Senior Stories

Writer/editor Kristina Moore is happy to have had the opportunity to get to know Southwestern through the eyes of its bright and talented students.

Photography by Taylor Jones ’97

Kevin O’Neil

  • Put theory to work: major in physics and business
  • Manage a portion of the University’s endowment
  • Enrollment size matters: SU is smaller than my San Antonio high school
  • Kick around ideas on the soccer field

Kevin O’Neil has played soccer since he can remember, and he’s known for years that he wanted to be an engineer.

Southwestern was a good fit—he could study business as a precursor to engineering, while continuing his passion for soccer. “I received a handwritten letter from Head Coach Don Gregory which really meant a lot,” he says. Then, a week before signing with the team, O’Neil found out he’d received a Brown Scholarship, Southwestern’s most prestigious academic award.

A physics and business major, O’Neil felt playing on the soccer team helped him create balance in an otherwise busy campus life. “With soccer, I had a routine, I stayed in shape and I got to travel,” he says. He also received the Southwestern Athletics Pirate Anchor Award, presented annually by the Student Athletic Advisory Committee to one male and one female athlete who best display the traits that embody the spirit of the Southwestern community as decided by a student vote.

For O’Neil, the Southwestern Experience included being a member and officer of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, the Student Foundation and the Homecoming Committee. He was also a campus tour guide and a resident assistant. “I discovered I’m not good at saying ‘no,’” he laughs.

Coming from a high school twice the size of Southwestern, O’Neil thought he’d have to go to Austin for fun. “I was wrong,” he says. “There’s a lot to do on campus.”

Beginning this fall, O’Neil will be spending time in Austin after all. He is going to The University of Texas at Austin to pursue his master’s degree in mechanical engineering, with a goal of working in the field of renewable energy. “I want to combine the business skills I learned at Southwestern with an engineering degree,” he says.

“At Southwestern I learned that hard work really does pay off,” O’Neil says, adding that he was able to apply classroom knowledge to real world scenarios through his involvement in the University’s Financial Analyst Program, which allows a select group of students to manage a portion of the University’s endowment fund. (Additional information about the program can be found at:

Dustin James ’79—a fraternity alumnus and a research scientist/laboratory manager at Rice University—thought I’d be a good fit for a program sponsored by the National Science Foundation called the Research Experience for Undergraduates (held at Rice),” says O’Neil. “Bart Koontz ’78, was instrumental in helping me secure an internship with Koontz McCombs, a commercial real estate company in San Antonio.”

In addition to the business connections he’s made through Southwestern, O’Neil says, “I made lifelong friends here, including coaches and professors. That’s what I’ll miss … that, and being able to play golf for free!”

Natalie Moore

  • Create an arts festival with an instrument petting zoo
  • Thank the King Creativity Fund, twice
  • Make music a career—one that doesn’t freak out my parents in McAllen
  • Next stop? Boston: “not a big college town”

The Fayez Sarofim Passion for the Arts Award winner for 2009, Natalie Moore demonstrated an unusual passion for the arts throughout her undergraduate career.

Creator of the Southwestern University Arts Festival, Moore’s goal was to bring the arts—music, art and theatre—together through a day-long event, which included an instrument petting zoo, arts and crafts, an art exhibition and a jazz band performance. Two consecutive King Creativity Grants made that goal a reality.

Taking a summer job as a camp counselor at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in Twin Lake, Mich. sparked Moore’s desire to bring different art disciplines together. “The kids were talented, but naïve about arts other than their own,” she says. “I found SU students, including myself, to be the same. I think having a general knowledge of all of the arts is beneficial to one’s creativeness.”

Professor of Music Michael Cooper says the festival was “one of the most remarkable undergraduate achievements I’ve seen.” Moore says the experience highlighted Southwestern’s commitment to its students because “the University showed it will support our ideas and showcase our work.” She also says working on the project helped her see her strengths and weaknesses. “I realized that there’s no such thing as an inadequate idea!”

Moore was also involved with Delta Omicron, the music fraternity on campus, a member of the Southwestern University Chorale and president of the Southwestern University Composers’ Collective.

It was participation in the Southwestern Chorale that led Moore to her music major, and a passion for music and the arts that is leading her to Boston University to study arts administration. “My hope is to someday create art programs for inner-city kids,” she says.

