“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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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