There’s No Place Like … a Classroom

A pair of Knights fall head-over-heels for education — and each other — at UCF

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Will Furiosi II, ’13, ’14 & Jessica Ortega, ’13 | Teachers, Oviedo High School

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Fascinated with infectious disease and pathogenic bacteria, Will Furiosi, ’13, ’14, had dreams of working at the Centers for Disease Control. But, during his senior year of pre-med classes at UCF, he decided that teaching science might be more fun.

So, after completing his bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences (with a minor in business administration) in 2013, he continued his education at UCF, on a full scholarship, graduating with his master’s degree in teacher education in 2014. Now, instead of wearing head-to-toe protective garb in a lab every day, he only needs to slip on a pair of safety glasses when conducting experiments with his AP biology and chemistry students at Oviedo High School.

And, in case he has any accidents, his emergency contact, fellow Knight and bride-to-be Jessica Ortega, ’13, is just a few hallways away, teaching AP art history and honors humanities.

To call this couple of Knights ambitious is an understatement.

During their time at UCF, both were active members of The Burnett Honors College and the President’s Leadership Council.

In addition, Furiosi was a recipient of the 2013 Order of Pegasus (the most prestigious and significant award a student can attain at UCF) and graduated top of his class in the College of Medicine, as well as Summa Cum Laude from the university. And, to get in some physical exercise (and fun!), he also played four years on the university’s Ultimate Frisbee team.

When asked about the proudest moment of his life so far, he says it was the near flawless execution of his engagement plan that was six months in the making, but, he adds that a close second is a toss-up between finishing with perfect 4.0s as valedictorian of his high school and finishing top of his class at UCF.

“While there is more prestige accompanying the UCF distinction, completing the feat in high school showed that I could set my mind to something years in advance and achieve it,” he says.

Educating Q&A

Why did you choose to attend UCF?
JO: My family made an unexpected pit stop on the way to a ski trip on President’s Day weekend senior year and I applied to UCF that night. I felt just like Dorothy (in “The Wizard of Oz”) coming home the moment I stepped onto the campus. I knew I couldn’t go anywhere else after that moment.

Do you have any hidden talents?
WF: I can play multiple musical instruments — bassoon (it’s been a while for this one), flute and saxophone — and, I have a knack for taking musical tunes and making my own lyrical renditions.

If life were a song, what would the title be?
WF: I’m going to take a different spin on this and choose a good song for life: “Warning” by Incubus. It’s about a warning that you shouldn’t let life pass you by. Instead, you should live life to the fullest because everything could be gone in an instant.
JO: “I’m On Top of the World” by Imagine Dragons, because that’s how I try to feel every day, especially in front of 100-plus high school students!

Most embarrassing moment?
WF: I’m sure I’ve had more embarrassing moments, but … I ripped my pants, right in the center of my butt, right in the middle of the school day earlier this school year.

What were you most surprised to learn after becoming a teacher?
WF: I was most surprised to hear how much unsubstantiated or biased research is used to influence educational policy and how much time and money is wasted in constantly trying to reinvent the educational wheel.
JO: That kids (or anyone for that matter) never listen to you the first five times you say something. It drives me nuts having to repeat what I already have written on the board a million times a day. I seriously waste at least a few minutes a class period repeating myself and that adds up!

What kind of life advice do you give to your students?
WF: I encourage students to continue to learn as much as possible, get involved in activities to determine their interests, and become financially literate (something we should do more of in public school).
JO: Figure out your passions and pursue them regardless. These students have too many people telling them what they “should” do with their lives. They need more quiet time to just sit there and thing about what THEY want to do, not what their parents, counselors, friends or teachers think is best for them. They’re too afraid of making the “wrong” choice, but I tell them that if they learned something for the experience, it can never be a “wrong” choice.

Black & Gold Gala 2015 — Professional Achievement Award
College of Sciences

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College of Sciences Dean Michael Johnson presented the college’s 2015 Professional Achievement Award to James Rosengren, ’81.
James Rosengren, ’81 | Founder/Chairman/CEO, Heritage Health Solutions Inc.

The UCF Alumni Association and College of Sciences presented their 2015 Professional Achievement Award to James Rosengren at the annual Black & Gold Gala on Oct. 22.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in biology from UCF, Jim went on to earn his master’s degree in healthcare administration at Baylor University in 1991. 

