Education
By Evelyn Gonzalez

As a teen, Brad Klotz was fascinated by the power and beauty of thunderstorms. While attending summer camp before his senior year of high school, a storm rolled through the campgrounds and he experienced a lightning show unlike any he had experienced before. At that moment, he knew he was meant to study meteorology.

Brad earned a bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University and a master’s from the University of North Dakota. He was hired as a meteorologist by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Hurricane Research Division in Miami. Determined to one day lead his own research projects, he enrolled at FIU to pursue a Ph.D. while continuing to work full-time.

In his research, he studied ocean surface winds and how they interact with different hurricane characteristics, including origin, strength and speed. His work could enable forecasters to make better predictions on where the hurricane’s strongest winds are and where the worst landfall impacts might be.

After graduating, Brad will continue working at NOAA. His career goal is to improve forecasters’ understanding of hurricanes and their ability to predict them through research.

Michael Perez
Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences
Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry
School of Environment, Arts and Society
College of Arts, Sciences & Education
By Evelyn Gonzalez

Michael Perez began college at 16 in the Academy for Advanced Academics, a dual-enrollment program allowing high school students to take high school and college courses at FIU.

While pursuing bachelor’s degrees in biological sciences and chemistry, Michael studied under Professor Jamie Theobald and developed a research technique to study how mosquitoes sense human odors while in flight. This work could help scientists develop more effective repellents in safeguarding against disease transmission, including Zika and dengue fever.

On campus, Michael, who is in the Honors College, served as vice president of the student pre-med club STITCH — Students Taking Initiative Through Collaboration Honors. He was a leader in their first medical brigade to the Dominican Republic, where they delivered more than 500 pounds of medical supplies. He taught organic chemistry lab and was a resident assistant in the PantherLIFE program for students with intellectual disabilities. Michael works with President Emeritus Modesto A. Maidique on the Chapmanville Leadership Development Program, a program aimed at improving the leadership skills of Miami-Dade County government’s senior leaders.

In the community, Michael worked alongside Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine Professor Onelia Lage to assess the oral health of families through NeighborhoodHELP, a program where students track the health of families in their homes. He also helped create NeighborhoodHELP Service Corps., a volunteer program to improve community health through research and service.

Now 20, Michael will begin medical school this fall at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. He wants to be a neurosurgeon involved in clinical research, education and urban health initiatives.

Ceremony 9

Alexandra Mosser
Ph.D. in Psychology
School Integrated Science and Humanity
College of Arts, Sciences & Education
By  Ayleen Barbel-Fattal

Alexandra Mosser thought she would follow her parents’ footsteps and become a musician. But during her undergraduate studies at the University of Pittsburgh, she took a class in law and psychology and it was then she realized she would be following a different path.

Upon completion of her bachelor’s degree and with her parents’ full support, Alexandra pursued a Ph.D. in legal psychology from FIU — one of the top programs in the country.

Working alongside Ron Fisher — one of the leading investigative interviewing researchers in the world — Alexandra studied how to most effectively gather information from valuable eyewitnesses or detainees. Her research was conducted with local and federal law enforcement and funded by the FBI’s High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group.

Alexandra has presented in numerous conferences and recently led a session for nearly 200 law enforcement professionals from the FBI, CIA and NSA as well as researchers. Under the guidance of Jacqueline Evans, her dissertation focused on whether a technique known as the cognitive interview can increase the number of contacts recalled in CDC investigations into the spread of infectious diseases like Ebola. She found this technique yielded approximately four more contacts. Her findings could impact other health investigations including tracing Zika sources.

After graduation, Alexandra will begin a post-doctoral fellowship in the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit 2, which investigates cyber crimes.

Robert Wood
Bachelor of Arts in Psychology
Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry
School of Integrated Science and Humanity
College of Arts, Sciences & Education
By Evelyn Gonzalez

Robert Wood enrolled at FIU unsure of what career to pursue. He met Psychology Professor Lindsay Malloy and worked as a research assistant in her lab studying adult false confessions and children’s accounts of past events. His honors thesis examines how children respond to being coached to lie by their parents when questioned by authorities.

