Senior Stories

Griffin Bunnell

Hometown: Port Lavaca, Texas
Major: Psychology; Paideia® Scholar

Meet Griffin Bunnell, future politician.

Someday, the Southwestern graduate would like to be an elected official, perhaps a member of the Texas Legislature. For now, Bunnell plans to enroll in law school, with an eye toward becoming a litigator.

This summer, Bunnell is undertaking his second internship with the law office of State Representative Dan Gattis of Georgetown. Bunnell says that his experience working for Gattis has played a large part in drawing him to a career in public service.

“There is no other field where I can surround myself with as many people as through law and politics. Dan and I share a true passion for people, and I know I will continue to be blessed to know him as a mentor and friend.”

Bunnell came to Southwestern with no idea what his post-graduate career path would be, but he kept his schedule full with the tennis team, the jazz ensemble, the University Committee on Discipline, the Paideia® program, as well as over 500 hours of volunteering at The Caring Place, a nonprofit community agency in Georgetown.

At Southwestern, Bunnell wasn’t “scared” of his professors as students at larger schools may be. The largest class he took had about 20 students. He got to know his professors and counts several as his friends.

Bunnell says the classes at Southwestern taught him that “You have to be involved ... you have to show up; you have to ask questions”—an approach that carries over to spheres far beyond the classroom.

–John Egan

Mary Kierst

Hometown: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Major: Political Science
Minor: Sociology

Giving a tour of campus to a group of higher education ministers from Iraq “was one of the most interesting and intimidating things I have ever done, and it ended up being one of the most rewarding,” says S.U. Ambassador Mary Kierst.

A recipient of Southwestern’s prestigious Brown Scholar Award—a four-year, ‘full-ride’ scholarship—she found her relationships with her professors equally rewarding.

Mentored by professor Tim O’Neill, Kierst conducted research on congressional decisionmaking pertaining to the 2001 USA Patriot Act and its subsequent renewal in 2006. The project brought her to Washington, D.C. for research in the summer of 2007, and was later presented to the Southern Sociological Society, the Southwestern and Midwestern Political Science Association conferences.

Kierst also was one of the students selected to interview both former Secretary of State James Baker III and Thomas H. Kean, chair of the 9/11 Commission, as part of the annual Roy and Margaret Shilling Lecture Series.

“There are really cool things going on here at Southwestern,” Kierst says. “As students, we kind of lose track of that because we’re here and we’re in it, but when you step outside and look at it from other people’s points of view, you see that it’s a remarkable place.”

After graduation, Kierst would like to spend a year working for a nonprofit organization that assists children who are in the juvenile system. Then she would like to attend law school and eventually become a juvenile court judge.

“At Southwestern, I figured out what I want to do and how I want to impact the world,” she says. “I’ve never been more comfortable and confident in my goals and who I am.”

–Laura Gabriel ’08

Robert Lockwood

Hometown: Friendswood, Texas
Major: Chemistry

It’s only appropriate that chemistry major Robert Lockwood lauds the great chemistry on the men’s lacrosse team at Southwestern.

During Lockwood’s four years as a midfielder, the team racked up a 26-0 record against conference rivals. “I never played lacrosse before I came here,” he says.

“I’ve taken advantage of the opportunities that such a small school presented me with,” says Lockwood.

On campus, he played oboe in the wind ensemble and orchestra, and was a member of the pit band in this year’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” He also resurrected the campus chapter of the American Chemical Society.

Off campus, Lockwood interned at the FBI office in Austin as part of the Joint Terrorism Task Force. A highlight included helping with a search-and-seizure raid.

Prior to his stint with the FBI, Lockwood interned at the forensic toxicology laboratory of the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office in San Antonio, an internship secured when Mike Frontz ’91 hosted an externship day at his workplace. There, Lockwood led two toxicology projects. One of the projects, which formed his Capstone presentation, centered on the effects of refrigeration on blood samples from drunken driving suspects. The second, which he presented as a paper at a national meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, looked at how quickly alcohol is eliminated from the bodies of suspected drunken drivers.

Envisioning himself someday working at a federal forensics or toxicology lab, Lockwood plans to enroll in graduate school to continue his study of forensic sciences. In the meantime, he hopes to take a semester or two to study in Europe.

Whatever direction Lockwood’s career heads, he believes his time at Southwestern was worthwhile: “This has definitely been the school for me. I chose well.”

–John Egan

Stacy Neumann

Hometown: Victoria, Texas
Major: Psychology; Paideia® Scholar

It’s okay not to know everything.

That’s an indispensable lesson that Stacy Neumann learned inside and outside the classroom at Southwestern. Emboldened by that lesson, Neumann now realizes it’s okay that she hasn’t crafted a definitive plan for her post-Southwestern journey.

Neumann may get a job or may enter graduate school. “I don’t have a plan,” she says, “but I have a positive outlook.”

That positive outlook was cultivated in no small part by her experiences at Southwestern: her membership in the Student Foundation, where she organized a roundtable discussion with students, faculty, staff and administrators; her work on Senior Fund; jobs as a Southwestern Ambassador and a teaching assistant; presidency of Southwestern’s chapter of Psi Chi, the national honor society for psychology; and studies in Mexico and New Zealand.

