Upstate graduates share the stage for the third time

SUNY Upstate commencement 2014

Lifelong friends Caroline Foisy and Alex Ashley, center, with their parents at Upstate's College of Health Professions 2014 Commencement. The ceremony marked the third time Caroline and Alex shared a stage in caps and gowns. They graduated together from kindergarten and sixth grade in Potsdam, NY.

When Alex Ashley and Caroline Foisy walked across the stage during Upstate Medical University’s College of Health Professions Commencement last month, they continued a tradition that began almost 20 years ago.

This was the third time Alex and Caroline shared a stage in caps and gowns. They graduated together from kindergarten and sixth grade at St. Mary’s in Potsdam, N.Y., and have been close friends all along.

SUNY Upstate Potsdam

Kindergarten graduation, St. Mary's School, Potsdam, NY, June 1995. Caroline Foisy is second from left in the cream-colored dress; Alex Ashley is far right, in the white vest.

“We were in a class that never exceeded probably 12 students, so we were more than just classmates, we were practically siblings,” said Alex, who received his Bachelor of Professional Studies degree in Radiation Therapy.

“We spent every day together, we did fund-raisers, raised class pets, and attended a youth group together. Our team (instructed by Caroline’s father) even went to a state competition for Odyssey of the Mind,” Alex added. “Caroline is one of the most genuinely nice people I’ve ever had the privilege of calling a friend.”

Caroline, who earned a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree last month, has many fond memories of those years.

“Alex and I spent a lot of time together in elementary school in the typical North Country fashion,” Caroline said. “Go-carting around farms, jumping on hay bales, swimming/boating/tubing around the lake in Norwood & Alexandria Bay, singing our little hearts out at our youth club … the list could go on and on.”

Caroline and Alex weren’t troublemakers in school, “but somehow we both were sent to the time-out chair that first year of school,” Caroline said. “We were both innocent.”

The pair first met in pre-kindergarten, when they were 4 years old, and can’t remember a time when they weren’t friends.

SUNY Upstate Commencement Health Professions

Alex Ashley and Caroline Foisy at Upstate Commencement, May 18, 2014. When they finally found each other after the ceremony, Caroline said, their conversation went something like this: "We did it!!! Congratulations - I can't believe we're at this point in our lives now."

Alex and Caroline went to different middle schools and high schools, but stayed close. When they came to Upstate and realized they would be receiving their degrees at the same time (Alex’s program is two years, Caroline’s three years), they began to look forward to yet another graduation photo together.

Each has pleasant memories of Upstate as well, including classmates, faculty and staff, and administrators.

“I was able to meet many students from other programs, and it was fun to see familiar faces during the day — especially on those days when it felt like the library had become my new home,” Caroline said. “It was especially refreshing to see Alex during the day because he has been such an awesome supporter of mine since … forever! He is the best when it comes to providing words of encouragement!”

Alex’s appreciation for Upstate goes back to his very first week on campus. “Being new to a school and meeting so many different people, I never felt overwhelmed,” he said. “In fact, I immediately felt embraced by each staff member’s kindness and compassion. I am not embellishing when I say it felt like a home away from home.”

Alex also recalls a night in April when he and six classmates in Radiation Therapy went out to dinner, and another patron paid their entire dinner bill – and left before the students had a chance to thank him.

“Whatever his reason, our hearts were touched,” Alex said. “We were inspired, more than ever, to go out and spread kindness. All night we spoke about how we could return the favor in the future.”

Alex is now working at Canton-Potsdam Hospital in Potsdam as a per diem radiation therapist and radiologic technologist; Caroline is applying for Physical Therapist positions in New York and studying for her boards in July.

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Upstate graduate gives ‘best commencement performance’

Graduating Upstate medical student Dan Harris certainly didn’t disappoint with his address at the College of Medicine Commencement Sunday.

As the chosen student speaker for the Class of 2014, Dan — Dr. Harris — thanked one and all, discussed love and joy, and quoted poet Ogden Nash on happiness.

And then he broke out his trusty ukelele for a med school adaptation of Don McLean’s “American Pie” that, as you’ll see from the video above, will bring a smile to your face, a bounce to your step . . . and a tear to your eye.

Dr. Harris “delivered the best commencement performance I have witnessed,” said David Duggan, MD, Dean of the College of Medicine. “I highly recommend it to you, and be sure to watch it to the end.” (The musical portion begins at the 3:20 mark, but all 7:38 are worth watching.)

As a bonus, here is a link to a pair of 2011 performances by Dan Harris when he was a second-year medical student. In one, he plays the ukelele (with Upstate medical student Ken Angelino on fiddle); in the other he performs an a cappella number with fellow Class of 2014 members Justine Harris and Auyon Ghosh, and 2013 graduates Rhonda Diescher, Chas Hannum and Tony Rossettie.

Upstate’s four colleges held separate commencement exercises Sunday in the Onondaga County Civic Center, with a total of 541 degrees awarded. ”It was a very happy day,” Dr. Duggan said. “I want to thank all faculty for their contributions to our students’ success. We have a lot to be proud of.”

