Outstanding Graduates Represent the Diversity of MBU

May 18, 2017

As Mary Baldwin University prepares to celebrate its 175th Commencement, graduates from all the university’s programs prepare to begin their next journey — whether it involves continuing their education or making their mark in the working world. Here are some outstanding graduates for the Class of 2017.


Mary Baldwin College for Women

Brooke Wiles

For Brooke Wiles, attending Mary Baldwin University has been the defining moment of her life so far. The biology major and philosophy minor has taken full advantage of her time as an undergraduate, and as she prepares to walk Sunday during Commencement, she reflects on how MBU has prepared her for the future.

Last summer, Wiles spent 10 weeks in Paris working as an intern at Institute Pasteur’s molecular retrovirology unit where she had the opportunity to network with students and professionals from around the world while gaining experience in her field and living in a dynamic, culturally rich city. “It was truly the experience of a lifetime and has shaped my plans for the future,” Wiles said.

Over the course of her senior year, Wiles took on two thesis projects. Her biology thesis “The Effects of SLPI Knockdown on Colorectal Cancer Progression,” was initially inspired by her interest in HIV research. For her honors project, “CRISPR and its Ethical Implications in Genetic Modification,” Wiles analyzed the ethical concerns surrounding the very same technology she used in her biology senior project, combining the two disciplines.

Wiles favorite memories at MBU include time spent with her friends. She notes that she often draws encouragement from their accomplishments. “Nothing compares to the bonds forged over four cups of coffee, no sleep, and laughing until you cry while you know you really should be writing that lab report,” she said.

Wiles said Edward Scott has been her most influential advisor, describing the associate professor of philosophy as a true inspiration in her life and education. “He teaches the young women in his classes to be proud of their accomplishments and not let others overshadow them with mere condescension and self-engrossment,” Wiles said.

This summer, Wiles will begin earning her masters of public health through New York University’s cross-continental Master of Public Health program. The three-term program is taught in three different locations on three different continents. Wiles will begin in Washington, D.C., for the summer term, followed by Accra, Ghana, in the fall and Abu Dhabi in the spring. Through this program she hopes to gain further experience in her field. Her ultimate goal is to work for the World Health Organization. “Mary Baldwin taught me to trust my knowledge and abilities while providing opportunities to prove myself in the field.”

Daesha Hordge

Daesha Hordge wasted no time leaving her mark on Mary Baldwin University over the past three years, juggling roles as resident advisor (RA), teacher’s assistant, tutor, and secretary for Black Student Alliance and Ladies of Excellence — all while pursuing a business degree and two minors and graduating a year early.

With everything on her plate, Hordge still considers being a RA the most fulfilling of her extracurricular, leadership activities. “Even though all of my roles here are very rewarding in their own way, I just feel good being able to help freshman in their college transition,” Hordge said. “I love the feeling of being there for them, and helping their love for Baldwin grow more and more each day.”

Peers describe Hordge as upbeat, positive, and optimistic, and the senior thanks her parents for those qualities. With her parents’ support, Hordge said, she can accomplish anything.

Associate Professor of Business Janet Ewing and Professor of Philosophy Rod Owen are among her most inspirational instructors. “Both professors have cared for me and showed that they were invested in my as a student, and wanted me to succeed here,” she said, noting that faculty support goes hand-in-hand with an overall sense of empowerment at MBU. “Here at Baldwin, students are prepared to stand up for themselves, to not be intimidated, and to reach nothing but greatness.”

Hordge plans to continue her education at Mary Baldwin by earning her master’s degree in education. More immediately, she will be a graduate research assistant with the Heifetz International Music Institute this summer.

Farrah-Amoy Fullerton

For Farrah-Amoy Fullerton, planning to enter the medical field is more than a career choice. It fulfills a passion. The Kingston, Jamaica, resident experienced a scare with a benign breast tumor in 2013. And, after having surgery, she was inspired to steer her future toward helping others. “It was only after reflecting on my surgical scar that I found a new purpose: to be able to give people hope and courage when faced with chronic illness through the power of medicine,” Fullerton said.

