Senior Stories

  • Sandra Alhelí Garza
  • Benjamin Johnson
  • Terrenée Knight
  • Travis Casner
  • Rambo Schutz
  • Vicky Chang
  • Tracey Einem
  • Deann Armstrong
  • Lauro Dávalos

Andrew Loehman - Photographer

Hometown: Brownsville, Texas

Major/Minor: Chemistry/Spanish; Paideia® Scholar

Sandra Alhelí Garza

The Well-rounded Physician

Alhelí Garza has alsways been fascinated with the human body’s ailments and its potential to be cured as well. While looking at undergraduate colleges, her desire to go into the medical profession strongly impacted her search. “I wanted to go to a school with a prestigious and challenging pre-medical program that would ensure my adequate preparation for a career in medicine. At the same time, I placed an emphasis on schools with a well-rounded curriculum that was flexible enough to allow me to take classes in various disciplines of the humanities and sciences,” Garza says. “I found that Southwestern was a good combination of both of these things, offering interesting classes in the arts and humanities, while having strong chemistry and biology departments.”

Although she was a chemistry major, Garza’s interests go far beyond the sciences. Garza also would have liked to have majored in architecture or Latin American studies to learn more about the intricacies of her heritage. However, she credits her liberal arts education with allowing her to experience and be challenged in multiple areas of study. “The classes that I have taken in the areas of Spanish literature, Latin American history, ethics and sociology have provided challenging opportunities to learn to think critically about those subjects and think of how they apply in the present and in our society,” Garza says.

Last summer, Garza was a part of the Welch Summer Research Program and conducted research with Paul Barber ’07 and Kerry Bruns, professor of chemistry. Researching the possible relation between certain signal transduction proteins and the over- expression of cathepsin L, the team hoped to determine a correlation that would contribute to the body of knowledge used to find a target for anti-cancer treatment. “This experience showed me how researchers must delve through numerous scientific literature papers, pose questions that might not have been asked before based on what has already been found, and then determine what techniques could be used on the lab bench to find the answers,” Garza says. “In other words, it taught me what it is to really be a research scientist.”

Garza plans to attend The University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas. She would like to become a primary care physician and return home to practice in the Rio Grande Valley. Reflecting on her education, she says, “Southwestern prepared me for the next step in life by providing a stepping stone and foundation of knowledge and experience, which will grow as I continue down my path.”

Andrew Loehman - Photographer

Hometown: Aledo, Texas

Majors: Spanish and Environmental Studies; Paideia® Scholar

Benjamin Johnson

Southwestern’s ‘Green’ Guy

Benjamin Johnson’s crowning achievement and most memorable moment at Southwestern University came this past April when President Schrum signed a new environmental policy into effect. The Talloires Declaration is a 10-point plan for including sustainability and environmental awareness in teaching, research, operations and outreach in higher education institutions. As president of Students for Environmental Activism and Knowledge (SEAK), Johnson and the organization worked all year to get the University to adopt the new policy.

“The signing of the Talloires Declaration was a great day for Southwestern because it showed that we are committed to environmental issues on campus and in the world in general,” Johnson says. “It was rewarding for me because it was a nice payoff for all of us who have been working on environmental issues on campus for the past four years.”

Stemming from Johnson’s great leadership and SEAK’s hard work on campus all year, SEAK received the student organization award and Johnson received the Student Civic Engagement Award at this year’s annual Student Leadership Banquet. In addition, Johnson was president of the Climbers’ Guild and vice president of Amnesty International and the Christian fraternity Kappa Upsilon Chi. “Involvement in clubs and organizations is extremely important because you can learn just as much out of the classroom as you can in it,” Johnson says. “It also is easy to make connections between classes and the campus community, and this reinforces what you learn.”

Following two of his passions in life, Johnson decided to double major in environmental studies and Spanish. “I find both Spanish and environmental studies very interesting, and they fit together very well for me,” he says. “I have a huge interest in working on environmental issues in Latin America, and that pushed me to choose the combination that I did.”

