At Case Western Reserve University, our students excel in research, academics, athletics and in the community.
This week, we will celebrate the accomplishments of about 2,500 graduates. It would be impossible to comprehensively describe all of their contributions, but we caught up with a graduating student from each of CWRU’s schools and the college. They told us about their time at the university, what they have learned, and what they plan to carry forward in their careers.
Learn more about our commencement ceremonies and join the university in celebrating students during the clap out on Case Quad today (May 17) as graduates process to convocation.
College of Arts and Sciences
When Tyler Barrios first came to Case Western Reserve University four years ago, he fully expected to pursue biomedical engineering as his major. But like many undergraduate students who experience the breadth of academic opportunities after entering the university, he soon found himself being drawn in another direction.
For Barrios, who identifies as Deaf and wears a cochlear implant, finding ways to get involved with the campus community unearthed a new career focus for him—communication sciences with an emphasis on audiology.
“My passion has always been in helping others and I discovered that this is a skillset that I have yet to fully appreciate,” Barrios said. “My professors and colleagues have helped me understand just how valuable my experiences are for providing empathetic care to others like me.”
Barrios brings other valuable experiences to his education as well. He is involved with The Posse Foundation, a program that partners with universities like CWRU to enroll promising urban students who show extraordinary leadership potential.
Once at CWRU, Barrios joined organizations in leadership roles, which include the university’s award-winning chapter of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association and with the American Sign Language Club. He’s embracing his new career—and life—trajectory, accordingly.
“My journey of self discovery took place in the classroom and beyond. Connecting with my community through leadership and volunteering has helped me realize where my values lie,” Barrios said. “I am grateful for the support and excited for my future as an audiologist.”
Barrios will enter the audiology doctoral program at Gallaudet University in the nation’s capital this fall. It’s one of the most prestigious universities in the world for Deaf and hard-of-hearing students. He’s taking what he’s learned in Cleveland to continue on his newfound path.
“I’m looking forward to my next chapter and excited to be entering Gallaudet University, but it was here at Case Western Reserve where I have so much to be grateful for as I enter the next phase of my academic life,” Barrios said. “The lessons that I have learned and connections I have made here are for a lifetime.”
Nichola Bomani Gonzalez
School of Medicine
Growing up in Cleveland, Nichola Bomani Gonzalez attended high school just a few blocks from Case Western Reserve University. Now a medical student at the university, she’s poised to graduate and apply her passions for community and urban health as a future obstetrician-gynecologist (OB-GYN).
Bomani Gonzalez’s journey to becoming a physician first began when she was named the Joan C. Edwards Scholar, an award given to one Cleveland Metropolitan School District graduate each year that provides a full scholarship to attend CWRU for both an undergraduate program and medical school. She used that funding to earn her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and Spanish before enrolling as a medical student.
While Bomani Gonzalez originally planned to specialize in family medicine, to her surprise she discovered a love for surgery during an OB-GYN rotation at MetroHealth. As an Afro-Latina and Muslim woman, she had doubts about pursuing a career in this field initially.
“I don’t know a surgeon who looks like me,” she said.
Bomani Gonzalez credits several of the unique features of the medical school curriculum for helping her quell these doubts, including the Urban Health Pathway, clerkships at MetroHealth and access to research opportunities.
In addition to being able to conduct basic science and clinical-translational research, she was a Rocks Fellow (2018–19) and worked on research specific to Latino Muslims in the U.S.
Her path to becoming an OB-GYN was realized this past March when she matched to a residency program at Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown, Pennsylvania, which has large Muslim and Latino populations.
Bomani Gonzalez plans to pursue a maternal-fetal medicine fellowship to care for patients with high-risk pregnancies after completing her residency.
She shared that finishing medical school feels like a full-circle life moment with much to celebrate, not just for herself but for her family and the whole community.
“What I represent for the Muslim community in Cleveland is really special,” said Bomani Gonzalez. “I hope more women and girls can see themselves in me and realize this is something they can do.”
Case School of Engineering
Seven years ago, Arein Daralnakhla boarded a plane for the first time. Since then, she’s traveled to 12 different countries, lived in two, and spent a semester at sea. Her post-graduation plans will take her to at least three more destinations.
Daralnakhla’s travels began when she was accepted to the United World College (UWC)—a global movement of 18 schools and colleges on four continents designed to make education a force to unite people, nations and cultures. Having grown up in a refugee camp in Palestine, Daralnakhla was motivated to find opportunities that would provide a better future. Her acceptance to the UWC as a junior in high school prompted her first move to Trieste, Italy.
“I’m grateful to have grown up in a tough environment,” Daralnakhla said. “It made me resilient and unstoppable.”