This summer, Moore was hired by Professor Emeritus of Music F. Ellsworth Peterson ’55 as a paid intern for the Georgetown Festival of the Arts, which includes an art festival and the performance of works by a single composer. The festival featured the music of Antonin Dvorák. Peterson is the festival’s artistic director.

As she moves forward to the East Coast, Moore reflects back. “Southwestern teaches you to think outside the box—to answer questions with questions—and sets us apart from other students.” She advises new students, “Have a voice, don’t hold back.”

Crystal Jackson

  • Have personal values and listen with an open mind
  • Realize that I actually love public speaking (Thanks, Professor Olson!)
  • Care about my community: teach senior citizens to use e-mail
  • Return home to Dallas as a Cowboys Cheerleader? You never know!

With volleyball in hand and thoughts toward law school in mind, Crystal Jackson arrived at Southwestern in the fall of 2006 with a plan … or so she thought.

Two days into her second semester, Jackson changed her major. “I loved my public speaking class and loved how Dr. Olson wanted his students to excel,” she says. It was then that she became a communication studies major. Having graduated in three years, Jackson is now pursuing a master’s degree in mass communication at Louisiana State University. She plans to then join the busy world of agency public relations.

Jackson’s plan to play collegiate sports also changed. After one season with the women’s volleyball team, for which she was recruited to SU, she was ready to trade in her tennis shoes for jazz shoes. An avid dancer since she was three years old, Jackson and two friends founded the “Southwestern University Dance Squad,” the first SU dance team. “I knew that if I wanted to dance in college, I’d have to make it happen for myself,” she says.

Jackson thought about continuing her dance career as a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader, but for now she’s just holding her dance team memories close to her heart. She says wistfully, “I’ll miss dancing with my friends at Southwestern, but I’m glad to be leaving something for other students who share my passion.”

Jackson also leaves the Georgetown community more educated. A long-standing belief in the importance of community service led her to volunteer as a computer skills teacher for local senior citizens. “It reminded me of helping my grandma when she got her first e-mail account,” she says, happy that her knowledge helped others.

While juggling sports, studies and civic engagement, Jackson was a Paideia® Scholar, a member of Sigma Delta Pi (the Spanish honor society) and Lamda Pi Eta (the communication studies fraternity), and a member and officer of EBONY, whose purpose it is to promote unity among African Americans and the SU community.

Jackson says the biggest and best lesson she learned at Southwestern was that “I can learn from others without losing my personal values.” She advises incoming students to not be afraid to embark on new experiences even if that means starting something new at SU. In other words, she says, “Light your own candle.”

Colin Kyle

  • Work to save the planet from giant snails (yes, really!)
  • When in Rome: Salsa dance in Uruguay, play ice hockey in Chicago
  • Pursue a Ph.D. in quantitative ecology and mathematical modeling
  • Next winter: report on wind-chill factor when calling home to Arlington

Colin Kyle came to Southwestern and less than four years later found himself studying Pomacea insularum, commonly known as the channeled apple snail, in Uruguay!

Kyle and Romi Burks, associate professor of biology, traveled to Uruguay in November 2008 to study the native population of P. insularum, which is very similar to the exotic population they had been researching locally. “These snails are interesting to study,” Kyle says. “They have both gills and lungs, a swim bladder so they can float and swim, and they’re cannibalistic” … not to mention as big as apples! Hence the common name.

“These snails are scientifically important because they are an exotic invasive species and can cause a lot of environmental damage. They could potentially eat all the plants in a wetland and irreversibly change the ecosystem,” Kyle explains.

“That research was the hardest work I’ve ever done,” he says, “but going to Uruguay was the most fun experience I’ve had.” Scratching his head in a bit of disbelief, he says, “I found myself Salsa dancing with world-renowned researchers!”

Both Kyle and Burks will continue to study the data collected in Uruguay, with a long-term goal of “turning the work into a paper, with help from the South American researchers who participated in the experiments,” he says.

Back on campus, Kyle says he was “devoted to academics and research.” Much as apple snails are considered super snails, Kyle became somewhat of a super researcher in the Southwestern biology lab, which he says “opened my eyes to the respect SU professors have for their students.” He advises new students to “get to know your professors, and allow them to get to know you.”

