Senior golfer Alex Pomerantz, who just officially committed to attend medical school at Harvard University in the fall, will be taking his wide array of experiences at Carnegie Mellon University with him to graduate school and beyond.
He will finish his undergraduate degrees in Biology and International Relations & Politics next month. Pomerantz earned UAA All-Academic honors each spring he was eligible for the award (freshmen are not eligible) and was named to the UAA Presidents Scholar team in 2014-15.
Playing golf has always been one of his favorite things to do, but he has also used it for his real passion, helping others. He began working with First Tee, an international organization that teaches golf to yoyuth, last April and has continued to do so. “I knew there was a program at Bob O'Connor golf course and I knew it was impactful,” said Pomerantz, who finished third and earned first team All-Association honors at the 2015 UAA Men’s Golf Championship. “I love spreading passion for the game because I have learned so much from it. The staff was very welcoming and mentored me, and the children were so willing to be taught.”
Photo: Carnegie Mellon men's golf team volunteering at First Tee
“It is so meaningful to see how the children use your advice and look up to you,” he added. “It is powerful how they see you as a role model and it makes you think about the decisions you make. Beyond helping foster the growth of golf in Pittsburgh, we get to see what these kids’ life experiences are.” Inspiring his passion for coaching, Pomerantz has learned under three different coaches in his time with the Carnegie Mellon golf program, starting with longtime coach Rich Erdelyi, then Nick Dunn, and now Dan Rodgers.
"Alex had back troubles and wasn’t able to play for several months when I became the coach," Dunn recalled. "Even without playing, he had the characteristics of a great teammate that I was looking for. For that reason, I brought him on the spring break trip (in 2015). He ended up being an All-UAA golfer despite having played only one competitive round since the previous season."
"Alex is a great young man," Rodgers said. "Of course that really means something, that he is going to Harvard. He is brilliant and it shows in everything does."
Dunn vividly remembers his first question from Pomerantz during practice. "The guys were asking the usual questions about alignment and swing. Alex asked me what his metronome should be set for his three-quarter, seven-iron swing. I wondered, "What have I gotten myself into here at Carnegie Mellon," he laughed.
Pomerantz has been active on campus and in the Pittsburgh community throughout his time at Carnegie Mellon. He is a co-founder of the Athletics Peer Health & Wellness Committee and serves on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, and has volunteered with the Cure4Cam 5K (fundraiser for pediatric cancer research) and at the Western Pennsylvania Special Olympics Regional Qualifier.
“I was the golf committee leader for Special Olympics. Mike Ermer from Special Olympics came and spoke to our SAAC, inspiring enthusiasm for the event,” Pomerantz recalled. “We chose leaders and we were charged with recruiting our teammates to help out. The golf team fully supported the event, especially the young guys.”
Photo: Pomerantz with a winning Special Olympics athlete
“It was particularly impactful for me as I have a close family friend (Jeff), who was a U.S. World Games Special Olympics skier,” he remarked. “Once I was on the other side running it, it was a different experience. I remember how meaningful it was for Jeff and seeing the athletes’ faces and talking to them was incredible.”
The Varsity Athletics Peer Health & Wellness Committee was founded so there would be resources and training specific to student-athletes. “There are a lot of different challenges in being a student-athlete that general public health advocates are not aware of,” he stated. “Our sports medicine department helped us get off the ground and we receive training in mental health and sexual assault, and have been learning about domestic violence with the One Love Foundation.”
The committee has worked closely with the school’s SAAC with strong support from Director of Athletics, Physical Education and Recreation Josh Centor, who was an active member of SAAC when he was a student-athlete at Brandeis University. “Our committee meetings occur about once a month to talk about what events we want to run. Often, we are trained by a campus or outside health professional who assists us in coordinating educational seminars for student-athletes. When athletics needs to sponsor events such as the Special Olympics Qualifiers, we can’t handle 300 student-athletes ourselves so we work together with SAAC.”
"Alex has been a community leader since he arrived at Carnegie Mellon, and it has been quite a privilege to get to know him and watch him grow over the past four years," Centor remarked. "He has been a significant contributor to our Student-Athlete Advisory Council and has made a mark with children in the community."
“Student-athletes integrate into the camps community, but because of travel, we connect in our own way,” Pomerantz commented. “We have about 95 percent attendance at our SAAC meetings. People value an invitation from their coach or an administrator, and they want to be involved when they know their voice matters. We have support from all the athletic trainers and, of course, Josh is a big supporter. He goes out of his way for SAAC, to be at meetings and to value our input.”
Rodgers has seen Pomerantz's leadership qualities in multiple ways with the golf team. "He is very much a team player and wants to be involved in decisions as a leader in this program," he remarked. "He has reached out to me numerous times with ideas on how to make the program better."
Photo: Pomerantz competing this past weekend
Pomerantz's life calling is in medicine and he has been heavily involved in Neuro-oncology/immunology research at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, while also interning for the Allegheny County Health Department, focusing on the implementation of the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Law that was signed into law on Apr. 17, 2016. The law, which has an 18-24 month implementation timetable, made Pennsylvania the 25th state to have a medical marijuana program.
In 2014, researcher Colleen Barry of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and her colleagues reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that states with a medical marijuana law had a 25 percent lower death rate for opiate-related deaths than states without medical marijuana availability.
“I am passionate about health policy, drug access, and other components of social health such as income equality,” Pomerantz remarked. “We need to improve access to care. If marijuana is not accessible because it is too expensive like it is in my home state of New Jersey, there is an increase in the inequality gap. People may stay on narcotics and heroine for their chronic pain if they can’t procure the medical care they need to properly manage their pain.”
In Pomerantz’s sophomore year of high school, a close family friend whom he referred to as his aunt was diagnosed with brain cancer. “It was a real shock to my family and me,” he recalled. “She passed away in just a few months. I became very interested in how the immune system works and how the long-term prognosis of patients can be improved based on drug-immune system interaction.”
His study and diligence paid off quickly as he co-authored a peer-reviewed paper that was published by Oxford University Press (in Journal of Neuro-Oncology on Apr. 25, 2016). “Under the direction of Dr. Nduka Amankulor, we have investigated the effects of isocitrate dehydrogenase (IDH) mutational status on Natural Killer Cell Ligand (NKG2DL) expression in diffuse gliomas,” Pomerantz stated. “Further, we have explored the role of two pharmacologic agents in reversing the wide-scale epigenetic changes created by this mutational status. By achieving better immune cell cytotoxicity in and recruitment to the tumor microenvironment, we hope to better treat the 80% of adult diffuse glioma patients harboring IDH mutations.” (Zhang, X. Rao, A. Sette, P, Deibert, C., Pomerantz, A., et Al. 2016. IDH Mutant Gliomas Escape Natural Killer Cell Immune Surveillance by Downregulation of NKG2D Ligands. J. Neuro-oncology.)
"He will be a great citizen in whatever community he is in," Dunn remarked. "He has done great things for others. The First Tee volunteering was all him and he got the team involved. He wanted that to be part of his legacy at Carnegie Mellon."
"I can only imagine what Alex will do in his future," Rodgers added. ""Not only what he will do academically, but what he will do to help the world. He will show future students what kind of things they can accomplish."
"Alex is the epitome of a student-athlete – he is wholly committed to his athletic and academic endeavors, and models that excellence can be achieved in multiple domains," Centor said. "Alex is an incredibly driven young man, and he has had his sights set on a medical career since I’ve known him. He will do great things at Harvard, and as a physician. Just as it has been a privilege to watch Alex during his undergraduate career, it will continue to be a privilege to watch him in his pursuit of making the world a better place."