Graduating Student Spotlights 2022:

May 6, 2022

With commencement fast approaching, graduating students take a moment to share inspiring stories and reflections from across the MBU experience. Pictured: Students at the 2019 Commencement Ceremony. (Responses have been edited for clarity and conciseness.)

Mary Baldwin’s Class of 2022 has shown some of the most remarkable grit and determination in university history: The graduate and undergraduate students slated to cross the commencement stage on May 14 and 15 have succeeded despite unprecedented obstacles posed by a global pandemic. 

While the achievements of this incredible cohort are too many to list, here, we take the opportunity to spotlight some of the most exemplary. Also, to share students’ reflections about their time at MBU and future plans. 

With commencement fast approaching, graduating students take a moment to share inspiring stories and reflections from across the MBU experience. Pictured: Students at the 2019 Commencement Ceremony. (Responses have been edited for clarity and conciseness.)

Cauy Duboise
Psychology Major from Ramah, New Mexico

When asked about favorite MBU memories, Cauy couldn’t pick just one. 

“Above all else, I think about the collaboration I got from my professors,” she said. Faculty’s over-the-top efforts to make themselves accessible and provide support were nothing short of “incredible.” 

“The relationships I was able to build with instructors created such an amazing learning experience,” said Cauy. “And I can’t just single out one or two — so many of them went out of their way to help me discover my passion and figure out what I want to do for the future.” 

Cauy’s second favorite memory was playing basketball as a first-year student. She sank a buzzer-beater at a home game that both ended a losing streak and won her a USA South Conference Rookie of the Week award.   

An enrolled member of the Navajo Nation, Cauy will return to MBU next fall to study in the graduate program for applied behavior analysis.

Ben Marshall
Marketing Major from Denham Springs, Louisiana

Woodworking aficionado Ben Marshall enrolled in MBU Online to study business and marketing after a combat career in the U.S. Army. He says he was attracted by small class sizes and hyper-personable staff. But the way professors went the extra mile to nurture and encourage student interests? That was more than he expected. 

It was particularly refreshing after the Army’s learning environment, said Ben, where he often felt more like a number than a person. The intimacy inspired him to challenge and push himself academically. 

For instance, for a screenwriting class project he decided to make a 5–7 minute film about his experience struggling with post traumatic stress disorder. When Ben shared the final product on social media it got hundreds of comments, shares, and likes. 

“Many of my military friends reached out thanking me for the film, and said it inspired them to finally seek help for their own untreated PTSD,” said Ben. Even more impressive was when his former therapist asked to use the film to help other patients suffering from the disorder. 

Ben plans to focus on growing his woodworking design business and related YouTube channel, Ben Marshall Designs, after graduation. He’s also working to launch a social media consulting and analysis company aimed at helping small business owners succeed. 

Mariam Khadija Kalokoh
Political Science Major from Sierra Leone, Africa 

Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership cadet Mariam Kalokoh took advantage of MBU’s interdisciplinary flexibility to study a broad but connected range of topics spanning political science, anthropology, and leadership. 

She participated in various special projects, but one stood out: Joining a trio of top students to conduct summer breast cancer research with biology professor Melissa Scheiber. Their findings around the effects of levonorgestrel — the morning-after drug — were presented at the Virginia Conference on Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities. 

Elsewhere Mariam worked with the Spencer Center for Civic & Global Engagement to support MBU classmates with international backgrounds. There she planned, organized, and hosted ‘Language Hour’ sessions and cultural events that director Christina Harrison says “enriched and benefitted the entire campus community.” 

Upon graduation Mariam will be commissioning as a second lieutenant field artillery officer in the U.S Army National Guard. She’ll be stationed in Olympia, Washington, where she plans to enroll at the University of Washington School of Law and seek to become a human rights lawyer.

June E. Schlereth
Business Economics Major from Bucks County, Pennsylvania

Looking back June says she’s awed by her academic experience at MBU. 

“I feel so proud because this is the culmination of all the hard work, passion, sweat, and tears that I’ve put in [over the past four years],” she said. June is amazed by the person she’s grown into and by “all the opportunities that helped me build up my skills and prepare me for a successful career.”

For instance, June worked closely with Vantage Point assistant director Lindsey Walsh to secure a special position managing accounts for the campus coffee shop. Elsewhere, she completed an executive internship with esteemed Charlottesville-based financial advising and accounting firm, Hantzmon & Weibel. She also took extra courses to achieve advanced-level IRS tax prep certification and used the credentials to volunteer helping Staunton residents with their taxes. 

