IMPRINTING AN ETHOS
John Russell, CST ’86 and Dana Russell, CST ’17
When John Russell arrived at Temple in 1982, he had no way of knowing that the school would play an important role not just in shaping his career but in shaping his future children’s careers. An Upper Dublin, Pennsylvania, resident, he received a scholarship and worked in a biology lab while pursuing his degree as a commuter.
After getting his medical degree at Penn State University and completing a residency at Abington Memorial Hospital, he taught at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine. Now chair of the Family Medicine department at Abington—part of the Jefferson Health network—he often sees Temple graduates coming through his residency program.
“In medicine, you have to have a good work ethic, besides being smart and well trained,” explains John. “I see that work ethic in Temple students. There is always a certain kinship, and a sense that Temple tethers you together.” John has enjoyed watching his daughters pursue their own Temple educations.
Dana graduated from CST in 2017 and Dana’s sister Erin is currently a student at the medical school. Dana knew going in that like her father and sister, she was interested in the sciences, but rather than work in medicine, she wanted to go into education. “I enrolled in the TUteach program and teaching every semester really gave me a chance to master my craft,” she says.
More than 30 years later, Dana encountered at least one person who knew her dad while he was at Temple—now retired associate professor of instruction in biology Dan Spaeth had been a graduate student working in the same lab as her father.
One of Dana’s most formative experiences at Temple was traveling to Belize with her tropical marine biology class. She was also a Hollings scholar at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, studying coral reefs. “The government sent me to Florida to create a professional development program for teachers using natural resources as a foundation,” says Dana.
After completing her degree in biology with teaching, Dana went directly from a student teaching placement into a full-time job at New Foundations Charter High School in Philadelphia. She’s teaching and developing the school’s STEM programs, including a high-school level marine biology course. Some of her students have gone on to matriculate at Temple themselves, including in CST. On the side, she adjuncts at Temple, leading a course in coding for pre-service STEM teachers.
“The idea is to encourage more students, especially in the Philadelphia area, to get more involved in computer science and engineering. I also serve as a mentor to the current TUteach student teaching cohorts,” Dana says.
Dana is now working toward her master’s degree online at Michigan State University. And when she’s not working or studying she’s getting ready to plan her wedding to a fellow Temple alum she met during freshman orientation.
Beyond CST, another commonality in the Russell family is the desire to serve others, which John feels has only been strengthened at their shared educational institution.
“For all of us, it’s important to give back, and we like to think we passed that to our children. Being at Temple, a place that reinforces the spirit of resilience and diversity, has been a key part of that.”
BRIDGING THE GAP
Delana Wardlaw, CST ’96, and Elana McDonald, CST ’96
Delana Wardlaw and Elana McDonald originally planned to leave the city for college, ideally at an HBCU, but the twins, who grew up in North Philadelphia, had to face the reality that their parents had limited means to send them away. Instead, they lived at home and enrolled at Temple, a life-changing decision that set them on their journey into medicine. And more than two decades later, they are still in North Philadelphia, now physicians firmly rooted in a commitment to serve their community.
At Temple, they both enrolled in the Honors Program and focused on biology and pre-med studies. On top of their natural affinity for science, they had a more personal reason for going pre-med. Their maternal grandmother died at the age of 53 from breast cancer, a death that might have been avoided had she gotten proper care in a timely manner.
As students, the sisters got involved with the Pre-Medical Society, which in turn connected them to the Medical Society of Eastern Pennsylvania, where they both interned and explored specialty areas by shadowing Black doctors working around the Philadelphia region.
“That’s when it became clear that you can do this because there’s other people before you who have laid the groundwork,” McDonald says. “Of course, there is still more work to do. Today we’re in our late 40s and African American physicians are still few and far between.”
After medical school, Wardlaw pursued family medicine and is now part of the Temple Physicians practice. McDonald, who opted for a career in pediatric medicine, owns and serves as CMO at three outpatient practices: Memphis Street Pediatrics, Pizzica Pediatrics and Castor Pediatrics. “Working in the community allows us to bring a diverse lens to diagnostic skills and clinical management.” Wardlaw says. “I can see five generations from one family on any given day, and that helps us address some of the social issues that have an effect on people’s health as well.”
In 2020, just a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic, the sisters founded Twin Sister Docs Organization, with a mission to improve health advocacy and literacy in communities of color and mentor young people to find their own paths to medical school and careers in medicine.
During the pandemic, the organization expanded to become Twin Sister Docs Foundation and turned its efforts toward COVID testing and vaccination, but the past two years have only underscored the existing gaps in the nation’s healthcare system, making cancer screenings, cardiovascular health and diabetes management just as critical as COVID-related resources.
“We are empowering people to become advocates for themselves—knowing what to expect from a physician’s visit,” Wardlaw says. “The onus is on us as physicians to make sure patients understand medical conditions. It’s not just about patients following recommendations but helping them find the resources they may need to do so.”
“We go by three Ts: trust, translate and transform,” McDonald says. “If you don’t trust the messenger, you’re not going to listen to the message.”
The Twin Sister Docs Foundation participates in career days, college panels, Pre-Medical Society discussions, health fairs and community events to help aspiring doctors find their way through what can be a complex process, particularly for first generation college and medical students.
Their work is being recognized. Wardlaw was named Pennsylvania Co-Family Physician of the Year in 2020, and McDonald received the Pennsylvania Medical Society’s Everyday Hero Award.
