Gator Nation News

Under 40 and On Top of Their Games

“40 Gators Under 40” has, since 2006, honored young alumni who are making a difference in their fields and the world. This year’s honorees carry on the tradition of shining service to the sciences, health care, non-profits, education, the private sector and much more.

Below, meet just a quarter of this year’s recipients and look for stories about others throughout the year.

Angela Godwin Beoku-Betts

Angela Godwin Beoku-Betts (BSN ’04) of Staten Island, NY, is a clinical assistant professor and family nurse practitioner at New York University. Before starting her own bariatric and weight loss clinic that caters to underserved people in the Bronx, she was the surgical coordinator for Mt. Sinai Hospital. During the pandemic, her clinic expanded patient care and telemedicine practices. She also minimized COVID-19 risks for patients by working with pharmacies to ship supplies to patients.

Share:

40 Gators Under 40
40 Gators Under 40 honors outstanding young Gators who are going greater in their communities and professions.

Learn More

What was your first job?
“Vacuumer” at a car wash while in high school
What is one point of pride in your career?
The numerous nursing students I have mentored and instructed over the years who are now RNs touching and saving lives. It brings tears to my eyes knowing my students are out there literally saving lives, using the tools and knowledge I taught them.
Proudest achievement?
Personally, having my two children. Professionally, my private out-patient clinic.
How has UF influenced your life?
It was my first time in a large public school. It helped me to realize my true self and grow independently.
Favorite class at UF?
Greek Mythology. Great class, great discussions, best topic.
Favorite saying?
“Time is more valuable than you know. It goes by quickly and reveals all truths, so use it wisely.”

Karen Berger

Award-winning health-system pharmacist Karen Berger (DPH ’09) is a neurocritical-care clinical pharmacy manager at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. Her greatest professional challenge, she says, was being on the frontlines in New York City in 2020 during the first COVID-19 surge and taking care of critically ill patients while performing her other duties. In the midst of that crisis, Berger developed and implemented a systemwide protocol to reverse life-threatening bleeding in patients.

What was your first job?
Subway sandwich artist.
What three words would people say describe you?
Passionate, loyal, leader.
How did you end up at UF?
I always wanted to be a doctor. I decided to apply to pharmacy school a year early and said that if I got into UF, I would go into pharmacy. UF was the only school I applied to.
Favorite class at UF?
Pharmacotherapy. We would have to stand in front of our peers for “verbal defense” and answer questions at random. At the time, it was terrifying, but it taught me a lot and helped me address stressful and difficult situations
If you could give just one piece of advice to UF students, what would it be?
Keep in touch with your classmates! You never know where those connections and friendships will take you. It’s much harder making friends as an adult.

John Blazeck

John Blazeck (BSChemEng ’07) of Atlanta developed a novel enzyme cancer therapy that harnesses a person’s own immune system to kill cancer cells. The assistant professor at Georgia Institute of Technology was a National Merit Scholar back when he studied at UF. His first-of-its-kind therapy has given hope to those fighting cancer.

Tell us about your discovery?
I realized that excessive kynurenine production is a common mechanism used by cancers to shut off the immune system. I had the idea to use an enzyme to directly target this kynurenine molecule to eliminate it, such that the immune system could better fight back against cancer. This work resulted in three patents and … [a partnership that has translated] my engineered enzyme to the clinic.
What did you want to be when you were 10?
Baseball player
What was your first job?
Cutco Cutlery salesperson
Favorite class at UF?
Unit Operations Laboratory. The experience of learning how to operate large distillation columns and other engineering machines with a group of friends was one of my favorite experiences at UF, even during the summer without air conditioning.
I’m most proud of …
Being a consistently present and engaged father and husband. As a professor, or any young professional, there are numerous demands (teaching courses, performing research, volunteering, traveling to conferences) for a limited amount of time. I have been able to set definitive boundaries around my work to be able to put my family, which is most important to me, first.
How has UF changed your life?
At UF, I learned how engineers can be inventors, realized that I was very interested in the biological sciences, and had my first opportunity to perform scientific research.

Abre’ Connor

Lawyer and educator Abre’ Connor (BS, BA ’09) is known for her tireless work giving a voice to underrepresented communities. “I truly believe we can change the world if people are pushed a little out of their comfort zones,” she says. Currently a directing attorney at the nonprofit Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, in San Jose, where she leads efforts related to health equity in the region, Connor has also served at the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment; the NAACP Legal Defense Fund; the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights; and at the White House Office of Presidential Personnel in 2012. Her many awards include Fearless Children’s Lawyer of the Month (American Bar Association) and Nation’s Best Advocate as a 40 Under 40 Lawyer (National Bar Association).

