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School of Health Professions recognizes outstanding students

School of Health Professions logo and collage of 8 award recipients

On Nov. 2, the School of Health Professions presented eight students with awards in recognition of their remarkable service, leadership, research, clinical skills, and overall excellence.

Below, learn more about each of these outstanding student award winners and what has inspired them to pursue careers in health professions.

Congratulations to the following honorees:

John Schermerhorn, M.D., Student Service Award

This award is named for Dr. Schermerhorn, who served as Dean of the School of Health Professions from 1971 to 1986. He guided and shaped the School, then known as the UT Southwestern School of Allied Health Professions, through its early years. The Schermerhorn Award is presented to students who have made outstanding contributions in service activities related to their profession.


Travis Cook

Smiling man with dark hair, mustache and beard, wearing a dark blue suit, white shirt and red tie.

Degree: Doctor of Physical Therapy (2023)

Born and raised in the Dallas area, Mr. Cook earned a degree in health and exercise science from the University of Oklahoma in 2019. He became interested in physical therapy (PT) after connecting with the clinicians who helped him recover from a football injury.

“I was very fond of how they assisted me physically, but I was amazed at the mental aspect of returning to sport from injury and how much physical therapists help in that area,” he said.

His interest in PT grew after completing an internship in the UTSW outpatient orthopedic physical therapy clinic in 2018. As a PT student in the School of Health Professions, Mr. Cook held leadership positions that included President of the Black Students of Health Professions, co-President of the Paul Quinn Primary Care Project, and member of the UTSW School of Health Professions Student Engagement Committee. He twice served on the Executive Planning Committee for the UTSW Health Professions Recruitment and Exposure Program (HPREP).

He is committed to serving communities where conversations about health literacy are not prominent and uses his voice to assist in eradicating health disparities among communities. “The highlight of my time at UTSW absolutely presented itself through the community service that I provided to different people throughout the DFW Metroplex. Specifically, it was amazing to take the knowledge that I gained throughout school and pass it on to potential health professionals,” Mr. Cook said.

He enjoys all sports, and after graduation plans to work in an outpatient orthopedic physical therapy clinic with high-level athletes to help them increase performance, decrease injury risk, and return to playing sports effectively.


John Giacona, M.P.A.S., PA-C

Smiling man with blond  hair, beard and mustache, wearing a lab coat.

Degree: Ph.D. Applied Clinical Research (2023)

Mr. Giacona’s interest in health care began at age 8 after undergoing corrective surgery for a congenital heart defect. “I will always remember the clinicians who cared for me during that time. It was from that point on that I knew I wanted to be in the medical field and help patients through their most vulnerable moments,” he said.

The Conroe, Texas, native earned his bachelor’s degree at UT Austin in 2017, and his Master of Physician Assistant (PA) Studies from the School of Health Professions in 2021. As a PA student, Mr. Giacona traveled to Guatemala with UTSW members and classmates to provide medical care in rural villages, and while obtaining his Ph.D., he had the opportunity to present his research at national conferences. He is passionate about medicine that ensures clinical decisions are based on the latest data.

“Utilizing evidence-based medicine highlights areas where evidence is lacking or conflicting, which can stimulate further research to address these gaps in knowledge. After seeing how impactful this could be on patient care and outcomes, I chose to further my education in clinical research and contribute to the field of medicine through means of scientific discovery,” Mr. Giacona said.

While obtaining his Ph.D. in Applied Clinical Research, Mr. Giacona was a founding officer for the UT Southwestern Advance Practice Provider (APP) Research, QI, and Evidenced-Based Practice Committee and serves on the board for the Academy of Physician Associates in Cardiology as Chair of Preventive Cardiology.

He hopes to continue developing into an emerging clinician-scientist with a research and clinical focus on the diagnosis and management of complex and resistant hypertension.

L. Ruth Guy, Ph.D., Student Leadership Award

This award honors Dr. Guy, who co-founded the School of Medical Technology, which became part of the UT Southwestern School of Health Professions in 1969. Dr. Guy was an innovator in medical technology and blood banking who helped develop a rape test kit in the 1950s. She was inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame in 1989. This award is presented to students who have demonstrated exceptional leadership skills.


Kira Donnelly

Smiling woman with long dark hair, wearing a purple dress.

Degree: Master of Prosthetics-Orthotics (2023)

Ms. Donnelly, who grew up in Naperville, Illinois, earned her undergraduate degree in kinesiology in 2020 from St. Edward’s University in Austin. During her junior year, she watched a TEDMED presentation about prosthetics that changed her life.

“While watching the video, I experienced a surge of emotions that stunned, invigorated, and engulfed me. Art, creativity, kinesiology, and engineering – these are my passions, and their idyllic intersections truly resonated with me,” she said.