Spending time at the University of Auckland in New Zealand had a profound effect on Neumann. At the university, which has close to 40,000 students, Neumann barely saw her professors. She interacted mostly with teaching assistants, who handed out and graded her assignments. At Southwestern, Neumann visited regularly with her Southwestern professors and even has some of their cell numbers stored in her phone.

As someone who had given serious consideration to going to a larger school, the contrast was validating. Going to a big school wouldn’t have allowed her to forge the personal bonds she did at Southwestern. “I’m so glad I didn’t make that switch,” Neumann says.

As for switching to a new stage in her life, Neumann says she’s considering graduate school in social psychology, with the thought of becoming a college professor, but she needs a little more time to think about her next step. “I’m just not ready now,” Neumann says. “I need to do a few more things before I get there.”

–John Egan

Phillip Cantu

Hometown: Lubbock, Texas
Major: Sociology; Paideia® Scholar

For Phillip Cantu, the turning point during his time as a sociology major at Southwestern came during his senior-year Capstone course. The class, he says, put into context the education he’d received up to that point at Southwestern.

“My Capstone class really allowed me to have a better grasp of what it means to do independent research, and how independent research is really the heart of what it means to be an academic,” says Cantu.

This summer, he presented his Capstone paper on needle exchanges—a controversial program for users of injectable drugs—at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Boston. Previously, Cantu presented health-related research papers to gatherings of the Southern Sociological Association and the Southern Demographic Association.

Cantu plans to take a one-year break from academia before delving into sociology studies once again. He wants to enter graduate school, with an eye toward earning a doctoral degree and researching how the environment affects obesity rates. Cantu says he’s torn between becoming a sociology professor or a demographer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Whichever route he chooses, Cantu will undoubtedly be able to draw upon his activities and accomplishments at Southwestern. He interned at the Williamson County & Cities Health District, studied Spanish in Guanajuato, Mexico, and completed a summer research fellowship at the University of Texas sponsored by the National Science Foundation. On campus, Cantu served as co-president of OASIS, a campus group for anthropology and sociology students; was a Paideia® Scholar and a Dixon Scholar; and was a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity.

According to Cantu, “I just took advantage of opportunities when I had them.”

–John Egan

Alison Kuo

Hometown: Lucas, Texas
Major: Studio Art; Phi Beta Kappa

For Alison Kuo, creating art exercises the mind. Coaxing sculptures from clay on a potter’s wheel, Kuo can sit for hours, thinking and meditating. The clay forces her to decide quickly how to shape it, and requires her to reach into her memory to recall how the material has behaved in the past.

“I love art—and find it easy to be passionate about art—in large part because of how unstructured it is,” says Kuo, former president of the SU Art Association. “Artists can use whatever materials or methods they want to make things, from outrageously complicated sculptures to simple drawings, and they can explore any subject from molecular biochemistry to what they had for breakfast.”

At Southwestern, Kuo interned with Austin gallery owner Arturo Palacios ’97, worked closely with Patrick Veerkamp, professor of art, and won the first Fayez Sarofim Passion for the Arts Award. The small classes at Southwestern allowed one-on-one attention: “I was able to focus on my work and always have someone there to talk to.”

In the summer of 2007, Kuo traveled with other ceramics artists to Jingdezhen, China, a city that’s produced porcelain ceramics for hundreds of years. While in China, Kuo did more than observe. She worked alongside Chinese ceramics artisans.

“The limits of what I thought was possible with clay were so pushed and expanded that when I came home, my work improved dramatically,” Kuo says.

This summer, Kuo is working at the Domy bookstore and gallery in Austin. At some point, she’d like to study ceramics in graduate school.

“In the future, I’m going to be applying to art shows in Austin and around the country,” says Kuo. “I’m planning to have a little studio of my own and keep making art.”

–John Egan

Lisa Dela Cruz

Hometown: San Angelo, Texas
Double Major: Communication Studies and Studio Art
Minor: Art History

Talent can catch you by surprise.

“I’ve discovered things about myself that I don’t think I would have learned from a larger university,” says Lisa Dela Cruz. “I’ve really learned a lot about myself, about new things that I can do.”

One of the things Dela Cruz discovered: the ability to turn 1,400 pounds of concrete and plaster into something that hundreds of people would travel to see.

Last year, Dela Cruz’s work was included in a juried sculpture exhibition at Texas State University-San Marcos. At a Southwestern art show earlier this year, Dela Cruz displayed seven concrete and plaster sculptures, including one weighing about 600 pounds and two weighing about 400 pounds each. Having her art on display “was a very strange and exciting experience,” Dela Cruz says.

Upon her arrival to Southwestern, Dela Cruz pursued a bachelor’s degree in communication studies. But after enrolling in art classes and being encouraged by her professors, she not only earned a communication studies degree, but also majored in studio art and minored in art history.