What did you want to be as a child?
After deciding I wasn't going to be an astronaut, I actually was interested in being a lawyer or a congressperson. I also thought at one point I would be an environmental scientist.
What’s one of your proudest achievements?
Probably when I helped students dismantle a dress code in a Central Valley [CA] school district, which they had been fighting for decades. We led an effort with parents, students, faith leaders, and activists that resulted in a gender-neutral dress code. Knowing that we helped students feel welcome in the school district for years to come really is a reminder of people power.
Favorite saying?
“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” – Audre Lorde
Who, living or dead, would you most like to meet?
Shirley Chisholm. She stayed true to herself and understood her success and any progress that she made also meant generational success and change.
If a movie were made about you, what would it be called and who would you like to play you?
“Justice for All,” and I would love for Regina King to be somewhere in the mix of directing or acting as she is just amazing.

Justin Deen

Orthopedic surgeons are the third highest prescribers of opioid narcotics for patients undergoing surgery. Aside from the dangers of becoming addicted to these pain killers, opioids can be problematic for recovering addicts and people with allergies and other conditions. That’s why Justin Deen (BSBA ’05, Resident ’16, Fellow ’17, MBA ’22), of Gainesville, created a different “stratified opioid prescription pathway” for patients undergoing total joint replacements. His approach resulted in a 50% reduction in opioid use and his appointment to a committee that suggests pain management guidelines. Along the way, the UF College of Medicine faculty member also advocated for health policy issues in a presentation before Congress in Washington, D.C.

What makes you proud?
My entire career has been guided by a series of influential mentors. While I enjoy the clinical and research aspects of my job, my greatest source of pride is paying forward their support by educating medical students, residents and fellows. I know my legacy will be determined by the number and quality of surgeons I help train along the way. This year, I received the Exemplary Teacher Award, which I consider one of my greatest achievements.
What did you want to be when you were 10?
A marine archeologist
What was your first job?
Assistant greenskeeper at my local golf course.
Who, living or dead, would you most like to meet?
Benjamin Franklin. He was part scientist, part politician, and all wit and wisdom. I quote some of his maxims from “Poor Richard's Almanack” almost daily, and he wrote it at just 27 years old!
Favorite class at UF?
Scuba diving – one of the few elective courses I took. It was surprisingly physically and mentally challenging. It also promoted practical and thoughtful planning and teamwork, which are important to my field.
What’s on your bucket list?
Attend the Olympics, attend a taping of Saturday Night Live and set a Guinness World Record.

Daniel Gonzalez

Ever wonder who figures out dosing guidelines for prescription drugs? It’s people like Daniel Gonzalez (AA ’04, PharmD ’08, PhD ’12), a pharmacotherapy and experimental therapeutics associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The research program he leads recently did just that for children who need the antibiotic clindamycin. The FDA is reviewing his dosing results and recommendations, which have already been validated in a clinical trial involving 44 sites in the U.S. and Canada.

What was your first job?
Stock boy at Sedano's Pharmacy in Miami. I’ve wanted to be a pharmacist since age 15.
What is one piece of great advice you received?
Pursue a career that you find fulfilling and that allows you to do work that you are truly passionate about.
Favorite saying?
“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” – Nelson Mandela
Who, living or dead, would you most like to meet?
Barack Obama
Which UF professor would you like to thank?
The late Hartmut Derendorf for encouraging me to pursue a career in academia.
If someone gave me $1 million to improve the world, I would …
Support research that would improve pediatric public health

Peter Gruters

Lt. Col. Peter Gruters (BA ’03) only intended to serve in the military for four years, but once he discovered his passion for leadership, he carved out a career as an intelligence officer for the U.S. Air Force. He lives with his family in Darmstadt, Germany, where he serves as a squadron commander. His career spans the breadth of defense intelligence and includes these posts: intelligence sensor development and program management at the Pentagon and Special Operations Command; director of operations at Ft. Meade in Maryland; and international engagement representative in Europe, building alliances with partner nations. His writings on open source intelligence for the defense field are part of the curriculum at the Joint Special Operations University, where he lectures.

