Class Acts: Shaping the Future

The future is bright for Washington University in St. Louis’ Class of 2014. The following stories offer a sampling of where our graduates are headed now that their WUSTL adventure has drawn to a close.

Joining the fight against heart disease and stroke

by Leslie Gibson McCarthy

Brittaney BetheaShortly after graduation, Brittaney Bethea, who will receive her master’s degree in public health from the Brown School, will move back to her hometown of Atlanta, Ga., to work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

She received an ORISE (Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education) Fellowship in the Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention at the CDC. Her duties will be to communicate health messages and research findings by translating them into formats useful to the front-line practitioner — such as state public health staff, clinicians or health care systems.

As a fellow, she also will support the development and implementation of the Million Hearts Initiative to prevent heart attacks and stroke.

Sifting the sands of time

by Gerry Everding

Doctoral candidate in anthropology Helina Woldekiros’ research on ancient salt caravans in her native Ethiopia brings her to the Danakil Depression, among the hottest and lowest places on Earth.

Helina Woldekiros

Trekking by camel with local Afar pastoralists, Woldekiros excavates for evidence of trade activity along the ancient route. She has already identified at least three major archaeological sites on the Afar salt route.

“In Africa, social, political and economic structures have been shaped by salt production, salt distribution and long-distance trade in areas where salt is a critical resource,” she explained.

Her discoveries suggest that local or regional exchange in commodities from the Afar lowlands to the north Ethiopian plateau occurred as early as the Aksumite (CE 150-700) period.

After graduation, Woldekiros will continue her research in Germany as a Volkswagen Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute of Palaeoanatomy and History of Veterinary Medicine, Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich.

“My goal is to develop my expertise in the areas of history, archaeology and cultural heritage management and apply this knowledge by teaching about and advocating for the role of Africa in the global world,” she said.

Becoming the first woman archaeologist from her country and the first female zooarchaeologist from Africa has afforded Woldekiros a new understanding about the cultural, economic and political situation in her own country. Her experience here has forever changed her perceptions on issues like women’s rights, government, science and humanity, she said.

Interacting with the artists she has studied

by Diane Toroian Keaggy

Danielle WuAs a Katzenberger Foundation Art History intern at the Smithsonian Institute, Danielle Wu will help curators run the annual Folklife Festival, which draws a million visitors to the National Mall each year.

Wu, an expert in both contemporary Chinese art and China’s ethnic minority populations, is eager to meet the many Chinese artists and performers scheduled to appear at the festival.

“I have traveled to China, but China’s ethnic minorities often live in hard-to-reach, rural communities,” said Wu, an art history major in Arts & Sciences. “This internship will give me the opportunity to learn directly from the people I have studied.”

A model student

by Diane Toroian Keaggy

In the days before 9/11, Luis Lopez-Blazquez would explore the airfields of Miami International Airport with his father, a civil engineer there. At home, he would play with planes and build model airports.

Luis Lopez-Blazquez - airport model

Lopez-Blazquez created the above airport for an international model diorama contest.

That childhood passion will soon be Lopez-Blazquez’ career. Leading aviation consultancy Ricondo & Associates, Inc., has hired him to help redesign Orlando International Airport.

“To get a job doing something that I do for fun is a dream,” said Lopez-Blazquez, a mechanical engineering major in the School of Engineering & Applied Science. “The airport is the first impression you get of a city. My goal is to help create a fun and welcoming environment that primes them for the experience they are about to have.”

Law students land prominent clerkships

by Jessica Martin

Andrew Blumberg

Andrew Blumberg

Amanda Stein

Amanda Stein

Alisha Johnson

Alisha Johnson

Students jumpstart corporate law careers

Andrew Blumberg and Amanda Stein have landed coveted clerkships with the Delaware Court of Chancery. “When it comes to corporate law, a clerkship in Delaware is the proverbial brass ring,” said Hillary Sale, Walter D. Coles Professor of Law.

Approximately 75 percent of the caseload of the Delaware Chancery Court is composed of corporate cases, many dealing with sophisticated financial transactions.

Blumberg will put both his JD and MBA degrees to work in his clerkship with the newly appointed chancellor in Delaware, Andre Bouchard.

