Commencement 2014

May 09, 2014

By Toni Cardarella, Donna Peck and Greg Peters

The classes of 2014 from the University of Kansas Schools of Medicine, Nursing and Health Professions are graduating the weekend of May 17-18, Below are profiles of three of the exceptional students who will graduate this year from KU Medical Center.

Samuel Ornelas — School of Medicine

Samuel Ornelas, a member of the School of Medicine class of 2014, may not have followed the typical path to medical school, but he says that doesn't make him feel "nontraditional."

"Although I am a little older than some of my classmates, I don't feel any different than them," the 34-year-old Ornelas says. "We all just want to become the best doctors we can be."

Ornelas, who is a native of tiny Sublette, in southwest Kansas, joined the Marines right out of high school and served for four years in Japan and South Korea.  He had always wanted to go to medical school, but after he got off active duty with the Marines, he got married and felt like the time wasn't right. So he enrolled at Garden City Community College and eventually earned his master's in public health from Kansas State University. At age 30, Ornelas applied for admission to the KU School of Medicine and was accepted.

While attending medical school for the past four years, Ornelas has continued to serve in the National Guard, which involves spending one weekend each month doing health assessments for soldiers about to deploy.

"KU is very military-friendly and has been so accommodating with my National Guard duties," Ornelas says.

Ornelas, now a father as well, will continue to serve in the National Guard as he begins his residency in radiology in Wichita.

"I am so excited to stay in Kansas and would love to practice in my home state when I'm done with my residency," Ornelas says. "It has always been a dream of mine to practice medicine in Kansas, and I can't believe it's actually coming true."

The School of Medicine will hold its hooding ceremony at 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 17.

Stephanie Becker - School of Health Professions

Stephanie Becker and her husband joke that the last seven years has been like running one of those long ultra-marathons where athletes start out in the morning running by flashlight and end their days running by the glow from those same flashlights. Like most graduate students her days are filled with all sorts of responsibilities and last-minute chores, but unlike many of her peers, Becker is mixing in life as the mother of five - including triplets. 

"My husband is amazing," says Becker, who will be receiving her Ph.D. in Speech-Language Pathology from the University of Kansas.

"He's great with the kids and really super helpful. We also have exceptionally kind family and friends who have helped us in many ways."

Becker became interested in speech-language pathology during her sophomore year at Kansas State University when she worked for a family who had a child with autism. The job was challenging but rewarding, and she learned how important intervention can be in a child's life.  

When it came time to do her master's work, KU's nationally ranked program was Becker's No. 1 choice. She ended up taking coursework in both speech-language pathology and special education and received a master's degree in each. After working for a few years she decided to pursue a Ph.D. that would combine both these interests.  

Becker, who is mom to Clara, 6, triplets Conley, Josie and Evaline, 3, and Wesley, 10 months, plans to take a break from studying to spend time with her children this summer. She hopes to apply for research grants so she can better the lives of families dealing with autism spectrum disorders and continue teaching part-time.  

"There is no way that I could have done this on my own," she says. 

The School of Health Professions recognition ceremony will be held at 9 a.m. on Saturday, May 17.

Chris Groutas — School of Nursing

Chris Groutas, who will graduate this month with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, says he became involved with KU Medical Center campus activities as a way to give back to a community that supported him.

"It was evident throughout the entire program that each faculty member and the administration were truly invested in the well-being of their students," says Groutas, an honors student who came into the BSN program with a chemistry degree. "They clearly desired our success, both short-term and long-term.  

"I appreciated that greatly and being involved in various organizations in the school was a small gesture of gratitude and a way I could give back, as well as potentially help other prospective students."

Groutas, who battled an illness while in the nursing program, volunteered for the Kansas State School for the Blind as a student intern in KU Medical Center's Community Outreach Program, and was co-president for the KU Medical Center LGBTA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Allies) Campus Association. He also served as a School of Nursing student ambassador and sang in the popular nursing student group The Nightingales.  

"KUMC has many ways for students to get involved and yet, since the degree programs here are professional and usually quite rigorous, you have to fight the urge as a student to be focused only on studies. Your identity can get focused solely on being just a student, which isn't healthy," Groutas says.  

He says he's glad he took to heart the advice he got when he started two years ago, that becoming involved can make you a better student.  

"Being involved in so many activities in the school and the medical center was sometimes difficult due to time constraints or lack of energy, but I am infinitely better off for having experienced each of those activities. I met so many wonderful people, and had amazing experiences that helped to paint such a deeper, more complete picture of the meaning of healthcare."  

The KU School of Nursing will hold its recognition ceremony at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, May 17. 

Last modified: May 19, 2014