What words would people say describe you?
Passionate and high-energy.
What was your first job?
Working for a cleaning company making $5 an hour.
Besides your military medals, what award have you received that is especially meaningful?
When I was a young officer, I mentored preteens for Big Brothers/Big Sisters. In July 2006, that organization and the Greeting Card Association named me a “Heroes in Our Midst” National Award Winner.
Favorite classes at UF?
Political Leadership and Urban Politics with professor Bert Swanson. The format of these classes was unique and effective. I enjoyed the autonomy we had, as well as the professor’s guidance. He taught us valuable analytic techniques and writing skills that have helped me throughout my career.
What book made a difference in your life?
“Patton On Leadership: Strategic Lessons for Corporate Warfare,” by Alan Axelrod
If you could give just one piece of advice to UF students, what would it be?
Try to find balance. When you find work/life/family balance, you will find peace.

Stephen Liverpool

A member of the board directors for the Florida Bankers Association, Tampa lawyer Stephen Liverpool (BA ’07, JD ’10) has served as the senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary for the Raymond James Bank since 2016. His efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in both law and financial services, which began years before the social unrest of 2020, resulted in the hiring of a chief diversity officer for Raymond James, which has benefitted employees and the company as a whole. While at UF, Liverpool was president of Florida Blue Key and of the Gamma Omicron chapter of Iota Phi Theta fraternity. Sport fishing is his passion.

What three words would people say describe you?
Dependable, loyal, caring.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
A marine biologist
If a movie were made about you, what would it be called and who would you like to play you?
"Just Keep at It," starring Winston Duke
If someone gave you $1 million to better the world, how would you spend it?
Food and shelter for the hungry and displaced
If you could thank just one teacher in your life, who would that be?
Gina Randolph, a 35-year educator in Hillsborough County &hellilp; my 6th grade English teacher. She invested herself in developing my intellectual ability and gave me the confidence to use it throughout my academic career.
If you could give just one piece of advice to UF students, what would it be?
You will always get what you give, so always look to give first and give more.

Chelsea Magin

With more than 75 patent applications to her name, Chelsea Magin (BS ’06, MS ’08, PhD ’10) serves as assistant professor of bioengineering, pediatrics and medicine at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and is the principal investigator of its Bio-inspired Pulmonary Engineering Lab. Her team invents biomaterials and engineer’s models that recreate the micro-architecture of lung tissue to better understand the mechanisms underlying chronic pulmonary diseases and to discover new treatments. Her current research was briefly interrupted in late March 2021 by the arrival of a son, Brennan Thomas, who weighed in at 6 pounds, 1 ounce.

What did you want to be when you were 5?
I knew from a very young age that I wanted to go up to be an engineer just like my dad!
What is one piece of great advice you received?
Don’t let great ambitions overshadow small successes.
What is one point of pride in your career?
The amazing group of young adults that I have had the privilege to mentor and teach over the past several years. To watch students and trainees learn new technical skills, gain confidence in scientific writing and speaking, and start out on their own career paths with my help is the most rewarding part of my career.
What activities are on your bucket list?
I adore traveling, so my bucket list is full of exciting destinations. I would like to visit every state in the U.S. (seven left to go) and every continent (only two more!).
Who, living or dead, would you most like to meet?
Artist Frida Kahlo. She is the epitome of an empowered, creative and successful woman.

Megan Walker

Megan Walker (BS ’05) of West Harrison, NY, is the Chief Volunteer Officer for the March of Dimes. While many charities expected to lose up to a half of annual donations during 2020 due to the pandemic, Walker found a way to minimize losses by leveraging a network of volunteers, pivoting to virtual events and implementing a volunteer management app. She helped engage tens of thousands of people with the March of Dimes through online summits, Facebook Live events, virtual coffee chats and partnership meetings. Her model is being replicated in the nonprofit and public health communities.

What was your first job?
When I was 16, I admitted emergency room patients. It definitely opened my eyes seeing overdoses, motorcycle crashes, protruding bones and more.
I always wanted to be a …
Doctor, until I hit Organic Chemistry and Calculus 2. Then, I found another way to help people in the nonprofit industry, a world that I didn’t know about until later in life.
I’m proud of …
Being a Florida Gator and a mom of two young kids. Every day I fight for the health of all moms and babies regardless of their race or income. I was very lucky to have two healthy children, and I am honored every day to be their mother. It is tough to be a working mom and juggling competing demands or family and a high-impact career, but I also have a calling to serve others.
Favorite UF memories?
Serving in leadership roles for dozens of organizations, starting the first minor in Organizational Leadership in Nonprofit Management and being selected the 2004 Homecoming Queen.
What is one piece of great advice you received?
Service is love in action.
What books made a difference in your life?
“Love You Forever,” by Robert Munsch and “Pay It Forward,” by Catherine Ryan Hyde