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Heritage College celebrates Class of 2024 student achievements

May 17, 2024

At a pair of celebrations, the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine recognized the achievements of students in the Class of 2024, and introduced a new award created to honor the legacy of one of the college’s founders.

HCOM student receives award


“Today we will recognize the crème de la crème of the class of 2024 – students who have gone above and beyond in their scholarship, research and practice,” Ken Johnson, D.O., executive dean of the Heritage College and chief medical affairs officer for Ohio University, told students at the Commencement Awards ceremony. “We will also have an opportunity to recognize collective achievements, such as your 99 percent match rate.”

In addition to annual recognition, such as departmental and clinical awards, this year’s ceremony included the new Dunigan Award for Osteopathic Advocacy. This award was created to honor George Dunigan, who advocated for the passage of House Bill 229, which created the college of medicine. Dunigan later served as the college’s first director of government relations.

Family of George Dunigan present new award

His children, Tracey and Kevin, presented the award which recognized a student who has demonstrated a strong interest in health policy and has been committed to health advocacy at the state and national levels.

Recipient of Dunigan advocacy award

Alyssa Lambrecht received the inaugural award. She is the founding president of the Medical Student Physicians Action Network Club and has submitted frequent testimony to the Ohio legislature. She also serves as vice chair of Doctors for America’s Community Health and Prevention Committee. In this role, she advocates for gun violence prevention, public health outreach and substance abuse prevention. On the national level, Lambrecht has educated medical students about addiction medicine.

“Our father was incredibly proud of this school and its students, and he would be thrilled by Alyssa,” said Tracey Dunigan. 

Students receive awards at HCOM awards ceremony

The celebration of student achievement continued at the first annual Office of Inclusion graduation celebration which recognized the accomplishments of the more than 50 graduating first generation students and those who are underrepresented in medicine.

HCOM's Kelly Davidson speaks at Inclusion Graduation Ceremony

The event was attended by graduates’ friends and family and several former Heritage College alumni including Gregory Hill, D.O. (’86), an orthopedic surgeon, educator and retired veteran of the U.S. Army.

“Today’s graduates exist because these alums paved the way for them, much like today’s graduates will be paving the way for the next class of OUHCOM graduates,” said Kelly Davidson, assistant director of Inclusion on the Athens campus.

Students are recognized at HCOM's inclusion graduation celebration

Johnson reiterated the college’s support for first generation and URM students saying he was pleased that time could be taken to recognize the unique accomplishments of these graduates.

“The students that we are celebrating today have overcome significant barriers every step of the way to earning their D.O. degrees,” said Johnson.

In her comments, graduate Shenika Zarebski, a military veteran, mother of four and first physician in her family, acknowledged the obstacles she has faced to become a doctor but also the support she has received from her loved ones, her fellow graduates and the college’s faculty and staff, who she said were committed “to fostering an environment where every voice is heard, every perspective is valued and every individual is empowered to thrive. It is through our collective dedication to diversity and inclusion that we have cultivated a richer, more vibrant learning environment – one that strives to mirror the diverse population we will encounter in our careers.”

Zarebski said that one important life lesson she learned was to be audacious.

Student at inclusion celebration waits to be coated

“I believe audacity is paramount in life. Because I, just like each and every one of you here, must move audaciously,” she said. “We have to have the audacity to believe that we can be the first one in our families to become physicians. We have to have the audacity to politely inform that patient that you are the physician caring for them, but you would be happy to find someone to remove their lunch tray. We have to have the audacity to believe that we can go back to school with four kids and match into general surgery. We must be audacious enough to know that in everything we do we need to reach back and keep this pipeline flowing.”

She concluded by challenging her fellow graduates: “Let us be advocates for change, catalysts for progress and champions for diversity in all its forms. And let us never forget the sacrifices made by those who paved the way for us, nor the responsibility we bear to create a more just and inclusive world for generations to come.”

HCOM student Jessica Pettis

During the celebration, students were given their white coats, a tradition that normally occurs at the beginning of their medical education but was not possible for the Class of 2024 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.


The event also took a moment to recognize and honor Jessica Pettis, who died while in her fourth year of medical school, and to acknowledge her family, who was in attendance.

“I thank God for lending us the precious time we had with Jess – she was one of a kind. I know without a doubt she would have been an amazing physician,” said Class of 2024 graduate Kortland Casselberry, who become friends with Pettis in her second year of medical school when they both served on the executive board of the Student National Medical Association. “Jessica was and still is a beacon of light. Everything she was, everything she represented exuded love. We will miss her dearly.”