Get to know some of our graduates

Gabby Serrano jumps for joy as she celebrates her graduation from the Miami Business School. Photo: Mike Montero/University of Miami

By UM News

Gabby Serrano jumps for joy as she celebrates her graduation from the Miami Business School. Photo: Mike Montero/University of Miami

Get to know some of our graduates

By UM News
The University of Miami will welcome more than 1,000 new graduates into the UM alumni family during two ceremonies taking place on Dec. 13 at the Watsco Center on the Coral Gables campus.

With assignments, labs, clinicals, and exams completed, more than 1,000 students will cross the stage for their diplomas during the University of Miami’s fall commencement ceremonies on Thursday, Dec. 13. 

News@TheU chatted with some of the graduates, who reflected on their studies, their aspirations, and their UM experience.

Lorena Knezevic, Bachelor of Architecture

Lorena Knezevic is exploring how augmented reality can be applied to all phases of architecture. She will graduate from the School of Architecture with a Bachelor of Architecture. Her plans are to continue her studies in that field, and get a Master of Science in Architecture from UM. "The mentors who supported me through my fifth-year thesis on the Architecture of Augmented Reality have encouraged me to keep pursuing my future-driven investigations in my next era of studies," she said. Lorena Knezevic

“I am so grateful for all the support from the U—working on my thesis wouldn’t have been as fun or productive without all of my inspiring advisors, colleagues and friends at the School of Architecture.”

Vaidya Govindarajan, Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience

Govindarajan jokes that he was “born to go to UM,” because his mother gave birth to him just blocks away at South Miami Hospital. Yet, the science-infatuated student is now one of its most accomplished graduates. Govindarajan was able to finish his undergraduate requirements in just two and a half years and will begin medical school this fall as part of the seven-year Medical Scholars Program.

GovindAlso a Foote Fellow, Govindarajan has stayed busy during his short time on UM’s Coral Gables campus. He is the logistics chair for the South Florida Regional Science Bowl, a middle school and high school quiz competition held on campus and Govindarajan has also volunteered as a judge for the South Florida Science Fair. In addition, Govindarajan spends one day a week at the medical campus as a research assistant in the Diabetes Research Institute and is a member of the Undergraduate Honor Council, which he cites as one of his more memorable experiences.

“I have learned not to rush to conclusions and how to really think more deeply about events and I feel that’s the right way to handle things as an adult and as someone who will be working closely with people [as a physician].”

Alyssa Amber Cruz, Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience

Alyssa Amber CruzWhen she came to UM, Alyssa Cruz wanted to study communications. But an Alternative Spring Break experience at a homeless shelter served as a catalyst to get her interested in an entirely different field. She saw the mental health conditions of homeless people go undiagnosed and learned how their lives spiraled out of control. This got Cruz interested in studying the brain, so the Foote Fellow and President’s Scholarship recipient decided to switch her major to neuroscience with a goal of becoming a doctor during her sophomore year. Cruz is planning to spend the next year working in a local middle or high school as part of AmeriCorps, and will apply to medical school for the fall of 2020. Although she has done research in the psychology department and worked as a tour guide at UM, Cruz said one of her favorite experiences was being part of the organization Students Care, where she spent three hours a week at Holtz Children’s Hospital as a bedside buddy for cancer patients. 

“I had one buddy for six months, and she fought the battle well. She was from South America and did not speak English well, so the relationship I was able to build with her and the difference we made in each other’s lives was very impactful.”


Darius Rice, Bachelor of Business Administration

Darius RiceSome students get life experience before finishing their college degree. That was the case for Darius Rice, who will graduate from the Miami Business School. "Playing in the NBA and overseas was truly a dream come true," said Rice, who played for the Miami Hurricanes from 2000-2004. 

“But equally as important is the fact that I returned to the University of Miami to complete my college degree after a 14-year professional basketball career.”

Immediately after graduation, Rice would like either to play professionally for a couple of more years or start a business here in Miami. He credits David Wyman, senior associate athletic director for academic services, Blake James, UM’s director of athletics, and most of all his mom for inspiring him to come back to UM to finish what he started 18 years ago.

Dana McGeehan, Bachelor of Science in Communication

From an early age, Dana McGeehan looked forward to driving by the Coral Gables campus as she sat in the backseat of her parents’ car. She was so captivated by the university that she believed it was the only institution that existed in the state of Florida. Inevitably, when her college acceptance letters began to roll in, the only one that truly mattered was the one from UM. McGeehan will graduate with a double major in history and media management.

