Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Recent Grad Lands Prestigious National Institutes of Health Fellowship

Abdiel Badillo and Dr. Jeffrey Plunkett in the zebrafish lab
A world-class research facility, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has awarded recent St. Thomas University (STU) graduate, Abdiel Badillo, 21, a competitive research training award.

In a few weeks, Abdiel will be moving to Washington D.C. for an opportunity of a lifetime – a fellowship with NIH. The NIH Postbaccalaureate Intermural Research Training Award (Postbac IRTA) program provides recent college graduates who are planning to apply to graduate or professional school an opportunity to spend one or two years performing full-time research. Postbac IRTAs work side-by-side with some of the leading scientists in the world.

Acceptance into NIH programs is very competitive. Last year, out of more than 15,000 applicants only 4 percent were accepted into the program.
Abdiel, a biology major, spent months preparing his application to NIH, and he says it wouldn’t have been possible without the help of STU.

“St. Thomas has been preparing me for this since the moment I walked on campus,” he said. “When I started at STU, I barely knew English and I had no research experience, but thanks to my amazing professors and their willingness to help I overcame every obstacle that stood in my way.”

Knowing he wanted to be involved in research, he took Dr. Jeffrey Plunkett’s Biology 101 class his freshmen year – something they both look back on and laugh about.

“I completely bombed his first exam, and felt lost in a research lab - I started questioning my ability to succeed in the field,” Abdiel said. “But then I spoke to Dr. Plunkett, and he told me to ‘push forward, study more – go above and beyond what is required to succeed.’ And that’s exactly what I did.”
As a result he earned an A in biology, a summer internship in Plunkett’s lab, and a lifelong mentor.

Over the course of three years Plunkett has witnessed Abdiel grow in the research lab, and has mentored him every step of the way.

“He’s like a son to me,” Plunkett said beaming with pride.

Building relationships with professors and administrators during your undergrad years is extremely important in any field. Accessibility to his STU professors was key to his NIH fellowship.

“I definitely wouldn’t have been able to accomplish this without the help of St. Thomas,” Abdiel said. “NIH asks for so many things within a short period of time, so the ability to call my professors or walk into their offices and ask them for help, or to write a letter, or anything has definitely been a gift.”

NIH interviews can be nerve racking, but for Abdiel it was like any other day in the lab. His time in the lab gave him a competitive edge over applicants from bigger, more prestigious schools.

“The interviews were easy, they asked about procedures and topics that Dr. Plunkett and I talk about every day,” he said. “My undergraduate research experience was definitely one of the reasons I got this fellowship. I was up against students from Ivy League schools, but during my interview, the mention of doing research for more than three years caught their attention.”

At STU, Abdiel’s research focused on zebrafish, which can regenerate their spinal cord following injury, manipulating their stem cells to observe the mechanisms of spinal cord repair in the species.

His advice for undergrads: “Make the most out of your time at STU and the opportunities available to you! Being at a small school has a lot of advantages. Seize the opportunities – establish meaningful relationships with professors, pick their brain, ask for advice – and make the most out of your time here.”

For the following year, and possibly two years if he decides to stay longer, Abdiel will be researching stem cell approaches in psychiatry at NIH. Afterwards, he has his mind set on completing a doctorate’s degree in neuroscience.

For more information on undergraduate research opportunities, visit

Thursday, June 23, 2016

STU Receives $40K Donation from American Airlines

Contribution to Honor Marilyn DeVoe, Retiring as Vice President - Miami
From left to right: Hilda Fernandez, vice president of the office of advancement; Alexis Aran Coello, AA corporate communications manager - Miami; Marilyn DeVoe, AA vice president - Miami; Msgr. Franklyn Casale, STU president; and Griffin Gonzalez, AA community relations manager - Dallas
American Airlines (AA) gifted $40,000 to St. Thomas University (STU) in honor of Marilyn DeVoe, who is retiring after 39 years with AA. DeVoe, a lifelong advocate for education, has served as Vice President - Miami since 2010.

DeVoe’s relationship with STU started 17 years ago when she worked with STU President Monsignor Franklyn Casale to build a vocational school in Haiti – Haiti Tec. Haiti Tec was built by an alliance of South Florida business, which included The Miami Herald, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, The Children’s Trust and six Haitian business associations, as well as American Airlines. DeVoe was recently named a member of St. Thomas University’s President’s Board of Advisors.

“We believe education lays a foundation for excellence, and American Airlines’ generous gift in honor of Marilyn tells us they feel the same,” said Msgr. Casale. “This is a fitting way to honor someone that values the power of a good education.”

STU will use this substantial donation to continue developing leaders for life, and to provide scholarships to its students.

