Cardinal Cadence Spring/Summer 2013
Reaching for the future
Political science major leads to great experiences
Lamar University’s proximity to home and good academic reputation made it an attractive choice for Will Robbins when he was deciding where to begin his college education. “It turned out to be the best thing ever,” he said.
After graduating from Monsignor Kelly High School in Beaumont, Robbins planned to attend Lamar for a year, get some college experience and then transfer to another school in a bigger city. “I thought it would be great to stay home at first and get a little experience with college,” he explained. “But once I got to Lamar, I loved it, and I never left.” Robbins considers LU as more than just his hometown school. Robbins’ grandfather was the chemistry-physics department chair for many years, and both of his parents graduated from Lamar. “I grew up basically on the Lamar campus,” said Robbins. “But to me, it is much more than a local university. The people and humanities are great; I never would have imagined all the opportunities Lamar could give.” He is a recipient of the Marilyn and Gilbert Adams Jr. Scholarship and the Carl D. Levy Memorial Scholarship in Arts & Sciences.
As a kid, Robbins always enjoyed movies about presidents and political leaders. “The more and more I learned about it, the more fascinated I got,” Robbins said. Majoring in political science was, for him, a natural choice. He also decided to add a minor in history. “In my opinion, you can’t really understand the politics of a nation without knowing its history,” he said.
Robbins traveled to Europe in May 2011 for a study abroad program offered by Lamar. He first spent a week in Rome with a friend and then moved on to Greece and Turkey with two Lamar professors. The excursion was credited as history and political science classes. Robbins learned the impact those cultures had on the world and also the history of ancient buildings like the Parthenon, Hagia Sophia and the ruins of Ephesus. “It was great to be there, on the spot,” Robbins said. “I also spent a lot of time interacting with local people.” He is grateful that Lamar gave him this experience. “I had friends in other universities who wanted to study abroad, but the school wouldn’t help to pay for the trip,” he said. “Because Lamar is a smaller school, students feel special and more taken care of.” He thinks of Lamar University as similar to a big family.
A year after his European trip, Robbins left for Washington, D.C., for an internship with former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. “I was supposed to do this internship only during the summer session for my degree,” he said. “But the legislative director actually asked me to stay. I ended up interning for nine months. I learned on the job, and I got involved. This was an amazing experience.” Robbins got an up-close view of how this country runs by working on taxes, budgets and Social Security issues and by preparing speeches with Hutchison. “Now, I love all those things because I got to understand really what is involved.” He said he applied the concepts and political skills that Lamar’s professors taught him and he felt prepared. “I learned the theories at Lamar in order to be able to practice them out there, in the real world,” he said.
Along with his academic pursuits in and out of the classroom, Robbins has enjoyed his involvement in student organizations. He has been the president pro tem of the Student Senate for almost two years. Also, he is an active member of Circle K International and one of the leaders of the Catholic Student Center and the Lamar Adoration Community Theology and Service (ACTS) retreats. Those activities helped him to make new friends and deepen his faith. Robbins credits his community service, leadership development and friendships made through organizations with helping him grow, develop his personality and improve his social skills.
His future goal is to find a job in the field he loves. He would like to work one or two years to really get an idea of the job he wants to do and maybe later, apply for graduate school. “I have been talking to a couple of law schools and MBA programs, and they all recommend some experience post-graduation,” he said.
Newchurch frames her own future
Ashley Newchurch has always been interested in art and chose to attend Lamar University to pursue her dreams. Her interest in art comes from finding something that she was good at and from enjoying creating things others can appreciate.
A native of Chicago, Ill., Newchurch moved to Houston at age seven to live with her dad and her stepmother, after the death of her mother. Her dad passed away seven years later. “My stepmother has been the main reason I’ve come so far,” she said. Newchurch first heard about Lamar through her sister, Nekisha Quinney ’04, who graduated from Lamar with a bachelor degree in corporate communications. “I would spend some spring breaks in Beaumont with Nekisha,” she said. “Lamar University became my comfort zone.”
Although she was accepted to other colleges, LU was her top choice. “The art department is what convinced me to stay,” she said. “I made so many connections that I felt it was my own special community.” She received both the Lorene David Scholarship in Art and the Lee G. Griffin Scholarship in visual & Performing Arts.