The good news is the hard work has paid off: June will soon join Northern Virginia business tax and accounting firm Aronson LLC as its newest tax professional.

Kristin Lurie
Psychology Major from Northern Virginia 

Kristin enrolled in Mary Baldwin’s Program for the Exceptionally Gifted at age 15 in 2018 — and quickly fell in love. 

“MBU has been such a special place for me because of the academic freedom I’ve experienced,” said Kristin. Professor-mentors “encouraged me to explore my interests and pursue my dreams, so I did!” 

On one hand, she discovered a passion for forensic psychology and began to study “violence presentation,” an interdisciplinary subject that draws on clinical and developmental psychology, social work, education, criminology, and public health. The interest led to a thesis project around the pandemic and mental health.  

“Basically, I distributed surveys that revealed students were struggling with depression and prodromal psychotic symptoms — or the warning signs before the onset of a psychotic disorder,” said Kristin. 

She presented her findings and a list of actionable suggestions to university administrators.  These included training sessions to help faculty and staff recognize students in need, creating a network of readily accessible mental health providers, and steps for disseminating info about new services — particularly among identified risk groups like low-income and gender-minority students.

Kristin’s time at MBU also helped her discover who she was as a person. “I learned how to accept my autistic and LGBTQ+ identities, and to thrive in a world that is so often less than accepting,” she said. 

Kristin will enter the University of Cincinnati’s criminal justice doctoral program next fall. There she plans to focus on research aimed at curbing outsized rates of neurodiverse youths in the juvenile justice system. Her goal is to create new curriculum for public schools that takes the needs of neurodiverse kids into account, and features inbuilt prevention mechanisms. 

Jelani Meyer
English Major from Washington D.C.

At MBU Jelani discovered a deep love of literature — particularly for texts centered around the African American experience. That love helped him discover what he calls his “true identity,” and find a purpose for his life.

An alarming moment came early in Jelani’s academic career when he “realized that I didn’t know who I was, nor who I wanted to be,” he said. It dawned on him that he wanted to do more than coast, but lacked confidence in the value of his own thoughts and opinions. “So I started looking into myself, and I came to understand that this lack of a sense of worth stemmed from the absence of a sense of community, from feeling like I’d never really belonged anywhere.”

Participating in Office of Inclusive Excellence programming like Kwanzaa at MBU changed that.

“It felt like home from the moment I was invited into that space,” said Jelani. Upper-level classmates, peers, and staff members like Chief Diversity Officer Andrea Cornett-Scott pushed him to develop confidence and pursue his dreams.

The experience fueled a deep interest in — and literary investigation of — the African American experience. Jelani subsequently spent much of his senior year studying and writing a book-length thesis about Ralph Ellison’s 1952 U.S. National Book Award winning novel, Invisible Man, and related works from the mid-20th century.

“Ellison takes his reader on a journey through the heart of the African American experience — which has long been recognized as one of the most debilitating injustices in human history,” said Jelani. The book articulates the crushing sadness “of never truly having the means to explore one’s own identity, because simply fighting for a place to exist takes precedent.”

The work has laid the foundation for research Jelani will continue next fall in North Carolina A&T’s renowned graduate program in African American literature. 

Aaliyah A. Walker
Political Science Major from Jacksonville, Florida

Looking back on the past four years at MBU Aaliyah fondly recalls her sophomore year intro to French class. 

“It was a total you’ve-arrived type moment,” she said. As a first-generation college student, the notion of studying French as an undergraduate had once seemed far-fetched. “Professor Aaslestad was amazing: The class was perfectly designed; I had so much fun, I just fell in love with it!”

The course opened a gateway to an ongoing passion. Aaliyah pursued a minor in French — taking a class every semester — and will soon be traveling to Europe to test her skills in a summer study abroad program in France for aspiring social entrepreneurs. 

But the MBU accomplishment that’s closest to her heart was founding The Unplug Club. The idea for the club grew out of a 2021 workshop with MBU’s educational nonprofit partner, Sullivan Foundation, which seeks to promote equitable change by empowering the social entrepreneurs of tomorrow. 

Aaliyah had lost her smartphone a few months before. But when she went to replace it, she realized not only how much she relied on the device, but the amount of time she devoted to activities like texting and social media. That led her to experiment with going phoneless, viewing it as an “opportunity for personal growth and development.” 

