Meet eight of CWRU’s outstanding 2020 graduates

This year, Case Western Reserve University will come together from afar to celebrate the accomplishments of the Class of 2020. While the Case Quad will not be full of newly minted alumni, the entire community will have the opportunity to participate in a virtual commencement Sunday, May 17.

Case Western Reserve graduates have accomplished an incredible amount during their time on campus, and we are excited to celebrate their achievements this weekend. In anticipation of the weekend’s ceremonies, we wanted to highlight just a few of the many outstanding graduates of the Class of 2020.

Elizabeth Adams

Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing

Photo of Elizabeth Adams holding a stethoscope

When trying to choose a major for her bachelor’s degree, Elizabeth Adams started with the question: What’s next?

“I knew I wanted to help people, and that I was a people person,” she said. “I also knew I didn’t want to be stuck behind a desk.”

Adams discovered a degree in nursing would provide a rich foundation for myriad possibilities.

“I can do anything with a nursing degree. I can go into politics and policy. I can become an advanced practice nurse practitioner—there are so many paths available to nurses,” she said.

Undergraduate nursing students at Case Western Reserve University start clinical hours three weeks after arriving on campus. That early exposure—uncommon in other BSN programs—has an impact, Adams said.

“It made me feel more confident. I talk to friends at other nursing schools and they’re just as educated as I am, but I feel better able to walk into a patient’s room and be a lot more confident in my abilities,” Adams said.

Aside from course work, clinicals and involvement in the Undergraduate Student Nurses Association, Adams was active in Greek life (Alpha Phi) and the Case Kismat Fusion Dance Team

The abrupt end of her final semester as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult, she said.

“It hit in the middle of spring break; we had no clue where nursing students had been or if clinical sites would want us back,” she said. “Our professors did a nice job finding other ways to get those hours through remote labs.

“I appreciate that we discussed our position in ethics classes, the process behind decisions made and what happens to ethics and triage in emergency situations,” she added.

As she and her peers enter an industry managing a global health crisis, Adams takes comfort in a quote repeated often by her father: “You’re allowed to be nervous, but you’re not allowed to be scared.”

After graduation and passing her NCLEX exam (licensing exam for registered nurses), Adams will work in a cardiovascular intensive care unit in Northeast Ohio, where she has worked as a clinical technician for the past two years. 

Samira Ben Salka

School of Medicine

Photo of Samira Ben Salka

Samira Ben Salka believes life is about learning—and when you stop learning, you stop truly living. Graduating this weekend as a certified anesthesiologist assistant (CAA) with a Master of Science in Anesthesia (MSA) at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine’s Houston campus, she has achieved another milestone in her life’s educational journey. 

Born and raised in Marrakesh, Morocco, Ben Salka graduated from Marrakesh Nursing School as a nurse anesthetist and began her professional career at a regional hospital. 

“Working in the operating room and the emergency department taught me patience, collaboration and determination,” she said. “It was there that I knew I needed to further my medical education.”

Immigrating to the United States in 2012, and learning English as a third language, was life-changing for her. After attending community college, Ben Salka enrolled in the University of Houston and earned a bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in sociology.

“I knew I wanted more,” she said. 

So in the summer of 2018, 10 days after graduation, she enrolled in CWRU’s MSA program. 

“I had no idea how challenging it would be,” Ben Salka admitted. “The courses were much more demanding and there was so much homework to prepare for classes and clinicals. I also had to adjust to methods and equipment that were quite different from my anesthesia practice in Morocco. ” 

The program helped her connect her studies to her work in the hospital, not just memorizing facts. 

“Clinical rotations enabled me to gain hands-on practice and expanded my knowledge of patient care,” she said. 

In her small class of 26, Ben Salka and her colleagues studied together and supported each other. A wife and a mother of two daughters, now 10 and 6 years old, she adapted to multitasking and using her time efficiently. She credits her achievements to all the help and support she received from her classmates, instructors, and family. 

She claims her 4.0 GPA is a gift to her daughters, saying “to show them when you are truly passionate about something, work hard and persevere, you can reach your goals.” 

After graduation, Ben Salka will become part of an anesthesia care team, working full time at U.S Anesthesia Partners in Memorial Herman Hospital, Houston, the largest anesthesia provider in the U.S., and hopes to eventually pursue a PhD.

Sarah Easton

School of Dental Medicine

Photo Sarah Easton

Sarah Easton formed a love of dental medicine early in life. As a child, her parents drove her to Case Western Reserve University’s dental clinic for dental and orthodontic work.

“That environment was what made me want to become a dentist,” she said. “I had a really great female resident, and that really shaped me.” Now, a decade later, Easton is set to become a Doctor of Dental Medicine herself.

Easton is a first-generation college student who grew up in rural Ashtabula County, on the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania. She began her college career at Cleveland State University, where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in biology in only three years. 

“I had a really great professional adviser who gave me a roadmap to get to CWRU,” she said. Though she applied to dental schools throughout the region, she chose CWRU for several reasons.

Northeast Ohio “is home,” she said. “This is where my family is.” 

