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As we close out the 2018 summer semester, we would like to take a moment to showcase the CASE Worlds Ahead graduates. These graduates exhibit outstanding perseverance, intelligence and personal strength during their time at FIU, and fully demonstrate and embrace what it means to be Worlds Ahead.

Worlds Ahead Graduates are nominated by faculty members to be personally honored during their commencement ceremony. Their ingenuity, compassion, intelligence and courage set them apart from their graduating class. We mark them down in FIU history through a news feature and in the Past Worlds Ahead Graduates record. Read about what makes them Worlds Ahead.

Michelle Thompson — Ph.D. in Biology, School of Environment, Arts and Society   

The world’s amphibians are facing an extinction crisis. Michelle Thompson is on the front lines of their conservation.

Originally from Redondo Beach, Calif., Michelle decided to pursue a career in biology after a field trip to Anza-Borrengo National Park in California. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, San Diego. After earning a master’s degree, Michelle came to FIU to study amphibian and reptile ecology and conservation alongside Maureen Donnelly in the Herpetology Lab.

Michelle has dedicated her Ph.D. research to examining the effects of habitat change and loss — two of the biggest conservation threats — facing amphibians and reptiles in Costa Rica. Her work reveals the importance of vegetation growing near rivers, streams, lakes and lagoons as places of refuge for these threatened critters in changing landscapes. This can help resource managers pinpoint areas for conservation.

Michelle’s work has been recognized by the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, an international society dedicated to the study of fish, reptiles and amphibians. She also earned a Fulbright U.S. Student Award allowing her to do research, live and serve as a cultural ambassador in Costa Rica.

Michelle is graduating with a Ph.D. in biology. She has been working for the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago assessing conservation and management practices throughout South America. She will also examine the impacts of fungal diseases on amphibians in collaboration with FIU biologist Alessandro Catenazzi.

Luke Linhoff – Ph.D. in Biology, School of Environment, Arts and Society

Luke Linhoff is on a mission to save amphibians.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Hawaii at Hilo. He worked as zookeeper, an aquarium keeper and with various endangered wildlife reintroduction programs before enrolling at FIU to pursue a doctorate degree.

As a Ph.D. student, Luke worked in Maureen Donnelly’s Herpetology Lab examining the impacts of the pet trade on amphibians and how captive animals, including frogs and toads, can help reach conservation goals.

Luke also studied the reintroduction of the Wyoming toad, an animal on the on the brink of extinction. He studied the Wyoming toad’s behavior, habitat and movement patterns to inform how to raise them in captivity and effectively release them back to the wild. Luke’s efforts to restore their population alongside the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were profiled by National Geographic.

Luke’s work has been recognized by the American Society of Ichthyology and Herpetology, a society dedicated to the study and conservation of fish, amphibians and reptiles. He was a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, earning numerous fellowships and awards totaling more than $150,000 in research funding.

Luke is earning a Ph.D. in biology from FIU. He is looking to work as a postdoctoral researcher, at a zoo or with a nonprofit organization. Luke wants to dedicate his career to combatting one of the planet’s most pressing conservation problems – preventing the extinction of the world’s rarest animals.

April Schantz — Ph.D. in Psychology, School of Integrated Science and Humanity 

The journey to higher education has been nearly 30 years in the making for April Schantz.

A military brat, April was born in Virginia and raised in North Carolina and Florida. At 17, she gave birth to her first child. Dreaming of a physics career, she enrolled at Miami Dade College in 1987. April then had two more children. By 22, she was working, studying and raising three children.

After earning an associate degree in 1991, April enrolled at FIU. One year later, Hurricane Andrew barreled through South Florida, wreaking havoc on countless families. Left homeless, April moved in with family in North Florida to get back on her feet. She put her academic goals on hold to focus on her family’s needs. She found a career in human resources. But April always hoped to go back to school.

April returned to FIU, earning a bachelor’s in psychology in 2012. That year, she began the Ph.D. program in industrial/organizational psychology. April has dedicated her Ph.D. research to studying the well-being of emergency first-responders. She found first-responders who don’t receive enough job performance feedback experience higher levels of burnout. This finding can inform work evaluation policies and improve the health of first-responders.

After graduating, April will begin her role as an assistant professor at the University of West Florida.

Ruthmara Corzo – Ph.D. in Chemistry, School of Integrated Science and Humanity   

Ruthie Corzo has always had an affinity for science. Her favorite childhood toy was a microscope her parents gave her. High school teachers helped Ruthie find her love for chemistry.

