The University of Arizona

Student Achievement a Highlight of Commencement

By Rebecca Ruiz-McGill, University Communications | May 7, 2012

The UA undergraduate Spring Commencement ceremony will take place on May 12 at 9 a.m.

Aeen Asghar
Aeen Asghar
Alice Cai (Photos by Patrick McArdle/UANews)
Alice Cai (Photos by Patrick McArdle/UANews)
Jovan Ruvalcaba
Jovan Ruvalcaba
Hanna Renee Henson
Hanna Renee Henson
Aubri Carman
Aubri Carman

Six outstanding University of Arizona students will be recognized for their achievements during the May 12 Spring Commencement ceremony at McKale Memorial Center. 

Dr. Peter Rhee of The University of Arizona Medical Center will serve as commencement speaker during the 9 a.m. event.

Aeen Asghar and Alice Cai, both honors students, will be awarded Nugent Awards; honors student Ella Starobinska and Jovan Ruvalcaba will receive Robie Medals; and Hanna Renee Henson and honors student Aubri Carman will be given Freeman Medals.

These UA medals are awarded to outstanding UA students whose contributions and co-curricular activities and leadership have a positive impact on the University.

Robert Logan Nugent Medals: Aeen Asghar and Alice Cai

Aeen Asghar will graduate with a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry and molecular biophysics with honors, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Middle Eastern and North African studies. He plans to graduate Summa Cum Laude.

His freshman year, he joined and was selected an officer in Alpha Epsilon Delta, the national pre-health honors society and served as president in 2011.

He also served as treasurer for the student club G.I.V.E., a group that promotes college education to underserved high school students, and as president of the Persian Club. He also was an ambassador for the department of chemistry and biochemistry and the UA College of Science.

As a member the Mortar Board Senior Honors Society, he led a community service project to clean the streets and landscape the five neighborhoods around the UA – a project that involved more than 400 students and community members.

He also helped to run a free medical clinic in in Agua Prieta, Mexico as a member of the UA College of Medicine club, Flying Samaritans and founded STAND: A Student Anti-Genocide Coalition to raise awareness of atrocities in Darfur (Sudan) while also providing ESL classes to local refugees from across the globe. For his work with STAND, he was nominated with the Center for Student Involvement & Leadership's Accolade Award as Outstanding Social Justice Advocate.

He has worked in four UA research labs, participating in a variety of health-related research including providing health education for type II diabetes patients. He also researched issues related to successful surgical transplants, issues in cardiac arrest and resuscitation, and the excitatory and inhibitory properties of motor neurons.    

He has received the Galileo Circle Scholar Award and is the two-time recipient of the Michael A. Wells Undergraduate Research Scholarship. After graduation, he will attend medical school at Georgetown University and aims to become a surgeon in academic medicine.

Alice Cai will graduate with honors with a Bachelor of Science in both biochemistry and molecular biophysics and molecular and cellular biology and a Bachelor of Arts in East Asian studies.

A 2008 Flinn Scholar, Cai's achievements include the Galileo Circle Scholarship, Michael A. Wells Undergraduate Research Scholarship, Asian American Faculty Student and Alumni Association Merit Scholarship and the Jody Winn-Oden Memorial Scholarship.

She began work in the Undergraduate Biology Research Program in 2009 investigating mechanisms behind chronic pain with the goal of developing new pain therapeutics. She also spent a summer conducting research at University College London with National Institutes of Health funding from the Biomedical Research Abroad: Vistas Open Program, using spinal cord electrophysiology to evaluate drugs that could affect neuronal excitability.

Her work resulted in travel and cash awards at the UA Biological, Engineering and Chemistry Undergraduate Research Conference and presentations at the national Experimental Biology conference in 2011 and 2012.  

She also served as a mentor to incoming students as a biochemistry ambassador. Her student advocacy extended beyond science, serving on the Asian Pacific American Student Affairs Board of Directors, bringing scholarship workshops, career panels, faculty fellow luncheons and Asian Heritage Month events to the campus community to raise awareness on Asian American issues while promoting greater student achievement.

Cai also is involved with the Pima County Women's Commission and the Women's Foundation of Southern Arizona. She served as chair of the UA Women's Leadership Conference Planning Committee, bringing together young women from the UA Eller College and the colleges of engineering, science and agriculture and life sciences together with successful Tucson women leaders.

She volunteers at the Ronald McDonald House and The University of Arizona Medical Center Family Room addressing the daily needs of pediatric patients' family members. She also provided triage for the UA College of Medicine Flying Samaritans club clinics in Agua Prieta, Mexico and preceptored at Odyssey Hospice providing end-of-life care. She has also interned at hospitals in Jinan and Shanghai, China, to explore Chinese health-care issues.

After graduation, Cai will attend medical school.

Robie Gold Medals: Ella Starobinska and Jovan Ruvalcaba

Ella Starobinska will graduate from the Honors College with bachelor's degrees in physiology and Russian and Slavic studies and a minor in molecular and cellular biology.

At the age of 15, her family immigrated to the U.S. as a result of strong anti-Semitism in her native Ukraine. She participated in the Ukrainian Orange Revolution that took place as a result of a corrupt election. She joined the ranks of the protesters in the fight for the fair and democratic elections. However, with the escalating nationalism and ideology of "Ukraine for Ukrainians," her family sought refuge in the U.S.