While immersing himself in psychology, Robert was also determined to take his weakest subject – chemistry – and make it one of his strongest. Putting in extra time and effort, the B’s and C’s on his exams became A’s. He became a chemistry learning assistant and teaching assistant under Senior Lecturer Uma Swamy. Robert did research on how to better teach chemistry and how to deliver targeted cancer treatments more effectively.

Robert is earning bachelor’s degrees in psychology and chemistry with a 3.93 GPA. He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa Society, the nation’s oldest honor society for the liberal arts and sciences.

Outside the classroom, Robert served as vice president of the FIU Chemical Society and member of FIU’s Student Success Committee. He also developed STEM outreach programs for local K-12 students.  A shadowing experience under Physician Moises Irizarry inspired Robert to pursue a career in medicine.

After graduation, Robert will work as a medical scribe, attend a mission trip to Peru and apply to medical school. He wants to specialize in family medicine and sports medicine.

Jeevan GC
Ph.D. in Physics
School of Integrated Science and Humanity
College of Arts, Sciences & Education
By JoAnn Adkins

Jeevan GC grew up in rural Nepal where basic infrastructure, including electricity and transportation, was lacking. Agriculture was his family’s primary source of income. With no modern distractions, Jeevan developed a deep attachment to nature, often wondering how it all worked. His father, wanting to foster Jeevan’s curiosity, enrolled him in an English school not far from their village.

As he progressed in his studies, he came to appreciate that physics holds the key to understanding nature. He enrolled in the biophysics program at a university in Nepal. One day, he attended a seminar by a guest speaker — Prem Chapagain, an associate professor of physics at FIU. Jeevan decided then that he wanted to pursue a Ph.D. at FIU and study how proteins, DNA and other biomolecules function.

At FIU, Jeevan worked with a class of proteins called transformer proteins. Meanwhile, a world away, West Africa was battling the worst Ebola outbreak in history. Jeevan’s ever-growing curiosity got him thinking — what if the Ebola virus depends on a transformer protein to function? And if it does, could he find a weak spot to target and destroy the virus? Working with Chapagain and physics chairman Bernard Gerstman, Jeevan found answers to both questions. Yes it does and yes he could. Today, his research could lead to improved disinfectants for the Ebola virus.

Jeevan has accepted a research position at Washington State University where he will focus on designing new drugs to fight cancer.


Joel Greenup
Bachelor of Arts in Psychology
School of Integrated Science and Humanity
College of Arts, Sciences & Education
By Chrystian Tejedor

Joel Greenup is no stranger to adversity. He was born with spina bifida. He has undergone surgeries associated with a cerebrospinal fluid shunt inserted in his brain that alleviates symptoms of hydrocephalus and has undergone several more surgeries to treat broken bones and issues with his bladder and kidneys. One surgery to treat scoliosis when he was in the fifth grade left him unable to walk.

While recovering from a surgery at age 6, Joel experienced something peculiar. His hospital room seemed to stretch before him. His arms grew. His mother shrank and appeared to move at super-speed. He became consumed by a sense of paranoia and tried futilely to unwrap his legs from his hospital blankets.

This led to a new diagnosis – Alice in Wonderland Syndrome – and eventually a calling for Joel. Not much is known about the causes of the disorder and its symptoms, which mirror the experiences of Lewis Carroll’s protagonist in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Joel is looking to change that through a research project he is undertaking with the supervision of professor Bennett Schwartz and a neurosurgeon at a local hospital.

Getting to the place where he could make a difference hasn’t been easy. Joel overcame a difficult home environment and continues to battle bouts of depression. Today, he hopes to conclude his research project and help identify the illnesses shared by people with Alice in Wonderland Syndrome. Joel, an Honors College student who completed his bachelor’s degree in four years, also looks forward to one day earning a Ph.D. in neuroscience.

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Edgar Sanfeliz-Botta
Bachelor of Music
College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts
By Jennifer Lacayo

Humming “Once Upon a Dream” from Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty,” Edgar Sanfeliz-Botta took a short break between orders at the busy McDonald’s drive thru on Sunset Drive. Meanwhile, Roberta David, at the time a professional choral director, was waiting in the long line leading up to the window, when she heard a male voice with an impressive vocal range.