"Marilyn is a homegrown hero at American, having begun her career in the finance department in 1977,” said Robert Isom, chief operating officer of American Airlines. “She is a passionate advocate for her employees and for Miami-Dade County and we are thrilled to make this donation to St. Thomas University in her honor."

Monday, June 20, 2016

Easing the Cost of College Education

For some, the hardest part of going to college is determining how to pay for it, but St. Thomas University (STU) has a variety of scholarships available to incoming freshmen. STU is committed to providing its students with the best financial options available to help students enroll and successfully graduate.
Last week STU held its annual New Student Scholarship Dinner Banquet to acknowledge the academic achievement of the fall 2016 incoming class. A record number of students attended this event in which 45 of them received scholarships. Students and parents were treated to dinner alongside STU faculty and staff, and presented with framed certificates of their corresponding scholarship.
The awards that were given were: 
  • University Scholarship Award
  • Dean's Scholarship Award
  • Presidential Scholarship Award
  • Catholic Vision 2000 Scholarship Award Transfer Student Scholarship 
  • Dual Enrollment Scholarship BSN Nursing Scholarship Catholic Award
  • Catholic Education Continuum Scholarship
The scholarships ranged from $8,000 to $28,800 (full tuition).

Friday, June 17, 2016

STU Continues Admission by Gaokao Examination

For the second year in a row, St. Thomas University (STU) is admitting students based on their scores on the Chinese university entrance exam, the gaokao, and their performance in an in-person interview with a university representative.

The gaokao, or “high exam,” is a grueling, two-day exam held annually in China, and is a prerequisite for entrance into almost all higher education institutions. STU’s program offers students another option – matriculation at a U.S. university with a strong commitment to diversity, leadership development, and academic success.

“From the success of last year’s students who have been admitted through the gaokao admissions process, we know that such students are committed to achieving a higher education degree,” said STU Provost and Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Irma Becerra. “We encourage and applaud the strong desire of these students to begin the next chapter in their education.”

Chinese students who meet the test score qualifications, and successfully interview can expect formal letters of admission from STU within a week. This fast track admissions process allows students to quickly schedule visa interviews and begin classes as early as fall 2016. This program is available to a limited number of students seeking a study abroad living and learning experience.

STU is one of only four universities accepting gaokao examination scores in the United States. Other schools who have adopted a similar admissions approach are: University of San Francisco, Suffolk University, and Brigham Young University.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Msgr. Casale Delivers ACS Athens Commencement Speech

St. Thomas University President Msgr. Franklyn Casale was the 2016 commencement speaker of the American Community Schools Athens (ACS Athens) graduating class.

John Vassiliou, associate provost for student success, was also invited as a guest speaker during the June 14 ACS Athens Athletic Banquet where he presented three of the four incoming Greek freshmen with STU jerseys. For photos of this event, click here.

These invitations are an honor as it recognizes and validates the important work of both STU and ACS Athens. Earlier this year STU celebrated a new partnership with ACS which provided an articulation agreement to provide an opportunity for Greek students to come and study in Miami.

The commencement ceremony begins at 12:30 p.m., Friday, June 17. To watch the commencement ceremony live, click here.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Statement Following Orlando Shooting

We are deeply saddened by the senseless act that took place in Orlando over the weekend. St. Thomas University offers its deepest condolences to everyone in Orlando, especially the innocent victims, their families and friends, law enforcement personnel, first responders, and the Orlando St. Thomas University community. Please know you are in the hearts and prayers of the STU family. 
Please join us Tuesday, June 14, at 12:15 p.m., in the Chapel of Saint Anthony for a special mass honoring the victims.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Alumna Overcomes Adversity, Achieves Medical School Dreams

Luisa Maria De Souza ’13

To Luisa Maria De Souza ’13 education was critical to overcoming life’s adversities. The 24-year-old, Cuban native, is set to begin medical school in the fall at Penn State, a dream she’s relentlessly pursued since she was 4 years old.

Making her dream a reality was not an easy feat. When she was 4, her father passed away from multiple myeloma, leaving her mother to raise two children under the devastating economic hardships that Cuban citizens face – lack of food, water, electricity and critical medications for the sick.

“Growing up in Cuba gave me a sense of appreciation, and resiliency,” Luisa said. “It gave me grit.”

In search for a better life, Luisa, her brother and mother attempted to escape Cuba twice. Once when she was 7 years old and again when she was 9 years old, but both attempts proved to be too risky for the family. Eventually when Luisa was 12, her mother found safe and legal passage into the United States.

“When I arrived in the United States, I didn’t know English, I felt like I was on another planet,” she said. “But I was determined to excel in school and go to college, so in addition to my homework, I’d stay up at night expanding my vocabulary with a Spanish-English dictionary.”

