Photo collage. Left to right: Dorcas Lohese, Sean Lenahan, Joe Owuor, Hannah Despres, Matt Mullen.
Pictured above (left to right): Dorcas Lohese, Sean Lenahan, Joe Owuor, Hannah Despres, Matt Mullen.

Representing Graduate Student Interests at the Larner College of Medicine

by Michelle Bookless

University of Vermont graduate students Dorcas Lohese, Sean Lenahan, Joseph Owuor, and Matt Mullen are the newest representatives for the UVM Larner College of Medicine Graduate Student Council. Hannah Despres, who served on the council for the 2020-2021 term, has been re-elected for another year.

The Larner Graduate Student Council is separate from UVM's Graduate Student Senate and was created in 2019 specifically to represent and support the unique interests of Ph.D. and master's degree graduate students who train within Larner or its affiliated graduate umbrella programs.

Larner is pleased to collaborate with UVM Professional and Continuing Education (PACE), the Graduate College, and the Colleges of Agriculture & Life Sciences (CALS), Engineering & Mathematical Sciences (CEMS), Nursing & Health Sciences (CNHS), and Arts & Sciences (CAS) on nine inter-departmental, interdisciplinary programs.

Larner's newest Graduate Student Council representatives bring a wide range of backgrounds, interests, passions, and skills to their roles. 

Dorcas Lohese poses outside in the UVM Med Center roundabout

Dorcas Lohese

Pharmacology Accelerated Master's program

From the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Colchester, Vt., Dorcas Lohese is currently a senior biochemistry major completing an accelerated master's degree in pharmacology.

As a research assistant in the Stein/Lian Lab, she studies the epigenetics of cancer and, specifically, the role of mRNA 15/16 and a tumor suppressor gene called RUNX1 in breast cancer. Outside of classes, she is an active contributor and member of the UVM community where she serves as resident advisor for the Leadership and Social Change Learning Community, a Life Group leader for the Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship, and a social media manager for the STEM undergraduate student interest group. She also currently interns with the sales team of Agilent, a biotech company.

Lohese said she chose to pursue her master's degree at UVM because of the professional growth opportunities it affords students. "I am currently working with faculty and post-docs within the UVM Cancer Center who share my passion for research that will redefine cancer treatment," writes Lohese, adding, "I am delighted to continue this journey of learning and growing under extraordinary mentors."

After graduation, Lohese envisions herself working for and one day owning a pharmaceutical or biotech company "to help develop new cancer therapeutics for women of any race" and through which she sets "a new standard for corporate accountability." 

In her role on the Larner Graduate Student Council, Lohese will serve as the chair of outreach and also looks forward to supporting underserved graduate students and promoting an inclusive and improved learning community in which all graduate students can achieve their goals.

Sean Lenahan

Cellular, Molecular, & Biomedical Sciences PhD program

Originally from New York's Long Island, Sean Lenahan graduated from UVM in 2016 with a B.S. in biochemistry. After graduation, he returned to New York for two years to work for AKORN Pharmaceuticals, running drug assays to test the potency of anti-fungal medications to increase his lab experience before applying to graduate school. "I wanted to get life experience working in the pharmaceutical industry and learning about how labs are run outside of academia," says Lenahan.

He returned to Vermont in 2018 and is now a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the UVM Cellular, Molecular, & Biomedical Sciences (CMB) program. As a member of the laboratory of Assistant Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine David Seward, M.D., Ph.D., Lenahan researches the underlying biological mechanisms driving immunotherapy resistance in non-small cell lung cancer patients.

Lenahan says he chose to come back to UVM for his graduate degree because of the atmosphere and available opportunities. "As an undergraduate, I found the environment to be both welcoming and comfortable," says Lenahan, adding, "I also recognized how collaborative and helpful everyone I interacted with was." He was also drawn back to UVM by the CMB program's curricular structure, which allows students to rotate in three different labs in different departments before choosing a mentor. This opportunity was particularly helpful for Lenahan, who was interested in many fields of research and wanted to explore various options before making a decision.

Lenahan doesn't have his sights set on a specific post-graduate plan at the moment, choosing instead to focus his energy on the present. "My goal in graduate school is to work hard, learn as much as I can, grow as a researcher, and make connections in order to have multiple paths to choose from moving forward," says Lenahan. "I love science and working in the lab, so if I can figure out a way to do that for the rest of my life, I will be very content."

In his role as a Larner Graduate Student Council representative, Lenahan will serve as chair of wellness and is particularly focused on organizing support for graduate students struggling with mental health.