Dana McGeehanThroughout her collegiate career, McGeehan’s passions have been extensive. She was named a Library Research Scholar last academic year, served as a First Year Fellow in Stanford Residential College, and worked as the UM Police Department’s crime prevention coordinator in the Flipse building. Though she will always have an appreciation for history and media, McGeehan has learned through her experiences where her heart truly lies.

“Working over in Flipse for the past three years, it really became one of my favorite campus spots. I’ll be able to use the skills that I developed as a history major, like critical thinking, writing, in any field.”

McGeehan plans to pursue a Master’s degree in emergency management as well as continue to support UM sports teams every chance she gets, just how she was raised.

Jiaying Li, Bachelor of Science in Communication

Jiaying LiA native of Chengdu, China, Jiaying Li immersed herself in all things communication during her studies at UM. With a double major in public relations and psychology and a minor in advertising, Li also became involved with the UM Debate Team and UM’s chapter of the Public Relations Students Society of America (PRSSA).

“My years being a ’Cane have been the best years of my life. UM is a community that values and promotes respect and tolerance for all, and I’m honored to be a member of it.” 

Li’s involvement with PRSSA twice earned her the Ev Clay/PRSA Miami Scholarship, awarded to an outstanding public relations student each year. She plans to attend law school.

Cristina Criado Barrios, Bachelor of Science in Education

Cristina Criado BarriosBorn in Spain and raised partly in Peru, Cristina Criado Barrios hopes to combine her love of education with psychology. She credits her time at UM with helping her meet people from all around the world, making friends that will last a lifetime, determining what she wants to do in life, and becoming part of Sigma Delta Pi, the Spanish Honor Society.

“Several memorable things happened to me at UM.”

After graduation, she hopes to either find a job in the U.S. or apply for a master's program in something related to child psychology and diagnosis in the U.S., or return back home to Spain.

Michael Batey, Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering

At the College of Engineering, Michael Batey was part of a team of students that created a new music streaming service for their senior design capstone project.Michael Batey

Their Sonically Based Music Recommendation System, or Sonify, employs blockchain digital technology—a distributed database existing on multiple computers and devices at the same time—to fully automate transactions with artist records and remove any middleman services. The project took top honors at the college’s 2018 Senior Design Expo and captured the runners-up prize at Grammy Award-winning artist Pitbull’s Smackathon Blockchain Music Challenge.

Now, Batey, who graduates this month with a degree in computer engineering, is ready to begin the next chapter of his life. He’s landed a job as a software engineer at the Atlanta, Georgia-based Honeywell Software Center. Batey, who was born in Atlanta and lived in Nigeria until age 6, wants to help steer more African-Americans into the field of engineering.

“I have seen many kids being discouraged from becoming engineers. My goal is to show aspiring African-American youth that there really is nothing to be afraid of but fear itself.”

Brian Logan, Doctor of Musical Arts         

Brian LoganAirman First Class Brian Logan performs on euphonium—think of a tuba, but up an octave—and will graduate with his Doctorate in Musical Arts from the Phillip and Patricia Frost School of Music under the advisement of associate professor Aaron Tindall. What may appear to have been an overnight success story for Logan was actually eight years in the making. Since 2008, the Tallahassee native has had the same dream: to earn a position with the Air Force Band. In February 2016, that dream became a reality. At UM, Logan was selected to be a Henry Mancini Fellow, a highly acclaimed ensemble comprised of writers, arrangers, and musicians who play a multitude of musical styles, including classical jazz, Latin, and world music.

“My experience in the Frost School of Music was great. I plan on serving in the Air Force Band for at least 20 years. I’m hoping my next assignment is in Germany.”

Upon retiring from the Air Force Band, Logan plans to use his doctorate degree to ultimately become a professor at a university.

Richard Singer, Ph.D. in Public Health

Richard Singer

As director of the orthodontic program at Nova Southeastern University (NSU) and director of the Master’s program for the College of Medicine, Richard Singer spends most of his time on the Davie NSU campus meeting with students and administrators. Yet, after teaching and working as an orthodontist for more than 20 years, Singer decided he wanted to delve back into analyzing health care on a larger scale. As a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Public Health Sciences within UM’s Miller School of Medicine, Singer has coauthored 20 different research papers since starting the program eight years ago. Singer would like to continue studying the intersections between oral health and other conditions, such as heart disease, which was the topic of his dissertation.

“In my career, I’ve been developing health care on a one-to-one basis — now I am studying it on a population level,” said Singer, who would like to forge a stronger relationship between NSU and UM in the future.