She immediately recognized the quality of Edgar’s voice and when she arrived at the drive-thru window, she was surprised to learn that Edgar was not only a countertenor — ­one of the rarest male voice types — with a music degree from Cuba, but also a talented organist. Familiar with FIU’s excellent music program, she encouraged him to audition.

A few months later, Edgar was accepted into FIU’s School of Music where he distinguished himself with his talents as a countertenor and his ability to play the beautiful 4,226-pipe Shantz organ purchased for the Herbert and Nicole Wertheim Performing Arts Center Concert Hall by Dr. Herbert Wertheim himself.

Edgar now works professionally as a singer, organist and elementary school music teacher at Conchita Espinosa Academy. Under his direction, some of his third and fourth grade students had the opportunity to perform in the FIU Opera Theater production of “Venus and Adonis” in the spring of 2016.

After graduation, Edgar plans to pursue his doctorate in music at the prestigious Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University.

Hadi Alhaffar
Master of Architecture
College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts
By FIU Office of Media Relations

Hadi Alhaffar came to FIU’s School of Architecture as a transfer student from the University of Damascus. While civil war was escalating in Syria, Hadi convinced himself that he was safer in the capital than in most other places in the country. His passion for architecture kept him focused.

Then one day the violence hit too close to home when a mortar went off on campus. Though Hadi wasn’t hurt, news of the university bombing reached his mother, Maisson. The shock soon led to a stroke, and as she recovered, it was clear that Hadi would have to leave Syria to complete his studies.

Hadi settled on FIU, where his cousins were students. Soon after arriving Hadi proved himself to be a stellar student working on a National Science Foundation funded cross-disciplinary project, SKOPE, which is developing a learning tool that integrates building information modeling with augmented reality. Hadi also created a 360-degree interactive art installation, Nuage, which allows viewers to experience an environment not bound by time and space. Outside of school, Hadi proved himself an entrepreneur, co-founding Instarender, a company specializing in the production of 3-D renderings for architecture firms.

After graduation, Hadi hopes to one day put the skills, education and perspective he’s gained from his time at FIU to rebuild his native Syria.

Nyamekye Daniel
Bachelor of Science in Journalism
College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts
By Angela Nicoletti

Nyamekye Daniel has suffered a string of losses that would destroy most people. Shortly after leaving her home in Barbados and coming to Miami as a teenager, her father lost his battle with diabetes. In 2005, her fiancé was murdered. Tragedy struck again, in 2006, when her almost two-year-old son passed away. In 2010, she lost her mother.

This is the grief that Nyamekye carries with her – each loss like a permanent hole inside of her that she can never fill, she says. But for Nyamekye giving up isn’t an option. She’s determined to set a good example for her 11-year-old daughter, Nyla, and 21-month-old son, Braylon.

In 2015, Nyamekye was preparing for her final exam for federalism and intergovernmental relations when she suffered complications during her pregnancy. Refusing to let anything stop her, she took the test from her hospital bed – and passed. A few days later, Braylon was born.

On top of juggling her responsibilities as a mother and full-time student, Nyamekye became the managing editor of the South Florida News Service, which provides FIU students the opportunity to publish stories with local news outlets. Many mornings she woke up at 3 a.m. to edit articles and prepare daily news briefs.

Nyamekye has made the dean’s list and is a member of the Kappa Tau Alpha and Tau Sigma honor societies. After graduation, she hopes to have a positive impact by pursuing a career in journalism.

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Kamila Manzueta
Bachelor of Arts in International Relations
Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs
By Amy Ellis

Kamila Manzueta believes music is a universal language that can unite diverse cultures and spread peace. At FIU, she put her belief and passion into practice as the founder, director and arranger for HEARTbeats, an a cappella group that has performed at FIU commencement, as well as Honors College and Faculty Convocation. Most recently, she represented HEARTbeats at Carnegie Hall for the Total Vocal concert series.

