After several years of adjusted plans due to pandemic-related health and safety protocols, the Case Western Reserve University community will gather once again this year for fully in-person commencement events.
As more than 3,000 students prepare to earn their diplomas, The Daily is highlighting eight outstanding graduates—one from each school—before they move on to the next steps of their professional journeys.
Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences
Samantha “Sami” Hausserman entered the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences’ Master of Social Work program ready to pursue her interest in social justice. But it wasn’t until Hausserman secured a field internship with the school’s Community Innovation Network (CIN) that she got the opportunity to dive into mental health and community engagement—a path she now hopes to follow in her social work career.
Through CIN, Hausserman was assigned to help the YMCA of Greater Cleveland promote mental wellness within its community branches. Among her projects: a survey of more than 2,000 YMCA members from across the Greater Cleveland area to uncover how they felt about the mental health and substance use care and support they received from the organization, as well as how it could supplement that support.
Analyzing the qualitative data, Hausserman found that a large majority felt the YMCA supports the development of a healthy spirit—an asset they said addresses the mental health and substance misuse needs in their communities. Hausserman’s analysis of how current members understand the organization’s historic commitment to “Mind, Body and Spirit” is helping YMCA members promote mental wellness across Greater Cleveland. One branch, for example, took the data and turned it into a complete initiative—transforming into a hub for mental wellness support by providing resources and a welcoming environment.
Along with working on projects for the YMCA, Hausserman also organizes CIN’s Innovators’ Monthly Meetups, designated spaces for collaboration and support among community builders in the area.
“My experience at CIN has been the most meaningful to me while at the Mandel School,” she said. “It has pushed me to grow and see myself and the work I want to do in a completely different perspective.”
In her spare time, Hausserman served as one of the Mandel Council’s Graduate Student Council Representatives as a way to advocate for her fellow students in various university-wide issues, and became its social media ambassador to promote the group’s events.
After graduation, Hausserman hopes to work at a nonprofit in Cleveland to continue doing community development and engagement similar to what she has done at CIN.
“I want to thank the Community Practice for Social Change professors for all of their encouragement and for making me into the practitioner that I am today,” she reflected. “I’m so happy to have made connections and formed relationships with such a diverse and passionate group of people.”
School of Medicine
When graduating medical student Suhib Jamal opened his envelope on Match Day in March, it revealed his No. 1 choice for a residency: pediatrics at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s. He was thrilled to learn he would be staying in his hometown of Cleveland, allowing him the opportunity to give back to the community that has fueled his passion for medicine.
As a high school student at Cleveland School of Science and Medicine just a few blocks from Case Western Reserve University, Jamal attended the School of Medicine’s Robbins Bridge Program. Founded in 2008 by Robert Haynie, former Robbins Society dean and now a clinical associate professor emeritus of medicine, the program integrates medical curriculum into ninth- through 12th-grade instruction along with programming designed to broaden high schoolers’ exposure to potential careers in medicine.
His path to medical school was realized when he was named the second Joan C. Edwards Scholar, which provides one graduate of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District a full scholarship, including room and board, to attend CWRU for undergraduate and medical school.
Fast forward eight years: Jamal returned to the same classroom where he attended the CISS as a high school student—but this time to lead the class as a medical student.
“I was able to bring my fellow med students back to my old high school and teach current students,” said Jamal. “It was incredibly rewarding, and I realized I need to keep doing this in my career.”
Jamal plans to specialize after his residency, so a fellowship is in his future—potentially pulmonology. He is certain that because of his experiences teaching and conducting research, he will pursue a career in academic medicine—ideally in his hometown.
“Staying in Cleveland for residency and hopefully beyond, I can give back to the program that gave so much to me,” said Jamal.
Weatherhead School of Management
Before stepping on Case Western Reserve University’s campus, Claire Jeffress had already made a name for herself. She was an outstanding high school student, homecoming queen and the only female football player at her school—one who kicked a game-winning field goal that garnered attention from national news outlets such as ESPN and CBS Sports.
When she decided to attend Case Western Reserve—about 1,300 miles away from her hometown of Houston—she knew she had to keep making her own success.
“I knew that even though I was only going to be here for four years, I could still try to have an impact,” she said.
Since her first semester, Jeffress, a triple major in economics, statistics and cognitive science, has received a dozen awards from the university, recognizing her high GPA, research projects, leadership and service.
She was involved in many clubs and has held positions such as captain of Women’s Club Soccer, co-president of Weatherhead Economics Society, senior honorary society member of the Wolstein Society, student relations chair for the Academic Integrity Board, admission interviewer for the Office of Undergraduate Admission, teaching assistant for economics courses and—with the guidance from Jenny Hawkins, assistant professor of economics—a co-founding member of the Women in Economics Club, where she became the vice president.
“Claire leans in to everything she does, accepting every challenge as an opportunity to grow and contribute,” Hawkins said.
Last summer, Jeffress received an internship from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas as an economic research intern.
“I was really excited to work for people who are really passionate about what they were doing,” she said.