Johnson spent a semester in Quito, Ecuador, studying ecology as well as environmental issues in the country. “For part of the program, we visited the different ecosystems that are in the country, like the Galapagos Islands, cloud forest, and the Amazon,” Johnson says. “It was a great time, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in environmental issues.”

Johnson’s satisfaction with his time at Southwestern can be attributed to the positive impacts made through his involvement in student organizations and his ability to form close relationships with professors. Melissa Johnson, associate professor of sociology and anthropology, strongly influenced his studies and involvement in extracurricular activities. “My advisor and professor, Dr. Johnson, had a large impact on me because she got me thinking about environmental justice issues as well as teaching me to think critically about the things we do in this world,” Johnson says. “She also taught my First-Year Seminar class and introduced me to important discussions about race, class and gender. I think that as a graduating senior, I realize just how important educators like Dr. Johnson are, and it makes me want to follow her example.”

Andrew Loehman - Photographer

Hometown: Garland, Texas

Major: Communication Studies

Terrenée Knight

Lights, Camera, Action!

If you think you noticed a familiar face from Southwestern on the prime time television drama “Friday Night Lights,” you probably did. People working with Terrenée Knight during her internship at a talent agency in Georgetown convinced her to try out for a spot on the NBC program that expands on the hit feature film about high school football.

“This was my first audition for anything to do with television,” says Knight, who earned a recurring role for several episodes during the 2006-2007 season of the program. “Before this, I had only worked behind the scenes in the film and television industry.”

Knight plans to continue working in the film and television industry as well as at Victory Park Baptist Church in the Dallas area near where she grew up. “My communication studies classes, in conjunction with assistance from Career Services, were essential in providing me with the academic groundwork and professional development that I will need beyond Southwestern,” Knight says. Ultimately, she plans to pursue a career in the community relations field.

Some of the things that Knight remembers most about Southwestern, beyond the rigorous academic background and lessons in time management, are the times that she shared with her best friend LaToya Alexander and other close friends as well as winning the junior class Student Leader of the Year Award.

“The Southwestern experience is what you make it,” Knight says. “If you want a great college experience, Southwestern can give you that because there are a multitude of things the university offers. From the student organizations to the academic environment, you just have to be willing to step outside of your comfort zone and take advantage of your opportunities.”

Knight insists that while she may seem very outgoing, she is actually a shy person who learned to mask that character trait. “Southwestern helped me become more vocal and more comfortable in who I am, and that my experiences, good and bad, are what make me unique,” she says.

Knight particularly attributes her success and growth as a student, student leader, and a person as a whole to her mother as well as Alicia Moore, assistant professor of education, and Michele Amerson, assistant director of wellness and diversity education. “All have been staples in my growth in life, have been listening ears when I needed them, and have advised me personally as well as academically,” Knight says.

Andrew Loehman - Photographer

Hometown: Dripping Springs, Texas

Major: Business

Travis Casner

A Knack for Numbers

Southwestern University gave Travis Casner an experience that most college students majoring in business could only dream about. He, along with a handful of other business students, was able to have a personal conversation with businessman Red McCombs ’49 and his wife, Charline Hamblin McCombs ’50, in President Jake Schrum’s office. “We had a discussion with them about the status of the Southwestern business program and the advantages of a liberal arts business program,” he says.

Casner also was able to develop quality relationships with many of his professors. “I think the best part about attending Southwestern is building relationships with both professors and other students,” he says. “It was very valuable for me to have professors I could always talk to both in and out of class. As I leave Southwestern, I feel that Dr. Senchack, Lucy King Brown Professor of Business, will always be someone I can talk to for advice and discuss anything from career plans to the latest trends in the stock market.”

In fact, the job Casner landed at Navigant Consulting resulted from contacting a former student of Senchack’s who had also been in Southwestern’s Financial Analyst Program, which gives students the opportunity to manage a portion of the University’s investment portfolio.

