Meet the UCF M.D. Class of 2020

With a ballroom dancer, a windsurfer, a baseball player, an improv comedienne and a Green Beret medic among the group, the UCF College of Medicine is excited to welcome the Class of 2020. With this class, the medical school is at full enrollment of 480 students.

  • The 59 women and 61 men were selected from a record 5,102 verified applicants, even more than the number who applied (4,307) for the 2013 charter class on full four-year scholarships.
  • The students’ alma maters include Cornell, Vanderbilt, UCLA, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, USC and Emory.
  • The class has two military veterans, two Ph.D.s and 19 students with master’s degrees. The students are fluent in 32 languages besides English.

Meet some of the faces of the Class of 2020 (see more at our Facebook page).

White Coat Event Information

 

David Alex Cronkite

An injured shoulder began this baseball player’s journey to med school.

David Alex Cronkite
“The baseball diamond is where I developed mental fortitude, a strong work ethic and the discipline required to be successful in life…You learn from your mistakes, get ready to play the next day and ‘giddy up’ as my coach would say.”

A sports injury led Alex Cronkite to a career in medicine.

The NCAA Division III baseball player for Tufts University injured his arm playing baseball and was being treated by surgeons, radiologists and physical therapists. Sitting on an orthopedic surgeon’s table in Boston, Cronkite first thought seriously about studying medicine.

“I distinctly remember the unexpected and conflicting feelings I had during this time,” Cronkite said, “anguish over possibly never playing the game I loved again and amazement at the medical science surrounding me in the radiology department.”

“I was overwhelmed but excited as I received the arthrogram MRI on my shoulder, asking my doctor what type of dye he was injecting into my joint and its purpose and wanting to see the scans when the process was over.”

With his newfound interest in medicine, Cronkite immersed myself in the medical world, seizing every opportunity to learn. He did medical missionary work in Bolivia, shadowed doctors and worked long hours in Dr. Kate Jeffrey’s lab at Massachusetts General Hospital’s gastroenterology department researching viral infections and inflammatory bowel disease.

He said he chose UCF in large part because of Dean Deborah German, who speaks to applicants during interviews. “Dean German’s passion for the school and its students was unparalleled during my application process,” Cronkite said. “Her long-term vision for the college and philosophy of making all of us the best doctors we can be by supporting our individual goals was very comforting in a process that can be very stressful.”

He credits the baseball diamond as the place that developed his mental fortitude, work ethic and discipline.

“I love all sports, but I believe baseball is such a great game because you play it every day and you fail more times than not,” Cronkite said. “If you have a bad game, there is not a week to recover and get back on your horse. You learn from your mistakes, get ready to play the next day and ‘giddy up’ as my coach would say.”


Jacklyn Locklear

The competitive equestrian, model is riding high as she enters medical school.

Jacklyn Locklear

“In order to succeed at both school and riding, I had to learn to be savvy with my time. As a medical student and future physician, it is my goal to continue to manage my time wisely so I can maintain balance throughout the rest of my life.”

She is an equestrian, tap dancer, model, wakeboarder, second runner-up in a Miss Gainesville pageant and helped preserve Florida’s mockingbird population. Now Jaclyn Locklear is adding “medical student” to her already impressive resume that also includes being on the President’s Honor Roll for her perfect GPA scores for four straight semesters at the University of Florida. Competing as an equestrian since high school, Locklear says riding horses has helped her learn the importance of balance in life and become an expert at time management.

“In order to succeed at both school and riding, I had to learn to be savvy with my time. As a medical student and future physician, it is my goal to continue to manage my time wisely so I can maintain balance throughout the rest of my life.”

Locklear always knew she wanted to work in medicine, but with her love for horses, she couldn’t decide between becoming a veterinarian or a physician. She shadowed vets and doctors and loved both professions. It was not until her sophomore year at UF, when she worked as a tutor that she realized her love for working with and helping people.

“I thrived on student feedback,” she said, “and I found it extremely rewarding to watch students come in stressed and struggling and leave relieved and confident. I realized that it was because I enjoyed being around people. Whether I was communicating with them or simply watching them take an exam, it became clear that humans, rather than animals, were what brought me most satisfaction.”

With that focus, she began volunteering with hospice and the UF College of Medicine’s Mobile Outreach Clinic. “At this point, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to be a doctor,” she said.

Locklear said UCF was her top choice for med school because it was so “transparent and personable.”

“I am excited for the challenge,” she said. “I easily get bored and I know the material I will be studying for the next four years will be extremely stimulating, and I can’t wait to start working with patients.”

