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Downstate Commencement 2022

SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University proudly conferred degrees to more than 900 graduates of its five colleges and schools at Commencement last Thursday.


I was honored to preside over the morning ceremonies joined by Jeffrey S. Putman, Ed.D., Academic & Student Affairs vice president, who also delivered a message on behalf of Lori A. Escallier, Ph.D., dean of the College of Nursing. Allen N. Lewis, Ph.D., CRC, dean of the School of Health Professions, ceremoniously swore in graduates from the School of Health Professions and the College of Nursing, respectively.

Commencement Gallery 3

For the afternoon ceremonies, I was joined by F. Charles Brunicardi, M.D., FACS, dean of the College of Medicine, Kitaw Demissie, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the School of Public Health, and Mark G. Stewart, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the School of Graduate Studies, who will step down as dean at the end of June. 

I was proud to be joined by Christianne Salac, DPT and Mark Schwartz, DNP members of the Class of 2022 both of whom earned their doctoral degrees and delivered remarks on behalf of their graduating classes.

commencement photo

Honorary Doctor of Science degrees for 2022 were also conferred to Linda Ann Clayton, M.D., MPH, and Michael Osterholm, Ph.D., MPH.

Linda Ann Clayton, M.D., MPH, was recognized for her outstanding work in public health, impactful focus on health equity, and significant scholarship in health disparities. As a gynecologic oncologist and notable author, Dr. Clayton’s career concentrated on academic medicine, health policy, and population health.

Michael Osterholm, Ph.D., MPH, was recognized for his national and global work in public health and his dedication to teaching and mentoring public health researchers. He is an outspoken advocate of developing national emergency preparedness for biological weapon attacks and a leading spokesperson on the public health impact of COVID-19.

Seven Honorary Doctorates were conferred, (five from 2021 and 2020 because of the pandemic. Receiving the Honorary Doctorate of Science from 2021 were Harold P. Freeman, M.D., Ali S. Khan, M.D., MPH, MBA, and M. Monica Sweeney, M.D., MPH, FACP. For the 2020 Honorary Doctorate of Science degree, recipients were Daisy Cruz-Richman, Ph.D., R.N., Eli A. Friedman, M.D., MACP, and John Ruffin, Ph.D. SUNY Board chair emeritus H. Carl McCall, M.Div., DD., DHL, received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. Along with senior vice president and chief academic officer Pascal James Imperato, M.D., MPH&TM, MACP, I had the honor of conferring these degrees.


My charge to graduates centered on professional readiness and experiences that Downstate faculty prepared them for. They will create strategies, programs, and policies essential to improving public health, locally, nationally, and globally even as we face challenges of pandemics, climate change, and other events that can impact the delivery of, and access to healthcare.

Commencement Photo 2

The education received at Downstate have prepared our graduates to spread new knowledge, care for patients, and face challenges of the future. Most importantly, I stressed self-care as an essential element of being in service to others.

I extend my deep gratitude to all who worked hard to create an unforgettable Commencement under the leadership of R. Schuyler Hooke, director of Student Life, and his team of Commencement volunteers. Thanks also to Jeffrey S. Putman, Ed.D., vice president for Academic & Student Affairs, and from the Office of Communications and Marketing Ellen Watson, special projects director, John Zubrovich, New Media Services director, video producers Ustinov Luke and Adesiji Awoyinka, in-house photographer Marcos Lainez, new media specialist Sean Nurse, and graphic designer, Sean Thill, for their efforts at creating a memorable event.

For the second consecutive year, Commencement was held at Brooklyn’s Coney Island Amphitheatre; both ceremonies were live-streamed. Commencement pictures and videos can be seen here, and a copy of the Commencement Program is available here.

Congratulations to the Class of 2022!

View Commencement Livestream and Photo Galleries

More Commencement Highlights


Dr. Shennan Weiss Publishes Groundbreaking Research on Epilepsy

photo of Shennan WeissCongratulations to Shennan Weiss, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Neurology and Physiology, for his groundbreaking research on epilepsy recently published in Brain Communications, an Oxford University Press Journal.

The study’s findings will help in future drug developments to prevent the onset of epilepsy following an injury, and ensure that neurologists and neurosurgeons can use the most effective surgical procedures to treat epilepsy disorders.