At the School of Health Professions, she has flourished in her role as an independent clinician interacting with patients, caring for them from initial evaluation to delivery of a prosthetic or orthotic device. She is the Prosthetics-Orthotics Program Class President and served on UTSW’s Student Leadership Council & Student Advisory Committee as well as on the UT System Student Advisory Council.

Ms. Donnelly is driven to change the world, volunteering at events to introduce students at all levels to the prosthetics-orthotics profession. She served on a national initiative to expand access to medically necessary orthotic and prosthetic care for physical activity and traveled to Ecuador to provide prosthetic care to underserved rural areas.

In 2023, she launched Steps4Love, a nonprofit to serve and support the limb loss and limb difference community. “Steps4Love is currently functioning in three states, and I plan to continue growing it to a national level to serve as many prosthetic and orthotic patients as possible. My goal is that no one slips through the cracks of our health care system,” Ms. Donnelly said.

She will begin a combined discipline residency (prosthetics and orthotics) at Hanger Clinic in Englewood, Colorado, in January 2024.


Tasha Champagne

Smiling woman with long brown hair, wearing a tan jacket and glasses.

Degree: Ph.D. Applied Clinical Research (2023)

Ms. Champagne discovered her career path during a freshman psychology class at UT Tyler, where she went on to graduate with an undergraduate degree in psychology in 2016, followed by a master’s in neuropsychology in 2018. At UT Tyler, she was introduced to traumatic brain injury and dementia/Alzheimer’s disease research.

Then while working as a psychometrist performing neuropsychological testing in the UT Southwestern Neuropsychology Clinic, she heard about a new research program in the School of Health Professions.

She left the clinic to join the Applied Clinical Research program, which provided opportunities for her to participate in investigations encompassing Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury, and burns. 

“UT Southwestern’s supportive and collaborative atmosphere helped me grow as a researcher,” she said. “My focus is on mental health in various populations. I hope to identify new ways to evaluate depression – such as inflammatory biomarkers – in addition to the self-reported questionnaires currently used.”

While at UTSW, she served on the School of Health Professions Student Advisory Committee and was an Applied Clinical Research Student Advisory Committee Chair and a student representative in the institution’s Sustainability Committee and the Campus Security and Relations Committee. She also enjoyed volunteering for Habitat for Humanity.

After graduating, she hopes to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship at UTSW with the Applied Clinical Research and Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation departments.

“I will be conducting physiological research in traumatic brain injury with the opportunity to continue using my expertise in psychological measures. In the future I plan to continue working to find additional ways to evaluate depression. My long-term goal is to either work in industry or enter academia to further my research,” Ms. Champagne said.


Kirby Baber

Smiling woman with long dark hair, wearing a light-color top and glasses.

Degree: Master of Clinical Nutrition (2024)

Ms. Baber enjoys helping people balance the enjoyment of food with health. The Woodlands, Texas, native graduated in 2021 from Texas A&M University, where she studied nutrition and its significant impacts on the body and the community.

At the School of Health Professions, she is President of the Student Association of Nutrition and Dietetics and represents her department as a member of the Student Advisory Committee. “At UTSW, I met so many people who are driven, incredibly smart, and true advocates for the community. Each day, I am simultaneously cheered on by my peers and inspired to work harder. At the core of UTSW and its many accomplishments are the incredible people who make up the School, and I am thankful every day to get to know them,” she said. 

Her interest in food policy was piqued after attending the Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo, which brings industry vendors, dietitians, and leaders in the field of dietetics together to network and learn about the latest research. Upon graduating in 2024, she plans to get certified as a registered dietitian.

“I currently work at the YMCA, where I want to continue to advocate for nutrition programming. I also hope to work in an outpatient setting to provide one-on-one medical nutrition therapy and to lead nutrition classes in a clinic setting. I will continue to learn in any environment and to specialize in some area of dietetics, most likely as a certified diabetes educator. Finally, I want to advocate for sustainable practices in food systems and to impact hunger within the community,” she said.

Raul Caetano, M.D., Ph.D., Student Research Award

This award was established in honor of Dr. Caetano, who served as Dean of the School of Health Professions from 2006 to 2014. Dr. Caetano has published many peer-reviewed papers, including extensive research into alcohol problems in U.S. ethnic populations. This award is presented to students in recognition of noteworthy research they conducted during their education.


Caitlin Jarrard

Smiling woman with long brown  hair, wearing a black jacket.

Degree: Ph.D. Applied Clinical Research (2024)

While growing up in Madison, Wisconsin, Ms. Jarrard was an avid soccer player who suffered many injuries that led her to treatment at local hospitals and physical therapy clinics. Because of her love of science, she took great interest in the inspiring care she received.