Before becoming the chairman and CEO of Heritage Health Solutions Inc., he was the vice president of political and government relations for Health Net Federal Services Inc. He also served in the U.S. Army, earning multiple medals, the Legion of Merit Award and Congressional Veteran Commendation.

Jim is a fellow at the American College of Healthcare Executives, and is a member of several veterans and military organizations.

Learn more about Jim:

Black & Gold Gala 2015 — Professional Achievement Award
College of Nursing

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College of Nursing Dean Mary Lou Sole presented the college’s 2015 Professional Achievement Award to Thomas Weichart, ’04, ’14.
Thomas Weichart, ’04, ’14 | Clinical Nursing Director, ONI Medical Associates

The UCF Alumni Association and College of Nursing presented their 2015 Professional Achievement Award to Tom Weichart at the annual Black & Gold Gala on Oct. 22.

Prior to his current career ventures, Tom held various nursing positions, including the role of presidential executive nurse with the White House Medical Unit. He also served in the U.S. Army, with stints at Womack Army Medical Center in Fort Bragg, N.C.; 86th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad, Iraq; and 240th Forward Surgical Team in Macedonia and Kosovo.

His education in the health-care field began in 1993 and continues to this day. He earned a BS in nursing from the University of Florida in 1995; an MS in health services administration from Central Michigan University in 1999; an MS in critical care nursing from UCF in 2004; a post-graduate health profession education certificate in 2004; an MA in theology/theological studies from Liberty University in 2010; post-graduate certificate as a family nurse practitioner from UCF in 2014; and is currently attending UCF for a nurse practitioner doctorate, scheduled to graduate next year.

Learn more about Tom:

Black & Gold Gala 2015 — Professional Achievement Award
College of Medicine

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College of Medicine Dean Deborah German presented the college’s 2015 Professional Achievement Award to Dr. Michael Makowski, ’80.
Dr. Michael Makowski, ’80 | Eye Physician/Surgeon, Tomoka Eye Associates

The UCF Alumni Association and College of Medicine presented their 2015 Professional Achievement Award to Michael Makowski at the annual Black & Gold Gala on Oct. 22.

Mike earned his bachelor’s degree in molecular biology/microbiology from UCF, then went on to earn his medical degree from the University of South Florida in 1984. He did his internship at Greenville Hospital System in South Carolina, and his residency at the Medical College of Georgia. 

He is an ophthalmologist and partner with Tomoka Eye Associates, Daytona’s largest and most popular ophthalmology group, with multiple subspecialists and the latest diagnostic technology. His focus is on cataract surgery, glaucoma, oculoplastics and corneal transplant. He’s a member of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, American Medical Association, American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons, Volusia County Medical Society and Flagler County Medical Society.

Mike received the Patients’ Choice Award in 2008, 2011 and 2014, and Compassionate Doctor Recognition in 2011 and 2014.

He’s married to fellow Knight Sandi (Wing), ’80, with whom he has two adult sons.

Learn more about Michael:

Swinging for Scholarships

UCF alumna puts on her dancing shoes to help raise money for nursing students

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Joyce DeGennaro, ’03, practices with dance partner Tony Sterling for Femmes de Coeur’s “Let Us Entertain You” competition
to help raise money for UCF nursing scholarships. (Photo: Zack Thomas, UCF Foundation)

By Angie Lewis, ’03

When Joyce DeGennaro, ’03, decided to apply for the College of Nursing’s accelerated B.S.N. program, she needed some assistance to help ease the financial burden of pursuing another degree. After all, she was a little older, and had a 6-month-old baby and mortgage at the time. That’s when she discovered the Femmes de Coeur scholarship, for which she applied and was awarded, helping her to pay for tuition and books, and graduate without student-loan debt in 2009.

Femmes de Coeur (Women of Heart) is an Orlando-based, not-for-profit volunteer organization that regularly hosts fundraising events to support numerous local community projects, including nursing scholarships at UCF, Valencia College, Seminole State College and the Florida Hospital’s Adventist University of Health Sciences.

Becoming a nurse wasn’t DeGennaro’s original plan, however. She grew up thinking she wanted to become a counselor or forensic psychologist, which is why she earned her first UCF bachelor’s degree in psychology, with a minor in criminal justice, in 2003. But, it was her work in Florida Hospital’s inpatient placement program that inspired her to go back to school to become a nurse.