Jaclyn Marrinan

The junior epidemiologist who tackled Ebola in Africa takes on the challenge of med school.

Jaclyn Marrinan
“Dean German’s energy and drive to make UCF the premier medical school in the center of a medical city won me over in the first hour of my visit to the school. It was palpable how invested the faculty and administration are in the success of the students and how supportive the students are of each other.”

When the next major epidemic occurs, Jaclyn Marrinan plans on being there to contain its spread.

In her young life, she has fearlessly taken on the challenge of combating infectious diseases in developing nations and working with global women’s health issues.

This August, she’ll conquer a challenge of a different sort, beginning classes in the M.D. program at the UCF College of Medicine. She enters as a nontraditional student, having taken five years after college to pursue a career in epidemiology, the study of how diseases are caused and how they can be contained.

Marrinan chose UCF, in part, because of its commitment to students.

“I feel the school has an exciting trajectory ahead of it,” said the Raleigh, North Carolina native.

“Dean German’s energy and drive to make UCF the premier medical school in the center of a medical city won me over in the first hour of my visit to the school. It was palpable how invested the faculty and administration are in the success of the students and how supportive the students are of each other.”

Her drive for personal and professional growth has led her to opportunities all over the world.

“My favorite quote is from Bill Murray, who says, ‘I try to be alert and available for life to happen to me. If you’re available, life gets huge.’ I always come back to the idea of letting your life ‘get huge’ by saying yes to things like moving to Switzerland to work for the World Health Organization (WHO).”

She’s made a big impact already. In the past few years, she’s worked with the Foundation for African Medicine and Education to provide health care to remote Tanzanian tribes, and volunteered as a birth and postpartum doula in northern Ghana, assisting village women during and after birth while simultaneously conducting a study on the human papillomavirus (HPV).

Most recently, she served as a junior epidemiologist for WHO’s Ebola Response Team in west Africa, investigating how the deadly virus persisted in survivors’ body fluids. While there she witnessed many mothers perish, not from Ebola but from childbirth.

“In Sierra Leone, giving birth is one of the most dangerous things a woman will do in her lifetime. The Ebola survivor clinic I worked in was situated near the hospital’s maternity ward, and my work day was usually punctuated by the sharp wailing of family members whose sister, daughter or aunt had just died in childbirth.”

“This happened nearly every day – women dying preventable deaths mere feet away from me.”

In med school, Marrinan looks to marry her epidemiological research experience with a greater understanding of reproductive health so she can provide individualized clinical care to women in crisis, like those she encountered in Sierra Leone.

“That experience has fiercely reignited my drive to become a doctor. I crave the ability to more directly work with and help patients in a way that only comes with being a physician.”

 

Joshua Nims

The Political Science major made a career shift to fulfill his childhood dream.

Joshua Nims
“My path to med school has been less direct than my 10-year-old self ever imagined,” Nims said, “but for the first time in my life, I know I’m exactly where I am meant to be.”

Joshua Nims’ path to medical school is a tale of a second chance.

At 10 years old, Nims was rushed to the emergency room for an ankle injury. Despite his physical pain, Nims felt energized by the ER environment and was so enthralled by the doctors that he wrote a 4th grade class essay “When I’m 21” that predicted he would be a physician.

But Nims said he didn’t pursue that dream, mostly because he says he feared failure and that he wasn’t smart enough to be a doctor. Instead, he opted to study political science – an early passion of his – at the College of the Holy Cross where he played Division I varsity football.

“I wanted to go into politics, but the more I learned about it, the more I realized it involved some level of dishonesty, and that was not me,” he shared.

Still passionate about public service, he took a job after graduation raising money for non-profit organizations. And while he helped raise millions, he never saw the people who benefitted from the fundraisers.

“My time was spent on the phone or computer, constantly analyzing and worrying about money,” Nims reflected. “I soon discovered that my job was less about helping those less fortunate and more about increasing the bottom line for the campaign.”

When that job ended because of layoffs, Nims was forced to re-examine his career path. Encouraged by his fiancé, a pediatric nurse, and his brother-in-law who is a physician, Nims took a “leap of faith” and decided to get back to his first career passion – medicine. He enrolled in pre-med at the University of North Florida while simultaneously attending the Florida Medical Training Institute where he received certification as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). EMT school gave him his first exposure to practicing medicine and it was there he fell in love with caring for others.

“It was the first time I was learning something that I adored and I read the EMT textbook from cover to cover,” he said.

Graduating with a 4.0 GPA from UNF and the highest GPA at EMT school, Nims applied to medical school at UCF, and said he was impressed by the college’s vision and its inspirational dean, Dr. Deborah German.

