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Graduating Senior Makes Most Out Of His Time At Saint Leo With Cancer Research, Competitive Sports, And Community Involvement

Biology major Greg Connelly ’24 achieves success in and out of the classroom with support of faculty, teammates, and University Ministry.

Tags: Biology Biomedical Science Degree Catholic Catholic Identity College of Arts Sciences and Allied Services Core Value Experiential Learning Health Sciences Degree hockey Honors Program Natural Sciences Practical Learning Research STEM University Ministry sporting clays Courage to be more
9 May 2024 - By University Communications

In a biology lab in Saint Leo University’s Lewis Hall, Greg Connelly looks intently at a screen attached to a microscope, scanning the petri dish, looking for changes in breast cancer cells. His focus is aimed at finding a drug therapy to combat the often-fatal disease. 


Since August, graduating senior Connelly has worked under the guidance of Dr. Sergiy Borysov, associate professor of biology, on researching an early cancer drug discovery project, a peptide-based targeted drug therapy to combat breast cancer. That research, Assessing Cytotoxicity of Peptides as Therapeutic Approach Toward Breast Cancer, has earned Connelly recognition for the Most Outstanding Undergraduate Poster Presentation for the medical section of the 2024 Florida Academy of Sciences Annual Conference and an award from the Society For In Vitro Biology for the 2024 World Congress on In Vitro Biology, which will take place in June. 

But Connelly’s years at Saint Leo were not confined to the lab. He was spending time on ice rinks as goalie for the hockey team, shooting for the sporting clays team, organizing eclipse viewing events as president of the Astronomy Club, studying and doing research in the Honors Program, and praying, participating in Mass, and becoming a Catholic in the Abbey Church.

From Haddonfield, NJ, about 10 miles from Philadelphia, Connelly originally came to Saint Leo to play lacrosse. After switching majors from clinical psychology to biology: bio-medical and health sciences, Connelly became focused on studying and future medical school admission so he decided that playing an NCAA sport would be too much for him. “I played lacrosse competitively since fifth grade for club, summer, and local teams, so it was sad to leave lacrosse behind,” he said. 

Connelly remains forever thankful for his opportunity to attend Saint Leo. “I am so very grateful that I chose to come to Saint Leo,” he said. “The beautiful campus, the available opportunities, and supportive professors and administrators have made the experience life changing.”

Favorite Things

Connelly’s love of science led to two of his three favorite experiences while at Saint Leo — co-founding and being president of the Astronomy Club and conducting wet lab biological research. Playing hockey for Saint Leo’s competitive hockey and sporting clays teams also ranked among his top activities.

Not only did Connelly start the Astronomy Club, but he and club advisor Dr. Harsha Perera, assistant professor of physics, became NASA Partnered Solar Eclipse ambassadors through the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. 

“We received three weeks of online training over this past summer that taught us the science about solar and lunar eclipses, how to plan and execute community events, and how to create an inclusive environment,” Connelly said. 

Perera and Connelly hosted five events including two on campus and three at libraries in the neighboring communities of Dade City and Wesley Chapel. “We had many K-5 [kindergarten through fifth grade] children attend, and I hope we inspired them to have a love for science and our beautiful universe,” he said. “Co-founding the Astronomy Club has allowed me to grow my leadership skills while giving the Saint Leo and greater Tampa Bay community members unique and memorable experiences.” 

Being the junior varsity captain of the sporting clays team and starting goaltender for the hockey team also provided Connelly with memorable experiences. “It taught me how to perform under pressure, how to develop relationships within a team, and the importance of believing in the individuals around you,” he said. 

From sharing inside jokes with his sporting clays teammates to playing hockey against schools such as the University of North Florida, University of Miami, and Florida State University in exhibition games, Connelly enjoyed his time on the teams. 


His ice hockey coach, Dr. Randall Woodard, associate professor of religion and theology, notes that Connelly also may hold a special title in hockey. 

“Yeah, I might be the only goalie in the country to have spent an entire game in the penalty box,” Connelly said, laughing. “Goalies usually do not serve penalties; a player usually serves the penalty. My team got in a fight on the other side of the ice, and the University of North Florida goalie decided to get involved so I took it upon myself to skate across the ice and meet him. It’s not my proudest, or even coolest moment, but it is a great memory. It may be Dr. Woodard’s favorite Saint Leo hockey moment.”