Daralnakhla learned about Case Western Reserve University while attending UWC. She was drawn to its commitment to recruit more international students, its strong engineering programs and the campus—at least during the summer.
“I chose to study computer engineering because I wanted to be at the forefront of technology,” she said. “I also have a passion for art, which made it challenging to choose a career path. Once I realized the potential to merge my technical skills with my passion for art and design, I began to explore career opportunities where I could apply both.”
After graduating, Daralnakhla will pursue an Erasmus Mundus Joint Masters program that focuses on imaging and light in extended reality (XR) technologies, which she said aligns perfectly with her passions.
“This program will equip me with the knowledge and skills necessary to contribute to the development of next-generation XR technologies that will revolutionize the way we interact with the world,” she said.
During her final undergraduate days on campus, Daralnakhla will spend time with friends, reflecting on her time at CWRU and the journey that brought her here.
“When you meet people from all over the world, you begin to embrace and appreciate all of our differences,” she said. “You start thinking of how you can make a good, holistic change that aims to improve everyone’s lives and not just a particular person or community.”
Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing
At Case Western Reserve University, Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing students are encouraged to work on research projects and gain experience outside the classroom. For Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) undergraduate student Johnathan Huynh, that meant working with Assistant Professor Stephanie Griggs and instructor Janna Kinney throughout his time at the university.
The Lorton, Virginia, native chose Case Western Reserve for the many clinical opportunities and extracurricular experiences available to BSN students—just like those he gained alongside Griggs and Kinney.
“I decided to become a nurse because I’ve always had an interest in anatomy, physiology and pharmacology, but I wanted to be more hands-on with direct care to those [who] need it,” Huynh said. “Nursing is the perfect field to do that.”
Outside of class, Huynh worked as a clinical technician at Cleveland Clinic’s Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (CVICU), the largest cardiovascular surgery care site in the U.S. After graduation, he plans to take the National Council Licensure Examination and begin a full-time position at the CVICU.
The experience Huynh received in Kinney’s undergraduate Transition to Practice course also added to his desire to go into critical care. Working with preceptors from the Adult Medical Emergency Team at Cleveland Clinic, Huynh said he gained incomparable knowledge about stabilizing critical patients and in-patient scenarios.
“It’s such a privilege to be able to lend a hand to individuals and families receiving care, especially in critical settings like in the intensive care units, emergency room, and operating room, so I take pride in what I do as a nurse,” Huynh said.
Under Griggs’ mentorship, Huynh had the opportunity to present his research at multiple Support of Undergraduate Research and Creative Endeavors (SOURCE) Intersections Symposiums as well as the 2023 Midwest Nursing Research Society (MNRS) conference. Huynh was also awarded the 2023 Undergraduate Research Award from the MNRS Health Promoting Behaviors Across the Lifespan Research & Implementation Interest Group.
Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences
Ada Jackson began her career at Case Western Reserve University in August 2020—in the midst of the pandemic. As a Master of Social Work student with a child welfare fellowship at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences’ intensive weekend (IW) format, she was looking forward to working full time and attending class in person on the weekends, but a shift to remote delivery derailed her plans.
Adding to the long days and weekends of Zoom meetings, Jackson also had to care for her young son, grieve the unexpected death of her uncle, and deal with the general isolation of COVID. It all began to take a toll on her mental health.
“Life continues to happen even when you’re trying to do better [by going back to school],” she reflected. “Everything that was bad in that moment seemed like the end of the world, but I survived.”
Jackson decided to tackle things one day at a time, focusing on her job in short-term services at the Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services where she worked to ensure the safety of children in the county. Acting almost as a first responder to child and sex abuse referrals, she met with families, hosted forensic interviews and worked closely with law enforcement and community agencies. Fortunately, her job also qualified as her field education curriculum requirement for her master’s program, and exposed her to different experiences outside of her normal responsibilities. Jackson has tried to use those as learning opportunities to enhance her knowledge and further her education.
“My field experiences allowed me to apply a different lens to my job,” she said. “I was challenged to think more critically and objectively about systemic practices in child welfare.”
Jackson learned throughout her journey at the Mandel School that she’s a macro thinker—a “bigger why” person who questions everything. After she graduates this month, she plans to use the knowledge she has gained to advocate and implement systemic change within the Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services, holding agencies and policy makers accountable for the systems they put into place.
School of Dental Medicine
Like many of her classmates at Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine, Erin Madar plans to practice general dentistry after graduation—although her focus is unique.
“I am extremely passionate about caring for patients with special healthcare needs,” said Madar. “As co-president of the CWRU chapter of the Special Care Dentistry Association (SCDA), I have been able to develop that passion and increase opportunities for more students to get involved.”