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Student researches homeless patients’ ED visits and admissions

SUNY Upstate College of Medicine

Master of Public Health student Lauren Wetterhahn will speak at Upstate's College of Medicine Commencement.

As a student in our Master of Public Health program, Upstate’s Lauren Wetterhahn became interested in the inequitable allocation of health care resources — in particular as they apply to a specific population.

“Homeless patients are repeat users of the health care system, but with bad outcomes,” she said.

For the capstone project required for her MPH degree, Lauren tackled a “huge, huge data set” of statewide Emergency Department visits and hospital admissions to zero in on visits by the homeless population in Syracuse.

She worked with a de-identified list of 760 patients classified as homeless, and compared them to a random sample of non-homeless patients.

In Lauren’s study, which covered 2006 to 2011, patients classified as homeless tended to present for mental health issues and conditions related to drug and alcohol use. The homeless patients were less likely to be discharged from the Emergency Department the same day they arrived, and if they were admitted their hospital stays were often longer than those of patients who were not homeless.

Those lengthy stays are especially costly for hospitals, Lauren said, because of lump-sum government health insurance payments that don’t increase for longer stays.

Lauren said she was concerned by the reliability of the data she looked at because of significant fluctuations in the number of homeless patients seen year to year in her six-year study.

Lauren recommends a greater consistency in how hospitals “code” or categorize patients who are homeless or “unstably housed.”  She also would like to see Syracuse adopt more “Housing First” approaches to its homeless population, and a system of transitional placements for homeless patients after they are discharged from the hospital.

On Sunday, Lauren will speak at Upstate’s College of Medicine Commencement, representing the CNYMPH Class of 2014.

On Monday, she’ll report to work at her current position of research assistant in Upstate’s Center for Bioethics and Humanities, where she’s also editorial assistant for the Healing Muse literary and visual arts journal.

Lauren grew up in northern New York, where her father, Upstate alumnus Joseph Wetterhahn, MD, is a primary care physician.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Cornell University and worked for a year in biotechnology research before coming to Upstate for her MPH degree.


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Respiratory Therapy student conducts smoking study in Ghana

SUNY Upstate medical mission Ghana

Upstate Respiratory Therapy student Adlin Noel, far right in front row, with the group that went on a medical mission to Ghana this year. Adlin was part of a team seeing patients in rural villages, and also conducted a study on villagers' knowledge of smoking and second-hand smoke risks.

Adlin Noel, a student in Upstate’s Respiratory Therapy program, followed up on a two-week medical mission trip to Nicaragua in 2013 with a 10-day trip to Ghana this year. Here are excerpts of his report on his trip with the Americans Serving Abroad Projects (ASAP) led by Lauri Rupracht, RN, of Upstate University Hospital.

By Adlin Noel

Our 12-person team in Ghana included two nurse practitioners, a physician assistant, four registered nurses, an audiologist, a lawyer, a social worker, a dental hygienist and me, a respiratory therapy student.

We were able to provide medical care for about 800 patients by setting up different stations for: vital signs, patient history, general care, breast cancer screening, dental hygiene, hearing, cuts, worm infestation, diabetes, hypertension and cholesterol testing.

During this trip, I was allowed to conduct a study on smoking. At Upstate, I have been fortunate to gain experience working with the research team in the Cardiopulmonary and Critical Care Laboratory in the Department of Surgery headed by Gary Nieman.  I have been assisting their research team in the investigation of the benefits of Airway Pressure Release Ventilation (APRV) for critically ill patients.

This experience has given me an excellent introduction to the skills, knowledge and attitudes needed for excellence in research. Beyond this, it has enhanced my interest to conduct research related to smoking and tobacco use.

The prevalence of smoking in Ghana is relatively low, but the country currently has no legislation to prevent smoking in public areas. Targeting this area may be an important preventive health measure to help the citizens avoid secondhand smoke exposure by restricting areas where smoking is allowed.

The study’s primary objective was to investigate how well-educated rural Ghanaians are about the detrimental effects of smoking. Prevalence of tobacco smoking and understanding of secondhand smoke was investigated as a secondary objective.

A questionnaire adapted and modified from the Global Tobacco Surveillance System was used with 240 subjects, 18 and older, living in four villages. Results have shown a significant lack of education and knowledge regarding the detrimental effects of smoking, highlighting the need for effective teaching and learning.

SUNY Upstate Ghana Adlin Noel

Upstate Respiratory Therapy student Adlin Noel with children in Ghana.

This experience has renewed my purpose as a future health professional to respond to the medical needs of those less fortunate. Although I was born in Haiti, I was glad to hear many in Ghana saying, “Welcome home, brother from another mother!” on my arrival to those villages with the understanding that my roots truly traced back to Africa.

I seek to continue my work through future research studies and personally assisting people in the poorest of countries so that they, too, may receive basic health care services.


Posted in bachelor's degree program, College of Health Professions, global health, public health, Research, Respiratory Therapy program, SUNY, Upstate University Hospital | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off