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Voices 2017 Engages Students & Alumni of UT Health San Antonio

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Author: MaryAnn Hobbs | Category: Around Campus | Biomedical Engineering (Ph.D.) | October 12, 2017

The third annual UT Voices and speed networking event held in the Holly Auditorium on Tuesday, Oct. 2 gave students the unique opportunity to engage with other students and alumni from their programs as well as those outside their specific schools.

The beginning of the night started with food and socializing as the speed networking portion of the evening. Afterwards, students from all over UT Health San Antonio had had a chance to meet each other and network with some alumni, the speakers headed to the stage. Of the ten speakers, five were students, and five were alumni all of which proceeded to share with the audience their experiences thus far with UT Health.

“I came to this event with hopes that I could connect and meet people that I may work with in the future,” said one nursing student. Throughout the night students from every school expressed their desire to meet people outside of their programs, especially because they know that the real world work environment includes a variety of occupations. 

Many of the students spoke up about the fact that they feel slightly isolated to their school, and hope events like UT Voices make it easier to get out of their program bubble.

“I hope that events like this can help foster a sense of community between students. It can help to lower stress levels to know you’re not alone in how you’re feeling,” said nursing school alumna and recent graduate from the Family Nurse Practitioner program Kristen Furl. She also explained how creating an environment of students from all disciplines who are comfortable and confident around each other is of upmost importance. 

“Interprofessionalism is the future,” Furl said. "Learning to work together now will translate to better patient outcomes and more complete healthcare provision.

UT Voices was created not only to bridge the gap between peers, but also between students and people already in the workforce. Whether it is for professional or personal reasons, being able to talk to someone who has been through what you have been through can be invaluable. This is the idea behind inviting the alumni to come and be apart of this event.

The speakers rotated through their different programs, with the student starting and the alumnus following them. Medical, Dental, Health Professions, Nursing, and the graduate school programs were all represented throughout the night. The juxtaposition of student to graduate helped show that a lot of the things the students were talking about, were important steps along each of the alumnus’ journey to where they are now.

Alumna from the Graduate School Dr. Jessica Ibarra, spoke about the non-traditional journey that led her to UT Health; as a 16-year-old high school drop out with two kids, it would have been easy for her think that she would never get her Ph.D. The alumnus from the medical school, Dr. Dina Tom, talked about her path from first college graduate in her family and non-competitive medical school candidate to receiving a full ride and completing a pediatric fellowship.

While each speaker’s individual stories were all diverse, many of them had similar advice to give. Many of the students spoke about their personal drivers for their chosen professions. Whether it was medical student Ann Ding's doctor in Kenya that saved her from a severe reaction to an anti-malaria drug that partially paralyzed her, or the nursing student Amir Zakaria’s nurse team that made his hospital stay while overcoming his cancer bearable, it is safe to say there is a reason each of these students wound up where they are today. 

E ach alumnus that followed the student speakers commented on how much the reason for why you are doing what you are doing is the most important thing you can remember.

Both current and past students have seen the need for fostering a more collaborative environment and work to achieve this by participating in events like UT Voices. By attending events similar to this one, alumni and students can continue to show support for their fellow UT Health programs, and benefit from the multidisciplinary culture. 

Short Video

Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences Student Speaker: Ngoni Madungwe

I hail from a small town called Masvingo, in the southern half of Zimbabwe. Born and raised in a dusty neighborhood, but with dreams to “change the world”, I quickly gravitated to science and a healthy dose of math as my mom is a math professor. I moved to Boston to pursue my undergrad degree in Chemical Engineering at Tufts University. Having gotten a taste of biomedical research, I knew that’s where my path would lead and following graduation I started work at Vertex Pharmaceuticals. As part of a pharmaceutical development team, I helped formulate a cystic fibrosis (CF) medication that earned FDA approval; the first drug for patients that goes beyond simply treating symptoms but deals with the underlying genetic causes of CF. Next on my path was graduate training where I’m pursuing my PhD in biomedical engineering in the Joint UTHSCSA/UTSA Program. My current research focuses on finding ways “to mend broken hearts” – i.e. tissue engineering and physiology applications to create better treatments for heart attack patients.

Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences Alumni Speaker: Jessica Ibarra, Ph.D., Class of 2009

Dr. Jessica M. Ibarra, is an Assistant Professor of Clinical and Applied Science Education at the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) School of Osteopathic Medicine (SOM) at the Medical Campus in Brook City Base in San Antonio, TX. Dr. Ibarra teaches gross anatomy and neuroanatomy in the Master of Biomedical Sciences Program. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Biology at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Dr. Ibarra received her doctorate degree in Cellular and Structural Biology from the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio (UT) where she also attended dental school and completed a postdoctoral fellowship. Following receipt of her doctorate, Dr. Ibarra joined UIW in 2009 where she progressed from adjunct instructor to founding faculty of the School of Osteopathic Medicine. Her scholarly work and interests have led her to teach anatomical sciences to health professional students. As a researcher, she conducted studies to explore the role of key inflammatory factors involved in chronic diseases such as heart failure, arthritis, and diabetes. When Dr. Ibarra is not teaching, she inspires students to be curious about science with visits to local schools. She performs hands-on science activities during Physiology Understanding Week, at the Science Fiesta, and the USA Science Engineering Festival in Washington, DC. Dr. Ibarra’s passion for teaching and service translates into facilitating learning in the next generation scientists and physicians. Dr. Ibarra is a native of San Antonio and is married to Armando Ibarra. Together they are the proud parents of Ryan, Brianna, and Christian Ibarra.

School of Medicine Student Speaker: Ann Ding

I was born in the small town of Fargo, North Dakota, where I had a happy childhood full of fishing, ice-skating, and lots of snow. I moved to Tennessee in middle school and attended undergraduate university at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee. There, I majored in Molecular and Cellular Biology and triple minored in Chemistry, General Music, and Chinese Language & Culture. I took an interim year between undergraduate and medical school to volunteer with InterVarsity campus ministries. During my first and second years of medical school, I traveled to Ethiopia for global health trips, and I intend to practice global health in my future career.My extracurricular activities during medical school have included singing in our medical school acapella group Egophony and traveling two summers to Ethiopia for global health trips. Some of my favorite hobbies include playing my guitar, finding good eats in San Antonio, and going to Body Pump, an aerobics weight lifting class.

School of Medicine Alumni Speaker: Dina Tom, M.D., Class of 2010

Dr. Dina Tom is currently a Clinical Instructor of Pediatrics at the Division of Inpatient Pediatrics at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. She received her bachelor’s from UT Austin and then completed her medical degree and residency at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. She is interested in collaborative clinical research, evidence based practice and protocol development. She is involved in medical student education serving as a faculty contributor in CIRCLE curriculum.

School of Dentistry Student Speaker: Daniel Yates

Daniel Yates was born in Taipei, Taiwan but grew up in Katy, TX. Prior to dental school, Daniel went to Texas Tech University to pursue his interest in science and technology and completed both a Bachelor’s program and Master’s program. During his Master’s studies he launched a start up company built around his team’s patent-pending research in the healthcare field. With the help of a local accelerator program and a grant from the National Science Foundation, his team was able to bring his product to market and raised seed funding from venture capitalists. Daniel is also an active leader in organized dentistry and served as Chapter President of the American Student Dental Association. He is a passionate advocate for the dental profession and partners with San Antonio District Society, the Texas Dental Association, the Academy of General Dentistry and other organizations for the advancement of dental students. Recently, he has become interested in leveraging dental informatics to provide more targeted and customized patient care. 