Forever thankful for her opportunity to follow her passion, DeGennaro recently had the opportunity to participate in Femmes de Coeur’s annual dance competition, “Let Us Entertain You,” which raises money for exact scholarship that helped put her through nursing school.

She had no previous dance experience before the competition, but was in good hands with her 19-year dancing veteran and partner, Tony Sterling. The pair practiced twice a week since March, and took the stage June 14 in the ballroom at Church Street Station, dancing the West Coast Swing to Florida-Georgia Line’s “Cruise.” While they didn’t take the top prize, they did place third, which means about $10,000 in nursing scholarships for UCF.

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“It was my way of being able to give back to something that helped me.” DeGennaro says.

She also gives back daily, in a different way — helping to educate future nurses in the College of Nursing, where she was hired as a permanent nursing instructor in January.

Her journey from practical to practicum began while she was working as a nurse in the multisystem-transplant ICU at Florida Hospital South, where she became a certified preceptor and discovered a love for teaching. So, once again, DeGennaro re-enrolled at UCF — this time in the nurse educator master’s program, from which she graduated in 2013.

“I love being a nurse,” she says. “I love caring for people. [But,] as a nurse educator, I’m able to impart my knowledge and experience into my students. Every time they help or care for someone, I feel as though I’m a part of it. So, in essence, I’m able to touch more people’s lives than ever before!”

While she’s not planning to make a career out of dancing, DeGennaro is planning to continue her UCF education, beginning her Ph.D. in summer 2016, with plans to do research in critical care.

A Day with a Knight — ARNP

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Kate Hughes, ’10 | ARNP, Winter Park OB-GYN

By Angie Lewis, ’03

“Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” It’s a quote that Kate Hughes, ’10, lives by as an advanced registered nurse practitioner for Winter Park OB-GYN. I spent a day with her to gain more perspective on what it’s like to be a women’s care nurse.

It was just after 9 a.m. on Wednesday, May 6, when I joined Kate in her office, after meeting with the office manager to sign a confidentiality agreement. She had already seen her first patient by the time I greeted her.

While waiting for her next patient to get settled in the exam room, she checked messages and lab results on her laptop. Then, it was off to see her second patient of the day, an 18-year-old who wanted to renew her prescription for birth control after moving to Florida.

Kate entered the room, introduced herself and me, then asked the teen to tell her about herself. It’s part of how she was trained as a nurse practitioner — to treat mind, body and soul. She says getting to know more about her patients’ lives not only helps her develop a trusted bond with them, but also gives her insight into issues that could potentially cause health issues.

After learning more about her newest patient, Kate reminded her about the risks of birth control pills, and made sure she understood that they don’t protect against sexually transmitted diseases.

Her next patient was a returning 42-year-old, who came in for an infertility consultation. Kate explained the initial tests she wanted to run, as well as the next steps, which seemed to give the patient some hope.

She was followed by a 33-year-old who was there for her 38-week pregnancy checkup on her third child. While performing the exam, Kate felt something abnormal. However, not knowing what it was, and not wanting to unnecessarily concern her patient, she stayed calm and told her she was having a difficult time finding her cervix.

After my arrival earlier that morning, Kate had explained that Winter Park OB-GYN was a collaborative practice. And, this particular patient was a perfect example of that collaboration at work, as she consulted a fellow nurse practitioner about her unusual discovery.

Thankfully, it turned out to be a varicose vein on the uterus and not an umbilical cord, which would have required emergent care.

As the morning proceeded, Kate saw four more patients — a 34-year-old for a 34-week pregnancy check, a 24-year-old in for her first pap smear, a 25-year-old with a yeast infection and a 24-year-old who came in for a Nexplanon birth control implant — before getting to take a break for lunch, through which she worked on charts, and again checked messages and lab results.

After getting a few bites in, it was time for her first patient of the afternoon, a 60-year-old in for her annual exam. She was followed by a 52-year-old who had been experiencing light spotting every couple of months and thought she may be in menopause. However, Kate assured her that was not the case yet due to her lab and ultrasound results. Instead, it was a cyst that was most likely causing the irregular bleeding.