“This is an incredible learning opportunity,” Blumberg said. “It is a chance to be immersed in the type of law that I will be practicing, and to understand how the chancellor of the court, a court that I envision practicing in front of, approaches and decides cases.”

Stein will be clerking for Vice Chancellor Sam Glasscock.

“When I started law school, all I knew was I wanted to be a lawyer,” Stein said. “With the benefit of the law school’s broad offering of courses, I’ve honed in on my interest in corporate law.”

Both Blumberg and Stein credit Sale for their clerkships. “Professor Sale has given me incredible insight into the field of corporate governance,” Stein said.

“Without Wash U, and particularly Professor Sale,” said Blumberg, “I would not have this opportunity.”

Student scores two major clerkships

Alisha Johnson, after earning her JD from the School of Law, will clerk for Judge S. James Otero, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles, Calif.) in 2014-15. The next year she will clerk for Judge Eric L. Clay, U.S. Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit (Detroit, Mich.).

“Going forward, I am excited and honored to work with and learn from these two great legal minds. My education at Wash U Law has challenged, enlightened and fortified me, and I am planning to put my skills and knowledge to good work by contributing to​ our justice system,” Johnson said.

From fighting fires to fighting disease

by staff writers

Ryan Rimer has wanted to be a physician since he was 10. It just took a little longer than usual to make that happen. But after several years as a firefighter and paramedic in Nevada, Rimer — 37 and a father of four — will receive his long-awaited medical degree at Commencement.

Ryan Rimer

Ryan Rimer wears his turnout gear in Henderson, Nev., where he was a firefighter-paramedic before leaving that career for medical school.

He will receive his medical degree at Commencement.

After graduation he will remain in St. Louis for his residency training in diagnostic radiology at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. His wife, Jamie, is a postdoctoral researcher at the university.

How will your experience as a firefighter and paramedic help you as a physician?

It gives me a unique perspective on how things happen outside the hospital. I have taken care of people from all walks of life and have seen the different challenges people face and how it relates to their diseases. For example, people call 911 who don’t have direct access to health care, so I think knowing things like that will help ground me. If someone tells me they’re not taking their medications, I’ll have more understanding and patience for why they do what they do.

How did being an older, nontraditional student help you during medical school?

The experience of working through my undergraduate years gave me the skills to balance things and multitask. And I think having a family gave me more drive. The end goal was a little different because it not only affected me, but my whole family.

Tell us about the leap from a full-time career to medical school.

I walked away from a career in which I was one of six hired out of 2,000 applicants. So, it was a big risk for me to give up a position where I had retirement, benefits, a good schedule and was already helping people. But even as a paramedic, I would read physician-level textbooks to keep that flame kindled to become a physician. Every day I still thought about it. I would interact with doctors and know, “I want to do that.” I could have stayed there, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t what I felt I was meant to do.

Gaining real-world perspective

by Diane Toroian Keaggy

Grace FeenstraGrace Feenstra, an Annika Rodriguez Scholar who majored in economics and urban studies in Arts & Sciences, will join other WUSTL classmates and alums at Bain & Company in Dallas where she will work as an associate consultant.

“I want a real-world perspective of how private industry works and impacts the world around us,” Feenstra said. “The atmosphere there also appeals to me. Other graduates have told me the company really values teamwork and analytical skills, which is what I’ve liked about Wash U.”

A strong career trajectory

by Neil Schoenherr

Sarah Raven, a master’s candidate in the BS/MS program in mechanical engineering in the School of Engineering & Applied Science, will start work in July as a structural analysis engineer at The Boeing Company, working with military aircraft.

Sarah Raven

During the summers following her sophomore and senior years, Raven interned at the Crashworthy Systems Branch of the Human Systems Department at the U.S. Navy’s Naval Air Warfare Center–Aircraft Division in Patuxent River, Md., which helped fuel her passion for working with aircraft.

“I worked on the development of new test fixtures,” Raven said of her internship experience. “My responsibilities included creating drawings, writing test plans and reports and analyzing data. I worked on a helicopter crash test with crash test dummies and cargo experiments on board. It was exciting to go to the hangers and see different aircraft including the V-22 Osprey and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Getting to see the aircraft and complete systems was incredible.”