Upon graduation, Jeffress will move back to Texas with a full-time position at the Federal Reserve as a research analyst. The position is designed as a predoctoral fellowship, where she will work alongside an economist for two years and then decide if she wants to pursue her PhD and become a research economist.
Looking back on her time as an undergraduate, Jeffress said the support she received through her professors and peers has made a significant impact on her. At her recent capstone presentation, she noted, faculty members and students showed up to watch her presentation, even though it was not required.
“After presenting, I had this moment that really hit me on how supportive it is here,” Jeffress said. “I have made such great connections that I know will last beyond Case Western Reserve.”
Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing
In high school, David Li volunteered in a post-anesthesia care unit in a large city hospital—an experience that opened his eyes to the opportunities in nursing. So Li came to Case Western Reserve University for its top-tier nursing program and the wealth of healthcare resources available in Cleveland.
And after earning his Bachelor of Science in Nursing this weekend, the Pennsylvania native is choosing to stay: He’s earned a nursing position in the cardiovascular intensive care unit (CVICU) at Cleveland Clinic.
“I was fortunate enough to be an associate extern over the summer in the CVICU, and I really felt passionate about the patient population and the culture of the staff on the unit,” he said. “I love that I am always learning something new and I hope to get my critical care registered nurse license in the near future.”
Of all the clinical rotations nursing students experience, Li said his favorite was in the trauma intensive care unit at MetroHealth Medical Center, a level 1 trauma center.
“It was really my first time seeing such severe, life-threatening injuries, and helping to make my patients feel better definitely reaffirmed my dedication for nursing,” he said.
In his time at the university, Li helped create the Alpha Phi Chapter of Delta Epsilon Mu, a professional pre-health, co-ed fraternity.
“It’s the first group of its kind at CWRU,” he said. “We strive to connect all health professions across campus.”
In addition to his duties with Alpha Phi, Li served as the Class of 2022 secretary for the Class Officer Collective, which promotes and maintains campus traditions and events such as homecoming and the Hudson Relays.
Li’s advice to younger students, or those just joining the Case Western Reserve community?
“Don’t limit the possibilities for yourself! My college experience has been completely different from what I imagined it to be earlier on, and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said. “There are so many opportunities to get to know your peers besides classes—you just have to let yourself explore and don’t be afraid to try something new.”
School of Law
As a freshman at Cleveland Early College High School on the John Hay Academic Campus in Cleveland, Sierra Lipscomb joined the school’s mock trial program and met her first attorneys, whose professionalism and dedication inspired her to excel. From that experience, Lipscomb set her sights on becoming a lawyer—a goal she will achieve this summer when the graduating Case Western Reserve University School of Law student becomes a full-time associate at Tucker Ellis LLP, the same firm that mentored her in high school.
“I am super excited that my journey has brought me back to the people who piqued my initial interest in law over 10 years ago,” she said.
Lipscomb, who graduated magna cum laude from Case Western Reserve in 2019 with Bachelor of Arts degrees in history and sociology, chose to return to the university for law school in part because of her positive undergraduate experience. But the clincher was the law school’s practical training offerings, especially the Community Development Clinic, which provides pro bono work for nonprofit and small for-profit organizations, tackling corporate governance, contracts, compliance, securities law and a range of other legal matters.
“I knew I wanted to use my legal training to help organizations, especially those owned and/or operated by underrepresented clients in the Greater Cleveland community,” she explained.
Like many CWRU students, Lipscomb’s resume includes an impressive list of activities, including president of the Corporate Finance and Law Alliance and member and former secretary of the Black Law Students Association.
But, unlike most students, Lipscomb is juggling coursework with motherhood. In August 2021, her daughter, Sage, arrived two weeks early when Lipscomb developed preeclampsia, a potentially life-threatening pregnancy complication. With help from her family, the determined new mother returned to her studies less than two weeks postpartum.
“I had the option to sit out a semester, but I wanted to push through and graduate on time,” Lipscomb said. “Being a lawyer has been a goal of mine for more than 10 years. It wasn’t a matter of if, but when. I didn’t want to delay my dreams, which run concurrently with my responsibilities as a mom.
“To paraphrase (confirmed U.S. Supreme Court nominee) Ketanji Brown Jackson,” Lipscomb said, “it’s important to persevere.”
College of Arts and Sciences
Before the pandemic, Nathan Nagvajara’s days at Case Western Reserve were filled with back-to-back activities, running from class to rugby practice, preparing for an IMPROVment! show and stopping by the Phi Gamma Delta house to grab a quick bite to eat and say hello to fraternity brothers.
When COVID-19 caused shutdowns, Nagvajara found himself without the ability to perform on stage and spend time with friends. So he started searching for a way to continue making people laugh.
That’s when he launched his career in stand-up comedy.
Nagvajara started writing jokes and joining Facebook groups for comedians, where he found opportunities to perform in front of Zoom audiences. As COVID-19 restrictions lifted, he was prepared to take the live stage—and did. Now, he performs at venues across the city, and last month opened for Jimmy O. Yang at the University Program Board’s annual spring comedian event.