Madar and her peers have hosted guest speakers to share clinical cases and facilitated hands-on volunteering opportunities through their partnership with Special Smiles and the Special Olympics of Ohio. Recently, Madar helped the association secure a $5,000 grant from the Delta Dental Foundation.
“This grant will allow myself and four other students to travel to Dallas, Texas, and attend the SCDA annual meeting,” she explained. “It will be an incredible opportunity to network with students and dentists from around the world—and learn how to incorporate better care for patients with special needs.”
This trip builds on another CWRU connection to the SCDA. This year, Comprehensive Care Department Chair Leonardo Marchini will become president of the association; Madar is excited to see him represent the School of Dental Medicine on a national level.
When she graduates, Madar will work at a general dentistry private practice located in Northfield, Ohio, alongside two School of Dental Medicine alumni.
“I feel extremely fortunate to be working with William R. Davidson (DEN ‘81) and Michael Davidson (DEN ‘18),” said Madar. “I am especially excited to take advantage of the in-office CAD/CAM system—a software making it possible to perform complex restorations more efficiently—the Solea Hard Tissue laser and to begin placing implants.”
When asked what she would miss most about her time at Case Western Reserve, Madar spoke of the lifelong friends she has made—including her roommate, Rhea Pate.
“Dental school is full of lots of highs and lows,” she said, “but I feel so blessed to have had friends as my support system through it all.”
Owen M. Migdal
School of Law
Owen M. Migdal was just 17 years old when he finished high school in Maryland and began his undergraduate education at The University of Utah. After earning his bachelor’s degree in political science in less than two years—thanks to a rigorous course load—Migdal enrolled in law school at Case Western Reserve University at a much younger age than his classmates.
“Case Western Reserve took a chance on a 19-year-old kid,” Migdal joked.
The chance paid off—Migdal has excelled, even becoming the youngest person to argue in front of the full court of any highest appellate court in the U.S., including state Supreme Courts and the Supreme Court of the United States.
Migdal committed to studying law at a young age and wrote the final paper of his undergraduate criminal law course on one of his favorite movies, Legally Blonde. His friends find his personality to be so similar to that of the main character—Elle Woods—that they call him “Elliott Woods.” But Reese Witherspoon wasn’t Migdal’s only inspiration for pursuing a legal career.
“My grandfather dropped out of law school after he got back from the Korean War. I feel like I’m finishing a chapter of his story,” he remarked. “He passed away in January and won’t get to see me graduate, but I know he’ll be right there with me in spirit.”
Migdal has already passed the bar exam and hopes to begin practicing full time this summer.
“I plan to become an Assistant State’s Attorney in Annapolis, Maryland, or Salisbury, Maryland and eventually run for Governor of Maryland to give back to the state that gave me everything,” he said. “I want to represent the traditionally underrepresented in politics.”
Reflecting on his law school experience, Migdal credits Professor Michael Benza and Campus Security Officer Chiara Seldon—affectionately known as Ms. Pat—for their moral support.
His advice for incoming law students? “There’s only so much you can learn from reading cases and doctrine. You have to get your hands dirty and go out into the real world for experience, especially if you aren’t from a family with lawyers.”
Weatherhead School of Management
When Darren Wang first stepped foot on Case Western Reserve University’s campus, he planned to major in finance and computer science. That changed when he attended an introductory accounting course with Assistant Professor of Accountancy Heidi Blakeway-Phillips.
“I fell in love with accounting because of Professor Blakeaway-Phillips,” Wang said. “I have loved taking her courses, and admire her career and wisdom.”
Wang credits his professor with helping him know what he wanted to do with his life. Paraphrasing a quote by Benjamin Franklin, he said: “There are only two certainties in life, one of which is taxes.”
During his undergraduate time at Case Western Reserve, Wang gained experience inside and outside the accounting field through several internships. In 2021, he worked for BDO USA in McLean, Virginia, conducting research on state and local tax ordinances, drafting tax memorandums, assisting with voluntary disclosure agreements and more. That internship made him fall even more in love with his field.
“That was my first accounting experience, and they allowed me to speak with clients and to sit in on client meetings,” Wang said. “That opportunity was incredibly impactful.”
Back on campus, Wang participated in student organizations and activities including the international honor society for accounting, Beta Alpha Psi, Consult Your Community, The Weatherhead Fund, Spartan Ambassadors, Wolstein Society and intramural basketball.
Beyond his experiences on and off campus, Wang says what he’s loved most about his time at Case Western Reserve has been the people he met along the way.
“Everyone here has these big dreams. They’re never settling for less or getting complacent,” he said. “That appeals to me and it’s a commonality I share with the people I’ve met here.”
Upon graduating this month with his bachelor’s degree in accounting and a minor in finance, Wang will move to New York City to work for PricewaterhouseCoopers as a tax associate.