Seven patients later, she met her last one of the day — and one of the most difficult for her emotionally, as she hates causing any of her patients pain. This one, a 40-year-old mother of one was in to get a Paraguard IUD insertion under ultrasound. It’s a particularly tricky procedure that requires directly entering the uterus through the cervix, and I cringed with empathy as the patient screamed out in pain. Thankfully, it only lasted a few seconds, but it took its toll, causing her to feel light headed for a few minutes afterward. Kate apologized for causing the unavoidable discomfort and brought her patient some juice and a snack bar to help combat the physical reaction.

Regardless of the times she has to perform painful procedures — or, worse yet, deliver painful news, like a miscarriage — Kate still does so with the utmost compassion and professionalism, even praying with her patients upon request.

Kate has been with Winter Park OB-GYN for the last five years. She previously worked as an emergency room nurse at Florida Hospital East Orlando.

“Choosing one thing I love about my work is very difficult,” she says. “I love connecting with women, meeting them where they are each day and helping them work through illness, promote healthy decisions and prevent disease.”

Throughout the day, I noticed the special connection she shares with her patients. She’s extremely personable and compassionate, and it translates through the women for whom she cares, who, one after another, told me how great she is.

“My experience [at UCF] aided me in providing compassionate care that meets the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of my patients on many levels,” she says.

Her patients love her for that. And, she loves her job because of her patients.

Beyond the Stethoscope Q&A

Q. What advice would you give to current UCF nursing students?
A.  Take time to learn the anatomy and pathophysiology very well. This foundation helps everything else fall into place.

Q. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
A.  My husband and I love to travel! The National Park System in the United States has some of the most beautiful places in the entire world — oceans, deserts, rainforests, mountains, valleys, rock formations. I would love to work for the National Park system!

Q. What’s something you learned in the past week?
A.  I learned about a new drug regimen for multiple sclerosis patients.

Q. What do you fear?
A.  Clowns and spiders

Q. Last thing you Googled?
A.  Guidelines for patients of advanced maternal age

Kate Hughes is a recipient of the UCF Alumni Association’s 2012 Rising Star Award. She’s been married to fellow Knight Jimmy Hughes, ’06, for nine years, and the couple has three sons, Daniel, 6, Elijah, 4, and Jonah, 2.

 

Body of Lessons

First-year UCF medical students dissect cadaver to discover cause of death

First-year medical students at UCF after presenting their autopsy report. From left, Kathryn Baker, Jonathan Mayl, Ajay Kailas, Heena Ahmed, Marco Mejia Acevedo, and Katie Conover. (Naseem S. Miller, Orlando Sentinel)
First-year medical students (left to right) Kathryn Baker, Jonathan Mayl, Ajay Kailas, Heena Ahmed, Marco Mejia Acevedo and Katie Conover (Naseem S. Miller, Orlando Sentinel) presented their autopsy findings after a 17-week anatomy lab.

By Naseem S. Miller
Orlando Sentinel

For 17 weeks, the cadaver of a 49-year-old man lay on a cold metal autopsy table as six first-year medical students explored every layer and organ of his body.

After years of delving into pages of their anatomy and physiology books, they picked up a scalpel and made their first cuts into human flesh.

All those diagrams and drawings were suddenly under their finger tips and in the palm of their hands. The future doctors marveled at the diseased organs of their young patient and tried to figure out what caused his death.

“A lot of times I would go home and think, my goodness, if he had so many issues, what was his life actually like?” said Jonathan Mayl, a first-year medical student at UCF College of Medicine.

Like the rest of his classmates, Mayl had just finished the classic first-year anatomy lab, but unlike many medical schools, the students here have to give presentations at the end of the course and discuss what could have caused their patient’s death.

Their anatomy lab at UCF is an investigation into the cause of death, not just the study of human body.

The students are given basic information such as age and the CT scan of the cadaver’s body. Throughout the integrated anatomy lab, they study the images, research topics, send samples to pathology, and consult with specialists who walk around the lab that overlooks greenery and the sunset.

“For 40 years I taught normal and we ignored the abnormal,” said anatomy professor Andrew Payer, who runs the anatomy lab. “We taught the students anatomy and made them memorize it, and somewhere along the line a light went off, and I thought there’s a great opportunity that we’re missing, because there’s a lot of clinical anatomy here.”

The 17 weeks are transformative, as students put together in the lab what they’ve learned in textbooks, and emerge with a better command on medical speak and understanding of the human body.

The teams’ final presentations are judged and graded by faculty, upperclassmen and Orange and Osceola county chief medical examiner, Dr. Jan Garavaglia.

