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Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences 2021 commencement

September 13, 2021

By Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science staff

On Saturday, Sept. 11, Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences held its first independent commencement in honor of 2020 and 2021 graduates. Until this year, its Ph.D. students shared a commencement with M.D. graduates from Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine. This year's event was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I am proud that we were able to successfully honor our 2020 and 2021 graduates during such a turbulent time in our world," says Stephen Ekker, Ph.D., dean of Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. "Despite the hardships all of us have faced over the last two years, these scientists have persevered and are now making a difference on behalf of Mayo Clinic. I congratulate each and every one of our graduates for this remarkable achievement."

Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences: 2021 commencement


Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences: 2021 commencement

With this year's commencement recognizing the last two years of graduates, many of these talented individuals are already making their mark on various industries across the country.

Tamiel Turley, Ph.D.Tamiel Turley, Ph.D., class of 2021

Tamiel Turley, Ph.D., is a 2021 graduate whose journey to reach this milestone was different than many. She left high school at age 16 to focus on her mental health and well-being. She eventually earned her GED diploma but decided to start a family instead of continuing her education.

"My grades didn't show it, but my passion for science was always there. I still have intricate drawings of a human cell and a heart that were drawn in middle school," Dr. Turley says.

It wasn't until two decades later, after having four children and providing in-home care for a family member, that she recognized she wanted to to go to college. Dr. Turley completed her undergraduate degree in biology, summa cum laude, from Texas Woman's University. Her experience at the bench as an undergraduate in a biomedical research lab inspired her to pursue a career as a research scientist and independent investigator.

"By making the choice to go to graduate school at Mayo Clinic, I knew I would be challenged academically and gain the skills I would need to successfully run my own cardiovascular genetics lab one day," Dr. Turley says.

Dr. Turley is currently in a postdoctoral fellowship in the lab of Andre Terzic, M.D., Ph.D., on a postdoctoral National Institutes of Health training grant in cardiovasology at Mayo Clinic. Her research focuses on advancing diagnostic and therapeutic strategies for heart failure by discovery of genetic variants that may increase risk and outcome.

Paul Belmonte, Ph.D.Paul Belmonte, Ph.D., class of 2020

Paul Belmonte, Ph.D., a 2020 graduate, defended his thesis on March 13, 2020, the day the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 to be a global pandemic.

After an adventurous year that began with a postdoctoral fellowship in Vancouver, British Columbia, that was delayed due to the border shutting down, Dr. Belmonte now works as a field research scientist in Seattle. He credits his time at Mayo Clinic as providing the resourcefulness he needed to find the right opportunity after graduation.

"At the end of the day, you're so much more than your degree," Dr. Belmonte says. "It took me a pandemic to realize that there are so many opportunities out there for a Ph.D."

"I'm so glad I got my education at Mayo Clinic. It's such a unique environment, especially the fact that it's at a hospital, as well," Dr. Belmonte says. "I used to walk by patients every day. That daily reminder gave me a fresh perspective of why I'm doing what I'm doing, and I don't think I could've gotten that anywhere else."

Alaa Koleilat, Ph.D., student speakeAlaa Koleilat, Ph.D.r

Alaa Koleilat, Ph.D., the student speaker, welcomed everyone with "Assalam Alaikum," the Islamic greeting of peace. She spoke about her experience as a graduate student and how her own contribution to her field began as a seed and has blossomed into a tree.

She left students with the following advice: "As graduates from the best hospital in the country, we will be expected to lead the scientific community. However, I want to encourage everyone to lead with kindness. Lead with empathy. Lead with humanity."

Keynote speakers

To mark this year's graduation, Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences commencement featured two special keynote speakers.

Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the chief medical adviser to the president, delivered the 2021 commencement address.

Commencement speaker: Dr. Fauci


Commencement speaker: Dr. Fauci

He also received an honorary degree presented by 2017 graduate Stella Hartono, M.D., Ph.D. Dr. Hartono now works with Dr. Fauci at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Franklyn Prendergast, M.D., Ph.D., also served as a keynote speaker at commencement. Dr. Prendergast is an emeritus professor of biochemistry, molecular biology, and pharmacology at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science. He held many leadership roles throughout his storied career until his retirement in 2014.

Commencement speaker: Dr. Prendergast


Commencement speaker: Dr. Prendergast

Learn more

Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences offers unique training experiences that develop biomedical scientists, educators, and innovators whose leadership are changing the world, as evidenced by this latest crop of talented graduates. The school is embedded in Mayo Clinic's Arizona, Florida, and Rochester locations and offers unparalleled mobility to pioneer health science research.