Her nights studying paid off, in 2009 not only did she graduate valedictorian from Mater Academy Charter High School, but also received honors at Miami Dade College, where she jointly obtained her associate’s degree as a dual enrollment student.

“I know that here [in the United States] I had a fair shot, an opportunity others don’t have, and so I took it,” she said. “It wasn’t easy, but making dreams come true is never easy.”

During the 2008 economic recession, Luisa and her mother were practically left without a place to live and a steady income. And months later, her mother underwent full hip replacement surgery.

Wanting to stay close to her mother and help with the household expenses, she came across St. Thomas University, where she received a full tuition scholarship and became a Science and Mathematics Fellow Scholarship recipient.

“When I started at St. Thomas, it was during a tough period in my life, especially economically, and the university was very supportive,” she said. “I had a connection with the faculty and staff; a connection I wouldn’t have had at a big university. If it weren’t for the support of my teachers and staff members at St. Thomas, I don’t know if I would have made it through.”

Most importantly, she said, at STU she didn’t feel like a number.

“You’re treated as a person. The staff and faculty know you by your name, not your social security number – they know your aspirations, your struggles, your strengths and weaknesses.”

On what led her to the medical field, she says it was a slow metamorphosis that began when her father was diagnosed with cancer.

“The first time I realized I was interested in medicine was when my father was sick,” she said. “He had just received chemotherapy and was very thin, barely recognizable, and my first instinct was to care for him, be his little doctor. I’d cover him in bandages and poke him with crayons as if they were syringes. That was the first time I felt the need to help others.”

Years later as an undergraduate, Luisa took advantage of the unique research opportunities at STU, which reinforced her interest in medicine.

“I was very lucky in being able to do a lot of research at the school of science,” she said. “Being on the [research] bench gave me the opportunity to scientifically explore a variety of investigation fields ranging from flowers to cancer. And doing research is the foundation of medicine.”

At 21 years old, she graduated STU with a bachelor of science in chemistry, a bachelor of science in biology, a minor in philosophy and a research specialization. She went on to receive a master’s degree in business administration with a specialization in health services administration at Florida National University while working part time at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with MARS Inc. researching cacao. Meanwhile, she also worked as a biology, chemistry and physics tutor at Miami Dade College.

Luisa received six medical school acceptance letters - Penn State, Indiana, Pittsburgh, Drexel, FIU and Arizona. She chose Penn State for two reasons: its focus on the humanities; and her fiancé, whom she met at STU during Calculus I, and is a second-year medical student at Penn State.

“Penn State was the first school in the nation to embed the study of humanities into its medical school curriculum,” she said. “That really appealed to me because I want to be more than a doctor who treats diseases, I want to treat people. And people are more than symptoms.”

This summer she will be splitting her time between interning at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center researching melanoma, and finalizing her application to the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans, a highly-competitive, national merit fellowship that annually supports immigrants and children of immigrants who are pursuing graduate school in the United States.

Luisa was awarded the Dean’s Scholarship Award at Penn State, which covers half of her tuition, and begins medical school in the fall with plans of graduating in July 2020.

In recalling her time at STU, she said she experienced several fulfilling moments, but two stick out the most – her involvement in Amaryllis flower research, which is currently being prepared for publication, and her involvement with STU’s “Flavors of Nature,” a non-profit organization on a mission to educate the community about the benefits of organic food and products. Under her leadership role as director of operations, Flavors of Nature won first place in the 2012 STU Global Entrepreneurship Competition earning the program $5,000.

Her advice to current students: “Use the resources available to you at St. Thomas! Get out there and volunteer or intern in your field, experience what you want to do. Don’t be afraid. You cannot fully exploit your talents and confirm your passion in a certain field until you take yourself outside of your comfort zone.”

After graduating she plans on practicing internal medicine, having a big wedding, and eventually making her way back to Miami.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

St. Thomas School of Business Students Awarded Institute of Management Accountant Scholarships

*This news item was written and edited by personnel at the Gus Machado School of Business

The following students were awarded Institute of Management Accountant scholarships last spring:
  • Cristian Diaz Torres
  • Yumeng He
  • Luca Cancellieri
  • Manuel Luque
  • Maria Garcia Walker
  • Jorge Cortes
  • Tanzeen Shahnewaz
The scholarship consisted of study material for the CMA exam, the CMA exam fee and 3 years of membership in the IMA. Each scholarship has a value of between $1200 and $1800 depending on the membership category during the 3 years. Congratulations to these excellent students.

For information about the Student Accounting club or the IMA, contact Dr. Leslee Higgins at