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From Lab To Both Sides Of The Operating Table, USF Grad Has Amazing Story

Dec 20, 2016

Every semester, the University of South Florida picks an outstanding graduate on each of the system’s three campuses.

This fall, the honoree on the Tampa campus has a curriculum vitae that would make some professors jealous.

Stephanie Radu, 21, was born in Toronto and lived in twelve cities, training as a competitive swimmer and surfer, before settling in Florida.

Outside the classroom at USF, she formed "Hope for the Homeless," a service club to raise money for the homeless and competed for both the surf and equestrian teams.

But it was inside the lab and classroom where she really shined.

She volunteered as a freshman to be a research assistant at the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute and ended up conducting neonatal research at Tampa General Hospital and epidemiological research at USF Public Health.

Along the way to graduating in three and a half years, she racked up a 3.89 GPA (a B in Calculus her freshman year being the only "blemish" on an otherwise perfect transcript), won a Gilman Scholarship to study in Spain and was named an honorable mention Goldwater Scholar as a sophomore.

It was also during that year that she had heart surgery.

"University Beat" sat down with Stephanie Radu days after she received her degree in biomedical sciences, as well as the Outstanding Graduate award.

Here are some highlights from the interview, which you can hear by clicking the audio link above.

Radu kept the honor secret from her family
"It was really nice to be recognized because I spent so much time working and juggling classes and research that I never really talked about my accomplishments - my mom and my brother didn't even know in Canada what I was doing, so when they drove down (for commencement), I told them it might be a little something, I'm going to be onstage, but they just thought I was going to school and working, so it was really nice to have them see what I had done at USF."  

Radu got started in research at USF almost from her first day on campus
"I cold e-mailed the CEO of the (USF Health) Byrd (Alzheimer's) Institute and told him that I would sweep the floors of the lab if it meant that I could get in and volunteer, and when I met with him, he told me that he paid people for that, but he'd happy to train me to do brain surgery on mice."

Radu's intellectual curiosity led her to ask the surgical team to let her stay awake during her heart surgery!
"I was born with congenital heart disease, so I had always known that it was one of those things that I'd have to check on yearly. During a surf trip in Puerto Rico in the spring semester of my sophomore year, I figured out something might not be too right anymore."

"(The surgery) was an amazing experience and I'll carry that with me throughout my own medical practice; when I'm a surgeon, I can tell my patients, 'Hey, I had heart surgery too, I know what it's like.' But I would also recommend they undergo sedation and not stay awake during it because it was quite painful."

Radu  has interviews scheduled with 13 of the country's best medical schools. After that...she's got a lot of plans, starting with studying pediatric surgery, especially fetal surgery.
"(Fetal surgery) is very important because I also really love gene therapy and I'd like to use similar methods to the gene therapy injections that I'm doing now at the Byrd Institute and see if that could somehow reverse and prevent the disease progression of genetic diseases in utero."

"I'd like to go into academic medicine because mentorship is completely invaluable. I love teaching and I think that I'd love to also be able to be a mentor to future STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) students and women in STEM as well."

"I'd also like to work with Doctors Without Borders and also maybe UN Women. International advocacy for public health is a huge concern to me and I'd love to implement that in my future as well."