Her head (and heart) in the stars

by Barbara Rea

Abigail (Abby) Fraeman’s love of space really took off during middle school when her father brought home a telescope. Then it rocketed into the stratosphere when in high school she won a contest to spend two weeks at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

Abigail (Abby) Fraeman

Washington University professor Ray Arvidson, PhD, and graduate student Abigail Fraeman pose in front of the Curiosity rover model at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“That’s when I decided to be a planetary scientist,” Fraeman said. “I was actually working at the JPL when the Mars rover Opportunity landed; it was the coolest thing!”

Now Fraeman will realize her dream. After she receives her doctorate in earth and planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences, she will head west to conduct research at the California Institute of Technology and at the JPL.

Fraeman is following in the footsteps of several WUSTL alumni who earned their Mars rover drivers licenses under the tutelage of Ray Arvidson, PhD, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University in Earth and Planetary Sciences. In his role as a Mars Exploration Rover Mission deputy principal investigator for NASA, Arvidson has mentored many students.

What’s in Fraeman’s future? Perhaps teaching? She’s keeping her options open, but her head and heart are planted firmly on Martian ground. Her doctoral dissertation is on materials and surface processes at Gale Crater (site of rover landings) and the moons of Mars.

Improving other women’s quality of life

by staff writers

Christina “Nina” Marino

Christina “Nina” Marino (right), discusses the female reproductive system with one of her mentors, Tracy Spitznagle, DPT, associate professor in the Program in Physical Therapy and coordinator of the program’s clinical residency in women’s health.

Christina “Nina” Marino will receive a doctorate in physical therapy at Commencement, after which she will begin a clinical residency in women’s health.

Interested in treating women with a variety of health concerns — incontinence, pelvic pain, osteoporosis and lymphedema among them — Marino took courses that weren’t required for her doctorate, but that would help her better treat female patients.

“I am able to improve problems that have a huge impact on the quality of life of women, such as being able to have a normal sex life again, not leaking every time they laugh or cough, and fixing pain or a problem they have been dealing with for years without the proper treatment,” Marino said. “Knowing that I changed someone’s life in such a substantial way is the biggest reason I’ve pursued women’s health as a specialty in physical therapy.”

Ex-Marine takes aim at economic disparities

by Diane Toroian Keaggy

Marcus Surles was working as a courier when he was dispatched to deliver some pamphlets to Seigle Hall. He decided then and there he wanted to attend Washington University.

Marcus Surles

“It looked pretty good to me,” said Surles, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. “So a couple years later when the warehouse I was working at shut down, I came back for my education.”

Surles will graduate with a degree in political science from University College in Arts & Sciences. He plans to stay in St. Louis to address the educational and economic disparities he observed as a courier.

“I made deliveries in almost every ZIP code and I was struck by what was acceptable in some areas but not in others,” said Surles. “Through policy or legislation, I want to change that so that people will stay in this city.”

Serving the poor in Honduras

by Leslie McCarthy

Kate Clitheroe

“Prior to attending the Brown School I volunteered for a year in Honduras. Now, with the tools necessary to make a positive impact, I’m headed back to my home away from home. For the next year, I will be coordinating health programs with Shoulder to Shoulder, an NGO serving some of Honduras’ poorest communities. I’m thrilled to get the opportunity to work on a project that aims to improve the nutritional status of children under 5 in a country that means so much to me.”
— Kate Clitheroe, a master of public health candidate in the Brown School

On to the next big thing

by Neil Schoenherr

Kasey Joyce, former reporter for KSDK-TV in St. Louis and president of the Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Association at Olin Business School, has been highly involved with entrepreneurship in her two years in the MBA program. After graduation, Joyce will join local venture capital firm Cultivation Capital as a principal in the firm’s technology fund.

Kasey Joyce

What appeals to you about entrepreneurship?

My favorite part about being a TV reporter was that I was able to build a story from the ground up, starting with nothing but an idea. The same thing excites me about the world of entrepreneurship. I love that you can take an idea, a handful of smart people, the right resources and build the next big thing.

What is it about St. Louis that makes it such a great place for startups?

In the last five years, St. Louis has built a pipeline and an ecosystem to help foster startup growth and development. There are now so many groups working together to help entrepreneurs succeed. Additionally, the cost of living and doing business in St. Louis makes launching a startup so much easier.