Fullerton immersed herself in classes at MBU, majoring in biology with a biomedical science emphasis and double minoring in physics and chemistry. “The more classes I took, the more I wanted to pursue the field of medicine,” Fullerton said. “I have even gone so far as to conduct research in biomedical engineering in order to engineer tissue to increase organ transplant compatibility.”

With a passion for the seemingly unconventional in mind, Fullerton dived head first into her senior thesis project, interested in culturing microorganisms and worked to see the obscure ways bodies handled them. One of the ways she studied that theory was by secreting antibiotic components in human sweat, as skin is the first line of defense against harmful organisms.

Being a cadet in the Virginia Women’s Institute of Leadership (VWIL) has been the most transformative aspect of Fullerton’s undergraduate experience, teaching her the “raw meaning of discipline, courage, integrity, and determination through experience. “I don’t think I would have been who I am today without [VWIL],” Fullerton said. “I’ve come out of that program with extremely supportive friends I will never forget.”

She’ll remember her supportive professors, too, particularly Associate Professor of Physics Nadine Gergel-Hackett and Associate Professor of Biology Paul Deeble. “Both were instrumental in my professional development throughout my time at Mary Baldwin,” Fullerton said. “Both have had a profound impact on almost every aspect of my college life.”

After graduation, Fullerton plans to attend the University of Alabama in Birmingham School of Medicine. Her long-term goal is to become an OBGYN. “In my opinion, women do the most, and are appreciated the least in modern American society,” she said. “As a woman, I feel it is my duty to reach and serve other women.”

Milagro Ventura

Milagro Ventura does a little bit of everything on the Mary Baldwin campus. Among her activities, the international relations major works in the Spencer Center for Global and Civic Engagement, she is the COSMOS International Club president, a member of the President’s Society, a peer mentor, a Quest Carpenter Society inductee, and the 2017 recipient of the SGA Global Citizenship award.

This May she will be the first person in her family to graduate from college. The Washington, D.C., resident said being a first-generation college student drives her work ethic. Throughout her time at Mary Baldwin, Ventura has committed herself to more than 300 hours of community service. “For me, [being a first-generation college student] means having to work a little bit harder to learn in the classroom, to participate in the social life on campus, and to deal with the complexities that come with being a college student,” Ventura said.

Looking back at her memories at Baldwin Ventura says Apple Day and Christmas Cheer both hold a special place in heart. And Assistant Professor of Political Cara Jones was her most influential advisor. “Her in-the-field experience really helped me see what it meant to graduate with my degree and [she] also helped me find credibility and passion in professions like development and human rights,” Ventura said.

Outside of school, Ventura has worked as bilingual student teacher in Washington, D.C., and for various other organizations that support international relations. For her senior thesis topic, she focused on immigration, examining the desire among immigrants to come to the United States as well as the effects of drug trafficking in Central America. “I came up with my thesis topic through my desire to work in the Northern Triangle — Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador — after completing my education,” Ventura said.

After graduation, Ventura plans to take a year off and focus on working at a non-profit organization concerning immigration and the Northern Triangle to gain experience. She does plan to go to graduate school in the future where she hopes to focus on Latin-American political studies.

Tiara Bowling

Tiara Bowling has big plans after graduating from Mary Baldwin University with a bachelor’s degree in music.

The Washington, D.C., resident said her dreams are what encouraged her to go back to school. After taking some time off after her freshmen year, Bowling said she had considered not coming back but something deep inside herself would not let her quit. “It nagged at the core of me until I made the decision to enroll again and finish.”

That never-give-up attitude was likely formed at an early age, as Bowling endured a difficult childhood. She was in the foster care system until she was 7 years old, at which time her grandmother legally adopted her. “She raised me to be sturdy, intellectual, and steadfast,” Bowling said.

