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The University of Tulsa

2022 Homecoming Student Honors and Awards

The University of Tulsa will honor its 2022-23 Jess Chouteau Outstanding Seniors and Top Ten Freshmen during Homecoming week, October 27-30. Ten Seniors and Ten Freshmen are selected each year by a panel of judges from the Alumni Association for their exceptional achievement in academics and community engagement. 

This year’s Outstanding Seniors are Natalie Barton of Edmond, OK; Megan Herrington of Overland Park, KS; Ha Huynh of Broken Arrow, OK; Neha Khalid of Omaha, NE; Matt Mangan of Hot Springs, AR; Danita Mathew of Garland, TX; Erica McAlester of Tulsa, OK; Reema Moussa of Wichita, KS; Emma Opoku of St. Louis, MO; and Asa Scott of Springfield, MO. 

This year’s Top Ten Freshmen are Vishwasri Aleti of St. Louis, MO; Anna Blair of Prairie Village, KS; Danielle Burns of Canyon, TX; Maddie Fulk of Springfield, MO; Owen Gilstrap of Tulsa, OK; Abby Heidemann of Springfield, MO; Megan Hernadi of The Woodlands, TX; Emma Robbins of Rogers, AR; Steven Stagg of Tulsa, OK; and Rachel Ward of Prosper, TX. 

Jess Chouteau Outstanding Seniors 

Natalie Barton, an Exercise and Sports Science major from Edmond, Oklahoma, is a member and leader of several campus organizations including Chi Omega-Epsilon Gamma Chapter, the TU Spirit Squad, Phi Eta Sigma, Exercise and Sports Science Club, MEDx, KLIFE, Future Alumni Council, as well as a member of the Presidential Leaders Fellowship. 

“I am not the same person that I was three years ago, and I give TU credit for my growth. Within organizations I’ve been a part of, I’ve learned more about my leadership style and skills. Learning to work with people with all different interests and backgrounds is helping to prepare me for graduate school with a focus on occupational therapy. Moreover, my educational and internship opportunities have allowed me to grow as a professional who wants to work with children with disabilities someday.” 

Megan Herrington, a Chemical Engineering major from Overland Park, Kansas, is involved in several campus organizations including Peer Mentors, University Ambassadors, Undergraduate Research, Kappa Alpha Theta, Tau Beta Pi – Engineering Honor Society, Society of Women in Physics, Sigma Pi Sigma – Physics Honor Society, and American Institute of Chemical Engineers. 

“My time at TU has taught me the value of details – in molecular interactions, relationships, and leadership endeavors – and the miraculous impact they have when we scale them up or take them out into the world to inspire young leaders and empower them to find their voice. With that in mind, I plan to pursue a career as a professor after getting my PhD; I am energized by the idea of synthesizing my interest in teaching and my passion for research. As a faculty member at a research institution, I will be doing work that contributes to global engineering issues while also acting as a steward for women in science.” 

Ha Huynh, a biology major from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, has been involved and held leadership roles in several campus organizations including MEDx, Student Association, Asian American Student Association, Society of Women Minorities in Medicine, Alpha Epsilon Delta, Future Alumni Council, as well as serving as a Peer Mentor and University Ambassador. 

“As I have just finished my last year as Peer Mentor, I realize how many people I have had the opportunity of mentoring. I was a camp counselor and mentor in a TU pre-health camp for highschoolers interested in medicine, where we exposed the future in medicine and future at our campus as a pre-medical student. I have helped create a community for first-generation and minority students, like myself, and mentored them through the process using my experiences. I have seen the positive change and legacy that I will be leaving and those who are inspired by what I have been able to accomplish.” 

Neha Khalid, biochemistry major from Omaha, Nebraska, served the university in several organizations taking leadership roles in the American Red Cross Club, Society for Women Minorities in Medicine, Phi Eta Sigma Honor Society, TEDx UTulsa, Honors Student Association, Muslim Student Association, Mentors and Protegees Program, and Future Alumni Council. 

“Every single opportunity that I have pursued whether it is as small as volunteering at Hillcrest or as big as presenting at the TU Research Colloquium, has happened because of the amazing support of TU. This university has supported me both academically and socially on my journey to be a physician. But most importantly, because of all of these amazing opportunities and unwavering support from the faculty, I feel that I can not only become a physician but thrive as one.” 