Two teams win.

“These kids are made to think while they’re studying and think about what they’re finding and put it in a bigger perspective,” said Garavaglia, better known as Dr. G. “It’s a wonderful thing they’re doing. It’s very novel … These are the people that we need to take care of us as we get older, so it’s important that we have a good medical school,” she said.

Mayl and his teammates were told that they had the youngest cadaver in the anatomy lab. The cadaver also turned out to be one of the sickest.

“He had a lot of issues,” said Marco Mejia Acevedo. “It was hard to pinpoint what the cause was.” Almost every organ was diseased.

The team finally decided that the patient died of cardiac arrhythmia that led to sudden death, but the autopsy report said that the cause of death was acute respiratory distress and end-stage renal failure.

Before the results were announced, Mayl said although he would like to win, “even if we don’t, we learned a lot. That was the ultimate prize.”

The team did not win.

Ajay Kailas, an aspiring dermatologist, saw how internal problems could manifest on the skin through ulcers and bruises.

“It made it harder for me to decide on a single specialty, just because there are so many interesting things everywhere,” said Heena Ahmed.

Katie Conover who was terrified of the anatomy lab, ended up loving the experience. She dissected the 49-year-old’s brain. “I don’t know if that’s something that I go into, but I couldn’t stop reading about it. I had to force myself to stop,” she said.

Mayl, who was interested in cardiology, couldn’t get away from pulmonology, and Acevedo, who’s keen on cardiothoracic surgery, got to dissect the heart.

“I’ve always been interested in surgery, so anatomy is my happy place,” said Kathryn Baker.

Surrounded by students, Dr. G. announced the winners of the autopsy report on a recent afternoon. The anatomy lab came  with lessons to stay for a lifetime, and a depth of gratitude to the men and women who donated their bodies to science.

“I walked through the anatomy lab doors for the last time to study our cadaver and I looked up and at the top of the door I saw this plaque,” said Mayl, pulling up the photo with the quote from an 18th century physician on his phone and reading it: “‘Let conversation cease. Let laughter flee. This is the place where death delights to help the living.’ And I thought, wow, after all this, that’s so true and I’m so glad we had this opportunity.”

This article was republished with permission from the author. It appeared in a Feb. 10, 2015, edition of the Orlando Sentinel online. See original article.

Making Strides

Alumnus doctor helps professional athletes get back on their feet

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Dr. Gideon Lewis, ’00 | Reconstructive Foot and Ankle Surgeon

By Daniela Marin

Dr. Gideon Lewis, ’00, stood before an audience of thousands of UCF graduates and their families, as the keynote speaker at UCF’s spring 2014 commencement, where he shared his accomplishments since he donned his own cap and gown, and divulged the philosophy that helped him reach them.

“I still stand by my words that the two most valuable assets in life are relationships and experiences,” he says. “Looking back at my journey, these priceless things are what I’ve built my entire career around.”

In his private practice as a double board-certified reconstructive foot and ankle surgeon, Lewis specializes in sports medicine, treating professional athletes, like Olympic gold medalist sprinter Justin Catlin, Hall of Fame water skier and X-Game gold medalist Ron Scarpa, and Canadian pro football player Keron Williams.

“I’ve always had the desire and dream of establishing a sports medicine practice working with the world’s top athletes,” Lewis says. “I’ve had the privilege of creating a practice geared toward these types of patients, and, I’m proud to say, there’s rarely a day when I don’t treat a professional athlete.”

His disposition for talent, commitment and passion has not only earned him a revered reputation among his patients, but throughout the entire sports community.

“Dr. Lewis’ professional background is outstanding, but what truly sets him apart from other physicians is his understanding of the mind, the heart and the spirit of the athlete,” says Susan Paul, a top 10 U.S. “Supercoach,” as ranked by Runner’s World Magazine.

Lewis’ past experience as a Division I collegiate athlete has served both as motivation and an added resource for delivering consistently great results. The former tennis player’s ability to relate to his patients has made being part of an athlete’s journey from injury to victory that much more rewarding.

I will always strive toward making my alma mater the top university in the nation.

As an assistant professor with the UCF College of Medicine, he’s had the opportunity to stay involved with rising medical students. He was also named chief sport medicine faculty advisor for the college, and is the founder and director of the UCF Pre-Medical Surgical Internship Program.