Looking back at her time at MBU, the senior remembers the freshmen candlelight ceremony her very first week at Baldwin as one of her most cherished memories. She also looks back fondly on her performances at the MBU theatre. However, she says her most challenging and rewarding moment at MBU occurred when she became the director of the a cappella group Baldwin Charm. “Baldwin Charm gave me so much joy [and allowed me] to exercise my leadership skills and also do what I love best — create,” Bowling said. “I tried my hardest to serve as a mentor to the young women who looked up to me. I worked on building confidence and letting them know I was more than just an authority figure, I was also like a big sister.”

For her senior thesis, Bowling performed an hour-long singing recital that included songs representing different genres and languages … and works that reflected her background. “My selections were inspired by songs that helped shape and mold me from a little girl until my senior year here at Mary Baldwin,” she said.

After graduation, Bowling plans to pursue a stage career, beginning with auditioning in every show she can while continuing to take dance and voice lessons. “MBU has taught me the true meaning of perseverance,” Bowling said. “To keep going no matter what, and that sometimes a little patience and deep breathing goes a long way.”

Baldwin Online and Adult Program

Janet Almquist

Although Janet Almquist decided to go back to college later in life, being a non-traditional student hasn’t stopped her progress at Mary Baldwin University. When the criminal justice major walks across Page Terrace on Sunday, she’ll be the oldest graduate to earn her degree.

When it came to returning to college at nearly 70, Almquist explains that it was a deliberate choice.

“I am widowed and low income and there was a necessity to improve myself,” Almquist explained. “I have always loved to learn and that has motivated me to be determined in my goals and do the best I can to succeed.”

The Augusta county resident has always been interested in poverty and what can be done to alleviate it, which is what inspired her thesis topic. “I care about people and the need for solutions that are effective in today’s world,” Almquist said.

Many of her MBU courses have been rewarding and challenging, and she says Academic Advisor for Baldwin Online and Adult Virginia Trovato and Assistant Professor of Sociology Robert Robinson have helped her in times of academic and personal need. “In 2014, I had to withdraw from my coursework because I had a partial hip replacement that required time to heal,” Almquist said. “I needed encouragement at this time to accomplish my goals, I found both academic advisors [helped] me to succeed.”

After graduation Almquist is looking at alternatives to law school through the Virginia Law Reader Program. Offered through the Commonwealth of Virginia, the program is a unique alternative to law school that allows participants to have an apprenticeship program for three years that will allow him or her to take the Bar Exam under the authority of the Virginia Bar Examiners. Almquist is exploring work as an attorney specializing in criminal law.

Cierra Rogers

Growing up, Cierra Rogers’ parents always told her that if you want to be successful in life, you have to work hard for it. So that is exactly what she decided to do at Mary Baldwin University. “There was never a question in my mind,” Rogers said. “I always knew that I would go to college and be successful, although I did not have a solid plan as to how I would get there.”

After earning an associate’s degree in 2015, Rogers received an email from MBU about transferring to the Baldwin Online and Adult program. Fast forward two years, the South Hill resident is prepared to accept her diploma Sunday, having earned her bachelor’s in social work from MBU.

Long nights and early mornings were part of Rogers’ routine, as she worked part-time throughout college. Although Rogers took many of her classes online, she also attended some in-class sessions and she credits this as her fondest memories during time at MBU.

 Rogers has already been hired in the social work field, thanks in part to completing the social work field placement program. “I am so thankful for all the experiences I have had in college because it has aided me in reaching my career goals,” Rogers said. “I have been so blessed throughout my educational journey, and it is such a great feeling to see all my hard work paying off.”

College of Education

Courtney Hallacher

This has been good year for Courtney Hallacher so far. Not only is she graduating from Mary Baldwin University with her master’s degree in education and a concentration in environment-based learning, but she was also named teacher of the year at Riverheads High School (RHS) in Augusta County.

“Winning teacher of the year was a great privilege, especially because the RHS teacher of the year is put to a faculty vote,” Hallacher said. “It was an honor to be recognized by my peers for my efforts in the classroom.”