School of Dentistry Alumni Speaker: Maria Lopez Howell, D.D.S., Class of 1983

Dr. Maria Lopez Howell graduated from the UT Health dental school in 1983. She joined her Alma Mater's faculty in 1985 and maintains an adjunct clinical professor appointment. In 1994, she was granted a years' sabbatical to complete the Advanced Education in General Dentistry program. Dr. Howell was appointed to the San Antonio Mayor’s Committee on Community Water Fluoridation in 1995 to successfully assist city officials in achieving this public health initiative. Dr. Howell has been a bilingual spokesperson for the American Dental Association for over 25 years. For 14 years, she hosted the American Dental Association’s, Dental Minute, the longest running public service announcement program in the history of public television and was awarded a Nielsen Media Research Award for the over 1 million aired TV and radio shows. In 2015, she became the first recipient of the UTHSCSA Dental School’s Distinguished Alumni Award. Dr. Howell maintains a full-time private practice with her dental school classmate and husband of 34 years, Mark, in the San Antonio area and cherishes time spent with their adult children, Blake and Candace.

School of Health Professions Student Speaker: JJ Gossett

My name is JJ Gossett, and I am the physician assistant class of 2018 president at UT Health San Antonio. I am originally from San Angelo, and I come from a very close family who supports one another and loves unconditionally. I graduated from Texas A&M University in 2013 with a Bachelor of Science degree and from Baylor University in 2016 with a Master of Science degree in nutrition sciences and a thesis focus on child malnutrition. I was the first person in my family to graduate from college, but my parents taught me everything a textbook couldn’t and have shaped me into the person I am today. After embarking on a medical brigade to Ghana, Africa, I knew my calling was to become a physician assistant with hopes to free others from pain and suffering, both medically and spiritually. For fun, I enjoy drag racing with my family on free weekends.

School of Health Professions Alumni Speaker: Tracey Fontenot, PT, Class of 1996

Tracey Fontenot is a local physical therapist for children with physical disabilities. She discovered an absence of sports and recreational programs for children with special needs in San Antonio. Seeing a gap in services for these children, Ms. Fontenot and co-founder Kacey Wernli (SHP alumna) developed a solution, and started the nonprofit organization Kinetic Kids. She received a bachelor’s in psychology, and a minor in biology from Texas A&M University from 1993 and then came to The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio to complete a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy in 1996. She has expertise in pediatric inpatient, outpatient, and specialty clinics in children’s hospitals; consulted in hospital based spasticity management clinic, seating clinics, cystic fibrosis clinic, spina bifida clinics, and implemented exercise programs for a variety of specific diagnoses, including childhood obesity. She has been with Kinetic Kids since 2001 and is a co-founder of the organization. Tracey is married to Scott Fontenot, also a PT and has three children, Ty, Travis, and Tessa. Tracey’s interest include running, anything outdoors, and cheering on her three kids at their many sports endeavors.

School of Nursing Student Speaker: Amir Zakaria

My name is Amir Zakaria. I am an eighth semester student at UT Health School Of Nursing. I was born in Damascus, Syria and grew up in Benghazi, Libya. After graduating from high school, I came to the United States and attended the University of Southern Mississippi English Language Institute. I later transferred to the University of West Alabama. I’ve had a long and distinguished career in business, but realized that I wanted to finish school. In May of 2013, with the support of my wife, and my eleven-year old daughter, I returned to school and enrolled in Alamo Colleges. My major is Biology/Pre-Nursing. My interest in nursing was revealed in 2013 as an active volunteer at a Corazon Clinic, which provides healthcare for the homeless and uninsured, serving an average of 40 patients each Sunday morning. I’m grateful that I’ve found my calling and I’m looking forward to gaining a nursing degree. My nursing school experience solidified my love and respect for the profession. I’m an avid reader, love to travel, hunting, fishing and play soccer. I’ve been playing for years. In fact, I was honored to have played professionally for two years in Libya before moving to the U.S.

School of Nursing Alumni Speaker: Kirsten Furl, B.S.N., M.S.N., Class of 2014, 2016

Kirsten Furl graduated in 2016 with a masters in nursing and 2015 with a BSN, both from the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio. For the last year, she has worked at Connally Memorial Medical Center's outpatient clinics in Floresville. Ms. Furl’s time is split between family practice and gastroenterology.


About the Author

MaryAnn is currently a research assistant in the Cellular and Integrative Physiology department, with hopes of attending a Biochemistry and Structural Biology graduate program in fall 2018.



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