Casner joined the Financial Analyst Program, Pi Kappa Alpha, Operation Achievement and Southwestern’s Intramural and Recreational Activities (SIRA) in an effort to become more connected with campus life.

“I think it is important to become involved at Southwestern, because many of the organizations on campus will help you further develop as a person and scholar,” Casner says. He played in and refereed in many different sporting events through Southwestern’s intramural program. This year his involvement with SIRA paid off as he was named the Intramural Male Athlete of the Year.

“These organizations enhance the Southwestern experience, push you to become a larger part of the campus community, and develop deeper and longer lasting relationships with other students, professors and Southwestern,” he says.

Casner recognizes that Southwestern has given him the knowledge to think about the world differently. “Southwestern has challenged me to think globally, to be more open minded and to think critically and analytically. Southwestern has helped me grow by giving me the opportunity and ability to think for myself, challenge ideas and make up my own mind about issues in our world today,” he says.

Andrew Loehman - Photographer

Hometown: Fort Worth, Texas

Major: Religion

Rambo Schutz

Creating Constructive Change

If you had asked Rambo Schutz what life had in store for him four years ago, he probably would not have told you he was going to teach English in Kazakhstan. However, that is precisely what he will be doing for the Peace Corps for the next two years beginning this August.

“Southwestern led me to discover what I wanted to do with my life,” Schutz says. “Classes challenged me to re-evaluate all aspects of who I am and to better define what I want in life.”

Schutz contributes his insight into the problems of people all over the world to his involvement in the classroom. “Southwestern has provided me with a new outlook on the need to create constructive change in my community and abroad.”

Schutz found his place as a religion major at Southwestern. He credits a great deal of what he learned to Laura Hobgood-Oster, Elizabeth Root Paden Associate Professor of Religion, who was both his advisor and Capstone professor. “She helped me greatly by leading me through my four years at Southwestern,” Schutz says. “It was important for me that I had someone to guide me and who will be there if I need advice later in life.”

Schutz found that he was also quickly welcomed into a close-knit community at Southwestern. “As a student at Southwestern, it is really easy to get involved with organizations, work with your professors, and create close, long-lasting friendships,” he says.

One of the first times he saw an example of this was the night before Valentine’s Day his first year. He recalls turning in early, but then “it started to snow … hard. The ground was covered and everybody stopped what they were doing to come out and play. It really felt like the whole campus was united in enjoying the night and having a good time.” Schutz refers to it as “one of the strongest showings of unity and community at Southwestern I have seen during my four years.”

Schutz attributes his development in his faith to his involvement in the Christian fraternity Kappa Upsilon Chi (KYX). “KYX was such a diverse group that it forced me to see how all different people think,” he says. “The brotherhood really helped me define my faith over the last four years, and I would not change the experience for anything.”

Schutz also was involved in other organizations, including Residential Life and Operation Achievement. “Working with first- year students as an RA and helping middle school students in OA who might have been written off by others helped me develop my leadership abilities and make long-lasting friendships,” he says.

Andrew Loehman - Photographer

Hometown: Austin, Texas

Major/Minor: Piano Performance/Philosophy

Vicky Chang

Making Beautiful Music

Vicky Chang’s love for music began at a young age. After being offered a piano performance scholarship from Southwestern, Chang realized that she would be able to study in a field that she enjoyed while taking advantage of Southwestern’s small size. Through these small classes and one-on-one music instruction, Chang was able to develop strong relationships with many of her professors. “My time with Eri Lam, assistant professor of music, as a violin teacher and mentor was beyond what words can describe. She is one of the few people that I am comfortable respecting, disagreeing with, laughing with and caring about all at the same time,” she says. “Moreover, she has shared with me what it means to love music and maintain a spirited sense of life. I’m excited about taking that sense of wonder with me wherever I can.”