Despite having a double major and two minors, Kamila found time last summer to travel to New York to attend the Next Level Seminar for Musical Directors as she prepared to record her group’s first album with The Vocal Company. She also worked with artist Randy Burman and the O’Miami Foundation to create “Poem to the Sky” at FIU’s Blue Garage, the only installation of its kind at any university in the U.S.

She was twice awarded an Outstanding Student Life Award and also was recognized by the Honors College with an Outstanding Citizenship Award. She has been on the dean’s list every semester and served as a peer instructor in the Honors College.

One of her greatest challenges was losing her high school mentor David Menasche, who died of brain cancer in 2014. His influence helped her learn to live every day to the fullest.

Kamila has been named a Pickering Fellowship finalist and hopes to enter graduate school at either Columbia University or George Mason University to study Latin America and the Caribbean and international security.

Cortney Zamor
Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology
Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs
By Amy Ellis

Cortney Zamor has seen enough of the world to believe that whatever challenges she has faced in her life pale in comparison to those of the young women she has known.

In her work as an advocate for girls and women who have endured domestic violence or human trafficking, she has seen more than her fair share of suffering.

Rather than let it cause her to despair, however, Cortney has dedicated herself to being a voice for the voiceless and a leader for organizations involved in the global fight to stop human trafficking.

She has volunteered for numerous organizations, including GlobeMed, a global health organization, where she served as vice president and excelled as a fundraiser. She worked as an advocate for CEDAW, the international bill of rights for women adopted by more than 50 countries. She has also used her talents in Haiti since 2014, again as an advocate for women and children. In 2014, she completed a project to translate books from Creole, her native tongue, to English for young people.

If there has been a challenge in her life, Cortney says it has been understanding that life can be a series of tests and that it is less the outcome of a challenge but how one handles it that ultimately define the person we become.

After graduation, Cortney plans to work fulltime at a startup company and later pursue her MBA.

Brahim Almarales
Bachelor of Arts in History
Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs
By Amy Ellis

Going to school while helping support his mother and care for his grandmother, Brahim Almarales faced financial challenges throughout his academic career. Although he received a Bright Futures scholarship, it covered just a small part of his tuition; he paid most of his costs out of pocket.

He worked night jobs and, during the day, worked as a substitute teacher to make ends meet. He credits the support of his family and his girlfriend Gretel to helping him endure. A strong desire to leave a legacy and better opportunities for his future family and to better the world through his work also helped him to persevere.

Despite his difficulties, Brahim maintained a grade point average consistently over 3.5, was active in three honor societies on campus and regularly helped other students with their research and still others to bridge the sometimes challenging process of transferring from Miami Dade College to FIU. Because of his efforts to connect his FIU professors with those at MDC, the Department of History at FIU is planning a field trip for MDC students to visit.

With a strong commitment to and experience in teaching, Brahim plans to teach high school after graduation. He is also applying to graduate schools to continue his studies. He hopes to one day fulfill his dream to be a college professor.

Medjy Pierre-Louis
Bachelor of Arts in Political Science
Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs
By Amy Ellis

Medjy Pierre-Louis’ dream of improving educational opportunities for children in developing countries took her far away from friends and family in Miami – to remote villages in Haiti, Jamaica, India and the West African country of Burkina Faso.

Not speaking the local language and having little contact with the outside world was challenging at times. She missed out on some of the more traditional on-campus college experiences.

The support of FIU faculty and staff helped sustain her, she said, as did the experiences of her father, who received only a limited education growing up in Haiti but still found his way to the United States to start a better life and support his family.

Medjy, a Gates Millenium Scholar who received numerous grants and fellowships to conduct her research, said her father’s story motivated her to help other children “rewrite the stories of their future.’’

In addition to receiving a McNair grant, a Global Learning Fellowship and a Purdue University research grant, Medjy presented her research on Haiti and Jamaica at conferences, interned with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Africa and traveled to India to help develop a grassroots curriculum for an NGO, Barefoot College.

After graduation, Medjy plans to pursue a master’s degree in international education and continue her work to build effective educational programs and provide access to education for the most disadvantaged populations around the world.