His devotion to academia led Kyle to the University of Chicago where he is working on a Ph.D. in quantitative ecology and mathematical modeling. Ultimately, he would like to be known on a college campus as Professor Kyle.

Kyle credits Southwestern with providing opportunities for personal growth, independence and freedom of expression, and for teaching him how to make a career of doing research.

The only thing missing from Kyle’s Southwestern Experience? “Ice hockey!” he says. Captain of his high school varsity hockey team, Kyle hopes to play some “pond hockey” now that he has the advantage of being in a place more suited to the sport. “Chicago’s great,” he says. “I’ll have at least three months of solid ice!”

Ricardo Levario

  • Be honored as a Dixon Scholar
  • Prove that art benefits from being informed by different subjects—even accounting
  • Get published: give Odessa a claim-to-fame
  • Barcelona, minus Vicky Cristina: set up a painting studio in Spain

You may have already seen Ricardo Levario’s nationally recognized paintings.

Levario had two paintings accepted and published in the Spring 2009 issue of Creative Quarterly, a journal that highlights the best student and professional work in the areas of graphic design, photography, illustration and fine arts.

Southwestern’s Sarofim School of Fine Arts is listed in the Fiske’s Guide to Colleges’ top 25 small colleges and universities strong in art or design, but Levario says, “It’s still encouraging when someone outside the University appreciates and values my work.”

To create one of the paintings—a 44” x 72” oil painting titled “Asphyxia”—Levario worked from a photograph he took of plastic sheeting. “I wanted to make something beautiful slightly dangerous,” he says. Doing so took a year and a half as he tirelessly worked to capture both the beauty of the plastic and the realization that it could be turned into a weapon. “I wanted to present tension within the painting—a sense that a two dimensional image could envelop the viewer into its illusionistic depths, drawing them in but threatening them at the same time,” Levario explains.

In fact, Levario didn’t come to Southwestern to paint or sculpt, but to major in psychology and go on to medical school. All that changed when he took a drawing course with Professor of Art Victoria Star Varner.

He was surprised to find himself immersed in his art projects, spending countless hours on each assignment. His untitled painting, which earned a silver award from Creative Quarterly, took a total of 120 hours over three weeks to complete. So, when he asked Varner how to decide what his major should be, she told him to consider what he was putting the most time into. “My decision was clear,” he says.

After getting his Teach English as a Foreign Language certification, Levario will teach and paint in Barcelona, Spain, for a year. He plans to then pursue a master’s degree in fine art and hopes to teach at the university level.

Levario’s job at the 8th Street Gallery in Georgetown provided the Dixon and Mood Scholar with an opportunity to teach the process-oriented art of ceramics. “I had to learn how to simplify things to make them appealing and attention-grabbing for children,” he says.

As President of the SU Art Association, Levario organized a biweekly showing of the PBS program “Art:21—Art in the Twenty-First Century,” a series of documentaries about contemporary artists, which was open to all students.

Along with his attention-to-detail personality, Levario says, “Taking time to explore all different subjects—anthropology, accounting, science, psychology, philosophy—has ultimately made me a better artist.”

Fern Nguyen

  • Kids, Bunsen burners are not for toasting pencils
  • Get accepted to med school while still a sophomore at SU
  • Use both the left and right side of my brain in the lab and the library
  • Discover that the ‘Southwestern world’ is a lot bigger than Arlington
  • The University Programming Council for fun Friday nights on campus

It took a small school in a small town to help Fern Nguyen discover how big the world really is.

“I thought I would go to college and become more independent and learn about myself,” she says. “And Southwestern gave me that opportunity.” What Nguyen didn’t expect was to learn about others as well. “I found I have the ability to accept many opinions often different than my own,” she says.

While she says she wouldn’t change a thing about her time at Southwestern, Nguyen’s only regret is feeling that she could have done more.

She need not worry—she’s done a lot, from researching and publishing papers, to completing internships, tutoring students and working in the library, all the while preparing for medical school.

After visiting with an aunt who is a cardiologist, Nguyen says she “fell in love with medicine” while still in high school. Armed with the intent to major in biology, Nguyen quickly became interested in chemistry once at Southwestern. So much so that she says she ended up “spending three years in the chem. lab.”