This August, Chang will begin her master’s degree studies in piano performance at Carnegie Mellon University. Following the advice from her Southwestern professors, Chang is eager to become involved with music as a form of art. She says, “I’m excited about playing classical music as a transformative activity. My time with Dr. Tamagawa, professor of music, has really given me a sense that classical music can create some of the most beautiful aesthetic moments. I’m looking forward to bringing those moments to anyone who is open to that kind of experience.”

Chang also benefited from Southwestern’s liberal arts curriculum and the opportunities it provided. She says, “I would have never been so satisfied with the person I’ve become if not for the people I have befriended, each with different academic interests. The fact that Southwestern is a smaller school helps these friendships along because teachers and students in different fields are in such close community with each other.” After taking Introduction to Philosophy as a Perspectives On Knowledge (POK) course, Chang found that she liked its approach to people and knowledge, and decided to minor in philosophy.

“Philosophy is really one of the departments in which I’ve found a home, and that has been caringly maintained by great professors like Dr. Winnubst, professor of religion and philosophy, and Dr. Bray, assistant professor of religion and philosophy,” Chang says. “Some of my favorite books are from the philosophy classes I’ve taken because these books explore important issues of difference, poverty and racism in today’s culture, and these texts and class discussions have helped me branch into many interests outside of my music education. As a result, I want to continue to generate political and educational empowerment of individuals who are marginalized by social norms long after my time with higher education.”

Looking back, Chang will always fondly remember the spontaneous dance parties that occurred around the Southwestern campus and dorm rooms. She says, “During the week, people talk and converse so much on a regular basis that when a dance party occurs, it just feels amazing to interact with people in a different and exciting way. Laughing, being carefree and dancing to music together just seems appropriate when we have been taught to act so seriously most of the time. I get nostalgic just thinking about those moments.”

Andrew Loehman - Photographer

Hometown: Houston, Texas

Major/Minor: Biology/Chemistry

Tracey Einem

Future Cancer Researcher

“Southwestern provides an atmosphere that allows students to gain skills both inside and outside the classroom. I have learned just as much about people skills and other life lessons from my research mentor as I have about biology and research techniques,” says Tracey Einem. A biology major and chemistry minor, Einem has been conducting biomedical research with Maria Cuevas, assistant professor of biology, since her sophomore year. Along with Cuevas, Einem investigated the effects of 4-OH tamoxifen, a metabolite of a breast cancer drug called tamoxifen, on endometrial cancer cell lines. “I was drawn to this area of research after taking Life Processes with Dr. Cuevas because I found that it was an area of study that I particularly enjoyed, and I thought trying out research on a molecular level would be interesting,” she says.

Einem also was involved in the 10-week Summer Medical and Research Training Program (SMART) at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “I worked under Dr. Robert Waterland of the Children’s Nutrition Research Center (CNRC), and overall, the experience was amazing, and I really loved the lab I was placed with,” Einem says. “I think it was beneficial for me to see research conducted at a small university like Southwestern and at a large research facility like the CNRC.”

In addition to her research, Einem was the vice president of Tri Beta, the biological honor society, vice president of the Lutheran Student Movement, and a member of the Southwestern handball team. She also found time to co-chair the Southwestern University Undergraduate Research and Creative Works Symposium and the first-ever Cultural Exchange Symposium.

“From these experiences, I have realized that it’s important to become involved because, as a student, you can have a direct impact on the Southwestern community and on other students,” she says. “Most importantly, college is about defining yourself and what better way to do that than being part of a wide variety of organizations that suit your interests.”

Stemming from her outstanding research and dedication to the University, Einem was named the 2007 biology student of the year. In June, she moved to Bethesda, Md., to start a one- to two-year internship with the National Cancer Institute, where she is working with toxicology and its relation to cancer.

“Southwestern has given me the confidence to realize that I, as an individual, can make a difference or contribution to something that matters in this world,” Einem says. “I think so many college students feel they are just one of many, but Southwestern makes a point of helping students realize their potential and individuality.”

