2010-06-23 / Features

Despina Siolas Earns M.D., Ph.D. Degrees

Frederick M. Schiavone, M.D., FACEP, Associate Dean for Medical Education at Stony Brook Medical School, describes his nine years mentoring Despina Siolas. 
Photo Stavroula Raia, Southampton Frederick M. Schiavone, M.D., FACEP, Associate Dean for Medical Education at Stony Brook Medical School, describes his nine years mentoring Despina Siolas. Photo Stavroula Raia, Southampton Despina Siolas of Bayside was awarded a degree in the Doctor of Medicine/Doctor of Philosophy Medical Science Training Program (M.D./Ph.D.) program from Stony Brook University Medical Center on May 18. She was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy in Genetics in May 2008 from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. The title of her dissertation was “RNA Interference Screens as a Tool for Discovering Gene Function”. Her advisor was Dr. Greg Hannon, Professor, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. She was awarded her Bachelor of Science summa cum laude by St. John’s University in 2001.

A graduation party in her honor was held at Laterna Restaurant on May 21. Guests who included the Very Rev. Robert Stephanopoulos and Presvitera Nikki Stephanopoulos; Frederick M. Schiavone, M.D., FACEP, Associate Dean for Medical Education at Stony Brook Medical School; Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos and Mrs. Angela Maragos; state Senator Frank Padavan, Tony Barsamian, Queens Gazette publisher, and prominent persons in the medical, education and legal fields and the community.

“Despina is planning to go into oncology, a field of commitment and unselfishness. She wants to find a cure for cancer,” said Rev. Stephanopoulos. Dean Schiavone added, ”Her vibrant personality and focus made her stand out at medical conferences.”  The feelings of the 170 guests were expressed by Andreas Moshopoulos. “We admire her as a Greek American girl who progressed and advanced greatly,” he said. “We now have a scientist we are proud of.” Philanthropist/Journalist Costas Athanasiades believes “The highest ideals of Greek Civilization encompassing liberty democracy, justice, and equality are instilled in her. I consider Despina, like all the Athanasiades award recipients, as my child.”

“Despina made all of us proud for her extraordinary achievements in college, obtaining two doctor’s degrees, in medicine and Philosophy at the same time,” said Christos Tzelios, community activist/philanthropist. “As always, we Greeks have a word for it: Iatrofilosophos (Doctor-philosopher). In spite of her great achievements, she is a graceful honoree with a low and humble profile.” Her father, John G. Siolas, Ph.D., an immigrant from Tripolis, Arcadia, worked five jobs to help cover education expenses.

International Philosopher Dr. Marie George expressed the view, “It takes a singular person to obtain both a Ph.D. and an M.D.  Despina Siolas had the courage to undertake a Ph.D. in genetics, and unlike the many aspirants that fall by the wayside, Despina showed herself to possess both the originality demanded to obtain a doctorate with her cutting edge research on RNAi and the perseverance needed to make it through the years of hard work it took to see her project through to its end.  A person of high ideals, Despina also undertook and completed an M.D. [degree] in order to ensure that her research best serves those suffering from illness.  Added to Despina’s ‘D’ degrees are her compassion, civic sense, and sense of humor. Despina is a young person who will make the world a better place.”

One person who enjoyed the Greek style of celebration, with waiters throwing dollar bills, said, “This is the first time I ever wished I was Greek.” Two singers entertained all till 3 a.m. Dr. Schiavone, an accomplished opera singer in the style of Luciano Pavarotti, sang “O Sole Mio” in honor of the graduate.

In recent correspondence, Dr. Samuel L. Stanley, president of Stony Brook University, said “On behalf of our Stony Brook University community and your fellow alumni, I offer you my warm congratulations on your being awarded the Etrade Financial Scholarship (December 2009) by the Hellenic Medical Society of New York. Your achievement is a source of pride for us. Accomplishments like yours enhance Stony Brook’s stellar academic reputation (the London Times has ranked us among the top one percent of research universities in the world), and they help reinforce our dedication to providing current students with valuable opportunities to cultivate their talents and flourish. So many of our successful alumni look to their Stony Brook experience as an important part of their development, and we hope your Stony Brook education will serve you well as you take on new challenges. Thank you for becoming an inspiration to Stony Brook’s emerging professionals.”

The M.D./Ph.D. program includes the medical training of a doctor (M.D.) with the rigor of a scientific researcher (Ph.D.). The Ph.D. degree provides a much better understanding of and preparation for scientific inquiry due to intensive studies in a field in an organized manner. Dr. Siolas will begin her residency in oncology at NYU Medical School.

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