“I thoroughly enjoy working with pre-medical and medical students,” he says. “Over the next few years, I hope to take on more leadership positions and continue to teach these future physicians.”

Lewis’ inspiration comes from a genuine interest in providing guidance to passionate students combined with efforts to support his alma mater.

“I have an obligation to give back to the institution and supporters who have given so much to me throughout my life,” Lewis says. “My success is somewhat dependent on the success of UCF.  I will always strive toward making my alma mater the top university in the nation.”

Healing Q&A

Q. Why did you choose to attend UCF?
A. I transferred to UCF after a year of attending the University of North Carolina, where I played tennis. After I realized my hopes of becoming a professional tennis player weren’t going to happen, I enrolled at UCF alongside my good friend Joe Foley from high school. We both chose UCF because of its strong pre-medical curriculum.  Today, Dr. Foley is a renowned interventional cardiologist, and I’m a board-certified reconstructive foot and ankle surgeon.

Q. Favorite UCF memory?
A. Hanging out at the Pre-Health Professions office with Susie Yantz and the rest of my pre-med classmates.

Q. Favorite professor?
A. Dr. Budd Berringer. He taught me the importance of always giving 100 percent in everything I do, and always finding the opportunity to provide service to others.

Q. Favorite class?
A. Endocrinology. Being a molecular biology and microbiology major, I developed an interest in the mechanisms and pathways of the human body. This area of discipline encompasses these in almost all aspects.

Q. Were you involved in any extracurricular activities?
A. During my time at UCF, I was very active with the Pre-Professional Medical Society, and even became president of the organization my last year.

Q. What was your experience like as UCF’s commencement speaker?
A. It was one of the most amazing moments in my life. Having the opportunity to speak in front of an audience of more than 12,000 people was very surreal. To share my motivational words and advice with the hundreds of graduating students was a very humbling experience.

Q. Describe a typical day at work.
A. My typical day depends on whether or not I’m performing surgery. During my typical office day, I will spend eight hours treating patients and then an additional two hours on paperwork and phone calls. Otherwise, I’m in the operating room all day during my surgery days. In addition, I work on my non-medical business, Go Chia!, usually before and after office hours.

Q. Most memorable day at work so far?
A. I received an emergent phone call from a hospital physician requesting me to perform surgery immediately on a pediatric trauma patient. After rushing to the hospital, I performed a complex surgery by reattaching this young boy’s traumatically amputated toe. Later, and without any prior knowledge, it was discovered that this boy was part of one of Florida’s most horrific child abuse cases, which also gained national media attention.

Q. What or who inspires you?
A. People who achieve the impossible. My father has inspired me by his life’s journey of being born and raised in a poor, developing country, who then immigrated to the United States for medical school, and eventually became a family practice physician. Dr. Sarah Kureshi, a UCF graduate and former classmate, is a walking example of someone who epitomizes the word perfection. Not only has she achieved almost everything academically, but also her humanitarian efforts have inspired thousands to make the world a better place.

Q. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
A. I’m attempting that now! I’m the co-founder and co-developer of Go Chia!, a super-foods brand. Developing a healthy food and beverage company has allowed me to take on a business outside of the medical industry. I love promoting this healthy brand in a fun and positive way.

Q. Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
A. “Welcome every opportunity to succeed.” —Dr. Zac Haas (my former roommate)

 

College of Medicine

College of Medicine Dean, Dr. Deborah German, presents the college's 2014 Professional Achievement Award to Dr. James Norman, '82. (PHOTO: Brandon Chestnut)
College of Medicine Dean, Dr. Deborah German, presents the college’s 2014 Professional Achievement Award to Dr. James Norman, ’82.
(PHOTO: Brandon Chestnut)
James Norman, ’82, M.D. | Senior Surgeon, Norman Parathyroid Center

Professional Achievement Award 2014

Dr. James Norman’s incredible ambition as a first-generation, college-bound student coincided with a particular neighbor’s eye for talent to yield a life-changing opportunity. With the encouragement of his former neighbor, who was then-dean of UCF’s College of Health and Public Affairs, Norman would pursue an education in microbiology and go on to medical school. He currently dedicates his medical career to the study of hyperparathyroidism, and continues to make advances in easier treatments for the disease.