Newchurch used to picture herself working as an animator for companies such as Pixar or DreamWorks. “I was told there was a man, Kelly Asbury, who graduated from Lamar and went on to do the animation for the movie ‘Shrek’,” she said. “So I started off as a graphic design major in hopes of following that dream.” After a few semesters, Newchurch realized the program did not match her interests because it related more to advertising than illustration. “I changed my major to art education, and I fell in love with one of the required courses, the textile class,” she said. “I will be graduating with a degree in fiber arts.”
Along with studies, Newchurch has enjoyed her involvement in organizations. She was the T-shirt designer for the poetry association Poetic Souls and was an active member and then the secretary of the Lamar chapter of the National Art Education Association, the leading professional membership organization for visual arts educators. “Those activities were a great experience full of educational workshops,” she said.
Newchurch is now completing an internship at the Dishman Art Museum on campus. “I am currently working on a children’s program for the museum,” she said. “I also set up and take down art and handle paperwork for events. I learn a lot about the museum side of art.”
Newchurch’s college experience helped her define and set her goals. “In art, there are two main options, the curating side and the creation side,” she said. “I prefer the creation side of art because it is more of a hands-on experience. I would rather make art than teach it.”
In her free time, Newchurch loves to read and watch movies. “My dad was a movie fanatic; that’s where I got it from,” she said. “I own hundreds of movies at home, and I love going to the theater.”
Five days after graduation, Newchurch flew overseas to visit graduate schools in England, Switzerland and Scotland. “I would like to thank all of my Lamar professors,” she said. “They told me I could go anywhere I wanted. They put that idea of traveling into my mind, and I can’t get it out. The easiest way to travel is through school, so I will try to get accepted for a second degree in textile conservation.” Along with applying for graduate school, Newchurch is trying to get a residency at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft.
“Being away from home for five years has prepared me for the future,” she said. “In 10 years, I would like to be living somewhere in Europe. It isn’t a concern what profession I will be in, as long as I am happy. That is all that matters.”
Engineering, physics major keeps eye on sustainable future
Joshua Barnes has an eye on the future. The Beaumont mechanical engineering and physics major has developed a system to measure the sustainability of the products Americans produce and consume. Barnes said the computer-based program provides a system that allows producers to manufacture more responsibly, while simultaneously giving the consumer the opportunity to purchase more responsibly.
Lamar University seemed like a natural fit for Barnes. Both his parents attended the university, and Barnes said he was attracted to Lamar’s strong engineering program.
“I met Provost Stephen Doblin at the open house, and he recommended I look into the Honors program,” he said. “From there, the ball just got rolling. I would go by his office every semester to talk about my progress. He is the one who suggested the McNair program to me. I think that relationship has been very instrumental to my success as a student.”
The now two-time scholar in the Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement Program said his interest in sustainability developed during his first area of research with mentor Richard Gachot, associate professor of interior design. Barnes wanted to create a sustainable concept car, but found no existing comprehensive program to measure a product’s sustainability, so he had to create one.
“That is about where my initial research ended,” he said. “I never got the car done, but what I did do was create a system that we haven’t seen before. It was like a ‘eureka!’ moment. I realized that everything we do affects the environment, the economy, the quality of life, and even life itself. Becoming aware of that, I realized we need something better in America to fight entropy. And sustainability is a good way to do that.”
For his second McNair project, Barnes worked with Zhanhu Guo, assistant professor of chemical engineering, on expanding a sustainability mapping system from his original research. Under Guo’s guidance, Barnes created a userfriendly, spreadsheet-based software for consumers and manufacturers to use to compare different products, thereby assessing a product’s impact on the environment and human life.
“It brings a lot of things into context,” Barnes said. “Not only does it measure the aesthetic elements, but also how it affects the job market, right down to the materials, whether they are recyclable, renewable, or carcinogenic. These terms are built into the program and are given quantifiable distinctions.”
