Brenau University conferred degrees and celebrated graduates and undergraduates from The Women’s College and the university at two commencement ceremonies on Friday, May 5, and Saturday, May 6.
More than 350 students completed their studies during the spring semester; 199 completed graduate coursework and 160 completed their undergraduate studies, including 84 graduates from The Women’s College.
Among the graduate degrees awarded was the first cohort of the Physician Assistant Studies program, which started in January 2021 during the pandemic.
“We were the only program on-ground full-time in January 2021,” Julie Keena, chair of the PA program, said. “When they started, we still didn’t really know what was going on, and they didn’t have all the answers we have now. They’ve just shown tremendous maturity, resilience and grit. PA school is hard anyway!”
Keena said the inaugural cohort had 31 graduates, including James Cutts, BU ’23, of Preston, Georgia, who addressed graduates at the ceremony Saturday before walking across the stage.
Cutts said he jumped at the chance to join a new PA program, and felt like Brenau’s values aligned with his own.
“I’ve met some PAs during my career and I really liked the patient care they provided,” Cutts said after the ceremony. “And I really appreciate the things they did as far as like, being very open with communication and being able to sit down and talk with us a little bit longer. As far as what I want to do, I just want to provide the best care I can to my patients, knowing I’m a listening ear for them and make them feel comfortable to talk to me about anything and everything.”
Rosie Melendez, BU ’23, of Athens, Georgia, said the program helped show her who she was and who she wanted to be as a healthcare provider.
“We had so many faculty with such an extensive background in practicing, and even teaching; we had good clinical rotation coordinators that are in this community, and my rotation experiences were great because of them,” Melendez said. “They want, just as much as we do, for us to be successful. So I was very fortunate to be a part of the inaugural class and make this a good stepping stone for the rest of the classes going forward.”
Spencer West, BU ’23, of Roswell, Georgia, had been out of school for 14 years before he decided to pursue PA studies at Brenau. He said the program not only brought him closer to home, but allowed him to pursue his passions.
“I was in North Carolina, working in a biotech field, doing cancer research or working on cancer-cell based products for quite a long time. And I got a little tired of being at the lab bench, doing that side of things. I wanted to interact with patients more, so I volunteered as an EMT. But I also really liked and missed the science aspect when I was in the ambulance,” West said. “So I was looking for something that would kind of meld the two together. And that’s kind of where I think PA school shines. It allowed me an opportunity to utilize all of those skills and satisfy all of those needs.”
Keena said many of the PA graduates have already been offered jobs following graduation. Cutts has accepted a job in LaGrange, Georgia, and will begin in late August. Melendez has accepted an emergency medicine fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. West is looking into fellowships and said his experiences at Brenau have shown him several fields of interest.
As the graduates move on in their chosen paths, the three agreed that the program has made an impact on their lives.
“Brenau was great. I had a really good experience, especially with my classmates,” Cutts said. “I think they did a really great job of actually picking the candidates for this program. I have built some lifelong friendships and I’m really proud of that.”