Immigration was a very difficult experience for her family. In addition to learning a new language and adjusting to a new culture, they had to start over financially. Her parents, who had lived off their retirement, were denied their pensions upon immigrating. She realized that the most valuable possession that people have is their health and decided she could make a difference in human lives by becoming a doctor.

Her passion for helping others is evident in her volunteer work at Tu Nidito, an organization that provides support to children and adults whose lives have been impacted by serious medical conditions or grief associated with a loss of a relative. As a group leader and a camp counselor, she provides children with emotional support. She worked at the Odyssey Hospice, gaining clinical experience with patients and family members there.

Starobinska's love of science led to an opportunity to conduct cardiovascular research in the laboratory of UA assistant professor Brad Davidson. The research is critical for the development of new diagnostic tests and therapeutics for congenital heart disease.

Her volunteer work and research experience has enhanced her desire to practice medicine and values its use of science at its foundation and its integrated humanitarian ideals of tolerance, acceptance and compassion to help those whose wellbeing and health are compromised.

Jovan Ruvalcaba graduates Magna Cum Laude with a bachelor's degree in political science and a double minor in Spanish and French.

A native Tucsonan, he has volunteered with Pima County Teen Court for the past 10 years. Serving as a teen attorney, attorney coach and most recently court magistrate, defending and mentoring hundreds of at-risk-youth over the years. For his contributions, he has received a special congressional recognition award for community service by U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva.  

In 2007, he was chosen by the Arizona Daily Star as a senior class achiever, garnering a congressional letter for academic excellence by the now retired U.S.  Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. At the UA, Ruvalcaba has been honored twice by the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences for academic achievement.

As a recipient of the Gilman International Scholarship, he traveled to France in 2009 to further his political studies at the prestigious Institut d'études politiques de Paris. Upon returning, he continued his studies of French and has since been recognized twice by the UA department of French and Italian for his original French poetry compositions.

Ruvalcaba plans to pursue a Juris Doctor degree in the near future and hopes to eventually work in the U.S. Foreign Service.    

Merril P. Freeman Medals: Hanna Renee Henson and Aubri Carman

Hanna Renee Henson will graduate with a Bachelor of Science in family studies and human development from the Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences with a minor in childhood wellness.

Henson, a UA student-athlete, has earned several academic awards including the Wildcat Excellence Academic Award, the Outstanding Senior Award from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Arthur J. and Mary Faul Scholarship, the Ruth Cowden Undergraduate Scholarship and the William J. and Alice Parker Scholarship.

As a four-year letter winner and senior captain of the UA's cross country and track teams, she has earned multiple C.A.T.S. Life Skills Initiative Awards and was honored as the Freshman Student Athlete of the Year.

Her 4.0 GPA has also earned her First Team Pac-12 All-Academic recognition and several listings on the dean's list.

During her sophomore year, Henson was recognized as the female student-athlete with the most community service hours and was featured as the "Live United" model for United Way. Through Arizona Athletics, she has volunteered more than 100 hours reading to children, speaking at afterschool programs, visiting the elderly, cooking and serving food at local shelters and other events.

She has interned at Fit Kids of Arizona, a pediatric obesity clinic in Flagstaff and served as an undergraduate research assistant under Sue Koerner, division chair in the family studies and human development department.

As an active member of the UA campus community, she founded a chapter of FeelGood, a non-profit ASUA-recognized club that is part of a national movement to end world hunger. As the current vice president, she works to help to raise awareness and funds for The Hunger Project to help developing countries sustainably end world hunger. She is also a Step Up! Bystander Intervention ambassador at the UA and the community service chair on the Student Athlete Advisory Council.

Upon graduation, she looks to become a Teach For America Corps member and teach in an underserved community; after, she will pursue a master's degree in public health to combat childhood obesity as a health educator.

Aubri Carman is a Flinn Scholar graduating Summa Cum Laude with honors with degrees in both biochemistry and molecular biophysics and molecular and cellular biology. She has minors in Spanish, political science and chemistry. She is the Outstanding Senior for the chemistry and biochemistry program and was honored with the Pillars of Excellence Award.

She served as a student ambassador for the department of chemistry and biochemistry and as a member of the department's peer mentoring program. She works at C.A.T.S Academics where she is a tutor for UA student-athletes and at the Honors College she plans activities for Flinn Scholars and recruits new students. She is also an active in the Mortar Board, a senior honor society.

Carman has conducted research in three different laboratories on campus. She studies molecular and proteomic approaches to characterizing pediatric staphylococcus aureus bloodstream infections. She is also a Galileo Circle Scholar and a Michael A. Wells Research Scholar and her work has been submitted for publication in the journal, Clinical Infectious Diseases.

She has taken graduate level courses at the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and helped with the planning of the inaugural New Frontiers in Global Health Leadership Forum.

Thanks to support from the Flinn Foundation, Carman has traveled extensively gaining valuable experiences in the health-care field. In South Africa, she worked with Child Family Health International as a clinical volunteer. In Costa Rica, she served as a global health ambassador for the Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children performing routine tasks at a small primary care clinic and organized a six-week nutrition and exercise outreach initiative for women.

An avid athlete, she organized a 3 vs. 3 soccer tournament fundraiser to benefit Grassroot Soccer, an organization that uses the power of soccer to educate youth in Sub-Saharan Africa about HIV. She also volunteers at The University of Arizona Medical Center in the pediatric ward.

She is a finalist for a Fulbright Scholarship, where she would conduct public health research with Grassroot Soccer in Zambia. Having gained admission to several medical schools, she looks to become a doctor and gain a master's degree in public health.