As the urge to check the phone faded, Aaliyah found she felt calmer, clearer, more focused. She liked the feeling, and started researching the mental health benefits of mindfulness and related activities like meditation. After two months, the change was so significant, she wanted to help others experience it for themselves.  

“My goal with this club was to create a safe environment for students to unplug from technology and social media, where they can quiet the noise and focus on forming better, more authentic relationships with themselves and others,” said Aaliyah. Members work to develop deeper self-awareness and “connect with the best version of themselves” by exploring exercises and techniques around mindfulness and compassion. 

Aaliyah will return to Staunton next fall as a graduate student in MBU’s higher education master’s program.

Skye Phinizy
Sociology Major from Coastal Georgia  

Skye says she found more than just great professors at MBU: She’s confident she’s gained a roster of lifelong mentors. 

“There’s this sense of community where professors are getting to know you, taking interest in your development, and encouraging and challenging you on an individual basis,” said Skye. She loved how faculty urged her to forego status quo thinking and pursue her own passions. “I was able to build strong relationships from the beginning, which allowed me to explore some really unique research opportunities that, in turn, have prepared me for graduate school.”

Skye’s honors thesis centered around gender and racial inequality in heavy metal music. The project sprang from an intrigue with longstanding arguments among fans and industry insiders about “whether widespread inequality ‘actually’ exists within the genre,” she said. 

“I’ve been a huge fan of this music since I was a kid, so it was awesome to realize I could combine that with my passion for science,” said Skye. She spent about two years collecting information about artists — a process that included analyzing lyrics for more than 168 songs. 

Skye’s findings helped win her a spot in one of the nation’s top Ph.D. programs for sociology. She will attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison and study the intersection of society, law, race, and politics.

Juanita Bailey
Master of Business Administration from Richmond

Juanita arrived at Mary Baldwin’s MBA program as a seasoned Richmond-area real estate broker looking to branch out and found her own company. She was impressed and inspired by what she found. 

“It was such a fun, exciting, and supportive environment to learn in,” said Juanita, who, in 2016, became the first member of her family to earn a bachelor’s degree. The expertise, positive attitudes, and diverse experience of instructors and classmates pushed her to challenge herself. 

Juanita used her apex project — which is intended to demonstrate a student’s comprehensive learning — to sharpen strategic thinking around entrepreneurialism. She calls completing the project and earning a graduate degree while continuing to work full-time a source of tremendous pride. Her plan is to launch a full-service spa and massage parlor within the next year.    

Juanita says her experience at MBU was “incredibly empowering. I will truly miss studying, researching, and interacting with all my amazing classmates and professors.”

Loveleen Kaler
Doctorate in Occupational Therapy from Marysville, Washington

Loveleen had spent her entire life on the West Coast when she took a leap of faith and enrolled in MBU’s Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences. And it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing once she arrived. 

“I struggled with anatomy so much I was unsure if I’d make it to the next semester,” she said. Loveleen did make it, though. And she continued to make it, despite the onset of the global pandemic. Serving as the college’s diversity chair amid explosive national racial tensions brought further stress.

“Getting my degree definitely wasn’t easy,” said Loveleen. “But MBU helped me grow in ways I had no idea I needed. Every lowpoint brought beautiful, unexpected lessons, and introduced me to new friends and mentors that I know will be with me for the rest of my life.”

Occupational therapy professor Dr. Sarah McCadden says Loveleen bounced back from early obstacles in a big way: She partnered with the Virginia Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) to complete her doctoral thesis — and presented its results at the 2022 health sciences Capstone Festival

Loveleen researched responses to stressors in the workplace and piloted novel techniques to help workers with issues around sensory processing better self-regulate their emotions. She spent a year conducting preliminary research and about four months working directly with clients. The latter included teaching a six week course that helped clients improve their sensory awareness, and incorporate emotional regulation or expression techniques like mindfulness, breathwork, and journaling into daily routines. Follow-up surveys revealed marked improvements in overall mental health.  

Loveleen says her experiences at Mary Baldwin inspired her to take a second leap of faith: She’s moved to Atlanta and is looking for work in an outpatient hand therapy setting.  

“I am so, so grateful for my time at MBU,” said Loveleen. “I’m grateful for the friends that have become family, and for the professors that believed in me along the way. I needed to be here; I needed to have these experiences.”

Congratulations to the Class of 2022 from the entire #MBUfamily!

WANT TO KNOW MORE  about this year’s commencement ceremony and celebrations? CLICK HERE for a full schedule of festivities and events.