“I believe I told one of my interviewers that Dean German could motivate me to run through a brick wall,” he said.

Today, Nims is grateful for the second chance to fulfill his childhood dream.

“My path to med school has been less direct than my 10-year-old self ever imagined,” Nims said, “but for the first time in my life, I know I’m exactly where I am meant to be.”

 

Margot Samson

The national windsurfing champion gave up full competition to focus on medical school.

Margot Samson
“Windsurfing competitively has taught me so much, from discipline to motivation, perseverance in the face of adversity to stress management…it’s made me a more competent and driven person.”

Margot Samson is a champion windsurfer who has represented America across the globe, including the 2010 inaugural Youth Olympics in Singapore. Just two months ago, she was champion at the National Windsurfing Championships in Texas. Now she’s taking a step back from competition to focus on medical school.

“Windsurfing competitively has taught me so much,” she shared, “from discipline to motivation, perseverance in the face of adversity to stress management. I know its cliché, but it’s true. I’ve used these skills in my studies and my daily life, and it’s made me a more competent and driven person.”

When not on the water, Samson, who says she has always liked science, can probably be found in a lab doing research. Throughout her four years at the University of Florida, she worked in a neuroscience lab researching Alzheimer’s disease.

In 2014, Samson was the recipient of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Science for Life Extramural Undergraduate Research Award which gave her the opportunity to conduct Alzheimer’s research at the Harvard Institute of Medicine.

“I love the rigor and investigative aspect of research,” she said. “The stakes are high, which is really motivating, and trying to put together pieces of a complex puzzle is really interesting.”

After a couple years at UF, she began shadowing a few physician-scientists from the lab in their clinical rounds.

“For the first time I really saw how all the advances discovered in the lab were applied directly to patients in a clinical setting,” she said. “I was hooked! As much as I’d enjoyed lab work, I truly connected with the immediacy and personal nature of clinical work. I’ve wanted to be a doctor ever since.”

The UCF College of Medicine stood out to her from the very beginning of her med school search.

“From the staff to the students, everyone I’ve had a chance to interact with has been so friendly and forthcoming, and I immediately felt welcomed,” she said. “The school is still very new, and the excitement is contagious.”

Most of all, she is excited about meeting her future colleagues.

“We’re all highly motivated and passionate about studying medicine, but other than that we are all cut from different cloth. It’s going to be great to learn together.”

 

Philip Wessels

Selfless service is this Green Beret’s motivation to study medicine.

Philip Wessels
“I feel being a physician is like the soldier standing guard. It is this selfless service that I will always carry with me as a physician.”

Driving down a winding mountain road in Lebanon, Philip Wessels made the ultimate decision to leave the military and enroll in medical school, a move he calls “one of the best decisions of my life.”

As a Green Beret (Special Forces) medic, Wessels had spent the greater part of his adult life serving about in places like Lebanon, Iraq and Israel and felt inspired by the impact he had on the people he helped heal.

“I don’t have the typical story of growing up with a dream to become a doctor,” said the Brandon, Florida native. “I always had a passion for helping and caring for people, but as a young man it first manifested into wanting to serve my country and protect our citizens from terrorism and evil.”

This led Wessels to enlist in the Army in 2005 and the Special Forces in 2009. As a medic, he was responsible for the medical welfare of American Special Forces soldiers, as well as foreign military and local populations.

He helped host clinics in Iraqi towns, assisting local children and adults who had no access to medical care. “It was amazing to see how a simple dose of Tylenol or Pepto Bismol to reduce a child’s sickness was welcomed with overwhelming gratitude,” Wessels shared. “The connection that is created is purely human, and it is then that you realize we are all brothers and sisters of this world.”

The experience propelled Wessels to leave the military and pursue full-time studies at UCF where he completed his undergraduate degree in biomedical sciences at the College of Medicine’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences. There, he was an honors researcher in the lab of Dr. Shadab Siddiqi, and studied very low density lipoproteins and their role in heart disease. “Working with Dr. Siddiqi was awesome,” Wessels said. “He is a pioneer in lipid trafficking and atherosclerosis research and I am excited to work with him again for my research project at med school.”

Wessels said his military training prepared him making sacrifices in the service to others – a foundation he believes will make him a better doctor.

“There is a famous poem, ‘The American Soldier Standing Guard at Christmas’, that has always inspired me,” said Wessels. “It tells the story of a soldier standing guard on Christmas night, and it reflects the selfless service of those that serve our country. I feel being a physician is like the soldier standing guard. It is this selfless service that I will always carry with me as a physician.”