Learn more about James:

Finding Neo

Alumnus works to help cancer patients get reliable diagnosis for treatment

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Bradley Campagna, ’11 | Cytogenetic Technologist, Neogenomics Laboratories

By Daniela Marin

In an effort to raise awareness and funds from sparked conversations, the Movember Foundation encourages men from around the world to sprout and sport mustaches for an entire month for men’s health issues.

Biotechnology graduate Bradley Campagna, ’11, is one of many “mo bros” who has begun his hairy journey in the fight against prostate and testicular cancer, and mental health problems. And, though a full-blown mustache might ordinarily cause concerns in a professional work setting, Campagna’s position as a cytogenetic technologist delivering results to cancer patients lands him in a unique position.

Campagna says most of his co-workers at Neogenomics Laboratories in Fort Myers, Fla., participate in cancer-awareness initiatives, making them understanding of his growing facial hair. In honor of breast cancer awareness month in October, Campagna and his co-workers organized a potluck and donated all of the proceeds to breast cancer research.

Not a whole lot of people know the way your body works on a molecular level, and to be able to educate people, even if it’s something small, is a great benefit.

“It’s really relevant to my field of work, so I try to keep up with all initiatives,” he explains. “Most people at work do it [too], so they are very understanding. It’s fun. You just have to stay away from Chuck E. Cheese and places like that so you don’t look like a creep.”

Besides avoiding children, Campagna spends his days in the processing lab at Neogenomics preparing samples for analysis. On other days, he obtains results by analyzing isolated white blood cells from patient samples such as blood or bone marrow.

“I get a much more sense of pride when I do the analysis because, regardless of the result, both a positive or negative result can be great,” he says. “A negative result means the patient is in remission and their treatment is working. At the same time, there is nothing wrong with a positive result because that means the doctor actually found the problem and the patient can now begin treatment.”

In addition to analyzing samples, Campagna particularly enjoys working in his field because of the knowledge he can provide to others.

“Not a whole lot of people know the way your body works on a molecular level, and to be able to educate people, even if it’s something small, is a great benefit,” he says. “[Biotechnology] isn’t something that a lot of people do, and not a lot of people know about it, and that’s what I find very interesting.”

In fact, Campagna was one of only 102 UCF biotechnology undergraduates in the class of 2011.

After earning his bachelor’s degree, Campagna worked as a bartender until landing his first career job with Neogenomics, at which point he was able to pursue the additional certifications and licenses required to work in a clinical laboratory.

“Neogenomics has absolutely been a great first job,” he says. “They put me through their own training program where I was able to get the further education experience I needed. The company has grown so much, and I’ve had every opportunity to grow with them. I’m thankful for that every day.”

We Mustache You to Read This Q&A

Q. Favorite UCF professor/class?
A. I can’t say that I had a favorite professor. They were all different and every professor had a different way of teaching, which I liked because it reached out to all the different ways of learning. As for a favorite class, they were all tough, but I found one of the most interesting was molecular biotechnology. It was hard, but some of the things I learned were very, very interesting.

Q. Proudest moment?
A. I think my proudest moment would be back in January, when I received a CARE award. Every quarter, our company gives out these awards to employees who have gone above and beyond, and they recognize that. It was really nice to be recognized for a lot of the extra work I had been doing.

Q. Most rewarding aspect of your job?
A. Definitely getting the results out. That’s the whole point of what we do. We’re very customer focused and patient focused. Being in an oncology lab, we may not actually meet the patients, but behind every sample there is a patient who’s sick and waiting for a test result, so it’s definitely really nice to help do that for them.

Q. What/who inspires you?
A. Besides my family, everyone who supports me. My girlfriend supports me all the time, and she inspires me. Everybody who’s close to me has really helped me out, and I’ve needed every bit of it.

Q. What did you want to be when you grew up?
A. As a little kid I wanted to be a vet, but what kid doesn’t? I never saw myself getting into this when I was smaller, that’s for sure. It’s something you kind of fall into.

Q. How do you hope your career will transition/grow over the next five years?
A. I used to have a really good five-year plan, and I don’t really have one anymore. The past year alone has changed so much. I see myself with Neogenomics, and I definitely see myself in the medical field. I just want to keep growing regardless of who that’s with.

Q. Any hidden talents?
A. I’m pretty good at watersports. Before I started working full time, I loved surfing and wakeboarding.

Q. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
A. I’d probably be a pilot. Everybody always dreams about flying, but you don’t really see too many pilots, and I think it’d be really cool.