“The information I learned from my health care professionals about pulmonary, cardiovascular, and exercise physiology was fascinating and led me to pursue a major in kinesiology and related research in this area,” she said.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology – exercise and movement science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree in exercise physiology from UT Austin. While working on her Ph.D. in Applied Clinical Research at the School of Health Professions, Ms. Jarrard has collaborated in various research projects spanning cardiovascular, autonomic, and environmental physiology. “Being able to conduct research in these areas, I have had opportunities to observe some amazing studies and have gained an incredible amount of knowledge in physiology,” she said. 

Ms. Jarrard serves as the Social Chair for the Applied Clinical Research Student Advisory Committee and is the Elective Chair for UT Southwestern’s Disability Interest Group, which helps to fill a gap in medical training to advocate for and treat disabled patients.

She is passionate about exercise as medicine and advocating for populations to engage in exercise, such as those with disabilities. After completing her Ph.D. in 2024, Ms. Jarrard plans to continue her postdoctoral training and eventually join the faculty of an academic institution to teach in the field of exercise and cardiovascular physiology.

Gordon Green, M.D., Student Clinician Award

This award honors Dr. Green, who was Dean of the School of Health Professions from 1991 to 2006. Dr. Green, a pediatrician and Professor Emeritus in the School of Health Professions, also participated in studies of birth defects at the National Center for Toxicological Research and served a six-year tour of duty with the U.S. Public Health Service. He was Director of the Dallas County Health Department and health authority for the city and county of Dallas for seven years. This award recognizes students who have demonstrated exceptional clinical skills during their training.


Alexandria White

Smiling woman with dark curly hair, wearing a black dress.

Degree: Master of Clinical Nutrition (2024)

Ms. White enjoyed cooking growing up and as such developed a great appreciation for food. During culinary training at El Centro College (now Dallas College El Centro Campus), she set her sights on an advanced degree in the medical field upon learning more about dietetics. After completing her culinary training, she earned an undergraduate degree in nutrition at Texas Woman’s University in 2022. “It has been fun to bring food back into my education and career journey,” she said.

Currently working on a Master of Clinical Nutrition at the School of Health Professions, she will graduate in 2024. She is the Student Diversity and Inclusion representative for her class and appreciates the opportunity to learn from various disciplines at UTSW. An elective class on enteral feeding has given her a closer look into the therapy of delivering nutrition to the stomach through a feeding tube. Since 2018, she has worked as a milk lab technician at Children’s Medical Center Dallas, where she manages breast milk for patients.

After graduating, Ms. White will pursue a career in pediatric or general dietetics in a hospital or clinical setting to help address unmet community needs.

“My long-term goal is to open a community center to bridge the gap between emergency and daily nutrition needs, like a community garden to combat food insecurity or a community fitness and nutrition center. I want to help people develop an ability to make nutritionally sound decisions regularly and to be a resource that is accessible to people in the neighborhood first and possibly all over the world,” she said.

Rising Star Award

The Rising Star Award is awarded to a student deemed to have shown overall excellence.


Salvador Gonzalez

Smiling man with dark hair, beard and mustache, wearing a lab coat and glasses.

Degree: Master of Prosthetics-Orthotics (2023)

As a young boy, Mr. Gonzalez witnessed his father’s battle with multiple sclerosis, as well as his grandfather’s struggles with scoliosis and polio. “It made me wonder what I could do to help people with mobility and improve their quality of life,” he said.

The El Paso, Texas, native earned a degree in biomedical engineering from the University of North Texas in December 2020. Armed with biomechanics and electrical knowledge that helped in understanding key points in prosthetics/orthotics, he began his studies at the School of Health Professions, where he enjoys interacting with patients and working toward the optimal fit of their prosthetic and orthotic devices. His greatest reward is helping patients get back to living their lives and achieving their goals.

Committed to making life better for others, he has participated in UTSW’s United to Serve campaign, a nationwide volunteer initiative sponsored in conjunction with National Volunteer Week, and he has educated middle school students about the prosthetics/orthotics field. As the Southwestern Christian Fellowship School of Health Professions Liaison, he reaches out to fellow students in the department about events and leads a Bible study. He also teaches weekly English classes to Hispanics living in the underserved Bachman Lake community.

After graduating, he will begin a residency at Hanger Clinic in Tucson, Arizona. “I am passionate about my field, and I find great joy in helping patients. I hope to become a pediatric specialist and help children achieve their goals. I would also love to become a residency director to aid in developing new residents to become successful clinicians in the field,” Mr. Gonzalez said.

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