Grad Profiles

SONHS Grad Profiles

By Robin Shear

SONHS Grad Profiles

By Robin Shear
Spring Class of 2022 is shining ever brighter, with big plans for the future

From med school and traveling, to clinical residencies, health research abroad, and more, our more than 240 newly minted UM School of Nursing and Health Studies (SONHS) grads have many exciting post-Commencement plans. Highlighted below are a few of their great stories.

1. Nursing makes graduate feel empowered and connected to his mom

Sammy Kumar, BSN ’22, transformed his childhood loss into his life’s mission and is heading to the National Children’s Hospital for a nurse residency. He is also the recipient of the Spring 2022 SONHS BSN Excellence in Academic & Clinical Performance Award. Read more:



2. Stamps Scholar gained improvisational skills, in both music and life, at SONHS

For one of his last undergrad classes at the University of Miami, Bishara Randolph, BSPH ’22, was asked to write a letter to an incoming public health student. “You have to use the opportunities here, and let those opportunities create more opportunities for you,” he counseled.

Randolph, a Stamps Leadership Scholar and Foote Fellow, has done just that. The Michigander majored in public health at SONHS and minored in health sector management and policy at Miami Business. He made the Provost’s Honor Roll and served on the UM Student Government Elections Commission. He also traveled the world, learned to cook Thai food, and began playing the piano for fun again, getting into improvising.

“College has allowed me to explore who I am fully,” said Randolph. Initially intending to follow his father into the law, he served as president of the UM Mock Trial Team and interned at a public defender’s office. But by junior year, a new path had begun to emerge. First, Randolph and a few friends won second place and $1,500 in the Miami Business Plan Competition for Ether Health, their idea for an innovative EMR (electronic medical record) start-up that would help people shop for health care services.

In addition, he and four classmates won first place in the 2021 American College of Healthcare Executives Case Competition for their telemedicine business model solution. Clinching a health care consulting internship that summer made up his mind. “Getting involved in my health management and policy classes, working at a consulting firm, and doing some consulting projects here at UM made me realize I want to pursue health care consulting after graduation,” he said.

Randolph is also inspired by his experience conducting health disparities research in the cannabis and psychedelic lab of SONHS faculty member Denise Vidot, PhD. Through her team’s collaboration with the Broward County Court System, Randolph helped revamp how parental cannabis use is treated in child dependency court, leading the Biotechnology Committee and compiling information about “safe-use strategies and emerging technology that would be useful for the court,” he explained. That initiative informed Randolph’s public health thesis project and capstone presentation on evidence-based safe-use strategies for people who use cannabis.

Now, he is excited for what’s next: spending June abroad with fellow Stamps Scholar Julia Platt, conducting a comparative analysis of health systems in France, Spain, Germany, and the United Kingdom with that of the United States. Upon return, his dream job awaits: a health care consulting post with Magnolia Innovation. “I’m still going to go on the law track, but health care and public health are always going to be part of my career,” Randolph said. “You need people with that public health lens in the private sector.”

3. Legislative aide swapped state politics for nursing clinicals

At the height of the pandemic, Jessica Garafola, ABSN ’22, left politics to pursue a career in nursing. Nursing was a dream for Garafola, who left a position as a legislative aide with Florida Sen. Shevrin Jones last year to begin the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program at the University of Miami. Now, Garafola has made her dream come true. Along with her degree, she earned the SONHS Accelerated BSN Excellence in Leadership Award.

Each week of the year-long ABSN program was action-packed, including clinical rotations, simulation experiences, comprehensive exams, public health community outreach, and more. Garafola felt prepared to thrive in such a fast-paced, intensive environment precisely because of her past legislative career. “Because of my experience in the [Florida State] Capitol, and my ability to think fast and react fast and just keep everything covered as an aide, that does translate to my ability to do that in a clinical setting and keep up with patients,” she told “The Florida Channel.”

Garafola’s interest in health care came early. After earning a bachelor’s degree in biology and Master of Health Administration degree, she worked for the Florida Legislature for three years, passing health policy. Three bills she helped pass into law were: the Infectious Disease Elimination Act (2019), which expanded clean needle distribution to all other Florida counties after the University of Miami’s pilot program, The IDEA Exchange, proved positive; the first Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act (2019), guaranteeing women hygiene products in Florida’s correctional facilities; and the subsequent Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act (2020), mandating that incarcerated pregnant people be transported to a hospital for their labor and delivery rather than endure the birthing process in the correctional facility.

