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OHSU to celebrate 2022 graduates at in-person gathering

More than 1,100 degrees to be awarded at June 5 convocation ceremony
OHSU convocation 2018 - a group of graduates standing near the OHSU convocation sign.
Oregon Health & Science University will hold its first in-person convocation in two years on Sunday, June 5, 2022. After the COVID-19 pandemic forced the annual tradition to go virtual, the university is offering both an in-person and a remote participation option in 2022. Shown here are graduates celebrating during the 2016 convocation ceremony. (OHSU/John Valls)

A new generation of health care professionals, educators and researchers are graduating from Oregon Health & Science University this month. A total of 1,162 degrees will be awarded.

For the first time in two years, all ceremonies will again be held in person. Graduates will assemble on Sunday, June 5, at the Oregon Convention Center, 777 NE Marin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Portland. The keynote speaker will be Donn Spight, M.D., professor of surgery in the OHSU School of Medicine and a staff physician in the Portland VA Medical Center’s Operative Care Division.

The all-school convocation will start at 1 p.m., followed by separate ceremonies for the OHSU schools of medicine, dentistry and nursing, as well as the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health, which will begin at 3:15 p.m. The OSU/OHSU College of Pharmacy will also have a reception at 2:30 p.m. that day, as well as a hold separate graduation ceremony on Friday, June 10, in Corvallis.

As a precaution due to the ongoing pandemic, all in-person attendees are required to either be vaccinated or have a recent negative PCR test result for COVID-19. Those who are unable to attend are welcome to watch the convocation online.

Graduates are encouraged to use #OHSUgrad2022, #OHSUgrad and #OHSU when posting about their personal graduation festivities on social media.

“Our world needs health and science professionals like never before, and the class of 2022 is prepared and ready to rise to the occasion,” says OHSU President Danny Jacobs, M.D., M.P.H., FACS. “These graduates studied and practiced while contending with and learning from a global health crisis happening in parallel. They are uniquely prepared to face and address the evolving needs of human health and well-being, and I look forward to seeing the expanding impact OHSU alumni have on communities around the globe.”

The OHSU School of Dentistry will award 85 degrees this year.

“I continue to be in awe and inspired by our student’s determination and accomplishments,” says Ronald Sakaguchi, D.D.S., Ph.D., M.B.A., dean of the OHSU School of Dentistry. “Their resilience, especially over the last two years, has served to overcome the unprecedented challenges of our time. They will continue to thrive from their dedication to their patients and become leaders in creating a health care system that is more welcoming, more inclusive, and more equitable. Congratulations to all our graduates. The school of dentistry is honored to have played a part in their career choice and their future successes.”

The OHSU School of Medicine will award 450 degrees and certificates.

“Extended periods of struggle have occurred throughout history. But COVID-19 has been a specifically medical, scientific and public health challenge, giving our 2022 OHSU graduates a keen sense of the critical nature of the skill sets they have built here,” says David Jacoby, M.D., interim dean of the OHSU School of Medicine. “Now they will go forward with a heightened understanding of what we do well and what we must do better to ensure that all communities thrive. Congratulations to our students and thank you for all that you will do.”

The OHSU School of Nursing will award 446 degrees.

“I am so proud of our graduates—those entering their first positions as nurses and those advancing in degrees and their career paths,” says Susan Bakewell-Sachs, Ph.D., R.N., FAAN, dean of the OHSU School of Nursing. “They have persisted through a most challenging time. All are greatly needed to improve health and health care, achieve health equity, educate future nurses, discover and translate science, and lead for a better future.”

The OHSU-PSU School of Public Health will award 88 degrees.

“This graduating class witnessed, studied and engaged in research as a global pandemic unfolded during the span of their education. They faced racial reckoning, climate change, and public debates from polarized political systems,” says David Bangsberg, M.D., M.P.H., dean of the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health. “Our students leaned into the School and their community with a north star of creating a more equitable and accessible future. I am proud of what our students have accomplished these past couple of years and I am excited to see how they reshape communities, our state, nation and the world for decades to come.”

The OSU/OHSU College of Pharmacy will award 93 degrees.