Matt Mangan is a biochemistry major from Hot Spring, Arkansas, and has held leadership roles in several organizations on campus including Global Health Brigades TU, Kappa Alpha Order Mu Chapter, Future Alumni Council, Student Association, and University Ambassadors. 

“When freshman year kicked off, I never had time to acknowledge those limitations that kept me back before. Life at TU was too full of exhilarating possibilities. There was no task that couldn’t be completed, no heights that couldn’t be reached, and I could be anything I wanted to be. I keep that youthful zeal close to my heart to this day; it’s what laid the foundation for me to truly make the most of my experience here at this school. I can say for certain that I’ve left absolutely everything on the field during these four years, and now… I know what’s possible. I know what I’m capable of and I can’t wait to show it to the world.” 

Danita Mathew, a Biochemistry major from Garland, Texas, is a member and leader of various campus organizations including Peer Health Educators, The Society of Women Minorities in Medicine, Peer Mentors, Future Alumni Council, TEDxUTulsa, and American Red Cross. 

“The opportunities provided to me at TU helped me realize that public health was my passion, allowing me to transcend beyond the walls of the university to serve the community. I realize how much the opportunities at TU have grown my scientific abilities, leadership skills, and global perspectives. I want to use the skills I’ve built within my TU experience to continue growing as a leader in healthcare as a future physician, and contribute to further research in the field of public health. Ultimately, I want to use these experiences to give back, and connect with future students through mentorship as an alumna to show them that they, too, can change the world.” 

Erica McAlester, a Sociology major from Tulsa, Oklahoma is a member and leader in a number of extracurricular organizations, including Phi Eta Sigma Honor Society, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, Association of Black Collegians and LINC. 

“My experience at The University of Tulsa has undoubtedly prepared me for the future that is before me. My TU experience has developed a belief within me that the children and students of today are essential to our development as a nation. I believe TU has provided a solid foundation for me to begin this work as I plan to pursue a master’s degree while working after graduation. The experience of The University of Tulsa has and will continue to help me achieve my future aspirations as I remember that no matter where I go or how arduous the journey becomes, there is always someone rooting for your success.” 

Reema Moussa is a Biology major from Wichita, Kansas. She is actively involved in Peer Mentors, Global Brigades, Student Association, University Ambassadors, Society of Women in Healthcare, Alpha Epsilon Delta Honor Society, Reformed University Fellowship, and Tulsa Orthodox College Fellowship. 

“Being involved in Peer Mentors has taught me how to bring people together, Global Brigades has opened my eyes to the ways that other people experience the world, being involved in research has taught me how to problem solve and work in a team, and being in SA has given me the courage to speak up, and to voice my opinion. All of these lessons will be critical to my future goals as a physician, and as a person. I have learned how to open up to others, and how to be a good friend to others. I feel so supported and loved by the community at TU, and I know that this support system will continue to be a crucial factor as I embark on the next steps of my journey towards becoming a physician.” 

Emma Opoku, a Biology major from St. Louis, Missouri is involved in many extracurricular activities at TU, including, The Women of Color Collective, Society of Women Minorities in Medicine, Leadership Incorporated, Global Brigades, Lacrosse Club, MedX, National Society of Black Engineers, Association of Black Collegians and is also a Peer Health Educator for the community organization Take Control Initiative. 

“TU is where I realized my future aspirations. I came to TU intending to become a doctor. My experience at TU has taught me the value of genuine passion in the activities I choose to be a part of. After graduation, I will be applying to medical school. With the wisdom and guidance from student success couches, career advisors, mentors, and faculty, I am confidently pursuing my dream to be a gynecologic endocrinologist. I aim to provide thorough patient education and be an advocate for survivors of interpersonal violence. I will carry the lessons I have learned in and out of the classroom at TU through the next steps of my endeavors.” 

Asa Scott, a Political Science and Chemistry major from Springfield, Missouri, is a leader and member of Peer Mentors, University Ambassadors, Student Association, Future Alumni Council, Lambda Chi Alpha, TU Club Tennis, Peer Tutoring, American Chemical Society Student Affiliates, and TU Mock Trial. 

