Date May 7, 2024
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Graduate student speakers will offer insights at Commencement on navigating setbacks to reach goals

As Brown celebrates its 256th Commencement, Nadia Tsado and Deanna Stueber will address their peers in separate master’s and Ph.D. ceremonies on College Hill.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — In keeping with Brown’s annual tradition of elevating student voices during Commencement and Reunion Weekend, the Graduate Student Council selected Nadia Tsado and Deanna Stueber as this year’s graduate student speakers.

In separate remarks at the University’s master’s and doctoral ceremonies on Saturday, May 25, and Sunday, May 26, respectively, the pair will address their peers, as well as thousands of family members and friends who attend in-person or watch the livestream. Both Tsado, a master’s student, and Stueber, a Ph.D. candidate, will speak about the importance of navigating setbacks and detours on the way to achieving personal goals.

“Both students have really great, timely stories, and they’re personable speakers,” said Dominique Barnes, a doctoral student in biomedical engineering and chair of the Graduate Student Council’s nominations committee.

Nadia Tsado: Navigating hurdles on the way to a strong finish

From a young age, Nadia Tsado’s interest in public health has been personal. She witnessed family members struggle with health issues (most of which were preventable) and navigate health systems that didn’t always seem to have their best interests in mind. She grappled with how providers could better serve patients.

“I’ve always been drawn to the work of helping to move beyond health disparities in the U.S. and the world, and to working to address certain issues, like access to care, especially for underserved populations,” Tsado said.

Yet her public health journey was unexpectedly thwarted by a health issue of her own. Her personal story, and looking forward to the Summer Olympic Games, inspired the speech Tsado will deliver at the master’s degree ceremony, where she will focus on the role of determination in pursuit of goals in sports, school and life.

Tsado’s brother studied biomedical engineering at Brown, and while celebrating his graduation in 2016, Tsado met students from the School of Public Health who, she said, raved about the community work in which they were engaged and the mentorship they received from faculty. She was also attracted to the culture at Brown, which she said put an emphasis on improving the conditions of underserved and diverse communities.

“I wanted to be in a place of action, where there's a lot of research and service that is geared towards communities that haven't been typically served in the U.S.,” Tsado said. “I also knew Brown had initiatives — like the Health Equity Scholars Program — geared toward people who look like me, and that was important to me.”

During her first semester at the School of Public Health, Tsado connected with faculty members Akilah Dulin, Alison Tovar and Kim Gans, and joined their research project to understand how to improve the health of the Southeast Asian community in Rhode Island, specifically through diet-related interventions. Tsado created curriculum for healthy eating classes and also helped devise program assessments: one, called a veggie meter, used a finger scan to show participants whether they were eating enough fruit and vegetables.

Tsado didn’t feel like herself, though. She was in pain and constantly exhausted, and not just from the demands of an MPH program or her involvement in the Graduate African Student Organization, the Nabrit Black Graduate Student Association and Women in Public Health. Last spring, she sunk to a point where managing everything seemed untenable.

I hope to remind us to treasure the people that we’ve met here at Brown, and to make sure we keep those connections close, because the connections can take us far.

Nadia Tsado Master's Commencement Speaker
Profile of Nadia Tsado

To Tsado’s deep appreciation, her Brown community, especially her faculty mentors, were there to offer ample encouragement, support and resources. She went from wondering if she’d need to drop out of the program to finishing the semester on time: “I continued to push on with the support of the people around me,” Tsado said.

She embarked on a thesis, looking at the association of atypical depression and how that affects child health outcomes in South Africa. As the project gained momentum, Tsado’s doctor informed her that she had a tumor. While benign, it was obstructing blood flow to one of her organs and needed to be removed immediately. The emergency surgery upended her summer plans, including a highly anticipated project with the Rhode Island Department of Health.

When courses resumed in the fall, Tsado felt lingering pain and fatigue, but eagerly resumed her studies.

“These moments happen in life, and we have to make sure we can give ourselves the grace that we need to, and continue to strive for our goals,” she said.

Tsado aspires to a career in international health public work, and while she eventually intends to complete a Ph.D., she's currently considering opportunities that will leverage her skills and experience in data analysis.