What will you be doing in your role at Cultivation Capital?

My primary job is to find the next prospective companies Cultivation might invest in, dig into them and perform due diligence, and help negotiate the deals if and once they are approved.

Bringing ecotourism home

by Diane Toroian Keaggy

Nestled in the Ozark Mountains, Shannon County is one of the most beautiful destinations in Missouri. And, the poorest.

Andrew Sheeley“Unfortunately all of the people who come here to float or hike drive straight through the towns,” said Andrew Sheeley, who grew up in the Ozarks. “They don’t stop at local businesses or get to know the local people.”

To boost both tourism and the local economy, Sheeley has launched Ozarks OnTop, a program that will offer tours of area rivers, hiking trails and parks; introduce visitors to local restaurants and music; and provide volunteering opportunities. Sheeley says “voluntourism” is the fastest growing segment of the travel market and he says the Ozarks are an appealing service trip destination.

“There is a lot to discover — the folk music, the oral tradition and the catfish, which are huge,” said Sheeley, who is earning a master of social work from the Brown School. “Our goal is to take folks who want to enjoy nature and give them that experience, while also giving them a chance to pay it forward.”

Research sparks empathy

by Diane Toroian Keaggy

Esther Barker, a financial accounting assistant in radiation oncology at the Washington University School of Medicine, has no plans to switch careers now that she has earned a history degree from University College in Arts & Sciences.

Esther BarkerStill, she says her studies about female prostitution and the frequently counterproductive efforts to “help” women have changed how she approaches her work.

“One of the things I learned is how corrosive the ‘We’re right, you’re wrong’ attitude can be,” Barker said. “Even when people try to help others, they don’t always know what’s best for them. That’s a lesson I think we can all use every day — to treat others with more empathy.”

Reflecting on how experiences can shape dreams

by Barbara Rea

In everyone’s life there are pivotal moments that could change the future, but whether or not they do depends on recognizing their meaning and value. Grasping the significance of such moments is what makes Connie Chen Shao a true achiever.

Connie ShaoBoasting a stellar academic record, experience in student leadership and a solid varsity swim team record in high school, Shao was a candidate for top-notch universities.

But these facts about Shao didn’t tell the whole story of who she was at 18 and what shaped her decision to choose Washington University. Now ready to graduate, Shao connects the dots:

If she hadn’t had a brilliant high school biology teacher who opened her eyes to the miracle that is the human body…

If her father’s illness and subsequent treatment failures hadn’t left her frustrated to find answers….

Those, and many more “if’s” came together in a nuanced perfect storm for Shao to recognize that WUSTL was the place to achieve her dreams of becoming a doctor.

Because Shao chose Washington University, received an Ervin Scholarship, participated in the pre-freshman Summer Science program, decided on biomedical engineering as her major, and worked on pioneering research in a lab, today she is the person her 18-year-old self had dreams of becoming.

Now she is poised for another amazing journey of discoveries — one that may have far-reaching consequences on the lives of those suffering from illness and disease — at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine. Her area of specialization? She’s waiting for experience to point the way.

Class Acts: Celebrating the past, ready for the future.

A five-part series in recognition of students who are changing the world through research, service and innovation.

Class Acts - Community Service

Class Acts: Serving the Community

During their time at Washington University in St. Louis, these graduating students have created a better future for children — and improved the lives of adults — through a broad spectrum of service activities.

Class Acts - Achievement

Class Acts: Achieving Excellence

Washington University in St. Louis students aren’t waiting until they graduate to achieve great things. The following stories recount just some of the successes already garnered by the Class of 2014.

Class Acts - Innovation

Class Acts: Sparking Innovation

Great ideas abound at Washington University in St. Louis. The following stories offer a glimpse into the Class of 2014’s many innovative endeavors.


Class Acts: Shaping the Future

The future is bright for Washington University in St. Louis’ Class of 2014. The following stories offer a sampling of where our graduates are headed now that their WUSTL adventure has drawn to a close.

Class Acts - Memories

Class Acts: Making Memories

Between the hours in the lecture hall and the lab, there was dancing in the Quad, cheering at Francis Field and tug-of-war in the Swamp. Here graduating students reminisce about some of their most memorable moments at Washington University in St. Louis.