But more than that, she was impressed by the education she could get at CWRU. 

“Case Western Reserve’s curriculum was really interesting to me, along with the smaller class sizes,” she said. “It was a great opportunity to get to stay home while getting an education.”

During her time at CWRU, Easton was a member of numerous student organizations, including the Psi Omega Dental Fraternity and American Student Dental Association. She was also a tutor and prosector for the cadaver lab.

She also assisted in the study to determine if therapy dogs reduce children’s fear and anxiety during dental visits, and presented on the study’s findings at several national conferences. 

“I saw kids who were really afraid be instantly calmed down with a little ‘snuggle buddy’ on their laps,” she said.

Now, Easton will take her experience into the “real world.” This summer she’ll begin her dental career at a private practice in Mentor, Ohio. But she will always carry her Case Western Reserve University experience with her.

The faculty at CWRU have committed a great deal of time and effort to make our dental experience special,” she said. “It’s been really refreshing.”

Joshua Holmes

College of Arts and Sciences

Photo of Joshua Holmes

Joshua Holmes has been riding out the pandemic on his family’s cattle ranch in northern California. Holmes, a graduating physics major with a concentration in biophysics and a 4.0 GPA, has a to-do list that includes mending fences, feeding cattle and moving them from field to field.

While the prospect of joining the family business is appealing, Holmes plans to pursue a much different path as a medical researcher. 

“Biophysics and its application to medicine is a relatively new field,” he said, “and I’m excited about joining it.”

Holmes has been exploring a career in medicine for years and plans to apply to medical school next year. He has volunteered more than 400 hours at an emergency room (ER) in California, where he assisted the ER director. 

He credits his professors and CWRU’s small class sizes for preparing him for a successful future.

“All of my 200+ level physics courses were taught by exceptional professors,” he said. “Whether they were an experimentalist or theorist, researched solid state physics, particle astrophysics, or biophysics, each brought their own style to the classroom. I found this to be really valuable because there are often multiple approaches to a problem or concept, and it’s worth seeing as many as possible.”

His intellectual curiosity and versatility have earned him high praise from faculty. 

“He is equally comfortable with theoretical calculations, programming numerical simulations and running experiments,” said Michael Hinczewski, assistant professor of physics and Holmes’ capstone adviser. “That degree of fluency and broad-minded approach to science is rare in general, much less someone at his early career stage.”

Holmes will spend the next year working as a research assistant in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics in the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine while continuing ongoing projects in the physics department.

Giancarlo Lisciani

School of Law

Photo of Giancarlo Lisciani

“Life interrupted us in 2006,” said Giancarlo Lisciani, a Venezuelan-born third-year law student at Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

When he was 12 years old, Lisciani’s family fled their home. Following a brief stay in Spain, his family moved to Florida, eventually gaining political asylum in 2012. 

For Lisciani, the experience of going through the immigration system would later become the inspiration for his career choice.

“For a while, I thought I’d go to school to be an engineer since I’ve always enjoyed math and science,” said Lisciani. “But as a senior in high school, I took an AP Government class examining the landmark legal cases that shaped civil rights. It was an eye-opening moment for me to see that power of law. From that point on, every choice I made in my education was made with the goal of becoming a lawyer.”

Lisciani went on to study political science at Florida State University and served as vice president and captain of the Florida State’s Mock Trial Team. As he began looking at law schools, a friend recommended Case Western Reserve.

“I knew I wanted to go somewhere different, outside of Florida,” said Lisciani. “Case Western Reserve had some highly ranked law programs that I was interested in, so I made the choice to come to Cleveland.”

After completing his first two years of law school, Lisciani joined the Milton A. Kramer Law Clinic Center as a legal intern in the Immigration Clinic, where students work on real cases under the close supervision of faculty. 

“I worked on family and employment-based immigration cases, fought deportations and assisted with dozens of green card cases for immigrants seeking lawful permanent residency,” said Lisciani. “My experience at Case Western Reserve helped me reaffirm what I want to do after graduation.”

Lisciani had several job interviews in March, just as businesses began shutting down as a result of COVID-19. Like many students, he is hopeful that he won’t have to wait long to start his career.

“Graduating law school this summer is the end of one journey and the start of something new,” said Lisciani. “This work is important to me personally, so I can’t wait to get started.”

Jingren Luo

Weatherhead School of Management

Photo of Jingren Luo

Case Western Reserve University’s high rankings and good reputation attracted Jingren Luo to Cleveland from his hometown of Hangzhou, China.

It didn’t hurt that Cleveland also happened to be the home for many years to NBA superstar Lebron James, of whom Luo is a loyal and longtime fan.

As a student in the Master’s of Science in Management-Business Analytics program at the Weatherhead School of Management, Luo was paired up with a mentor from the business analytics industry for the duration of the program. Luo’s mentor happened to be a perfect fit: Autumn Kovach, an analytics manager at the time for the Cleveland Cavaliers. 

“The day I learned my mentor was from the Cavs was the most exciting moment I’ve ever had in my postgraduate study,” Luo remembers.

