Commencement 2023: ‘My journey really began at URI.’ Pharmacy student, former football student-athlete to deliver URI commencement student address

Cranston native Mazen Taman to attend medical school at Brown University in the fall

KINGSTON, R.I. – April 25, 2023 – Mazen M. Taman will have but a few minutes to share his journey and his “why” during the University of Rhode Island Commencement on Saturday, May 20. But Taman, a former football student-athlete who was selected as this year’s student speaker, has much to share from a journey that soon will include a URI Doctor of Pharmacy degree and entry to Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School.

Taman was named the student speaker following an application and interview process with the Student Senate commencement speaker subcommittee and several members of the University’s senior leadership team, including President Marc Parlange.

“The committee faced a major challenge in selecting a speaker, given the outstanding qualifications and achievements of the three finalists,” said Ellen Reynolds, vice president for student affairs. “They all would have given inspiring addresses. Now, we look forward to Mazen’s speech as he details his incredible journey and the people who inspired him along the way.” 

The Cranston native, who is working two paid internships this semester at Rhode Island Hospital and CVS Pharmacy in East Greenwich, is also a member of two research teams investigating the efficacy of home electronic blood pressure monitoring for renal transplant patients and a software platform for managing investigational drugs. He also completed a New England Surgical Society Experience with SARS-CoV-2 Infection After Renal Transplantation study, worked on a Novavax COVID-19 vaccine trial, and recruited and enrolled participants for a pre-and post-vaccination trial for the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

While completing URI’s doctor of pharmacy program, including six clinical rotations at Rhode Island Hospital, Taman played football for the Rams for four years, made presentations at professional conferences on everything from asthma treatment to alcoholic liver cirrhosis, maintained dean’s list and Colonial Athletic Association Academic All-Conference honors, and was involved in campus student groups and other public service agencies.

He volunteered at St. Augustine’s Church on the Kingston Campus as part of its Feed-A-Friend program, was the event coordinator for the Lifespan Cancer Institute’s Malloy Strong 5K last September, and was a member of the Rhode Island Medical Navigator Partnership and the Cape Verdean Student Association.

So where does he get all of this drive to achieve? “My mother is my role model,” Taman said.

It’s no wonder. Taman’s family moved from Egypt to the United States before he and his siblings were born. His mother, Manal Ismail, raised Taman and his two brothers as a single mom. She worked multiple jobs and made sure her children succeeded in school and on the athletic fields. She’ll be at her son’s commencement.

“My mom is my motivation to work hard and make positive changes in my life,” Taman said. “She is always supportive and is super excited about my graduation.”

A Cranston High School West graduate, where he was enrolled in the medical pathways program and played football, he transferred to URI from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Taman acknowledged that he did not have much focus when he arrived in Kingston.

“Then, when I enrolled in the pharmacy program, I transformed myself and became nothing like I was before,” Taman said. “URI has been at the center of my journey. When I came in here, I experienced some lows, but there have been many more highs.”

He credits a slew of people for that transformation–Kelly Orr, associate dean and professor of pharmacy; Erica Estus, clinical professor of pharmacy; Jim Fleming, football head coach, and Robert Izzi, team chaplain, among many others. 

“I was focused on football when I came here, but coaches Fleming, Izzi and (Troy) Gilmer always emphasized the importance of education, what it means to be a student-athlete, and how the student comes first in the term student-athlete,” said Taman, who played in more than half the Rams’ games on special teams his junior and senior years. “When I told them I was accepted into the pharmacy program, they were delighted and excited for me. They knew it was going to be a challenge, but they were very supportive.”

When he interviewed with Orr to enroll in the doctor of pharmacy program, he said the associate dean had no doubt about his ability to be a Division I student-athlete and be successful in a demanding academic program.

“She asked me what my biggest challenge would be, and I said it would be juggling D-1 football and the intense pharmacy program,” he said. “She and others made every effort to help me meet the challenges.”

Taman also said he couldn’t have done it without the support he received from Estus, his adviser and one of his pharmacy professors.

“When I struggled, I talked with Professor Estus. She sat with me, helped me organize my thoughts. She had my back.”

He’s proud that his grade point average is higher now than before he entered the pharmacy program, adding that he found his purpose in pharmacy and football.

“I don’t know what I would do with free time,” he said. “I love football, and I love pharmacy and learning how to improve the health care system. Of course it was exhausting, but it helps when you are passionate about your interests.”

In his CVS Pharmacy internship, he continues to learn about continuity of care and knowing his patients.

“They come in frequently so I know their birthdays, their kids’ names. It’s a privilege to have that kind of role in a person’s life. Once you develop that rapport, they ask you things they might not ask other providers. This gives me a sense of what kind of provider I want to be,” Taman said.

Asked how he was able to join so many campus and community organizations, he said, “My community is what has built me up. When I speak at commencement about ‘my why,’ it starts with your community, those are the people who build you up, and you have to give back. I think I could always do more, take on more leadership roles and lead when it is called for.”

As he prepares to leave URI, he knows that the University and all of his experiences shaped him.

“My journey really began at URI and it instilled in me confidence, and that the qualities associated with hard work are going to make me successful no matter where I go,” Taman said. “As great as the pharmacy clinical program was, it was the values and work ethic that were instilled in me by my mom, professors, coaches and mentors that have been most important.”