Tsado has been running competitively since middle school, and she realized that she’d be finishing her MPH not long before the start of the Olympics, an event so significant to her family that her parents named her after gold-medal gymnast Nadia Comăneci. She’d been replaying some of her favorite Olympic moments — that showcase perseverance, sportsmanship and teamwork — in her mind throughout her Brown journey, and she felt compelled to share those with others.

In delivering her Commencement remarks, she hopes to encourage and reassure her fellow graduate students, as well as herself, and to express gratitude for her Brown support system.

“I want to encourage students that while the future might be unknown, we know certain things about ourselves that we can continue to rely upon,” Tsado said. “I also hope to remind us to treasure the people that we’ve met here at Brown, and to make sure we keep those connections close, because the connections can take us far.”

Deanna Stueber: Persevering with passion

Deanna Stueber has been a graduate student at Brown since 2016. In those eight years, she’s witnessed or experienced moments of elation, adversity and taken pride in how Brown’s community of graduate students rallied around each other during both positive and challenging times.

Those observations led Stueber to center her upcoming doctoral address, titled “Ph.D.: Potholes, Hazards and Detours,” on three central themes — passion, tenacity and community — and their importance in the doctoral student journey. Her speech was inspired by experiences from her classmates’ lives and her own, offering an opportunity to reflect on both celebratory moments and challenges encountered.

“Your passion is what brings you into the field, your tenacity is what keeps you going, and when you hit those hard spots, your community is what keeps picking you back up,” Stueber said.

Stueber, who was born in upstate New York and earned her undergraduate degree at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, says her address is meant to be less focused on her and more focused on collective experiences of the graduates and how they all navigated their own setbacks and detours.

“I don't want them to sit there and listen to my journey,” said Stueber, who will earn her doctorate in biomedical engineering. “I want them to picture their own. I want them to remember the times that they had to work late on something or the times they reached a milestone. I want them to remember the times they helped their classmate or someone helped them. I want them to remember why they came here to begin with.”

Stueber’s own journey has required continuous problem solving as she juggled a full slate of life and academic commitments. In addition to the traditional Ph.D. responsibilities of taking doctorate-level courses, developing a thesis and working as a teaching assistant, she also planned her wedding, navigated a pandemic, and dealt with unprecedented industry shortages in CO2, glass and plastics that impacted her research.

Your passion is what brings you into the field, your tenacity is what keeps you going, and when you hit those hard spots, your community is what keeps picking you back up.

Deanna Stueber Doctoral Commencement Speaker
Profile shot of Deanna Stueber

One moment that lingers came in the first years of her journey toward a Brown doctorate, while she was still a master’s student.

At the time, she was working in a genetics lab and taking a drug and gene delivery course taught by engineering professor Edith Mathiowitz. Stueber and a group of classmates developed an idea for a transvaginal drug delivery system for women suffering from dysmenorrhea, or painful periods. Stueber conducted initial background research for the project and then designed and built a prototype. The experience reignited her passion for biomedical engineering and galvanized her to pursue drug delivery as the main focus of her master’s thesis and later for her Ph.D.

“The main thing for me is being close to the problem, being passionate about it and being able to develop tools to address it,” Stueber said. “Through biomedical engineering, I want to solve and change the way we are living our lives."

In the lab of engineering and chemistry professor Vicki Colvin, Stueber conducted research on magnetic nanoparticles for her doctoral thesis, exploring their potential applications in drug delivery imaging and other innovative therapies. She published a highly cited study on the topic as lead author and was able to explore the potential effect of magnetic nanoparticles on cortical microtissues in rats by collaborating with Diane Hoffman-Kim, an associate professor of medical science and engineering.

During her time at Brown, Stueber also served as vice president for of the Graduate Biomedical Engineering Society, was a panelist at Johnson and Wales University's “Under 25 and Ready to Thrive” event and has mentored a number of Brown undergraduate and master’s students.

As she looks toward a future away from Brown, Stueber says she will miss the sense of togetherness found among students and faculty on campus.

“Everyone is so willing to hear each other's ideas and invest in them,” Stueber said. “I have seen where we really show up for each other and care about what each other is going through. Ph.D. students are dealing with a lot on and off campus, and it is so heartwarming to see the community care about each other.”