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A degree of distinction

May 03, 2016

Meet three members of the Class of 2016 who combined their special talents with Ohio State's unique offerings. Each created a special college experience — a rich education in and out of the classroom.

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With a wide range of academic choices and diverse co-curricular opportunities, Ohio State offers unmatched opportunities for students.

This Sunday, more than 11,000 students will join Ohio State's alumni family at the university's 412th commencement ceremony. Meet three grads to watch — students who used their time here to create experiences that are distinctly Ohio State.

Mimi Lamantia

Major: Dance
Buckeye brief: Lamantia combined her academic interests in dance and medicine to participate in research at Ohio State's cancer hospital.

Mimi Lamantia found the prospect of joining the fight against cancer daunting.

She'd read studies in which dance-based therapies helped patients with Parkinson’s, and wondered if cancer survivors also could benefit.

With encouragement from faculty and friends in the Department of Dance, Lamantia took a chance. She submitted a Pelotonia Fellowship research proposal that would examine whether dance could benefit patients who had physical challenges due to nerve damage incurred during chemotherapy.

Last fall, she found out her proposal was accepted. 

“Without the support I got from the dance department, I don’t think I would have pursued the Pelotonia Fellowship, which has ultimately allowed me to craft and facilitate the research and the project of my dreams,” said Lamantia, a dance major who is also on pre-medicine track.

Lamantia's experience was possible because of Ohio State's collaborative, interdisciplinary approach: Undergraduates from the university's 15 colleges have the opportunity for research at Ohio States's Wexner Medical Center and James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute.

Lamantia's research has shown encouraging signs for cancer survivors suffering from chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN). Her program — Argentine Tango for Cancer Survivors — was composed of three 10-week sessions, in which survivors worked on improving movement and balance. The promising work showed success and is the latest example of breakthroughs produced through the Pelotonia Fellowship program. 

The program is supported through funds raised by Pelotonia, the annual bike ride that benefits The James. It has awarded nearly 300 grants since 2010.

“Great studies and research in dance are happening here. Amazing work in the medical field is happening here. And not only are these things happening, but the collaboration between these two fields is happening here,” Lamantia said. You just get the whole package when you come to Ohio State.”

As she approaches graduation, Lamantia said she has tremendous gratitude for the experiences she’s had on campus. She singled out faculty member Lise Worthen-Chaudhari for the influence she’s had on her life. 

“I didn’t think I would find someone who was blending the fields of dance and medicine, but I found her when I got to Ohio State,” Lamantia said. “Here she was, doing my dream job. I’m very grateful to have connected with her and to have had the opportunity to collaborate with her. She inspires me.” 

Davonti’ Haynes

Major: Public Affairs
Buckeye brief: Haynes found university support for his passion for social justice and used that drive to mentor children in Columbus City Schools.

Davonti’ Haynes arrived at Ohio State with a sense of social responsibility, a desire to lead and a goal of providing the same type of mentorship he’d received as a young person.

Once on campus, he knew he’d made the right choice. He found a public affairs program that has grown into the John Glenn College of Public Affairs. He found Student Life’s Department of Social Change, which mentors students who are focused on making meaningful change. And finally, he found the Columbus community, where he has had a chance to provide mentorship to children.

“When I got here, I fell in love with Ohio State,” Haynes said. “There are so many different opportunities here. The curriculum at Ohio State and the student opportunities relate to and help everything I’m trying to do in the community.”

Haynes didn’t just take advantage of the university’s opportunities. He made a point to create them for others. 

Through his work with the Department of Social Change, Haynes created two mentorship programs that benefit at-risk youth in Ohio. Mentor-A-Buckeye joins Columbus City Schools ninth-graders with Ohio State students and community mentors, with a goal of encouraging and inspiring students throughout their high school careers. And A Day in the Life of a Buckeye brings children from Columbus and Appalachian area high schools to Columbus for a day on campus. Students leave with an understanding of what being a student at Ohio State is all about. 

“Students in inner city school districts and rural areas may lack that extra push they need to consider college as an option,” Haynes said. “I feel having that mentor there is a valuable, valuable thing to have.”

Haynes sees his work as part of Ohio State's long history of paying forward.

“My first year at Ohio State, the first thing they talked about was community commitment, and that was even before classes started,” he said. "For me, personally, it’s great that our institution has that as such an important part of our culture.”

Jillian Yuricich

Major: Aerospace and Astronautical Engineering 
Buckeye brief: An aspiring astronaut, Yuricich has discussed her future with NASA legend John Glenn, for whom Ohio State's John Glenn College of Public Affairs is named.

There aren’t many universities where an astronaut and national icon are a visible and regular part of campus life. But at Ohio State, John Glenn is present as a revered and accessible figure.

Meeting Glenn affirmed Jillian Yuricich's dream of becoming an astronaut.

“John Glenn and his wife, Annie, were on campus giving a public policy lecture and (former astronaut) Kathy Sullivan was hosting,” Yuricich said. “Afterwards, Kathy offered to introduce me to him. I’ll never forget that I was able to tell him all I’d been able to do in my pursuit of being an astronaut. The last thing he said to me was, ‘I’m very proud of you.’"

“Every few years I have something happen to me that reaffirms my dream,” Yuricich said. That meeting with John Glenn was one of those moments.”

Yuricich has done plenty to ensure she’ll achieve the dream she’s had since she was a five-year-old growing up in Hilliard, Ohio.

In her third year at Ohio State, Yuricich became the first Buckeye student to earn a scholarship from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, which was created by Glenn and other Mercury 7 astronauts.

She’s also interned at NASA, and last summer earned the chance to attend PoSSUM Academy, an immersive program for high school students and undergraduates interested in upper atmospheric research and spaceflight. Yuricich received her acceptance to PoSSUM during a surprise announcement in one of her engineering classes.

As part of that program, Yuricich earned her astronaut patch.

“Every time I look at the patch, it's emotional,” she said. “This is the same patch that astronauts get, and to see my name on it is special.” 

Yuricich’s next step is graduate school at Georgia Tech, where she’ll continue to pursue her dream of being an astronaut. She credits her Ohio State experiences as having set her up for success. Yuricich highlighted Ohio State’s Denman Undergraduate Research Forum as one way the institution has prepared her for her next step.

“The Denman at Ohio State is unlike anything that any other school can boast,” she said. “When I participated, I knew this was the beginning of my understanding of what the research world was going to look like when I was in grad school. It’s a hands-on experience that builds independence and ownership of your own education.”