Top Story: UMass Medical School honors graduates, recognizes selfless work

By Megan Bard

UMass Medical School Communications

December 28, 2015

It’s hard to pick a favorite story among all the great news we covered this year. So instead, we’re letting our readers pick. Here is one of the top five most-read stories published on UMassMedNow in 2015.

From the UMassMedNow editorial staff

UMass Medical School awarded 233 degrees, including two honorary degrees, Sunday, May 31, at its 42nd Commencement exercises, held on the campus green.

“It is clear to all that you are here for a reason,” Chancellor Michael F. Collins told graduates of the School of Medicine, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Graduate School of Nursing. “Please continue to be guided by the idealism that you brought with you to campus. Rebuff indifference wherever you see it and whenever you encounter it. Take your enormous intellect and gifts and bring them to change the course of the history of disease. As you do so, please remember that your simple acts of kindness may be the images that will last forever.”

Read Chancellor's Collins full speech. 



Institute of Medicine President Victor J. Dzau, MD, delivered the keynote address, encouraging the new doctors, advanced practice nurses and PhDs to remain true to their core professional values. He was also awarded an honorary degree.

Dr. Dzau asked the graduates to remember three key values: commitment to service and the sacrifice it often requires; respect for each person as an individual with a sensitivity to cultural backgrounds; and working together, within and beyond professional boundaries.

“If we can truly commit to these three values . . . then I think we can, piece by piece, build the just world that we are striving for,” Dzau said. “Living by these values will prepare you to handle nobly whatever comes your way, whether you’re responding to a crisis or building the care systems that will keep us from having crises in the first place.”

See the full keynote address.

Faculty who helped to stem the Ebola outbreak in Liberia were recognized for their selfless and lifesaving efforts, and Monica Coenraads, co-founder of the Rett Syndrome Research Trust, received an honorary degree for her research and drug development advocacy work.

UMass Medical School’s commitment to helping rebuild the Liberian health care system attracted the support of the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, which awarded the medical school $7.5 million to help combat the Ebola crisis in Liberia. The group immediately tapped into its contacts to mobilize relief efforts and help begin to restore the decimated health care system.

The results of their work means that almost one year later, fear has been replaced by optimism, chaos has been replaced by normalcy and retreat has given way to recovery and most importantly, Liberia has been declared Ebola free, Collins said.

“By responding to an invisible disease, you have become the most visible humanitarians,” Collins said. 



Those honored for their work with Academic Consortium Combating Ebola in Liberia(ACCEL) include:

Katherine Luzuriaga, MD, the UMass Memorial Health Care Chair in Biomedical Research, professor of molecular medicine, pediatrics and medicine; vice provost for clinical and translational science and global health; and director of the UMass Center for Clinical and Translational Science;

Patricia McQuilkin, MD, clinical associate professor of pediatrics;

Jeffrey Bailey, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine;

Donna Gallagher, PhD, MSN, MA, instructor in family medicine & community health and nursing and co-founder and co-director of the UMMS Office of Global Health;

Mark Bisanzo, MD, clinical associate professor of emergency medicine;

Richard Sacra, MD, assistant professor of family medicine & community health;

Michelle Niescierenko, MD, pediatric emergency physician and director of the Global Health Program at Boston Children’s Hospital;

Steven Hatch, MD, assistant professor of medicine;

Gary Sharpe, MD, instructor of emergency medicine;

Ann Moormann, PhD, associate professor of molecular medicine, pediatrics and quantitative health sciences;

Jarrod Goentzel, PhD, founder and director of the MIT Humanitarian Response Lab in the MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics;

Gail Scully, MD, assistant professor of medicine; and

Kanagasabai Udhaysashankar, MD, deputy project director of ACCEL.

As the ACCEL group went selflessly to help those in need in Liberia, Monica Coenraads embarked on a journey 16 years ago to help those affected by Rett Syndrome, a rare and debilitating neurological disease.

Collins said Coenraad’s unrelenting efforts and unmatched contributions have given hope to families impacted by Rett. 



As her daughter Chelsea, 18, who has Rett Syndrome, watched from the audience, Collins told Coenraads, “A diagnosis that would have been an emotional setback for others, instead set the stage for your emergence as a central figure in one of the most successful advocacy stories in modern medicine.”

Coenraads, as co-founder of the Rett Syndrome Research Foundation co-founder and executive director of the Rett Syndrome Research Trust, has raised more than $41 million to fund bold research and is credited with supporting a number of significant research breakthroughs.

During the ceremony, UMMS awarded 117 doctor of medicine degrees; 48 doctor of philosophy degrees in the biomedical sciences; six MD/PhDs; and, in nursing, 56 master of science degrees, two post-master’s certificates, six PhDs and seven doctor of nursing practice degrees. 

See a full list of graduates by school. 

Collins presented two special Chancellor’s Medals, one to departing University of Massachusetts President Robert L. Caret, who will become the chancellor of the University of Maryland system; and another to Graduate School of Nursing Dean Paulette Seymour-Route, who is retiring as dean. 

Graduates alternated between laughter and rapt attention as Class of 2015 student speakers Daniel Maselli, MD, (School of Medicine); Allie Muthukumar, PhD, (Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences); and Elizabeth Terhune, RN, (Graduate School of Nursing) addressed their peers prior to the conferring of the degrees. 

Watch a video of the entire Commencement ceremony. 

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