When a position appeared on the career/internship database Handshake for an internship on the analytics team with the Cavs, Luo jumped on it. He was offered the internship and enthusiastically accepted. 

Luo interned for the Cavs from May to December 2019. His primary focus was model building, including a membership renewal prediction model, pricing models and dashboards for food and beverage sales. 

“Mostly, I learned how to interpret my analytical results for the leadership team,” Luo said. “Introducing your findings to people who are not familiar with data analytics can be tough, but it’s a very important part of the job.”  

Luo discovered that maintaining a solid relationship with his mentor, who now works as the senior data strategist for the National Basketball Association (NBA), was equally as important. When a position with the NBA opened up on Handshake, Luo leveraged his relationship with his mentor to get his foot in the door. Shortly after, he was offered a full-time position on the NBA G-League analytics team. 

Since April, Luo has served as the project employee for the NBA’s G-League. Although he’s been onboarding from home in Cleveland, he plans to move to New York City, the NBA’s headquarters, once he is able to do so safely.  

Brittany Rabb

Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences

Photo of Brittany Rabb

When the Cleveland Heights community discovered their neighbor Brittany Rabb was orphaned at just 14 years old, a group of family friends stepped up to care for her as their own. These families served as her legal guardians so she was neither adopted nor put into foster care; she operated in limbo as a ward of the state until she turned 18. 

During her senior year of high school, Rabb was plagued with worry about how she would pay for college. Initially thinking she wouldn’t be able to afford Case Western Reserve University, her dream school, she committed to a different college. Determined to not let her give up on her goal, several mentors advocated for her entrance into CWRU, as well as for financial support consideration. Rabb earned the Louis Stokes Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Scholarship, which includes a full-tuition award, making it possible for her to attend Case Western Reserve. 

“I was in disbelief when I was offered this scholarship, and vowed to excel at CWRU,” she recalled. 

Even with financial aid, her career at Case Western Reserve wasn’t without challenges. Rabb had to navigate the stresses of college life without familial support or guidance, make tough decisions on her own, learn to pay bills and work multiple jobs to ensure she would have everything needed to succeed in school. She quickly learned how to self-advocate, actively built a “family” of advisers from the programs she touched, and, thanks to a grant from Support of Undergraduate Research & Creative Endeavors (SOURCE), used her research to give back to the community that raised her

Rabb participated in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Emerging Scholars Program (ESP) and discovered an interest in sociology. The sociology department cultivated her intellectual curiosity and research skills, and the ESP provided her with the time-management skills needed to achieve academic excellence while taking a full course load and working multiple jobs.

She also became involved with the Schubert Center for Child Studies, developing her advocacy skills through experiential- and policy-focused learning. Rabb’s interests led her to the Mandel School’s 3+2 social work program, an integrated graduate studies program that allowed her to complete both an undergraduate program and a graduate social work program in five years. The program gave her the experiences she needed to confirm her call to connect research to policy and practice.

Rabb earned her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology last year. After she receives her Master of Science in Social Administration, with a concentration in children, youth and families, this weekend, she will head to Washington, D.C. to  work as a research analyst at Mathematica, a national consulting agency. In this position, she will be able to pursue her passion of advocating for the use and development of innovative best practices to ensure that all children and families can receive the support they need to thrive.

“Although my parents passed away when I was a teen, that didn’t stop me from fulfilling my dreams,” Rabb said. “I have learned skills for my life and career, and how to think beyond the possible, because I was able to attend Case Western Reserve University. It is a place that will always be both home and family to me.”

Parv Sud

Case School of Engineering

Photo of Parv Sud

Parv Sud, a chemical and biomolecular engineering major and business management minor from Bangalore, India, found exactly what he was looking for at Case Western Reserve University—a small and vibrant community located just outside a major city with a diverse student body. He quickly found his place at CWRU, discovering multiple activities to keep him busy and engaged.

In his first year, he joined Spartan Bhangra, a cultural dance troupe that celebrates the vibrant traditional folk dance of Punjab, India.

Sud said he enjoyed the activity because “the sense of family, while still maintaining a competitive spirit that the team manifested, was very appealing to me.”

Over the course of his four years at CWRU, Sud served on the Residence Hall Association as president of the Cedar Community Council, on the Undergraduate Student Government as vice president of public relations and as treasurer of Pi Kappa Phi. He also held a summer internship at Swagelok.

Sud said his “exposure to a variety of activities outside the classroom helped further develop the leadership and problem-solving skills I exhibit today.”

As part of his chemical engineering degree requirements, Sud took classes offered through the Weatherhead School of Management, piquing his interest in business. He took on a business management minor—a move that aligned perfectly with his future plans to pivot his career toward management. He further explored this interest through the Silicon Valley Trek, which provided an opportunity to visit several large and small ventures in the San Francisco Bay Area and meet alumni who run successful ventures in the area.

Sud particularly appreciates that the “academic and extracurricular structure at CWRU allowed me to maintain my route toward attaining an engineering diploma while also allowing me to explore my additional interests.” 

What’s next? Sud will return to Swagelok after graduation to start a three-year Career Development Program with the Product Development team.