It is unclear if seizures are generated in a specific discrete region of the brain, or by a network of distant areas acting together in epilepsy patients.

Dr. Weiss’s research provides strong clinical and neurophysiological evidence supporting the latter network hypothesis. It is the first study to draw this conclusion.

Dr. Weiss used spatial and temporal correlations of an electrical biomarker of epileptic brain tissue called a ‘fast ripple’ to construct the epileptic networks in patients. The fast ripples examined in the study were measured from surgically placed depth electrodes in drug-resistant epilepsy patients at the University of California Los Angeles and Thomas Jefferson University as part of their pre-surgical evaluation.

Dr. Weiss used machine learning to train and test an algorithm based on fast ripple network measures to predict patients who did not benefit from epilepsy surgery. The algorithm predicted surgical failures with a 92 percent accuracy, which may help neurologists and neurosurgeons identify patients who will benefit most from epilepsy surgery and the most effective procedures.

Trained in Neurology and Epileptology at Columbia University and the University of California, Los Angeles, Dr. Weiss is a recipient of the prestigious Founders Award from the American Academy of Neurology for his work on epilepsy research.


School of Public Health Hosts its 18th Annual Awards Ceremony

Annual Awards Ceremony

The School of Public Health (SOPH) held its 18th Annual Awards Ceremony on May 5 to recognize students’ outstanding academic performance and field experience.

The Delta Omega Chapter of Beta Iota inducted 12 students along with Student Engagement and Success and Community Health Sciences assistant professor Marlene Camacho-Rivera, Sc.D., MS MPH. Harvey Lawrence, Brownsville Multi-Service (BMS) Family Health and Wellness Centers chief executive officer, was also inducted as an honorary member.

Annual Awards Ceremony

Kelsey Sklar, M.D., MPH, was the recipient of the 2022 Excellence in Public Health Award by the U.S. Public Health Service Physician Professional Advisory Committee Community Health Sciences. This prestigious award recognizes medical students who are public health champions, advancing the U.S. Public Health Service mission to protect, promote, and increase the health and safety of our nation, and who are helping address public health issues in their community.

18th AAC

Dr. Sklar’s award was presented by Celia Quinn, M.D., MPH, New York City DOHMH Division of Disease Control Deputy Commissioner.

Please join us in congratulating all award recipients.




Conference Addresses Plant-Based Health and Nutrition, Dietary Changes, and Social Determinants of Health

Plant based event

The School of Public Health and the College of Medicine, in collaboration with the Brooklyn Health Disparities Center and Plant-Powered Metro New York, hosted the 2nd Annual Conference on Plant-Based Health and Nutrition on May 6.

The one-day conference, attended by 160 clinicians and community members, included presentations from national and local experts on the scientific evidence supporting plant-based nutrition for disease prevention and treatment, strategies for shifting to a plant-predominant diet, and using whole food, plant-based nutrition for athletic performance and endurance. The conference also addressed barriers to dietary change, with a focus on social determinants of health. The meeting was chaired by Elizabeth Helzner, Ph.D., MS, DipACLM, interim chair and associate professor from the School of Public Health, and co-chaired by Richard Rosenfeld, M.D., MPH, MBA, DipABLM, distinguished professor, and program director of Otolaryngology.

After welcome messages from Keydron K. Guinn, Ph.D., MA, MBA, senior vice president and chief of staff, and New York City Mayor Eric Adams, conference speakers provided compelling information with a keynote message from Columbus Batiste, M.D,. FACC, FSCAI, an Interventional Cardiologist with the Southern California Permanente Medical Group who established the Integrative Cardiovascular Disease Program at Kaiser Permanente.

Dr. Batiste’s presentation, “Unraveling the Black Health Paradox,” examined reasons for the race-related health disparities seen in the U.S., focusing on the unique stressor of racism and its relationship to chronic disease. He highlighted the shift to food and habits to handle stress and how foods high in salt, sugar, and fat can create additional stress in our bodies. Dr, Batiste also discussed building cardiovascular resilience through dietary and lifestyle changes to foster “Black Blue Zones” – areas of optimal health and longevity in black and urban communities.