“It is with great pride that I, along with our entire faculty and staff, congratulate the graduating class of 2022 for their remarkable achievements,” says David Bearden, Pharm.D., interim dean of the OSU/OHSU College of Pharmacy. “As students, they have motivated and inspired all of us, and it has been our collective pleasure to work with them. From quickly adapting to remote and hybrid learning, to working on the frontlines of the pandemic response, they are entering the profession at a very critical and exciting time as the scope of practice for pharmacists continues to expand. Their hard work and commitment to patient care have prepared them to advance the profession of pharmacy and become creative leaders for collaborative health care in Oregon and across the country.”

Meet some of OHSU’s 2022 graduates

Thao 'Jane' Cao (OHSU) stands near a window.
Thao 'Jane' Cao (OHSU)

Thao Cao, D.M.D. – OHSU School of Dentistry

Although Thao “Jane” Cao knew since high school that she wanted to work in a field that involved science and helping others, she didn’t realize dentistry was her calling until age 24.

She was working as a dental claims processor at Moda Health at the time, and noticed a trend of middle-aged adults getting most or all of their teeth extracted. The thought of patients needing to wear dentures for the rest of their lives pained Cao, and moved her to pursue dentistry.

But first she had to complete her undergraduate education, from which she had taken a break a few years earlier. She says making this career choice “gave me the grit” to finish school, which was “one of the biggest decisions in my life.” After earning a bachelor’s degree in general science from Portland State University, she enrolled in the OHSU School of Dentistry.

Cao’s own health experiences also impact her work. She lives with a genetic disorder called Neurofibromatosis, or NF. The condition causes benign tumors to grow on nerves, and its tumors can appear as bumps on the skin, impact learning and reduce vision. Though Cao sometimes feels self-conscious about NF, it has helped her be more compassionate toward patients. She connects easily with those who may feel stigmatized for their dental health or the appearance of their teeth.

To prevent others from needing extensive dental treatment, Cao is dedicated to helping patients receive preventive dental care as early as possible. She looks forward to working together with her patients to help them feel confident and happy in their own smiles.

Cao plans to work for Tigard Triangle Smiles as an associate general dentist. Within the next few years, she also plans to pursue additional training in cosmetic dentistry.


Brenda Riojas, M.P.A.S. – OHSU School of Medicine

Brenda Rojas (OHSU) stands in a room wearing a lab coat.
Brenda Rojas (OHSU)

It’s hard to keep up with Brenda Riojas.

During the pandemic, she delivered food to other students through OHSU’s food pantry, the Food Resource Center, and was deployed for the U.S. Repatriation Program, which helped eligible Americans who were living abroad return to the U.S. after pandemic border closures. She also helped establish a rural clinical rotation for the OHSU Physician Assistant Program that serves Alaska Native and American Indian women in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Taken together, her efforts earned her the 2022 OHSU School of Medicine Graduate Student Outstanding Community Service Award.

“Brenda is an amazing representative of our program and profession,” says Lillian Navarro-Reynolds, M.S., PA-C, assistant professor and academic director of PA education, OHSU School of Medicine, who nominated her for the award.

Originally from Fresno, California, Riojas’ path to OHSU was one of exploration. She worked as a dietitian and then joined the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service, where she became a dietitian officer and worked for five years in the Navajo Nation. “I was interested in tapping back into my Native American heritage and culture,” says Riojas, whose father is part Apache; both of her parents are Hispanic.

While there, she worked for the U.S. Indian Health Service’s Patient Centered Medical Home program with other dietitians, pharmacists and several physician assistants (PAs), to help address health disparities among Native Americans.

Riojas says of the experience, “I really appreciated the holistic approach to care, having the medical home come to the patients, in places where there were issues like no electricity or running water. Working side-by-side with the other PAs, I saw the work they did — and they encouraged me to enhance my skills and become a PA too.”

She began taking classes while still working full time, and was soon accepted into the OHSU PA Program.

Riojas is busily completing requirements for the PA program’s graduation in August, but will attend convocation on June 5, when all graduating OHSU students are recognized.

After graduating, Riojas will work at the Chemawa Indian Health Center in Salem, as part of a long-term training program run through the Indian Health Service. She’ll continue to serve in the Public Health Service as a PA.