Well, not every minute of three years. Nguyen also made time to volunteer at Lone Star Circle of Care, coordinating monthly kids health fairs and other projects. She also taught “summer camp chemistry” to local Boys and Girls Club members.

A member of the American Chemical Society, Alpha Chi and Phi Beta Kappa, Nguyen was also a Merck Research Student. “I was just looking for any type of research opportunity,” she says, “because I knew it would help strengthen my application for medical school.” The internship helped her qualify for the Joint Admissions Medical Program (JAMP). Through JAMP, Nguyen was admitted to Baylor College of Medicine while she was still a sophomore at Southwestern.

As a student worker in the A. Frank Smith, Jr. Library Center, Nguyen helped coordinate events such as Writer’s Voice. “Working in the library opened up the literary world to me,” she says. “The highlight was meeting Carlos Fuentes and Amy Tan.”

Nguyen says if she was selecting next year’s class based on who would get the most out of the Southwestern Experience, she would be sure to choose interesting and eccentric people, and would advise them to “get out, get to know people and go to student events like Friday Night Live.”

Jennifer Howell

  • Life after SU: move somewhere with even more humidity than my hometown of Houston
  • Discover that food fights are fun, but stains are permanent
  • Follow in the footsteps of my American—I mean Southwestern—idol
  • Chair the Student Works Symposium

“Functioning without sleep; watching the same movie six times in a row (Talladega Nights, FYI); discovering that spaghetti sauce doesn’t come out after a food fight; memorizing all the words to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off; and learning—much to my surprise—that every moment is a photo op.”

These are just some of the skills Jennifer Howell picked up while on the job as Youth Director at First United Methodist Church in Georgetown. While attending SU, Howell worked with the church’s junior and senior high schoolers, which included supervising youth group all-nighters. “That job definitely taught me time management,” she says mid-yawn.

Balancing her time and interests came easily to Howell. Besides working for the church, she played on the women’s golf team three of her years at SU, receiving the Director of Athletics Award for six consecutive semesters. She was a member and an officer of Sigma Phi Lambda—the Christian women’s sorority on campus—and the Student Chair of the 2009 SU Student Works Symposium.

Howell chose Southwestern for its small, discussion-based classes and the opportunity for faculty-student mentorships, and she wasn’t disappointed. With a combination of challenging classes and encouraging professors, she says the key to success at a school like SU is to try new things and be willing to be challenged intellectually. “You have to let Southwestern defy your expectations,” she says.

Finding a graduate school wasn’t quite as easy. Howell explains that she looked at every graduate school in the nation with a Ph.D. program in social psychology. She chose the University of Florida in part because of the “wonderful conversation” she had with Southwestern alumnus, James Shepperd ’83, who is a professor of social psychology at UF. Howell says, “I didn’t really seek out James because he went to SU, it was just an added bonus!”

When Howell returns to academia with a Ph.D., she will also bring a passion for research and teaching, which she says was inspired by Professor of Psychology Traci Giuliano. “She is my academic idol,” Howell says. “I hope to someday teach the way she does—challenging but encouraging at the same time.”

Matthew Maschino

  • Visit the President’s house on official business
  • Have a Southwestern Experience that leads me from Plano to the Nation’s Capital
  • Learn the pros and cons of judging area high school debate competitions
  • Discover a 100 year old hand-carved gavel in the University’s Special Collections

Hunched over a wooden table in the dim light of the library basement, certain the ghosts of SU-past were lurking among the shelves of musty books and albums, Matt Maschino discovered “there’s more to Southwestern than meets the eye.”

OK, that’s not entirely true. The University’s Special Collections are actually housed in a modern room filled with light streaming through large windows—a space not at all fitting for old ghosts, and yet filled with plenty of old Southwestern traditions.

In Maschino’s quest to uncover some of Southwestern’s history, he stumbled across relics left by SU’s literary societies. “They left behind hand-carved desks, personalized gavels, ribbons, lapel pins, medals, pictures, minute books written in calligraphy, volumes of literature and more programs than you can look at in a day,” he says. “The students were so dedicated, organized and hopeful. I was saddened that their traditions had died out and were nearly forgotten.”