Barnes has created an online site for manufacturers to participate in his sustainability program. He said he hopes his product “goes viral” online until it becomes as common and trusted as the “Good Housekeeping” seal. Barnes said he has found the Lamar University environment welcoming and conducive to learning. In addition to being a Lamar Ambassador and McNair scholar, Barnes has worked at Cardinal Village as a community leader. He has served on the executive board for the Honors Association, as the telecommunications chair and secretary for the Lamar chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), as vice president of Alpha-Lambda-Delta and Phi-Eta-Sigma, and currently serves as public relations chair of Cardinal Village Residence Hall Association. The McMaster Honors Scholarship is one of several scholarships that help Barnes pursue his studies: Jean and Rudy Williams Academic Enhancement Fund, Charles and Susan and Julia Gordon Gray Memorial Scholarship, Katherine E. and William C. Mundt Scholarship in Engineering and the Nick Salem Endowed Scholarship.
“It’s a great atmosphere, from the campus to the students and faculty,” he said. “It really feels like home. Where else can you see the president of the university walking down the sidewalk and have him call you by name? It makes you feel really special.”
As a Lamar Ambassador, Barnes has had the opportunity to network among students and faculty and build lasting professional and academic relationships. “I didn’t expect for things to happen so quickly,” he said. “We discuss things that are kind of ‘behind-the-scenes’ so that if we are approached by donors or media we can be knowledgeable and confident. It is a lot of fun.” After graduation, Barnes plans to attend graduate school to pursue a Ph.D. in theoretical physics and hopes to teach at the university level.
Dietetics major aims to educate
Ana Mendez, dietetics major from Marshall, breaks down language barriers. Her goal is to deliver patients the information they need to stay healthy in a way that is easy to digest.
Mendez’s interest in dietetics came when her mother developed gestational diabetes during a pregnancy. A native of Monclova, Coahuila, Mexico, her mother spoke little English and asked Mendez, who was 14 years old, to interpret for her and her doctors.
“She had to see a nutritionist to help her manage her diet and her blood sugar and insulin,” she said. “I had to translate for her, and I became curious about thefield of nutrition. When I came to Lamar, I switched my focus to dietetics because it is a broader field.” Mendez said the experience with her mother made her realize the need for bilingual professionals in the field to help patients with their diabetes.
“I think it is important to overcome the language barrier, but there are also cultural boundaries as well,” she said. “Some of the terminology is difficult.
Even if it is presented in your native language, it can be really difficult to process the information and make those changes in your life on your own. It is important to have someone who can interpret the information in a way that the patient can understand and is meaningful to them.”
Mendez first heard about Lamar through her high school health teacher, Caren Wonders ’00, who graduated from Lamar with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology. She is a recipient of the Tom F. and Ann D. Jones Scholarship and the Dr. Jane O. Hinchey Scholarship in Family & Consumer Sciences.
In her junior year, Mendez was chosen for the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program, which pairs faculty mentors with students to prepare them for graduate school. Mendez presented her undergraduate thesis, “Patients’ Perception of Barriers and Effective Strategies of Diabetes Self-Management in Southeast Texas,” at the McNair Research Symposium at Lamar in November. She conducted her research under the guidance of her mentor Jau-Jiin Chen, associate professor of family and consumer sciences.
“It has really opened doors to me,” she said. “Not only did I learn about the research process, but I got to know myself and what I really want to do after graduation. It’s made me realize my potential and how much I like learning and doing research.”
Mendez said her McNair research helped her to solidify her goal to work in diabetes education. “There is still a lot of research that needs to be done on how to effectively communicate with the patients and help them understand the disease,” she said.
Mendez also participates in the Lamar University Honors Program. She said working in the program under the guidance of the director, Kevin Dodson, has helped her realize the opportunities available to LU students who are willing to pursue them.
“I have become more serious about learning and putting a plan together for my future,” she said. “You have to be willing to go out there and open doors for yourself. Dr. Dodson always told me that I already have the knowledge, but if I don’t apply it, I’ll never know where it can take me.”
In addition to her work in the Honors and McNair programs, Mendez is a Student Support Services member and secretary of the Lamar chapter of Kappa Omicron Nu, the honor society for family and consumer sciences. She is also a member of the Lamar University Student Dietetics Association and the American Association of Diabetes Educators. She works as a referrals coordinator at the Joslin Diabetes Center Affiliate at Southeast Texas Medical Associates.