Luke Vranna, B.S.N. – OHSU School of Nursing, Ashland campus

Luke Vranna (Courtesy of Luke Vranna) smiles with a miniblind window in background.
Luke Vranna (Courtesy of Luke Vranna)

Musicians like Frank Zappa, The Beatles and Johnny Cash adorn the walls at Luke Vranna’s home. Music has been a safe place for him since he was young. After high school, Vranna initially went to college to study music, but had to take a long break from school after injuring his wrist.

Around that time, Luke started taking care of his grandfather whose health had taken a turn for the worse. He felt rudderless and began using alcohol and other substances as a coping mechanism. But then he began working as a rehabilitation technician, which gave him a deep sense of purpose.

“As a rehabilitation tech, I had an external purpose, while music was more self-focused,” Vranna says. “I was an extra set of hands and worked with the physical therapist and patient. It was a human-to-human connection in a very physical, purposeful way,”.

Though Vranna had struggled with sobriety, he found his footing with time - thanks in large part to helping and loving others. He had a close relationship with his grandpa, and was able to be there for him in his last moments. The experience taught him he had love and kindness to offer, and encouraged him to pursue a career in health care.

One of his passion projects is working with the OHSU Street Nursing Team, which is led by OHSU clinical assistant professor instructor Rachel Richmond, M.S.N., R.N. The team addresses the needs of local residents who are houseless, including helping them obtain better access to health care.

A member of the Beta Psi chapter of the Sigma Theta Tau nursing society, Vranna will graduate with honors and earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing. He received the William G. & Ruth T. Evans Scholarship and was a member of Nursing Students Without Borders.

After graduation, Vranna will continue to work with the Street Nursing Team. He will also work at a local hospital’s combination orthopedic and neurology unit, and plans to apply to a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner program. He continues to enjoy the guitar, and hopes to earn a bachelor’s degree in music soon.


Maria Theresa Dizon, M.P.H. – OHSU-PSU School of Public Health

Maria Theresa Dizon (Courtesy of Maria Dizon) smiles in front of a flowered bush.
Maria Theresa Dizon (Courtesy of Maria Dizon)

While growing up in the Northern Mariana Islands, located in the Northern Pacific Ocean, Maria Theresa Dizon witnessed her family and community live with poor health, suffer from chronic diseases, and die early. She heard a cultural narrative repeated that says living with poor health was her community’s destiny. 

“Studying public health gave me the terminology and understanding that I should not accept the health inequities witnessed within my community as normal,” Dizon says. 

Dizon volunteered at her local community hospital after high school, but it wasn’t until she arrived in Portland that she discovered the field of public health through Portland State University’s BUILD EXITO undergraduate research training program. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health with the help of a Ronald E. McNair Scholarship.

She then enrolled in the school’s graduate public health program, and also served as a researcher for the Oregon Health Authority and the Multnomah County Health Department. She is currently a graduate research assistant for BUILD EXITO, where she helps fellow transfer and community college students from the Pacific Ocean region pursue research.

As a first-generation college student, Dizon experienced many roadblocks to achieving her higher-education dreams. With little guidance, she took the leap to reach out for mentorship to reach her goals. Dizon credits professor Carlos Crespo, Dr.P.H., BUILD EXITO’s principal investigator, as being critical to her academic success and fostering her sense of belonging in the public health field.

She has earned a master’s degree in public health that focuses on health promotion. After graduation, Dizon plans to return to the Mariana Islands to continue her research and work with her community to overcome the local, deficit-based perspective on public health.


Alex Jones, Pharm.D. – OSU/OHSU College of Pharmacy

Alex Jones (Courtesy of Alex Jones) smiles outside in a garden area by a building.
Alex Jones (Courtesy of Alex Jones)

Through his new pharmacy career, Alex Jones wants to not only improve the lives of his patients, but also care for his community and encourage others of diverse backgrounds to excel.

“I chose this career path to become the best version of myself and to take better care of my loved ones and the people around me,” says Jones, who is a descendent of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. “I hope my education will open doors for myself, but, more importantly, I hope I can use my education to open doors for many others down the road.”

He plans to become a clinical pharmacist who specializes in serving solid organ transplant and critical care patients. He was inspired to pursue these specialties after completing a variety of student pharmacist rotations at several different local hospitals. One rotation brought him to Montana, where he worked alongside Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Health clinical pharmacists to help patients manage their chronic health conditions.