Thanks to Maschino’s dedication, one of those traditions—the Brooks Prize Debate—returned to campus after an 82-year absence. Considered at the turn of the 20th Century to be the pinnacle of the school year, the debate was the largest event held at Southwestern for nearly 50 years.

In February 2009, Maschino revived the debate as a reminder of Southwestern’s long and storied history and as a forum for the debate of current issues and events.

While delving into the past, Maschino also helped SU move forward into the future. As a Media Specialist for the on-campus Instructional Media Center—home to specialized technologies not found in classrooms or computer labs—he enjoyed “making house calls” the most. He says, “I like working with people one-on-one. I even went to the President’s house one time to help Mrs. Schrum with a computer problem.”

Maschino also worked in the ITS Department and as a resident assistant, judged local area high school speech and debate competitions, and completed an internship with the Texas Legislative Budget Board. And, he graduated in three years.

Now it’s off to the Nation’s Capital, where he will pursue a master’s degree in media and public affairs at The George Washington University, with hopes of a possible career in journalism. “I’d like to have a watchdog-type role with the media,” he says.

For more information on the Brooks Prize Debate, see the Special Collections section of Southwestern’s A. Frank Smith, Jr. Library Center.

Nicole Powell

  • Listen to someone I completely disagree with – with an open mind
  • Represent my field of study to non-majors
  • Get closer to home by going to grad school at UT: I’ll be only 80 miles from San Antonio
  • Realize that being an activist doesn’t mean being an extremist

Volunteering. Check. Work-study program. Check. Desire to study abroad. Check. So what was missing for Nicole Powell? Making reflection intentional. The solution? Paideia®!

As a Paideia® Scholar, Powell says, “I got to hear the perspectives of people in different majors, and be the ‘expert’ in my field of study at the same time.” As a member of a ten-member cohort, she also learned about conflict management. “We all wanted to contribute to the community in positive ways, but sometimes we had different ideas of how to accomplish that,” Powell says.

Active on campus as a teaching assistant, a writing fellow and an officer in the Alpha Xi Delta sorority, Powell also made her mark on the Georgetown community. Her well-rounded Southwestern Experience included volunteering with Hope Alliance, College Forward, Lone Star Circle of Care, Operation Achievement and the Boys and Girls Club of Georgetown to name a few.

“Southwestern gave me an opportunity to apply abstract theoretical ideas to the real world,” she adds.

Now pursuing a master’s degree in social work at The University of Texas at Austin, she plans to go on to get a Ph.D. in sociology and someday provide social services through a non-profit agency.

Powell says Southwestern taught her to ask, “Why am I helping?” She realized that being an activist doesn’t have to mean being extreme. She says the best thing about SU is also what she’ll miss the most. “The professors here appreciate the students as much as we appreciate them,” she says.

To find out more about Southwestern’s Paideia® Program, go to

Patrick Egan

  • Help dogs and cats find good homes in the community
  • Go north for college – 12.32 miles from Round Rock
  • Spend a summer mining in Pittsburgh – data, not coal
  • Join forces and win awards with another Senior Stories nominee

Stepping on to campus in August 2005, Patrick Egan’s first thought was, “This is what college is supposed to be.”

Southwestern lived up to its reputation and to Egan’s expectations. But being at SU also taught him to him to stay open to new ideas. As a psychology major, Egan spent four years exploring topics like “the reverse sexual double-standard in student-teacher relationships.” His research took Egan to Ft. Worth, San Antonio and San Francisco, Calif., where he and classmate Jennifer Howell ‘09, made presentations to the Association for Psychological Science, earning second and third place Psi Chi/Guilford Undergraduate Research Awards.

A National Science Foundation Grant allowed Egan to do “data mining” as a research intern for the Pittsburgh Science and Learning Center. In other—more technical—words, he says he used a “student protocol database to diagnose, analyze and implement solutions for the Cognitive Tutor system produced by Carnegie Learning.”

At Southwestern, Egan says of his projects, “I was able to perform all phases of the research process … and the conferences were really fun, too!” Someday, he hopes to study issues of race in greater depth.

Now honing his research abilities and techniques at the University of Indiana, Egan is pursuing a Ph.D. and says he’s still “at a crossroads” as to whether he’ll take his love of research back to the classroom or into the applied research arena.