Andrew Loehman - Photographer

Hometown: Alvin, Texas

Major: English, Secondary Education Certification; Paideia® Scholar

Deann Armstrong

‘Teaching is Sharing what you Love’

“To me, teaching is sharing what you love,” Deann Armstrong says. “I love the energy and the vitality in a classroom, and I like to know that I can create a place where people feel safe and happy.”

As she leaves Southwestern, Armstrong takes with her the passion to teach high school English and the important lessons she has learned from each of her Southwestern courses. She also credits her liberal arts education with broadening her ability to think critically and her understanding of today’s culture. “Because of my education at Southwestern, I am confident that I can study and teach any type of material to my future students,” Armstrong says.

Drawing upon the influence that so many professors had on her, Armstrong takes with her the passion to make an influence on her students’ lives much like David Gaines, associate professor of English and director of the Paideia® Program, had on her. “I’ve felt so blessed to have had a professor who cares so deeply for others and is so passionate about ideas,” Armstrong says. “Dr. Gaines is my role model as a teacher because of his care for the development of both students’ minds and souls and his care for the preservation of their humanity.”

To enrich her educational experiences, Armstrong studied abroad in London the fall of her junior year. “Studying abroad inches you closer to a global perspective on current issues, offers you a break from Southwestern’s intimate atmosphere and enriches your content area study,” she says. “My time with the Institute for the International Education of Students (IES) also provided some of the most memorable experiences of my life.” While studying with the IES, Armstrong was immersed in culturally rich areas of London, and her classes incorporated weekly trips to the London theatre and walking tours of historical landmarks. A stark contrast within her study abroad experience developed through an internship in which she was the assistant director of a children’s play on the Isle of Dogs, which is a largely Bangladeshi community. “This internship was very much out of my comfort zone, as it taught me a great deal about the differences and similarities between life in Chelsea, London, in The Isle of Dogs, and in Alvin, Texas.”

Taking with her many lessons from studying abroad and her Southwestern classes, Armstrong shares with future and current students one of the most important lessons she learned at Southwestern. “Do what you’re passionate about, and if you’re not sure what that is, try your best to figure it out,” she says. “In the meantime, go where your interests lead you.”

Andrew Loehman - Photographer

Hometown: Mission, Texas

Majors: Secondary Education & Spanish

Lauro Dávalos

A Family First

“Coming to Southwestern was a cultural shock for me because I came from an area in Texas that is primarily Hispanic,” Lauro Dávalos says. “However, I soon discovered the incredible sense of community that engulfs the campus and became fascinated with the campus environment and the friendliness of the students and faculty.”

Dávalos was raised in Reynosa, México, until he and his family moved to Mission, Texas, when he was 10. Dávalos was the first in his family to go to college, so deciding which university to attend was extremely important to him. He was initially drawn to Southwestern because of the class sizes and the accessibility to the professors.

“I struggled during my first few weeks of college because I was not used to the work load,” Dávalos says. “There were times that I felt that I was not ready and could not handle being a college student at Southwestern. Thanks to my professors, especially my writing and critical thinking professor Dr. Michael Saenger, I was able to bounce back and gain the confidence that I needed to succeed.”

The faculty and classes at Southwestern greatly influenced Dávalos’ decision to pursue a career as a teacher. He plans to seek a position that will use his Spanish-speaking background and his double major in secondary education and Spanish.

“The Education Department at Southwestern more than just prepared me for my first year of teaching,” Dávalos says. “My professors constantly observed me during my student teaching experience and provided me with invaluable feedback. I always felt that I could call them, even on their cell phones, and they would be there to answer any questions I might have.”

Dávalos says his most memorable experiences at SU were the ones he lived on the soccer field, and he says this contributed to his desire to become a soccer coach as well as a teacher. “I kept in close contact with my soccer coach, Don Gregory, throughout my college career,” Dávalos says. “Coach Gregory has always shown a deep interest in his players. He has challenged me in so many different ways throughout my four years at Southwestern. Because of those challenges, I feel like a stronger individual who is caring and appreciative of all the people that surround me.”

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