Dr. Rosenfeld, who also serves as Chief Medical Officer for the American Board of Lifestyle Medicine, presented a consensus statement that he co-wrote, “Dietary Interventions to Treat Type 2 Diabetes in Adults with a Goal of Remission: An Expert Consensus Statement from the American College of Lifestyle Medicine.”

The morning session ended with testimonials from people who used plant-based nutrition to reverse disease and an update on student engagement in nutrition and lifestyle medicine initiatives at Downstate presented by College of Medicine student Lora Stoianova.

The afternoon session included a presentation by Rachel Atcheson from the New York City Mayor’s office, who discussed health policy initiatives in the city around lifestyle medicine and plant-based nutrition; Michelle McMacken, M.D., FACP, DipABLM, who discussed Health + Hospitals Plant-Based Lifestyle Medicine Program, and Robert Ostfeld, M.D., MSc, FACC, who presented on Montefiore’s Cardiac Prevention Program.


Plant based event

Read the press release here.


Department of Otolaryngology Launches Exciting Series of Patient Testimonials

Patient Testimonials

The Department of Otolaryngology is proud to present its new and exciting series of patient testimonials covering an array of challenging conditions—oral cancer, sleep apnea, thyroid cancer, and throat cancer. The videos highlight complex treatment challenges and excellent outcomes with innovative techniques that showcase phenomenal training and skills in microvascular reconstruction, hypoglossal stimulator, and head and neck surgery.

Downstate’s Department of Otolaryngology provides services to pediatric and adult patients with disorders of the ears, nose, sinuses, throat, head, and neck. In addition to endoscopic sinus surgery and laser surgery, the Department also treats medical and surgical problems related to all head and neck structures, tests for hearing and balance disorders, and diagnoses and treats communicative disorders.

The Audiology Center provides audiological evaluation services to infants, children, and adults, including evaluating hearing and middle ear function, auditory brain stem testing, and electronystagmography. Services at affiliated hospitals include hearing evaluation in neonates, otoacoustic emissions testing, electrocochleography, cochlear implant evaluation, surgery, mapping and follow-up, and hearing-aid evaluation.

Congratulations to the Department of Otolaryngology and all who participated in these heartwarming patient testimonials. Read more about the Department here.


Dr. Jacob V. Aranda Receives the American Academy of Pediatrics 2022 Landmark Award 

photo of Jacob V. Aranda

Congratulations to Jacob V. Aranda, M.D., Ph.D., FRCPC, FAAP, director of Neonatology and the Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine Fellowship Program. He is also a professor, neonatologist, and clinical and biochemical pharmacologist in the Pediatrics and Ophthalmology departments. Dr. Aranda recently received the prestigious American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) 2022 Landmark Award.

The AAP Landmark Award recognizes and honors an individual's contribution that has substantially changed neonatology practice.

Dr. Aranda’s pioneering work and extensive clinical and translational research on the use of caffeine citrate to treat apnea of prematurity has impacted countless newborns and is instrumental in the daily work of the neonatology community worldwide.

Babies born prematurely have immature brain-respiratory centers. As a result, almost all of them often stop breathing, resulting in potential brain and organ injury. Caffeine improves their breathing and exerts many beneficial effects that last for many years as they grow. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics established the Landmark Award in 2001. Its first awardee was a posthumous honor given to Downstate’s Audrey K. Brown, M.D., FAAP, professor and director of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology from 1974-91. Dr. Brown was recognized for her pioneering work in preventing brain damage due to bilirubin in newborn babies.

We are proud to count two Downstate faculty as recipients of the prestigious landmark Award. 

Dr. Francisca Velcek Receives Diversity and Inclusion Award from the American Pediatric Surgical Association


Congratulations to Pediatric Surgery chief and professor Francisca Velcek, M.D., FACS, FAAP, who received the 2022 James F. Densler Award from the American Pediatric Surgical Association.

The James F. Densler award acknowledges an individual with a consistent track record of promoting pediatric surgery diversity, equity, and inclusivity, delivering care to diverse populations, working in diverse teams, and promoting diversity and inclusivity in the pediatric surgery professional community. The award is named after the first African American pediatric surgeon to practice in the USA (1969), the first African American to be accepted into the Surgical Section of the American Academy of the Pediatrics (1971), and the second African American to be certified in Pediatric Surgery (1976).