Egan spent plenty of time outside the SU classrooms and research labs as well. As an academic mentor with Georgetown’s Operation Achievement program, he spent time each week with middle school kids “encouraging them to do well in school and helping foster social skills at the same time.” He also volunteered for four years at the Georgetown Animal Shelter. “It’s important to use your time to help in the community,” Egan says, “even if it’s helping the community’s animals.”

Looking back nearly four years later, Egan realized that Southwestern had helped expand his tolerance for ideas and perspectives other than his own. “I learned here that there’s no one right way to look at things.”

Stephen Foster

  • Start a game development company on campus
  • Georgetown is great. Why leave?
  • Be a prolific writer of fiction and game code
  • Mathematical modeling has nothing to do with Zoolander

Stephen Foster was not at all surprised by the outcome of the 25th annual Mathematical Contest in Modeling.

“It’s not coincidence that our winning mathematical modeling team was made up student employees from the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE),” he says. “Since we already had experience working together, the competition was a breeze.” Foster’s team, including Tommy Rogers ‘09, and Bobby Potter ‘10, took top honors in the contest, sponsored by the Consortium for Mathematics and its Applications, for their design of a phone infrastructure for a new country. The team of three also received the prestigious Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics Award.

When he wasn’t busy working for NITLE or winning highly competitive contests, Foster was writing fiction and plans to continue. “My short stories have been published in several respectable venues,” he says. “I’m always torn between my love of creative writing and my love of programming.”

Clearly making time for both, Foster also founded RedPanda, “a quirky game development team” at Southwestern. The team developed an online multiplayer game that fuses game play with meta gaming, allowing users to simultaneously play the game and create it. The team recently released the game to the open source community.

Before pursuing a graduate degree in creative writing, Foster has accepted a full-time position developing software for NITLE, which is now headquartered on the Southwestern campus. His job is to “build and maintain NITLE’s main Web application and back-end database,” he explains.

Foster believes that students who have an opportunity to work with NITLE are fortunate…even lucky. “It gives me a chance to do real computer science,” he says. “I’ve been learning skills that are important to any programmer—how to communicate, how to work as a team and how to break complex problems into simple steps.”

Erin Osterhaus

  • Speak English, Spanish, French and German fluently
  • Travel abroad solo: Bavaria is a long way from Waco
  • Ask SU French students, ”Puis-je t’aider?”

“Para mi, estudiar an el extranjero era imprescindible para mejor entender quien soy,” says Erin Osterhaus. In other words, “Studying abroad was integral to learning who I am.”

Through Southwestern’s Study Abroad program, Osterhaus traveled alone to Costa Rica, and says she discovered confidence and the ability to do what she set her mind to, and to make a difference in others’ lives.

“Studying abroad was essential because I had to depend completely upon myself in a foreign country while speaking a foreign language,” she says. “Not to sound trite, but in a situation like that, you learn what you’re made of … it was terrifying and liberating at the same time.”

At Southwestern, Osterhaus became an English as a Second Language (ESL) instructor, teaching adults from the Georgetown area. She also served as a tutor for SU students taking French and Spanish classes. She learned that she could make a difference. “I knew I had the potential to help others, but I didn’t know how. Southwestern put me on the right path,” she says.

Osterhaus received one of two 2009 Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistantships awarded to Southwestern students this year. She began teaching in Bavaria in September.

Majoring in both Spanish and French, with a minor in German, Osterhaus considered the Language Department home for four years and even calls Erika Berroth, associate professor of German and Chair of the Chinese, French and German programs, her “mother at school.”

Languages aren’t her only passion. At SU, Osterhaus developed a passionate belief in the responsibility of Americans to help others around the world. “Studying abroad,” she says, “expels prejudice and builds an understanding, not only of yourself, but of your place in the world and the impact you can have on it.”

After teaching in Germany, Osterhaus will attend graduate school where she plans to earn a master’s degree in global affairs. She hopes to work in the nongovernmental organization (NGO) sector focusing on sustainable development on an international level.

Osterhaus says she’ll miss the feeling of home at Southwestern, but encourages new students, “Remember, whether you’re on campus or in another country, in the beginning, everyone is as scared as you are.”