After graduation, Mendez plans to work in an internship program while she attends graduate school. “The internship works on a matching system, so I will go to graduate school wherever my resident internship is set up,” she said. Mendez hopes to work as a Certified Diabetes Educator. “In the end I would really like to set up my own diabetes education program in a community where it is really needed,” she said.
Language major seizes opportunities
Adrain “A.J.” Webb, American Sign Language major from Dallas, has an eye for opportunities. During his college career, Webb has become a Lamar Ambassador, a McNair scholar, vice president of the rugby team, Black Student Association historian, president of the sailing club and an LU cheerleader.
Among Webb’s fortuitous experiences was a chance meeting in high school with former Lamar staff member, Kristen Dacres, who served as grant coordinator in the Department of Deaf Studies & Deaf Education. Webb grew up using sign language with his parents, who are deaf. He said the meeting with Dacres introduced him to the idea that sign language can be a useful skill in the professional world.
“My family uses sign language in our everyday lives, but I didn’t really know you could make it a career until I was introduced to Ms. Dacres,” he said. “She really came at the perfect time for me because graduation was coming up and that really helped solidify what I wanted to do.”
The interdisciplinary approach in the Deaf Studies & Deaf Education Department made LU a good fit for Webb. The Bachelor of Arts in American Sign Language track trains students for applications in education and interpreting and leads into available master’s and doctoral programs as well.
Webb started learning sign language right along with English as a child. Despite this early cultivation, he said he still has a lot to learn. “My mother grew up oral,” he said. “Because the majority of us in the house were hearing, we focused more on speaking than on signing.
“I discovered all sorts of internships and other opportunities that I never knew were available,” he said. “There are so many things you can do with ASL: theatre, education, medical, legal – it just depends on your own personal interests, creativity, ingenuity and determination.”
From technique to body language to interaction with students, Webb said he has great admiration for the Lamar ASL faculty and staff.
“Andrew Byrne, instructor in the Department of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, really helped me with technique,” he said. “I love his signing skills. Signing is like any other language, it has its own dialects. Byrne’s signing is very smooth and crisp.”
Webb said it is important to have mentors who are not only proficient in their skills and profession, but who also push and challenge their students. “Amber Galloway Gallego, interpreter and adjunct instructor in the College of Fine Arts and Communications, has skills that are incredible,” he said. “To see someone that good can be intimidating, but I think everyone should have a mentor like that—someone so good at what they do, you wonder if you can ever get to that level. But they help you along the way until you get there. I love her teaching methods. It is a great way to learn— to have fun and interact with a teacher who is encouraging and helps you build a strong foundation.”
Webb said being a Lamar Ambassadorhas proven to be an invaluable experience. “I have become aware of a wealth of resources for students on campus, built relationships with faculty, and attended campus and community events as a representative of Lamar,” he said. “You get to network with different people, hear their stories and learn how they got to where they wanted to be.”
The passion Lamar faculty and staff have for the university and its student is a big part of what attracted Webb to Lamar. “Lamar’s faculty has a desire to reach out and share their love of the university with incoming students and members of the community,” he said. “They want to have a relationship with you and help you be successful, and they make themselves available and help you discover opportunities on campus that may benefit your education.”
Webb’s experience in athletics at Lamar has helped him form positive relationships while keeping his mind and body both sharp and healthy. Webb’s activity on the Lamar Cheerleading Team helped hone his strength and endurance while promoting friendship and teamwork. He said cheerleading is a fun way to stay in shape and represent the university.
Webb’s experiences have converged to produce a well-rounded student. The skills he learned from his various activities, Webb has applied to other aspects of his life to get the most out of his experiences.
“There are things I have learned in cheerleading that I apply to rugby, but also in life in general, such as organizational skills and teamwork,” he said. “I may not have learned those things in the same way without those experiences.” After graduation, Webb plans to attend graduate school to pursue a degree in audiology. He said his career goal is to work as an interpreter for the Central Intelligence Agency.
by Julie Aime and Andrew Strange