In the height of spring semester, Nagvajara was back to the schedule he knew as a young CWRU student, balancing final projects to secure his degree in classics with a minor in history, assistant coaching on the rugby team, and performing at local bars and clubs whenever he gets the chance.
He credits a lot of his foundation to his study of classics and his involvement in many different activities across campus.
“I’m really happy I got to be a part of four very different aspects of Case [Western Reserve] life,” he said. “Through sports, comedy, Greek life and my major, I met people of all different backgrounds who had cool stories to tell and were funny, creative and clever in their own ways.”
After graduation, Nagvajara plans to move to Los Angeles and pursue a career in the film and entertainment industry. His dream role? To be, as Oscar Wilde wrote, “a verb, not a noun,” giving him the opportunity to be a creative person and embrace opportunities such as acting, directing or performing stand up.
“Comedy feels like a dream job… like a ‘what if,’” Nagvajara said. “So then I thought, what if I actually go down the path and explore it? … I found something that I really love that you can make a career out of.”
Bridget Powers Beggs
Case School of Engineering
Bridget Powers Beggs has always had an affinity for figuring out how things work. It got her in trouble a few times, like when she tried to test her electronic piggy bank by inserting a plastic button instead of a coin.
“It broke the piggy bank, and my mom, while encouraging my curiosity, recommended I try Googling before experimenting on electronics in the future,” Powers Beggs laughed.
The materials science and engineering major has since moved on to bigger engineering exploits, such as co-founding a startup, STARS Sensors LLC, which has made progress toward commercializing sensors.
The idea came out of the Great Lakes Energy Institute ThinkEnergy Fellowship at Case Western Reserve, which allows students to get hands-on experience in entrepreneurship by developing a business idea. At the end of the program, teams decide if they want to keep going with the idea and form a startup.
“I am passionate about the energy industry because of the role clean energy technology can play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions to slow climate change,” she explained.
“When I first learned about climate change in elementary school, I confronted my dad as to why the adults weren’t doing anything to fix it,” she continued. “ He reminded me of his favorite quote, ‘be the change you want to see in the world,’ and encouraged me that my generation could finally be the ones to make a difference.”
As the startup’s team members move on to postgraduate opportunities, they are winding down operations with plans to distribute their work to key partners to pick up where they left off.
Also in her time at CWRU, Powers Beggs served as the president of Engineers Without Borders/Humanitarian Design Corps; vice president of finance for Interfraternal Congress/Panhellenic Council; and as a researcher with Professor Alp Sehirlioglu’s Electroceramics Group.
“This is the kind of job I dreamed of when I first learned about the electric grid in my high school engineering class, and I am so excited to get to stay with the team,” Powers Beggs said. “I will, however, miss being surrounded by such amazing, dedicated, curious people at CWRU.”
School of Dental Medicine
For Taimoor Rahman, a Doctor of Dental Medicine student in the School of Dental Medicine, this weekend’s commencement ceremonies are the culmination of a journey that has taken him around the world and back again.
Rahman spent the first 14 years of his life in Toronto, before living the next 10 years across the globe in Karachi, Pakistan.
“I was afforded the opportunity to meet people with myriad backgrounds and cultures—not to mention oral hygiene habits,” said Rahman.
Rahman never wanted a “desk job”—he wanted a career that would allow him to interact with people on a daily basis and to work with his hands in a creative way. It wasn’t until he began assisting his undergraduate mentor, a dentist, that Rahman pondered dental school.
“I would assist Dr. Salman Zafar in my free time as he would meticulously teach me all about the various procedures in dentistry,” said Rahman. “I even watched him completely reconstruct a patient’s smile. Seeing the impact he had on his patient’s lives made me want to do something similar with my own career.”
When it came time to choose a dental school, Rahman looked to his cousin, Tanya Ranginwala (DEN ’16), for guidance.
“Tanya and I had probably dozens of conversations about her time at Case Western [Reserve] and all the things she loved about the school,” he explained. “When I found out that I had been accepted, the decision was an easy one to make.”
Rahman’s journey in dentistry has taken him back to Pakistan on a number of occasions—including, on his last visit, a meeting with the president of Pakistan, Arif Alvi, a trained dentist, implantologist and orthodontist. Rahman’s mother knew the president through a variety of philanthropic and environmental projects she supports; when Alvi learned Rahman was attending dental school, he personally invited Rahman to meet.
“We had a chance to talk about dentistry and how to tackle dental care at the national level, which I thought was very insightful,” said Rahman.
During his time at Case Western Reserve University, Rahman has worked on a number of research projects, including some to use alternative approaches to tackle dental cavities.
“The goals of these projects were to use commensal microbes found in the oral cavity as a probiotic to eradicate the cavity,” he explained. “I think it’s pretty exciting that one day we could help stop cavities with just a daily pill!”
After graduation, Rahman will head to Loyola Medical Center in Chicago for a general practice residency.