Today’s Graduates are Tomorrow’s Post-Pandemic Leaders

During this time of celebration for the many accomplishments of our students, Carla Ochoa, Project Manager in the Biomedical Graduate Education’s Office of Career Strategy & Professional Development, offers this reflection on graduates from our Biomedical Graduate Education programs.

(May 23, 2021) Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic resulting from COVID-19, the faculty and staff of Georgetown Biomedical Graduate Education programs continued in their unrelenting pursuit of educating tomorrow’s leaders. Students’ passion and initiative enabled them to succeed despite unprecedented obstacles and find  creative ways to complete their coursework, build community, handle tech hiccups and navigate personal adversity to achieve academic and career success. 

We asked our graduates to share a story, quote, accomplishment, or picture with us to celebrate their accomplishments through the many challenges of this past year. Some of them took challenges head on and did not allow obstacles to come in between their goals. Others held onto quotes as a form of a lifeline in getting through what has been an indescribable series of events. Those who have endured heartache, struggle, and pain, showed remarkable resilience with finding strength through their experiences and completing their studies this year. We celebrate our graduates, accomplishments, and passion for the biomedical sciences.

– Carla Ochoa

Lt. Col. Steve Coffee, M.S.

Steve Coffee, Executive Master in Clinical Quality Safety and Leadership, found career passion and purpose through adversity

“When your vocation (what you’re paid to do) and your avocation (what you love to do) intersect you find your purpose. My son received a life-saving liver transplant at eight weeks old following a medical error in a military hospital.”

Lt. Col. Steve Coffee, MS
Lt. Col. Steve Coffee, M.S.

His experience birthed in him a passion to help providers and patients understand the power of patient partners in shared healthcare decision making. Lt. Col. Steve Coffee is currently serving as the Chief of Joint Military Personnel and Senior Leader Management Division at Headquarters U.S. Cyber Command. While he has served as a commissioned Air Force officer for more than 20 years, he also serves as a frequent volunteer in multiple organizations. One in particular is the Defense Health Agency, the organization that manages all healthcare across the Department of Defense. He plans to use his degree to help refine his passion and shape his vision to improve quality, safety, and patient engagement in health care. He further plans to pursue opportunities with the Defense Health Agency to improve quality and safety for active duty forces.

Favorite Quote

“The tragedy of life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach. It isn’t a calamity to die with dreams unfulfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream…It is not a disgrace not to reach the stars, but it is a disgrace to have no stars to reach for. Not Failure but low aim is sin…”

Dr. Benjamin E. Mays

Elijah Lagman, Master of Science in Integrative Medicine and Health Sciences, garnered resilience and enriched perspective through connection and community

Originally from the Philippines, Elijah Lagman came to Georgetown to study how complementary and alternative medicine is related to medicine. In his studies, he acquired new insights from diverse peers, professors, and the decorated lecturers/speakers passionate about the field. A small cohort of his classmates participated in a small mind-body medicine group over the semester where they shared many of their own personal struggles and stresses via mind-body exercises while in solidarity with one another.

“Our studies of physiology and integrative medicine were able to be studied with consideration of our own health, truly fulfilling the goal of creating an integrated model of learning.”

Elijah Lagman, MS

During the COVID pandemic, Elijah was engaged in researching traditional Chinese medicine while making connections with western medicine’s focus on treating symptoms. He also found innovative ways to stay connected throughout the semester researching how integrative medicine is being tackled in the Philippines. After his internship was postponed due to the pandemic, he took advantage of the time by signing up for courses in the Catholic Clinical Ethics program, where it provided another perspective (and group of astute classmates) on how integrative medicine brings up questions on how it’s dealt in a practical, clinical and ethical way. 

After graduation, Elijah plans to take the knowledge he has learned to his home country of the Philippines to be an integrative medicine ambassador. As a way to get ahead of the curve, his work currently included a plan to develop a clinic for traditional Filipino and integrative medicine, first connecting complementary medicine practitioners (acupuncture, Filipino albularyo, TCM, etc.) with western medical doctors in the Philippines. Elijah will also be embarking on his next educational journey at Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health, a private Jesuit research university in Quezon City, Philippines, for their MD/MBA program.

Favorite Quote

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence


Erin Saybolt, Master of Science in Biomedical Science and Advocacy, found passion in supporting policy initiatives through Science Policy for Undergraduate Students (SPUD)

Erin Saybolt, a graduate of the Masters of Science in Biomedical Science and Advocacy program, was excited but weary about the team project she was about to take on. With an enthusiastic tone, she recounts,

“I was motivated to start the SPUD initiative based on my own experiences. I knew I wanted to pursue science policy as a career. However, there really weren’t many opportunities for me to get involved and I struggled to find professional opportunities to learn and grow as a science policy professional. My interest in science policy is what led me to pursue my Master in Biomedical Science Policy and Advocacy at Georgetown.”

Erin Saybolt, MS

For Erin and many others who were involved in team-based projects, virtual meetings, classes, and brainstorming sessions were all done online. As this trail of unknown territory began, the team worked together to form the Vannevar Group (TVG), “The class gave me flexibility in developing a policy that I was passionate about and creating the initiative with my classmates,” she said. “I am really thankful for the opportunity I had to develop SPUD and begin a lifelong journey in helping undergraduates and other underserved/underrepresented communities access science and technology policy. “If any students are interested in going into policy, I would 100% recommend this course because it teaches you how to be a self-starter and follow through with policy initiatives from start to finish. I am looking forward to staying in touch with all my TVG colleagues and continuing to work on SPUD!”

Sarah Martinez Roth, Ph.D. in Tumor Biology, found strength in staying persistent in her goals

Sarah Martinez Roth is a recent graduate of the PhD in Tumor Biology program. Enduring the amount of stress and completing a PhD is no easy task “Completing your degree in the middle of a pandemic is not easy,” Sarah said. “I am grateful for my mentor Dr. Wellstein for helping me move forward with my goals. I will continue to use my degree to unlock the mechanisms of disease and do my best to make sure that research includes and benefits all people, along with my pursuing passion to ensure women and people of color have access to pursue careers in science.”

As we come to a close, we witness the strength, endurance, and resilience of our graduates. As we part and see the wave of hands with caps in the distance. I want to share a quote, from Dr. Sarah Martinez Roth from 2018:

“Growing up I did not know anyone who was a scientist, let alone a Latinx scientist or a female scientist. Being able to have the opportunity to pursue science as a career is something that I have worked very hard for.”

Sarah Martinez Roth, Ph.D.