Eleanor Anne Middlemas, Ph.D. in Meteorology and Physical Oceanography

Eleanor MiddlemasDuring her five years as a Ph.D. candidate at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, Eleanor Middlemas always made it a priority to mentor the next generation of scientists, teaching and advising students at a Coconut Grove middle school. The Johnson City, Tennessee, native, who is receiving her doctoral degree in meteorology and physical oceanography, undoubtedly understands the importance of preparing young minds to take up the torch of solving global crises like climate change.

But for now, it is her very own research in using climate model simulations to investigate long-term variations in temperature that will help inform society until the next generation is ready to take over. "I will use my experiments to improve our understanding of some of the largest uncertainties in climate models, like clouds," said Middlemas, who will soon be starting as a visiting postdoctoral fellow at the University of Colorado Boulder's Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences.

“Understanding the climate over the polar Southern Hemisphere is essential because Antarctic ice melt due to increasing greenhouse gas emissions could lead to a dramatic rise in global sea level.”

Ryan Joseph Kramer, Ph.D. in Meteorology and Physical Oceanography

Ryan Joseph KramerAfter he graduates from the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science with a Ph.D. in meteorology and physical oceanography, Ryan Joseph Kramer will conduct research as a postdoctoral fellow at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in the Washington, D.C. area.

“My Ph.D. work at the Rosenstiel School focused on how climate change will impact rainfall,” said Kramer. “Rain serves as an important mechanism for transporting heat that helps maintain delicate energy balances throughout the climate system.”

At NASA, Kramer will build off his doctoral research, investigating how properties of the Earth’s land surface, such as vegetation, affect climate.

He is looking forward to conducting research that will help policymakers address climate changes that will impact all facets of society, from the economy to human health to national security. “Of course, for my research to have any real impact on society I’ll have to be able to effectively communicate about it,” he said. “Fortunately that is a skill I was able to develop as a Ph.D. student at UM and plan to use throughout my career.”

Philip Staudigel, Ph.D. in Marine Geology and Geophysics

Philip StaudigelPhilip Staudigel, who earned his Ph.D. in marine geology and geophysics from the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, is headed to Cardiff University in Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom, to begin postdoctoral work.

“My Ph.D. focused on using the different isotopes of various elements as tracers to study the slow chemical reactions that occur below the seafloor,” said Staudigel, who is from San Diego, California.

“I will be using lessons learned from my Ph.D. studies to simulate these chemical reactions over timescales of millions of years, with the goal of using sediments as a recorder of climate during periods of Earth’s history when CO2 was four times more concentrated in the atmosphere than it is today,” he said. “By studying how heat was distributed around the world during that time, we can learn valuable lessons to help predict future climate change in response to the release of fossil fuel CO2.”

Jasmine Nicole Falcon, Bachelor of Science in Nursing

Jasmine FalconJasmine Nicole Falcon is graduating from the accelerated nursing program through the School of Nursing and Health Studies with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. During her time at UM, Falcon has fallen in love with three areas of nursing: neonatal intensive care unit, labor and delivery, and the emergency department.

After graduating, Falcon plans to job search and study for the nursing boards (NCLEX) with the hopes of taking the exam in February. She aspires to be a pediatrics travel nurse, and would also like to participate in mission trips for nurses.

“The new friends I have made at this school have definitely supported me and brought joy to this journey. Once you are a ’Cane, you are a ’Cane for life and that means always having a community of people to support you.”

Stephanie Lozano, Doctor of Nursing Practice

Stephanie LozanoStephanie Lozano beat all odds and is proudly graduating with her degree in Doctor of Nursing Practice. Lozano was about to begin her second year of the D.N.P. program when she became ill with an autoimmune disease called Henoch-Schonlein Purpura. In the span of six weeks she went from being a healthy student, to a patient on dialysis awaiting a kidney transplant. In the spring of 2017 she received the good news that her cousin was a transplant match.

One month later, she was back at school with a new kidney. She credits her faith and family and friends for her resilience. Lozano now wants to help other kidney disease patients and donors navigate the pre-transplant process, which she found fragmented and overwhelming. She is also particularly interested in increasing the number of living organ transplants, which have better long-term graft survival rates than deceased donor organs.

“Everyone has a battle to overcome, and although my battle wasn’t the easiest, I had a determination inside of me that wouldn’t let me entertain any of the negative diagnoses, prognoses, or outcomes thrown my way.”

Lozano’s remarkable story was featured in the School of Nursing and Health Studies Heartbeat magazine’s fall 2018 issue.

Contributors: Barbara Gutierrez, Robert C. Jones Jr., Amanda M. Perez, Janette Neuwahl Tannen and Ashley A. Williams

Photo: TJ Lievonen/University of Miami