We celebrate the class of 2023 and the impact they have had on each other, our campus community, and beyond – and how that will grow and evolve as they pursue their careers
Read what our graduates shared were some of the most meaningful parts of their time at UW and what they hope to accomplish in the future.
PhD, Cellular and Molecular Pathology
BS, Biology, Colorado Mesa University
Olivia Harwood’s research path to her PhD took an unexpected turn but ended up with a more exciting direction to shape her dissertation. When the results of an initial project in the lab of Shelby O’Connor, PhD, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, to assess a novel HIV therapeutic regimen were surprising, the project pivoted to investigating a new potential model for HIV functional cure research.
“Through that experience, I learned that when something turn out unexpectedly, it might be even better than you were originally planning,” Olivia says, “It is very important to stay positive and be adaptable, following the results wherever they lead!”
It is leading to a direction that ultimately may be more impactful for advancing the field. Earlier this spring, Olivia had the opportunity to present this research to legislators and staff as part of the Graduate Research Showcase at UW–Madison Day at the Capitol.
After graduation, Olivia hopes to work in clinical trial study management and scientific communications.
Congratulations to Daniel, Olivia and all of the MS & PhD graduates who have completed studies in the school’s 14 graduate programs and 4 affiliated graduate programs.
PhD, Medical Physics, UW-Madison
MS, Medical Physics, UW-Madison
BS, Physics, Grove City College
When we asked PhD candidate Daniel Seiter as he prepared for his final dissertation presentation what he will remember from his time at UW, his answer was, “Research is hard!”
Spoken like a true scientist, there was nuance to the answer that only the wisdom of experience can provide.
“You don’t know how to start a project until you finish,” he says. “No study is perfect — the important thing is to draw conclusions where possible and learn from the limitations.”
Later this month, Daniel will defend his PhD in medical physics: Form and Function in the Heart and Placenta: Quantitative Vascular MRI. His mentor is Oliver Wieben, PhD, professor of medical physics and radiology, and says he was fortunate to have found a lab group and great friends willing to support him through the years.
During his time at UW, he also charted a course sailing across Lake Mendota as an active member of Hoofers.
After graduation, Daniel will join NeoSoft, a Pewaukee, WI-based cardiovascular MRI software company, as a data scientist. He will implement tools to improve MR-based flow quantification in the heart.
Doctor of Medicine, UW School of Medicine and Public Health
BS, University of Florida
For Jonathan Le, childhood exploration included playing with the equipment in his uncle’s optometry office. But it wasn’t all fun and games, as the idea of a career serving others through medicine was reinforced by several family members who work in health care.
During medical school, Jonathan was drawn to a specialty that would allow him to experience continuity of care with patients, getting to know them and building relationships. He first considered family medicine, but then came his ophthalmology rotation.
Jonathan saw the impact an ophthalmologist can have on patients and families over many years. “The eye is incredibly fascinating because it is such a small organ, but we are all highly focused on it. It can be impacted by systemic issues like diabetes and many other ailments and injuries specific to the eye. It is so small, but the field is so large, and I look forward to getting started.”
When asked to reflect on his time at Wisconsin, Jonathan shared that while he has always been very independent, he learned to leave doors open to pursue his passions. He has found a sense of community here and is confident that his training helped prepare and propel him to achieve his goals for residency.
Jonathan will receive his MD degree this weekend along with 156 members of the class of 2023. He will continue his residency training in Ophthalmology at the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington.
Music and health care — both require discipline, hours of practice, self-motivation and a level of sacrifice to advance in the field. Kathy Eich has achieved musical mastery with advanced degrees in viola performance. Now she adds a Master of Physician Assistant Studies to her repertoire.
Kathy says the choice to change course and return to school was daunting. It meant a professional transition, taking prerequisite courses in science not a part of her earlier majors and acquiring 1000 hours of medical experience, a prerequisite for admissions consistent across most PA programs.
“As a mom to two lovely daughters and as a wife, I had to accept that my role in the family would change,” she says. “It was a difficult choice and one that I did not take lightly. In the end, it was worth it.”
Kathy says that for her and others, the UW–Madison PA Program and its varied degree tracks are extremely supportive of those who pursue the degree later in life.
“On rotations, we are learning the art and practice of medicine, and we are growing our insights and our ability to connect with and inspire a patient to better health,” she says. I appreciated the preceptors that I had who were of the belief that you can always connect with someone. To witness their ability to do so despite obstacles motivated me to grow my skills, and learn even more about my patients, their lives, health and struggles.”
Kathy is currently interviewing for clinical positions at UW and looks forward to exploring more about medical ethics, improving access to care for underserved populations and advancing equity and equality in health care.
We congratulate Kathy and the 55 graduates earning their Master of Physician Assistant Studies degrees this weekend.
MPAS, UW School of Medicine and Public Health
MS, Musical Performance Viola, Literature, University of Notre Dame
BS, Music, University of Iowa
MS, Genetic Counselor Studies, UW School of Medicine and Public Health
BA, Biology, University of Utah
You might expect to see Badger red during this graduation week, but when the professional color of your degree just happens to align with your own favorite color, you wear lavender. Lucas Pereira joins a class of 8 Master of Genetic Counselor Studies graduates receiving their degrees this week.