Throughout his pharmacy education, he’s also worked every-other weekend as an inpatient pharmacy intern at Kaiser Permanente Westside Medical Center in Hillsboro, where he was part of the team that cared for Oregon’s first COVID-19 patient.

As an OSU/OHSU College of Pharmacy student leader, Jones has supported efforts to improve diversity, equity and inclusion at the college, including helping create a new faculty position: director of diversity, equity and inclusion. He has also served as a student ambassador who helped interview and evaluate pharmacy student applicants, and is president of the college’s Class of 2022.

Jones grew up in Missoula, Montana, and moved to Oregon at age 13 with his mother and younger brother. He graduated from Sherwood High School in 2013. He earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Lewis & Clark College in 2017 while playing on the college’s NCAA Division III men’s basketball team. As an undergraduate student, Jones also worked as a clinical research assistant at OHSU’s Emergency Department.

At the end of this month, he will begin a one-year acute care pharmacy residency at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Joshua Campista, Karen Bishop, Christi Richardson-Zboralski, Kelly Mackura and Franny White wrote the graduate profiles in this report.


OHSU 2022 Degree Data

Total degrees given during 2021-22 school year:

OHSU School of Dentistry – 85 total degrees

Doctor of Dental Medicine (D.M.D.) – 71

Master of Science in Orthodontics – 4

Advanced Education – 10

  • Endodontics – 3
  • Orthodontics – 4
  • Periodontics – 3

OHSU School of Medicine – 450 total degrees and certificates

Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) – 149

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) – 52

  • Behavioral Neuroscience – 7
  • Biochemistry & Molecular Biology – 1
  • Biomedical Engineering – 11
  • Biomedical Informatics – 4
  • Cancer Biology – 5
  • Cell & Developmental Biology – 2
  • Computer Science & Engineering – 2
  • Health & Clinical Informatics – 1
  • Microbiology – 3
  • Molecular & Medical Genetics – 2
  • Neuroscience – 10
  • Physiology & Pharmacology – 4

Master’s degrees – 153

  • Master of Business Administration – 31
  • Master of Clinical Research – 13
  • Master of Physician Assistant Studies – 40
  • Master of Science in Bioinformatics & Computational Biomedicine – 7
  • Master of Science in Computer Science & Engineering – 4
  • Master of Science in Food Systems & Society – 7
  • Master of Science in Health & Clinical Informatics – 16
  • Master of Science in Healthcare Management – 26
  • Master of Science in Human Nutrition – 4
  • Master of Science in Medical Physics – 5

Graduate certificates – 29

  • Dietetic Internship – 8
  • Health & Clinical Informatics – 8
  • Human Investigations Program – 13

Bachelor’s degrees – 47

  • Bachelor of Science in Emergency Medicine Service Management – 3
  • Bachelor of Science in Medical Laboratory Science – 35
  • Bachelor of Science in Radiation Therapy – 9

Associate of Applied Science in Paramedic – 20

OHSU School of Nursing – 446 total degrees and certificates

Doctor of Nursing Practice (D.N.P.) – 59

  • Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner – 3
  • Family Nurse Practitioner – 11
  • Nurse Anesthesia – 12
  • Nurse Midwifery – 4
  • Nursing – 10
  • Pediatric Primary & Acute Care Nurse Practitioner – 7
  • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner – 12

Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (Ph.D.) – 1

Master of Nursing in Nursing Education – 6

Bachelor of Science in Nursing – 380

OHSU-PSU School of Public Health – 88 total degrees and certificates

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) – 6

  • Community Health – 1
  • Epidemiology – 2
  • Health Systems & Policy – 3

Master’s degrees (M.P.H., M.S.) – 80

  • Master of Public Health in Biostatistics – 1
  • Master of Public Health in Environmental Systems & Human Health – 8
  • Master of Public Health in Epidemiology – 24
  • Master of Public Health in Health Management & Policy – 15
  • Master of Public Health in Health Promotion – 15
  • Master of Public Health Practice – 11
  • Master of Science in Biostatistics – 6

Graduate Certificate in Public Health – 2

OSU/OHSU College of Pharmacy – 93 total degrees

  • Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) – 93
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