Born and raised in Miami, Ruthie attended FIU and earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry, focusing on forensic chemistry. One of only a few universities offering a graduate degree in forensic chemistry, FIU was the obvious choice for a graduate education. Ruthie is the first in her family to earn a Ph.D.

Working alongside professor Jose Almirall, Ruthie helped develop an ink database that can link different documents to a particular counterfeiter. She developed this counterterrorism tool for the Homeland Security Investigation Laboratory.

Ruthie’s efforts also extend to the courtroom. Currently, there is no standard for forensic practitioners to follow when presenting findings at trial. Ruthie’s research focused on applying the likelihood ratio – a measure of the quality and relative rarity of the evidence. This method provides a numerical interpretation of the evidence instead of the more subjective tools currently used. It is being tested.

But it was working with middle school students that proved to be her most memorable experience at FIU. As part of a forensics workshop, Ruthie and her research group prepared mock forensic cases and walked the students through evidence analysis.

After graduation, Ruthie will continue her research as a post-doctoral researcher at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Jordan Almendral Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, School of Integrated Science and Humanity

Jordan Almendral always dreamed of being a baseball player. He played for Christopher Columbus High School with hopes of one day being in the majors.

But on July 11, 2010, Jordan’s dream was shattered. It was the summer before his senior year. Only blocks from his home in Westchester and just a mile from FIU, the SUV Jordan was riding in was in a serious crash. He was ejected from the vehicle and critically injured.

Jordan was airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital. Emergency brain surgery saved his life. Spinal surgery followed. Jordan woke up from a coma after six weeks to learn he would never walk again. About six months after the accident, he decided it was time to accept this new reality.

After months of physical therapy, Jordan completed his senior year of high school through a home-schooling program. Setting his sights on a career in sports psychology, he enrolled at FIU in 2012.

At FIU, Jordan’s classmates and professors saw his ability not his disability. His brother and sister stayed up late to type reports as Jordan dictated. His mom would drive him to the library to study. He attended football games with his dad as his tailgate partner. Jordan made the most of his college experience and completed his bachelor’s in psychology.

Jordan wants to help athletes overcome any hurdles to success. He is searching for internships in sports psychology and wants to pursue a master’s degree.

Thomas Guerra – Master of Science in Psychology, School of Integrated Science and Humanity

Thomas Guerra lived part of his life in the grips of temptation and addiction. Today he’s in recovery and is working to give fellow students the opportunity to conquer their demons.

As a teenager, Thomas suffered from depression and anxiety. To cope, he abused alcohol and drugs. The once straight-A student struggled to graduate from high school. After joining 12-step programs and regularly attending meetings, he got sober. He attended Miami Dade College and later FIU in pursuit of a psychology degree. He stopped attending 12-step meetings. Feeling the pressure of his studies, job and birth of his first child, Thomas started drinking again. He lost his job, stopped studying and his daughter’s mother left. He hit rock bottom and stayed there until he finally listened to friends who urged him to get help. He did, returned to school, finished his bachelor’s degree and returned for his master’s.

It was in psychology professor Paige Telan’s class where Thomas was challenged to come up with a project that would make the community a better place to live. Thomas founded Panthers in Recovery, a student group that supports FIU students in their battles with addiction. The organization hosts two weekly meetings, sober tailgates and events that let students know how they can seek help. For his efforts, Thomas recently won a Student Life Shining Star Award.

Now Thomas plans to become a substance abuse counselor and help transition the student-led recovery group into a professionally led university-supported program.

 Salima Dhanani – Master of Science in Early Childhood Education, School of Education and Human Development

As a first-generation college student and a teacher, Salima Dhanani knows the power of education. She also knows getting a good education can be tough. She’s making sure it doesn’t have to be.

At New Life Charter Academy in Fort Lauderdale, Salima teaches math to 33 children in second and third grades. Most of them lack the basic knowledge for their grade level. She makes math problems relatable to her students and coaches them one-on-one. She builds a good rapport with their parents. She works with their other teachers to keep her students motivated. Together, they’re making a difference. The school’s grade improved from an F to a B.

Salima is also trying to improve education for children a world away in her native Pakistan. She’s been doing this during her summer breaks for the past four years. It started as an effort to improve the curriculum at the Marium Government Girls and Boys Primary School in Karachi. It morphed into a fundraising push to improve the school’s state of disrepair, where out-of-service restrooms meant students would go home for restroom breaks and not return until the next day. Her efforts there continue.

After commencement, Salima wants to put the strategies and knowledge gained from earning her master’s degree to use. She hopes to become a school administrator and pursue a doctoral degree in early childhood education.

See the full list of the Summer 2018 Worlds Ahead graduates.