Sean Lenahan poses outside of the UVM Health Science Research Facility building
Joseph Owuor poses in the hallway of the UVM Medical Education Building

Joseph Owuor

Master of Medical Science program

From Everett, Mass., Joseph "Joe" Owuor graduated from the University of Massachusetts - Amherst in 2018 with a Bachelor of Science degree in public health sciences. In his final year of college, Owuor deferred graduation in order to volunteer with a Boston-based non-governmental organization (NGO) at a community hospital in Kenya. After graduation, he worked in Kenya as the program coordinator for the same NGO and for Tufts Health Plan as an accountable care organization program specialist.

Now, Owuor is in his first year of UVM's Master of Medical Science program. Owuor says he chose UVM to pursue his because he was impressed by the outreach from advisors during the application process and by faculty prior to his enrollment in the program. "The faculty and staff at UVM are heavily invested in their students' success," says Owuor. "The outreach made UVM the clear number one choice and I am extremely happy with my decision," he adds.

When Owuor finishes his degree, he plans to apply to medical school and become a physician.

Outside of work and school, Owuor is heavily invested in and active in the community. He currently volunteers at a local pediatric clinic and tutors high school students in Burlington, Vt. and the surrounding area.

Owuor, who currently serves as a senator on the UVM Graduate Student Senate (GSS) and co-chair of the GSS Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Action Committee, wanted to be a member of the UVM Larner College of Medicine Graduate Student Council because he believes "it's important for graduate and Ph.D. students to have a voice within" the College. "I want to be a leader for graduate and Ph.D. students to make sure they are well-represented, their voices and opinions are acknowledged, and they are provided with equitable opportunities while they continue their studies at UVM," he says.

In his role as a Larner Graduate Student Council member, Owuor will serve as the chair of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Hannah Despres

Cellular, Molecular, & Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program

Hannah Despres is from Fayette, Maine and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in nutrition from SUNY Plattsburgh in 2019. While pursuing her undergraduate degree, Despres says she was on track to become a registered dietician. However, along the way, she became enamored of public health and research, and eventually decided to pursue a Ph.D. 

When Despres first began as a Ph.D. candidate in UVM's Cellular, Molecular, and Biomedical Sciences program, she worked in the lab of Professor of Medicine Jason Botten, Ph.D. where her research was primarily focused on lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV)—a largely understudied tropical virus that causes meningitis/encephalitis. Three years later, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the trajectory of Despres's studies once again and she is now working in the lab of Assistant Professor of Microbiology & Molecular Genetics Emily Bruce, Ph.D., researching infectivity of emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants-of-concern

Despres, who has been serving on the Larner Graduate Student Council since 2020 says she wanted to continue to serve as her contribution to her community. "My main focus is on community outreach and making science accessible and fun for everyone," says Despres. In addition to this role, she also currently chairs the UVM Graduate Student Senate's Career Mobility Committee.

After graduate school, Despres plans to enter the realm of public health with a focus on infectious disease and science communication.

Despres will serve as the chair of alumni relations for the Larner Graduate Student Council and will also be the scribe for all monthly meetings.

Hannah Despres poses outside UVM Stafford Hall building
Matthew Mullen poses outside of the UVM Given Building

Matthew Mullen

Master of Medical Science program

A lifelong Vermonter from Londonderry, Matthew Mullen left the state briefly to attend Villanova University, where he graduated from in May 2021, with a bachelor's degree in comprehensive science. 

Now, along with Owuor, Mullen is in his first year of UVM's Master of Medical Science program. When he completes the program, Mullen hopes to apply to medical school, a decision he says he made due to his experience witnessing healthcare discrepancies in the rural town in which he grew up. "I have seen the overbearing weight of systemic poverty, the opioid epidemic, and food insecurity through my volunteer experiences with my local church and food bank," says Mullen. "Additionally, my experience in the ambulance as an emergency medical technician (EMT) has taught me that providing time, companionship, and empathy to patients is just as important as any medical interventions," he adds. 

Mullen says he chose to pursue this next step in his education at UVM because of the Larner College of Medicine's reputation. "Throughout my time here, my expectations have been exceeded - my professors, peers, and coworkers have exhibited great attention to detail and are always willing to take time out of their day to help those who ask," he says.  

In addition to his studies, Mullen current volunteers as an EMT with Shelburne Rescue in Shelburne, Vt. and recently worked as a patient care assistant for the Howard Center.

As a member of the Larner Graduate Student Council, Mullen hopes to not only act as a liaison between students and faculty, but promote increased communication within the student body. Among his plans are the creation of open office hours, peer-to-peer conversation forums, and "town hall" style meetings.