About Me

Hello! I’m Dennis Pales and I have just completed my third year as an Eminence Fellow and Stamps Scholar at Ohio State. I am studying Biology and Public Policy Analysis. I moved to Columbus from the beautiful Aurora, Colorado and I have absolutely loved my time here. Though this past year has made it difficult to engage with the campus community, I hope to get back to doing my favorite things next year. You can normally find me around campus at Hillel, theatre performances, or exploring a flourishing local music scene. I am passionate about issues related to dignity for people who use drugs, environmental sustainability, civil liberties, civil rights, and countless other important issues that affect students and the people of Columbus. I co-founded and serve as the Director of Community Relations for The SOAR Initiative, a nonprofit focused on promoting safety, outreach, autonomy, and respect for all people who use drugs, as well as preventing overdoses around Ohio. In a similar vein, I serve as the president of Buckeyes for Harm Reduction, a student organization at OSU that focuses on empowering students with harm reduction resources and advocating for policies that would increase safety for students who use drugs. I also work on Powerhouse Ohio, the Eminence service project focused on reducing the utility costs of renters and socioeconomically disadvantaged homeowners in Columbus. I work with Dr. Rudy Hightower in the Glenn College on the Policy Visualization Team, where we create models, simulations, and data visualizations to address problems of local economic policy, veterans educational benefits, and many other issues of concern in Ohio. Most recently, I have worked on an infant mortality modelling project as part of the Policy Visualization Team to address the disparate health outcomes of Black infants around Ohio. After graduation, I plan to attend medical school to become an addiction medicine specialist and provide people-centered and compassionate care to people who struggle with a substance use disorder.

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Year in Review

Junior Year: College in a Pandemic

This year was challenging. The nature of a pandemic meant a year bereft of in-person classes, certain research opportunities, seeing people I care about, travel, concerts, and many other things that make life on campus so exciting and fulfilling. It also brought significant personal challenges as I experienced loss in my family and so much tragedy in the world around me. However, as I reflect on the last year and the occurrence of global events I could have never expected, the moments that dominate my memory are those of community. I was able to build stronger friendships with people I care about, build up organizations that are directly saving lives, and grow ties with a city that has experienced so much trauma over the last year.

The SOAR Initiative, a nonprofit that I started with other students who are now my closest friends, was given tremendous opportunities to make a difference in this past year. People who use drugs have faced enormous difficulties during the pandemic. Overdose death rates in Franklin County, Ohio, and the United States reached record levels. In 2020, it is projected that nearly 100,000 people died from overdose in our country, nearly 30,000 deaths more than the previous record. This is a level of death from something completely preventable that is absolutely unacceptable. In an effort to provide people with the resources they need to stay alive and as healthy as possible, we established a partnership with Columbus Public Health worth up to $49,000 to set up a text alert system and phone app that now has over 500 subscribers. We have given out thousands of fentanyl test strips to people who need them and created a network of community members collectively working to keep each other safe. As we end the year, we discovered that not only are we finalists for Philanthropitch, a prestigious social impact pitch competition, but we were approved for a State Opioid Response grant to expand our services across the entire state. I am so proud of the work that we have accomplished and the relationships we have built with folks in the community. I look forward to the work ahead, but keep in mind the thousands that we have lost in the past year. Their memories motivate our work to ensure that no person dies from a preventable overdose.

Additionally, through my work as the president of Buckeyes for Harm Reduction, we have expanded access to Narcan, fentanyl test strips, and other resources on OSU’s campus. My fellow students are increasingly at risk of fentanyl exposure and unfortunately, there have been overdoses in our campus community that have largely been ignored. Our organization has given out supplies directly to keep people safe and put on events to inform students about the extent of the overdose crisis in our community and on our campus. Furthermore, we have partnered with the Honors and Scholars Semester of Service to grow our club and I am excited to continue this growth in the next year as president.

Overall, my work around the overdose crisis has been the focus of this past year. The pain in Columbus and around the country from the amount of death we’ve encountered has been difficult, not only from those who have died from overdose, but also from those who have died from COVID-19, systemic racism and the police, mental health challenges, and the other tragedies that have been especially salient this past year. I am grateful to many of my professors who have been accommodating as we navigated this past year and I’m pleased with performance in my coursework and in my research. However, the last year has reminded me of why I do what I do: to give back to a community that has given me so much. This motivates my coursework, research, the organizations that I am involved with, community service, and all aspects of my personal and professional life. I look forward to a year that looks a little more normal, but I want to ensure that a return to “normal” does not mean a return to a status quo that left so many people behind. The activism and work that dominated this past year will continue into this next year and I look forward to the work ahead.


  • Global Awareness: I love travelling and I was looking forward to participating in study abroad opportunities through Ohio State. Unfortunately, like many other students the coronavirus pandemic will likely prevent me from doing so; however, I think there are still meaningful ways to grow my global awareness from home. The current pandemic shows just how important international cooperation is in preventing global crises. In my coursework, I have taken several incredibly interesting international relations courses that study identity politics on the international stage, public management in the international sector, and global economics.
  • Original Inquiry: I currently work with Dr. Rudy Hightower on the Policy Visualization Team within the John Glenn College of Public Affairs. We work with other university faculty, local decision makers, and nonprofit leaders to investigate policies that would reach the goals set by the given individual or organization. We analyze these policies using models, simulations, interactive dashboards, and data visualizations. I also work on research for the SOAR Initiative with Dr. Ayaz Hyder in the College of Public Health to investigate the efficacy of fentanyl test strips as a harm reduction tool to reduce overdose rates in Columbus. This research was very recently approved by the IRB and will commence very soon.
  • Academic Enrichment: Throughout my 4 semesters at Ohio State I have taken several honors courses that have posed a rewarding challenge and enriched my overall education. As a double major, I am very busy with coursework; however, I find the diversity in my curriculum to be deeply meaningful. In talking to people who use drugs in Columbus, I’ve heard so many stories of people who have been treated terribly by those in the medical profession. Everyone has a responsibility to challenge stigma, especially those who are supposed to know the difficulties that a disease like addiction can pose. I think a diverse curriculum centered on people, not just biological processes, is crucial for an aspiring medical professional. Developing a people-centered curriculum, while also obtaining crucial knowledge in the biological sciences has centered my decision in having two majors and picking the courses I take each semester.
  • Leadership Development: I am an Eminence Fellow and have worked with other student leaders to develop a practical and impactful service initiative, Powerhouse Ohio. I am also developing my leadership skills outside of the classroom through the Undergraduate Student Government where I serveed as a senator and sustainability committee representative. I am currently working on amending some features of Ohio State’s sustainability goals to include commitments to renewable resource development and greater transparency to the university community.
  • Service Engagement: I have devoted a lot of time to developing the SOAR Intiative, which aims to Support Ohioans throughout Addiction and Recovery. This last year has been more successful and fulfilling than I could have imagined. Besides obtaining grants from Tech Hub and the Innovation Studio here on campus, we were also fortunate to enter a partnership worth up to $48,000 with Columbus Public Health to release our Deadly Batch Alert System, which aims to notify people of potentially deadly batches of drugs in our community. We have distributed nearly 1,000 fentanyl test strips to the community by setting up distribution sites around Columbus. Over this next year, we plan to open up more sites and distribute many more test strips. Anyone can currently subscribe to our alert system by texting “SOAR” to 614-768-7627. Our app launch is planned for October.


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