“No question you have rough days,” Wardlaw says. “You think What am I doing? Why am I here? Then you remember your passion and you see the change that you are creating. That’s why we’re here.”
FINDING A HOME
Dania Giaddui, CST ’18 and Mohamed Giaddui, CST ’23
Dania Giaddui looked at other schools for her undergraduate education but for her, Temple just felt like the only choice. That may be because her family, originally from Libya, came to the United States in 2008 when her mother received a scholarship for graduate study abroad from the Ministry of Education.
Nagat Frara enrolled in the PhD program at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine and since then, all five family members have put down roots at the university in one way or another.
“Watching my mother complete her degree while having three kids to take care of was very inspiring,” Dania says.
Nagat now works as an associate scientist at the medical school, focusing on the neurological reinnervation of the bladder following spinal cord injury. Over the years, Dania and her brothers visited their mother at the lab, which they say inspired all of them in turn to go into the sciences.
After graduating from Harriton High School in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania, Dania enrolled in CST with a focus on neuroscience: cellular and molecular. During her years at Temple, she was an active member of the National Society of Leadership and Success, the Pre-Dental Health Society and Temple Arab Student Society. In 2017, she was one of a handful of students selected for the Frances Velay Fellowship, a summer research opportunity. Dania’s research involved looking at how microRNA-690 affects embryonic mouse stem cell differentiation in the presence of ethanol. A year later, she was awarded the CST Scientists Symposium Sponsorship, and traveled to New York City to share her research.
Dania is now an associate scientist in cell therapy process development at the Center for Breakthrough Medicines, and recently earned her master’s degree in biotechnology from Thomas Jefferson University.
“In our family we’ve all wanted to take our education as far as we could,” she says.
Dania’s brother Muath graduated from the School of Engineering with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering in 2020 and her brother Mohamed is entering his senior year at CST, studying biology.
“I was accepted to other schools but going to Temple felt like a no-brainer. My mother and sister had had such a good experience, and it was culturally inclusive, which was important,” says Muath, who is currently conducting clinical research on post-chemotherapy side effects at Lankenau Institute for Medical Research. He’s preparing to apply to medical school, and ideally would like to return to Temple for med school or beyond.
Their father and Nagat’s husband, Tawfik Giaddui, currently also works at Temple University Hospital as a medical physicist in the radiation oncology department. “That he ended up at Temple too was a very happy coincidence,” Nagat says.
Sometimes the family carpools together to campus, and all consider themselves Temple Owls at heart.
“Temple’s diversity is very attractive to international people,” Nagat says. “It’s affordable and it offers students flexibility to pursue their interests, even as their interests change. We have all found a home here.”
PAVING THE WAY
Shofalarin Da-Silva, ’17, and Shofolahan Da-Silva, ’19
Shofalarin (Sho) and Shofolahan (Flo) Da-Silva are two and a half years apart, but the brothers have followed twin tracks through their education. That includes a transformative year in CST’s Post Baccalaureate Pre-Health Program where they laid the groundwork for their respective careers in medicine and more.
Even before college, the Da-Silvas both knew they wanted to follow in their father’s path. Shonola Da-Silva was trained in Nigeria and now practices pediatric intensive care medicine in Ohio. “I remember walking around the hospital with my dad, and seeing how he helps people, and it seemed like the best career choice you could ever make,” Sho says.
Both brothers earned undergraduate degrees from the University of the Sciences while playing basketball there. The combination of their extensive sports commitment and the need for more preparatory coursework meant that applying for medical school would have been a challenge coming right out of college.
“The post bacc program was a real bridge for us. I don’t know that I would have gotten into medical school otherwise,” Sho says. “It wasn’t what we studied so much as learning how to study, and gaining the skills needed for success in medical school.”
For Flo, the social aspect of the program was especially important. “A couple of my best friends now were students that I met at Temple, and though none of us are at the same med school, we still talk every day. That support system was valuable at Temple and continues to be.”
In 2019, the brothers cofounded, along with two other CST post bacc graduates, Tri- State Black Men in Medicine, a professional group for physicians, residents, fellows, medical students and pre-med students that offers networking and mentorship opportunities.
“I mean, our dad is a physician, and we didn’t learn how to get into medical school ourselves until pretty late on,” Sho says. “We knew there had to be a way to connect Black male physicians, medical students and those trying to get into the medical field, while also supporting the underserved communities that we both learn and practice in.”
In the beginning, the brothers cold-called professionals in hospitals and doctors’ offices to tell them about the new nonprofit. With word of mouth, Tri-State, grew steadily and now counts more than 60 members. Many more attend its panel discussions, mentoring events in schools, health fairs and community service opportunities.
“The reach feels vast now with everyone working on this together,” Sho says. “For both Flo and me, part of the way we were raised was to give back, to reach out to your community, and help where you can.”
In addition to mentoring and encouraging younger people to find their way to a medical career, the opportunities for representation in the broader community have been powerful. “When we do our health fairs, we meet people from the older generations,” Flo says. “Just seeing that number of Black doctors means a lot to them.”
Sho is now at Ross University School of Medicine and plans on going into gastroenterology and advanced endoscopy. Flo is at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and is considering specializing in pediatric anesthesiology. The Da-Silvas plan to continue building Tri-State, wherever they professionally land geographically.
“I was in the mall and saw a couple of girls with Tri-State Black Men in Medicine t-shirts. That was a great feeling,” Sho says. “No matter where we end up, we want to see people progress in their careers, and we want to help them succeed.”