Then there’s the studious side of Connelly — the side that is devoted to scientific research and helping others. 

“I am very grateful for the opportunities I was presented to conduct two years of biological research, specifically early cancer drug development and bacteriophage discovery and analysis,” Connelly said of his time at Saint Leo. “Each of the topics that I researched looked to solve an issue related to medicine treatment for breast cancer/to combat antibiotic resistance. “This is important to me as I hope to one day attend a MD/PhD program, and I believe that these experiences will help me in my time in graduate school and beyond.”

Borysov, along with the other Natural Sciences Department faculty members, made a difference in Connelly’s academic career. “[Dr. Borysov] taught me a great deal about how to be a successful individual in the world of science,” the graduating senior said. “From how to properly present research, to how to make a memorable PowerPoint, his words will stick with me my entire career in science. Aside from his teaching, his level of commitment to his students is extremely admirable. I would reach out to him on weekends and late at night while I was in the lab, or if I had an idea for an experiment. He was always there to help me. I will forever be grateful for his selflessness.”

While Connelly will present cancer research at the World Congress on In Vitro Biology, he also will present his Honors Program political psychological research, conducted under Dr. Antonio Laverghetta, at the Triennial Pi Gamma Mu Conference in November. This summer, he will participate in the Think Neuro Clinical Research Internship, studying neuropharmacology and drug discovery.

The end of the spring semester at Saint Leo also was a time for awards for Connelly. At Academic Excellence Day, his cancer research earned him an award for the Best Oral Presentation. He also received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation Award. This honor is awarded to graduating seniors at colleges from the Southern United States for their display of excellence of character and service to humanity.

Becoming Catholic

As Connelly found his place in science and team sports, he also found a spiritual home through Saint Leo. 


In his first semester, he took a University Explorations religion class with Father Lucius Amarillas, a Benedictine monk and prior of Saint Leo Abbey, as his instructor. “Father Lucius invited the class to attend the monastic Masses, and invited students to dine with the monks,” Connelly said. “I found the Masses, and the commitment of the monks to be extremely inspiring. I feel as though society is losing that level of commitment to not just God, but anything.”

He began to research Catholicism and topics such as an apostolic Pope, transubstantiation, the Marian doctrine, the communion of saints, and for the authenticity of relics such as the Shroud of Turin. “After many hours of listening, reading, and contemplating, I felt as though the Catholic Church was the ‘one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church,’” Connelly said. 


Buoyed by support from Woodard, University Ministry, Saint Leo Abbey’s peer minister group, and after two years of attending Mass, Connelly decided he wanted to receive the sacrament of confirmation. He participated in Saint Leo University’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program under the direction of Mary Worhacz. On April 7, he received the sacraments on April 7 with his hockey coach and fellow player Woodard as his sponsor. 

“They showed me through both words and actions of what it truly means to be a Christian,” Connelly said, of those who supported him in his spiritual journey. 

What’s Next

On May 11, Connelly will graduate cum laude, with that sought-after Bachelor of Science in Biology: Bio-medical and Health Sciences Degree. And one of his biggest supporters, mom Alice Perez Connelly, will be there cheering for him as he crosses the commencement stage. “Without her I would not be able to accomplish anything,” he said. 

As for what lies ahead, after completing his research work at Saint Leo at the end of the month, Connelly will participate this summer in the Think Neuro Clinical Research Internship, studying neuropharmacology and drug discovery.


He hopes to secure a research assistance position in order to gain more clinical and research experience and focus on studying for the Medical College Admission Test® (MCAT®). And then, the goal is medical school. 

“The supportive environment I have encountered at Saint Leo has empowered me to believe in myself and my abilities,” Connelly said. “Whether it's through academic challenges or personal endeavors, the encouragement and guidance I've received from faculty, staff, and peers have instilled in me the confidence to pursue my goals fearlessly. This belief in myself has enabled me to overcome obstacles and achieve success, both inside and outside of the classroom.”