Aware of the need for more nurses in his state, Sen. Jones encouraged Garafola’s endeavor. “It gives me the assurance that she will go in there with a mindset of, ‘not only am I responsible for your health, but I’m also responsible to make sure that others take on the same responsibilities,’” he said of her nursing school plans. “You have an advocate going to be a nurse also, which is good.”

Indeed, preparing nurses as leaders and advocates is a hallmark of the top-ranked SONHS program, particularly in the era of COVID-19. “The fact that everything’s going on [with the pandemic] gives me more resolve that I could be that person to help,” said Garafola. Her faculty agree, noting that she stood out as a leader in her ABSN cohort.

“Jess’s commitment to helping underserved populations was apparent from the first day in her public health clinical rotation at Camillus House,” said Régine P. Reaves, PhD, MSN, MPH, SONHS assistant professor of clinical. “Her experience working in public policy, her master’s degree in health administration, and her dedication to nursing will help Jess be a champion and advocate for those who need it most. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for her as a ’Cane Nurse!”

Dr. Reaves won’t have to wait long to find out. Clearly at ease being on the fast track, Garafola is headed straight from Commencement into her next adventure. From May to August, she will be a full-time research assistant at Corporación Nuevos Rumbos in Bogotá, Colombia, as part of the Minority Health and Health Disparities Training Program (MHRT), an NIH-funded grant program at SONHS dedicated to preparing the next generation of underrepresented health disparities scientists. Following that prestigious experience, Garafola hopes to take a nurse residency position in San Diego, California.

“Empathy is key to bedside nursing and the research that guides nursing care,” she explained. “I hope to use my clinical knowledge to help others in the hospital setting and outside of it through research in order to help communities thrive.” VIDEO:

4 and 5. Research-focused brothers on twin track to medical school
(Photo: Janette Neuwahl Tannen/UM Communications)

Alejandro Pardo, BSHS ’22, and Gabriel Pardo, BSHS ’22, have a lot in common, and not just genetically. “Many people joke about how twins can read each other's minds, but it's more like we know each other so well that we can guess what the other is thinking,” said Alejandro. “Being a twin is automatically having a best friend and a legit day-one homie—someone I can always trust and confide in.”

These fraternal twins share academic interests, too. Not only did they decide to attend the same university; they chose the same major at SONHS—health science—and identical minors of chemistry, biology, and psychology.

“Being from Miami, we have always heard how great UM is in terms of education, so we made it our goal to attend,” explained Alejandro. “We both pursued the same degree because we’re inspired by our father to be physicians.”

Their physician father used to accompany the boys when they volunteered at La Liga Contra el Cancer, and he further fostered their early interest in medicine by showing them x-rays to analyze. “We often made it a competition to see who would be the first to discern the problem in the x-ray correctly,” recalled Gabriel. “Most of the time, it was a broken bone, and we were tasked to determine where the break was and what type of fracture it had. Other x-rays depicted a nail through a hand or pneumonia.”

Once at UM, the brothers continued challenging themselves and each other. They joined the Canes Emergency Response Team (CERT) and took advantage of outstanding research opportunities accessible through UM’s Office of Undergraduate Research and Community Outreach. This led them to the lab of Dr. Justin Taylor, a physician scientist studying the role of nuclear export and splicing in hematologic cancers at UM’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Recently, Gabriel and Alejandro presented a poster on work they've been doing in Dr. Taylor’s lab at the Research, Creativity, and Innovation Forum, an annual event hosted by the Undergraduate Research office. Their poster was titled “Mechanisms of resistance for non-covalent inhibitors of Bruton’s tyrosine kinase.”

“Speaking very generally, our research focuses on the mechanisms of BTK (a kinase early in the B-cell receptor pathway),” explained Gabriel. “Kinase inhibitors are among the most developed targeted drug therapies used to treat certain cancers, including chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and other B-cell malignancies. But in some cases, resistance to these drugs can show up due to mutations, and Dr. Taylor’s lab is working to uncover and understand the mechanisms responsible for these resistances.”

Just as they came to the U together three years ago, the twins are graduating in unison as well—a full year early. The experience has only fortified their brotherly bond. “Apart from applying to med schools, our post-graduation plan is to keep doing research, working in the lab, and shadowing doctors,” said Gabriel, adding, “It has been an honor and privilege for us to attend the University of Miami together. The University has served as a beacon of strong values that we should strive towards.”

For more Commencement coverage, read our Spring 2022 Awards story.