For her senior thesis project, Hallacher took on a particularly involved topic. For the past nine years, the educator has implemented the “Trout in the Classroom (TIC)” program into her own classroom. TIC is an environmental education program in which students in any grade can raise trout from eggs to fry, monitor tank water quality, engage in stream habitat study, learn to appreciate water resources, begin to foster a conservation ethic, and overall grow to understand the ecosystems. Most programs end the year by releasing their trout in a state-approved stream near the school or within a nearby watershed. Hallacher even got her bus-driving license so that she could drive her students to the stream in Middlebrook.

After attending several environmental education conferences, Hallacher noticed that the environmental education community was concerned with achieving environmental literacy not just with students, but also with adults. “After researching environmental literacy in the United States, I realized that Virginia was lagging behind other states in incorporating environmental literacy into the state education policy,” Hallacher said. By observing students through the trout program, Hallacher wondered what kind of measurable impact the program had on environmental literacy, which inspired her thesis research.

After graduation, Hallacher plans to continue to teach at RHS as an environmental science teacher. Some of her fondest memories from MBU include classes from her concentration, during which she was able to take field trips throughout the Shenandoah Valley and to the Chesapeake Bay. “The opportunities to stay on the small island of Tylerton in the Bay and learning from the environmental education staff from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation were deeply influential to my teaching philosophy and style.”

Hallacher easily points to Tamra Willis, head of the Environment Based Learning (EBL) program at MBU, as her most influential professor. “Her enthusiasm for and deep belief in the EBL teaching method helped propel my interest as well, the networking opportunities that she provided have been invaluable,” Hallacher said.

Rebecca Bays

For Rebecca Bays, special education isn’t just a degree or a career. For the Mary Baldwin graduate student, it’s a passion. The special education coordinator attends MBU’s Roanoke Higher Education Center and is the 2017 recipient of the Green Apple award from the Roanoke County Public Schools’ Education Foundation.

Prior to attending Mary Baldwin, Bays attended Marshall University and later transferred to Roanoke College to complete her undergraduate career. Ultimately, she settled on MBU for graduate school because of the convenience of the Roanoke Center. Bays’ nephew, who is autistic, has inspired her drive to study special education. “I wanted to have the right tools and strategies in place to service him and help him navigate through the education field and ultimately his world,” Bays said.

Bays serves the greater good both in and outside of the classroom. In addition to her three years of teaching, she also serves in the Army National Guard and is currently an E-5 sergeant on her way to E-6 status. After graduation, Bays plans to apply to officer candidate school. Currently Bays is a special education coordinator at Penn Forest Elementary School. When it comes to her teaching style, Bays specializes each part of her lessons to fit the needs of each individual student. “My students have a multitude of disabilities,” Bays explained. “They are a complex group, but a very rewarding group of students to teach.”

Shakespeare and Performance Program

Justine Mackey

On Sunday, Justine Mackey will have earned three degrees from Mary Baldwin: an undergraduate degree in theatre, a Master of Letters and a Master of Fine Arts in Shakespeare and Performance. The experience and training she has received in acting, directing, and dramaturgy at MBU is amazing preparation for the road ahead, she said.

The New York resident was inspired by her great-grandmother’s power of touch in writing her thesis. “What better way to explore that physicality than through performance?” Mackey asked. Her thesis, “Give Me your Hand and Let Me Feel Your Pulse: Examining Physical Touch and Intimacy in My Season with Compass Shakespeare Ensemble,” discusses the MFA’s training in contemporary theatre groups such as Viewpoints, and Frantic Assembly.

Among her favorite memories from Mary Baldwin is the time Mackey played Velma Kelly in MBU’s performance of Chicago. Likewise, she credits Professor of Theatre Terry Southerington and MFA Company Manager and Director of Training Doreen Bechtol as inspirational mentors and influencers during her time on the hill. “Terry Southerington is such a warm heart with so much passion for the arts, her years of dedication to the field, program, and theatre are completely inspiring,” Mackey said. “I only wish I become half of the woman she is. And Doreen Bechtol’s compassion, spirit, and leadership in actor training has completely changed my life and opened my eyes and awareness to so many essential things for performance and for that I will be forever grateful.”

