Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center

10/20/2020 | News release | Distributed by Public on 10/20/2020 10:43

Leaders Celebrating Leaders program honors students who serve

The students honored as part of the 2020 Leaders Celebrating Leaders event are, top row from left, David Velez, Natasha Sood and Justin Brooke; and bottom row from left, Jason Spicher, Rachel Fletcher and Maryknoll Palisoc.

Each year, the Office of the Dean, Office of the Vice Dean for Educational Affairs and Office of the Vice Dean for Research and Graduate Studies unite to honor student leaders from the medical doctor (MD), physician assistant (PA) and graduate programs. Due to COVID-19, in-person recognition for the 2019-2020 academic year was canceled, but the offices still want to acknowledge student leaders for all their hard work. See a list of student organizations and their officers here.

October 20, 2020Penn State College of Medicine News

As part of the annual Leaders Celebrating Leaders program, class officers and representatives from the graduate, medical, nursing and physician assistant programs highlight fellow students and their accomplishments, commitment and service to the College of Medicine and community.

'Our student leaders set a tremendous example for our college and community through their compassion, kindness, advocacy and philanthropy,' said Dr. Kevin Black, interim dean of the College of Medicine. 'From advocating for our patients and caring for our environment, to enhancing the quality of their educational experience and standing up for social justice, these students are making a real and lasting difference. They understand that leadership isn't about what we say, but about what we do.'

These individuals were honored for the past academic year:

MD Class of 2021: David Velez

'The class leadership for the class of 2021 wishes to honor David Velez for his outstanding advocacy for our colleagues. Over the last year, David has become one of the emotional wellness chairs for the Wellness Committee and worked diligently to reinstate the college's Big-Little Program, facilitating sustainable mentorship between first-year students and upperclassmen. David has worked tirelessly to begin the process of advocating for meaningful engagement from student government and the administration to address emotional wellness at the College of Medicine. We are extremely thankful for the meaningful contributions David has made, not only to our class, but for the institution as a whole. We recognize his voice and impact today.'

MD Class of 2022: Natasha Sood

'The Class of 2022 is pleased to recognize Natasha Sood as our Outstanding Leader for 2019-2020. Natasha has relentlessly pursued a mission of environmental accountability at Penn State from the very beginning of medical school, founding the Environmental Health in Medicine group in the fall of 2018. This group has grown dramatically in size and impact over the last two years, from organizing small student-led projects to hosting national leaders in medical and environmental policy for hospital-wide lectures. As a direct byproduct of these efforts, she co-leads the Penn State Health and College of Medicine Sustainability Council with Dr. Sarah Bronson. The council, along with a student task force organized from the Environmental Health in Medicine student group, researches and organizes sustainability projects within the College of Medicine and across Penn State Health. In 2019, she also co-founded and serves as a co-curriculum chair for Medical Students for a Sustainable Future, which began as a group of seven medical students interested in understanding and advocating for policies at the intersection of climate change and health care. In the last year, this group has grown to more than 250 medical students from 70 medical schools across 34 states, D.C. and the Caribbean. In addition to her tireless advocacy, Natasha has selflessly mentored junior Penn State medical students to continue advocating for a better understanding of the impact of climate change on health care and implementing actionable plans to reduce the environmental impact of the health system on the environment. Those who are interested in supporting her work, can sign up for the Sustainability Council newsletter at or join the Medical Students for a Sustainable Future Slack channel at'

MD Class of 2023: Justin Brooke

'Justin Brooke maintains several leadership roles in his class, serving as president for the Surgical Student Society and Cardiothoracic Surgical Society. He also serves as the BraveCubs chief hospital officer and is known for playing the role of Captain America, visiting children in Penn State Children's Hospital and in the community. Outside of school, he combines his passion for nature and service by volunteering as a trail guide for Outdoor Afro. This NGO is known for diversifying outdoor conservation in an inclusive, experiential environment. Justin also has been recognized for exceptional service and with several awards serving his community as a paramedic in the Hershey/Harrisburg area, while balancing the demanding roles of a medical student. The MS2 class would like to recognize Justin for all of his achievements, both in and outside of the College of Medicine, serving as both a leader and a responsible community team member.'

MD University Park Curriculum: Jason Spicher

'Jason Spicher has been a consistently calm presence to his classmates. He is collaborative in nature, sincere and a person of great integrity. Jason served as the Family Medicine Interest Group co-president, member of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) Leadership Collaborative Group, AAFP Emerging Leader Institute Scholar and a Medical Student Design Partner for the University Park Curriculum. He is an important example of the leadership we need, both in the world of medicine and beyond.'

PA Class of 2021: Rachel Fletcher (wellness representative for class of 2021)

'Rachel Fletcher is a compassionate physician assistant student with an excitement and passion for quality patient care. She was selected for the National Health Service Corp Scholarship and has pledged to serve a role in primary care. This scholarship requires an extensive application and it is an honor to be selected. The PA program places an emphasis on the importance of primary care and Rachel has exemplified that mission. She is a positive and uplifting person who is a friend to everyone. She will do great things and we would like to honor her for her amazing accomplishments thus far. We are excited to see where she goes in the future.'

Physician Scientist Student Association: Maryknoll Palisoc

'Maryknoll Palisoc, a second-year graduate student in Penn State's MD/PhD Medical Scientist Training Program, is an exemplary nominee for the Leaders Helping Leaders honor. Her PhD is in the Biomedical Sciences program, studying cancer biology under Dr. Edward Gunther. During the years of 2019-2020, she has done an incredible job as the Physician Scientist Student Association Retreat Planning Chair. Maryknoll went above and beyond her call of duty and has revolutionized Penn State's MD/PhD retreats to foster further vertical integration, professional development and training to be a physician-scientist. She is now the PSSA president for this academic year and is also doing phenomenal job. Maryknoll has a very bright future.'

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