Dr. Velcek received her medical degree in the Philippines in 1966 before moving to the United States to launch her medical career. She completed a general surgical residency at St. Clare’s Hospital Medical Center in New York City in 1971. Subsequently, she completed a pediatric surgery fellowship at then-Downstate Medical Center / Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn.

She practiced as a private citizen and as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve Medical Corp from 1987 to 1998. For her service during Operation Desert Storm, she received a Distinguished Service Medal from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Most recently, Dr. Velcek was inducted into the American College of Surgeons’ Academy of Master Surgeon Educators, an elite group of master surgeons whose mission is to advance the science and practice of avant-garde surgical education and training. Dr. Velcek is now one of only 223 surgeons in the nation to receive this honor.

Dr. Velcek is board certified in general surgery, with special certification in Pediatric Surgery and critical surgical care. She has published over 47 scientific articles in national and international peer-review journals and delivered over 160 invited lectureships in national and international meetings.


A Message for Memorial Day

Memorial Day

Summer officially begins with Memorial Day celebrations on Monday, May 30. As you celebrate with family and friends, please remember to do so safely, taking all necessary cautions to prevent the spread of COVID and its resulting variants as cases are on the rise. Remember to mask up or wear an appropriate face covering, wash your hands frequently, practice social distancing, and avoid large crowds, even outdoors. If you have not been vaccinated or boosted, I urge you to do so.

We can only beat COVID by remaining steadfast in our commitment to ensuring our family, friends, and colleagues are protected.

I wish you all a safe and happy summer.



Shout Out to:

The School of Health Professions, which held its 2022 Physical Therapy Convocation.

The College of Medicine / School of Graduate Studies Awards Ceremony 2022 on an always-exciting awards ceremony.

The phenomenal nurses of UHD and the College of Nursing Students celebrating Nurses Week Opening Ceremony Excellence Awards

COM '25 students Grace Shahid and Joyce Ahmad, and R. Schuyler Hook, interim director of Student Life, on their fantastic 10-day book drive. Inspired by a patient’s dedication to collecting books for an under-resourced library in Jamaica, West Indies, they collected hundreds of books on various topics. The books will be given to the Jamaica Library Service Network, Westmoreland Parish, in Jamaica.


book drive photo

Thank you to Sophia Zweig, Kassandra Carrion, Nabil Mahmoud, Peter Arden and Ethan Cai for assisting with setting up the boxes and organizing the books.

For more information on the Book Drive, please contact Adam Burgman at Adam.Burgman@downstate.edu.

COM vice-dean for Education Jason Lazar, M.D., MPH, for his recent presentation at the Alpha Omega Alpha (AΩA) National Meeting to describe how Downstate changed the diversity profile of AΩA from ~0% to 26.5% to win the AΩA Diversity and Inclusivity award this year.


In case you missed it...

Here are our Editor’s Picks 


Continental Who's Who 

Featuring: Simon S. Rabinowitz, MD, PhD., is being recognized as a Top Pinnacle Healthcare Professional in the Medical Field for his outstanding achievements as a Pediatric Gastroenterologist, Educator, and Scientist.    

Continental Who’s-Who recognizes Simon S. Rabinowitz, MD, Ph.D. – April 22, 2022


Must-see Downstate TV…

Downstate Celebrates Asian Pacific Islanders History Month

To commemorate and honor the contributions of Asian and Pacific Islanders in the United States, we recognize Noriyuki Murakami, MD, Internal Medicine Specialist at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University

Celebrate Nurses Week! 

National Nurses Day is the first day of National Nursing Week, which concludes on May 12, Florence Nightingale’s birthday.


Plant-Based Nutrition for Disease Prevention and Treatment

Panel Discussion with Sapana J. Shah, MD, MPH, Rob Osfeld, MD, MSc., and Shivam Joshi, MD. Moderator: Sumeet Bahl, M.D.

Plant-based nutrition—emphasizing the consumption of vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and fruits—can prevent, treat, or reverse certain chronic diseases in adults based on current best research evidence.


Save the Date…

Special Notice - The President's Bulletin will be on hiatus for the Summer.  We will return in the Fall.  

Please send submissions to: BulletinSubmissions@downstate.edu.


To submit an item in consideration for The President’s Bulletin, please email BulletinSubmissions@downstate.edu.