Mackey is headed to North Carolina after Commencement, where she has already been hired in her first acting gig this summer with Sweet Tea Shakespeare, in their production of Othello. She will be coming back to the Queen City to direct A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Oak Grove Theatre in August.

Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences

Laura Harris and Kristen Longwith

Laura Harris is following in her daughter’s footsteps and daughter Kristin Longwith is following in her mother’s. They both plan to graduate together this May after earning their bachelor’s degree in nursing at Mary Baldwin University’s Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences. They will be among the first students to graduate from MBU’s new RN-to-BSN program.

For Longwith, going to college with her mom wasn’t a difficult decision. The mother-daughter duo has always had a close relationship and Longwith says being able to earn a bachelor’s degree together was merely a happy addition to their story. Both will be graduating near the top of their class.

“We’ve always been very close, she had to help me and I had to help her,” Harris said. “I think going to school with each other was the perfect situation for both of us.”

Prior to earning her bachelor’s, Harris earned her LPN at Massanutten Technical Center, then her associate’s degree at Blue Ridge Community College. During her time at Murphy Deming, Harris maintained a 4.0 grade point average. Longwith’s decision to become a nurse was a natural one and has known medicine was her calling for a long time. Even as a child she remembers telling people that she wanted to be a doctor and says the medical field is just in her heart.

For her senior Capstone project, Harris decided to focus on the current nursing shortage. Her research found that mentoring programs have been shown to provide support to newly hired nurses, thus increasing employee satisfaction and ultimately, retention rates. Harris found that patient outcomes are drastically improved when turnover rates of nurses are decreased, so the mentoring program is a win-win for everyone involved. “I think in order to retain newly hired nurses in their positions, facilities need to make sure that they are supported throughout their initial introduction to their positions,” Harris said. “Many newly hired nurses are lost by facilities because they feel like they have no place to turn if feeling overwhelmed, if they have problems, if they need encouragement or just a non-judgmental shoulder to cry on.”

Outside of school Longwith works in a labor and delivery until, and her work there sparked her thesis topic — improvements could be made to increase patient safety. The research for her project was drawn from her own real-life experience on what works and what does not work in nursing. Longwith is not only proud of her mother, but also all of the other BSN candidates, many of whom are her coworkers. “As RNs, most of us are all already working full-time jobs in a busy profession and balancing families and life as well, so being able to complete this program and complete it well is definitely something to be proud of.”

Harris said she would like to pursue a master’s degree next. “I suggested adding a nurse practitioner’s program to MBU’s curriculum,” she said. “I would love to continue my education [at MBU], so if I can figure out a way to do so, I’ll be doing it.”

James Lehmann

James Lehmann will earn his doctoral degree in physical therapy at Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences and graduate on Sunday. The full-time student and father had his youngest child born while at MDCHS and managed to hold down not only his studies but also help raise a family of four while doing it.

For his doctoral research, Lehmann said he was inspired by his younger brother, who, despite a cognitive disability, earned his SCUBA certification. After having several conversations with the instructor who certified his brother, Lehmann decided he wanted to research whether SCUBA, in conjunction with physical therapy, improves quality of life in patients with physical disabilities.

Lehmann has already accepted a position as a physical therapist with Augusta County Schools upon graduation. Looking back on his time at MDCHS, Lehmann says he enjoyed getting to know and work with the students in other health sciences disciplines in a collaborative manner — a hallmark of learning at MDCHS — as well as working in the state-of-the-art simulation lab.

While he enjoyed all of his professors, Lehmann said Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy Marty Fontenot was his most influential advisor, describing the professor as fun, caring, and empathetic. Lehmann credits MDCHS for setting up various experiences throughout the greater Staunton-Augusta community that laid the foundation for working inter-collaboratively with other professionals in the healthcare field.