When asked for the most meaningful part of their studies, graduating student Lucas Pereira said it was the connections with both peers and patients. “I’ve gotten to meet so many people, from different walks of life and learn their stories. It’s all helping me grow to be a better genetic counselor and better person.”
Program director Laura Birkeland, MS, CGC, characterized Lucas’ contribution to the program as being one delivered with both grace and skill. She noted they successfully earned two supplementary certificates in Pharmacogenomics and Consumer Health Advocacy, completed a rural health track at Marshfield Clinic in their second year of training, and won a scholarship to attend a conference on LGBTQ+ health.
Lucas will be moving to Boston after graduation, and working as a cancer genetic counselor in a safety net hospital in line with their commitment to increase accessibility to genetics services. “Genetics is considered a ‘luxury’ form of healthcare, and I want to break those barriers down, especially for immigrant communities and queer patients,” they say. Lucas also hopes to become certified as a Portuguese Medical Interpreter to better serve other Brazilians and Portuguese-speakers.
Congratulations to Lucas and all of the genetic counselors graduating this week.
It was a childhood memory of the taste of freshly picked cucumbers. Happy Xiong was completing his final project in his Master of Public Health program, and that memory from his family garden instantly connected his past with his present. Happy was working to assess fresh produce needs in the areas surrounding Dane County when he recalled sunny days in his family garden, following along behind his grandmother and parents. It brought special meaning to his work alongside community partners exploring new connections for public gardens with food pantries. Happy is a strong believer in the idea of “food is medicine” and hopes to be able to pursue this in his future career as a public health and health care professional.
Happy began coursework to pursue a public health master’s degree as an undergraduate at UW–Madison. He attended a campus career fair and met Mindy Schreiner, the MPH program’s academic program manager, who sparked his interest. Throughout the program he continued to work with her and others and decided on an exciting next step after his MPH graduation.
Happy will be a member of the incoming MD program class joining the school this fall and is thrilled to be staying in Madison and pursuing medical education.
“I hope to be able to learn further what it means to practice public health as a medical provider,” he says. “I hope to be able to use this knowledge, along with my new passion for food security, to make a difference in my Hmong community in the future.”
Please join us in congratulating Happy, and the 47 Master of Public Health graduates in the Class of 2023
MPH, UW School of Medicine and Public Health
BS, Biology, UW-Madison
MS, Biotechnology, UW–Madison
BA, Biology, Wheaton College
An internship in a UW–Madison bacteriology laboratory in 2011 while earning her undergraduate degree at Wheaton College in Massachusetts put Jessica Lutgen on a mission to earn a graduate degree from the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. This week she graduates from the school’s Master of Science in Biotechnology program, where she says the coursework and advice from faculty members working in industry helped her immediately apply learnings to her career at Exact Sciences in Madison.
“I had a lot of career growth during my time in the program, growing my experience across industries and different parts of the business of biotechnology — from product development, quality, manufacturing and marketing,” Jessica says. “Program leaders, faculty and my classmates were a great support system during a period of rapid growth that alternated between being terrifying and incredibly gratifying.”
The program’s weekend and evening classes allowed Jessica to continue her career at Exact Sciences, where she is involved in technology transfer for the company’s pipeline portfolio of new cancer diagnostics tests. She says her passion is for products and designs that make the world a better place — especially for underrepresented and underserved groups — by thinking beyond how and if to make something and focusing also on who products are made for and why.
As she reflects on making good on her promise to herself to become a Badger alum 10 years later, she remembers a quote from Mr. Rogers: “Look for the helpers.”
“My success in my career, in the MS in Biotech program and in my personal life has been all about finding the people who believed in me and were willing to invest time in teaching me to be a more curious, compassionate and brave version of myself,” she says. “I think I would tell my younger self to find the helpers, and make sure to say thank you!”
Congratulations to the 26 Biotech Badgers in the Class of 2023.
Ramsey Benkert’s mission is to help athletes — particularly youth and collegiate athletes — perform their best and stay safe during training and competition. The Monroe, WI, native is graduating with her Doctorate of Physical Therapy and says one of her most meaningful experiences at UW was her research in the Badger Athletic Performance Lab.
Ramsey worked with the with the performance lab team and 24 Wisconsin high schools there to better understand how training and factors like sleep, stress and perfectionism impact the possibility of injury in high school cross-country runners. She hopes the research will help develop better safe running guidelines for young athletes in Wisconsin and beyond. After graduation, she will start a sports physical therapy residency program with University of Florida Athletics to continue advancing her knowledge on sports rehabilitation and research.
“I hope to continue to improve the gap of care that exists between initial rehabilitation following injury and return to sport for athletes of all ages and levels,” Ramsey says. “I additionally hope to continue improving the collaborative care that exists for athletes to ensure all necessary members of the care team are involved, accounting for specialties such as sports psychology and registered dietitians, throughout an athlete’s rehabilitation from injury.”
When asked to look back on her time in the school, she says students should always remember to give themselves grace for exploring and challenging themselves to pursue opportunities offered by the school — and to push themselves as they grow into their careers.
Congratulations to the 40 Doctorate of Physical Therapy Graduates in the Class of 2023.