In the immediate future, communications will take the spotlight in Dela Cruz’s postgraduate experience. In June, she started working as a student activities coordinator at Southwestern; as a student, she served on the University Programming Council and the Student Foundation. She plans to hold the student activities position for a year or two before perhaps heading off to graduate school.

Although she hasn’t settled on a vision for her career—a job at an art gallery is a possibility—Dela Cruz feels prepared for whatever comes her way. “I’m pretty confident that Southwestern has supplied me with enough experience and knowledge to figure out what I’m going to do.”

–John Egan

Brian Gingrich

Hometown: Seguin, Texas
Major: German and English
Minor: Spanish; Paideia® Scholar

Just a few hours after the initial session of Brian Gingrich’s first-year seminar at Southwestern, he bumped into Eric Selbin, professor of political science and the instructor for that seminar, in the atrium of Mood-Bridwell Hall.

Selbin remembered Gingrich’s name and some comments he had made in class. However, Gingrich says the most striking aspect of their brief conversation was the abundance of “hope, dedication and investment that he had in my still-adolescent and scattered thoughts.” Mind you, this was during the first week of classes.

Gingrich says that Selbin is the type of professor “who’ll claim that you have an unimaginable store of intellectual potential in you, and by the end of your career at Southwestern—after you’ve had the pleasure of interacting with so many professors like him—you’ll have come to believe him and prove him right.”

For Gingrich, it was that kind of personal interaction with Southwestern professors—such as Selbin and Michael Saenger, associate professor of English and his academic adviser—that helped nudge him toward his goal of becoming a college professor.

“It’s clichéd,” Gingrich says, “but those types of relationships were the ones that defined me—what I wanted my place to be in the world, what made sense, what was meaningful to me.”

A Paideia® Scholar, Gingrich participated in the Student Foundation and the Phi Delta Theta fraternity.

This fall, he’ll enroll at Stanford University on a five-year, full-ride scholarship to pursue a doctoral degree in German studies. “I would be greatly happy if I could someday return to teach here,” says Gingrich. “It’s the kind of place that I’d want to spend my time as a professor.”

–John Egan

Amanda Mohammed

Hometown: Garland, Texas
Major: Biology
Minor: Spanish; Paideia® Scholar

Amanda Mohammed believes that if you see a need, you should address it.

During her four years at Southwestern, Mohammed mentored local elementary school students on science projects and formed an organization to raise awareness on campus about the genocide occurring in the Darfur region of Sudan. Her work on projects such as these earned her the Student Civic Engagement Award for 2008.

“I can visualize Amanda setting out to change the world,” says Romi Burks, assistant professor of biology and chair of the animal behavior program, who nominated her for the award. “Amanda exhibits the personality and the drive to forward her own agenda. More importantly, she possesses the compassion and understanding to motivate others to join her.”

This fall, Mohammed will attend the University of California at Berkeley to do a post-baccalaureate medical program in which she hopes to learn more about neuroscience and continue her study of Spanish in the field of medicine.

She became interested in neurobiology as the result of a research project she did with Rebecca Sheller, associate professor of biology. The two looked at different degradative pathways that are related to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.

“Dr. Sheller has been really inspirational,” Mohammed says. “She’s very encouraging and supportive of my career goals, and helps me out in any way, shape or form.”

Eventually, Mohammed plans to go to medical school. “I have wanted to be a doctor ever since I was seven,” she says. “I would like to work in pediatrics and perhaps work for Doctors Without Borders at some point.”

Beyond the field of medicine, Mohammed reflects, “Service will continue to be a part of who I am as I grow and learn.”

–Laura Gabriel ’08

Kelsey Maki

Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Major: Communication Studies
Minors: Theatre and Math; Paideia® Scholar

Variety has been the spice of Kelsey Maki’s life. Food columnist. Actress. Camp cook. Tour guide.

The ingredients for her life recipe are as diverse as those for a pizza with the works.

Food has been a key ingredient. She was the food columnist for The Megaphone and was an intern at Edible Austin magazine. For three summers, she’s worked in the kitchen at a youth camp in Texas. “I love cooking. I love food,” Maki says.

Food, of course, hasn’t been the only ingredient. As a theater minor, she performed on stage at Southwestern. She was a resident assistant for two years, a Paideia® Scholar and a Southwestern Ambassador, where she gave tours to potential students and parents.

This fall, Maki will focus on her interest in communication at Minnesota State University-Mankato, where she’ll be starting on the path toward a master’s degree in speech communication and has lined up a job as a teaching assistant.

“I never would have applied to graduate school if my professors hadn’t encouraged me to,” Maki says. “That was not something on my radar at all.”

Choosing Southwestern, however, was a “very conscious decision.” Maki observes, “Your college years are an investment, and I’ve invested in them in every way that I can. I’ve been really grateful for what I’ve gotten out of them.”

That’s certainly some food for thought.

–John Egan

Rob Osborne is the creator of the award-winning graphic novel 1000 Steps To World Domination and Sunset City: For Active Senior Living. His latest project is The Nearly Infamous Zango, a new comic book series about the laziest super villain alive.