“The University of Tulsa has put me in a position to pursue the career I desire in law & public service by empowering me to follow my academic passions and leadership goals. After graduation I will be attending law school. I then expect to work in the public sector, first public defense, then moving into eventually representing the public on key matters including environmental law and medical policy. I look to finally be a legislator to advocate for these matters. My career aspirations come from my appreciation and passion for public service. Public service is of the utmost importance to me, and TU has well prepared me for both the first and the best work in that career.” 

Top Ten Freshmen 

Vishwasri Aleti is a psychology major from St. Louis, Missouri. She is involved with the Speech and Debate team, South Asian Student Association, Women in Business, TU Red Cross, Peer Mentor, University Ambassador Club and Reading Partners volunteer. 

“To mark my stamp on TU means to exemplify Tulsa spirit on and off our campus. Not only have I taken part in numerous organizations, but I have also created opportunities for myself to grow as a leader and individual. I have made it a goal to not only show my involvement at the University of Tulsa, but also bring my passion for being involved outside of the college grounds. I am invested in my experience at TU and aiding in creating an environment to help others experience the same.” 

Anna Blair is a Biology major from Prairie Village, Kansas. She is involved in the Women’s Club Volleyball team, WomENS (Society of Women in Engineering and Natural Science), Kappa Alpha Theta Fraternity, Giving the Basics, and CASA. 

“I was chosen to be the Treasurer for the Women’s Club Volleyball Team. Due to my hard work, we were approved for the maximum amount of money available to a campus organization. It was at this point that I dug deep and truly dedicated myself to this organization. Now that we were known by other schools, we wanted to put a stamp on the Tulsa campus. That August, I was just a player on the team, but by May I had cemented myself as a leader on the team. Even after I graduate from college, I know that The University of Tulsa volleyball team will be a staple in the TU community and a formidable opponent in the region.” 

Danielle Burns is a major of Chemical Engineering from Canyon, Texas. She is involved in Angel Tree Ministry, Snack Pak 4 Kids, TU Softball team, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Student Athletic Advisory Committee (SAAC), The National Society of Leadership and Success, Phi Eta Sigma Honor Society, and the Baptist College Ministry. 

“Athletics has always been a key part of my life and with the platform I have as a college athlete I hoped to leave a mark of strength and perseverance. I strived to take each challenge that came in my first softball season gracefully and with the will it took to see it through. The mark that I hoped to leave of strength, perseverance, leadership, and expression also left a mark on me. I hope I can continue to impact these various aspects of college life as much as they touch me and do my best to be an example for other young athletes that your path in life does not have to revolve around your career in athletics but can include everything that means something to you.” 

Maddie Fulk is an Exercise and Sports Science Pre-Medical and Applied Mathematics (Biomathematics Option) double major from Springfield, Missouri. She is involved in biomechanics research at the Oxley College of Health Sciences, Biomedical Engineering Society, Future Alumni Council, Global Brigades, Early Careers in Community Medicine, Kappa Alpha Theta, The Sound of the Golden Hurricane (Basketball Pep Band), TU Wind Ensemble, University Ambassadors, Phi Eta Sigma, and volunteers at the Discovery Lab. 

“When I arrived at The University of Tulsa last fall, I knew that I wanted to leave this campus better than I found it. Throughout my time here thus far, I believe that I have gotten off on a tremendous start via my leadership efforts in various campus organizations. I feel that I have already left my stamp through my involvement in spearheading the new TU Biomedical Engineering Society. Through this organization, I hope the university’s biomedical engineering minor will increase in enrollment and students who are not engineering majors will look into this growing interdisciplinary field, as I have myself.” 

Owen Gilstrap is a Psychology major from Jenks, Oklahoma. He is involved in many extracurricular activities, including TU Chamber Choir, TU Psychology Club, AED, MedX and Lambda Chi Alpha. 

“As soon as I was accepted into TU, I immediately got to work in solidifying myself as a leader. I found this first through something I didn’t quite expect, joining a social fraternity. I chose the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, and quickly found a group of guys that would guide me in becoming the person I strove to be. I further involved myself by running for executive leadership, in which I ended up becoming the scholarship chairman. And while I was grateful for the opportunity my brothers provided me, fraternity life is only a small part of the Tulsa community. I challenged myself socially in finding new friends, experiences, and interests while also benefiting my newfound community.” 

Abby Heidemann is an Energy Management and Finance major from Springfield, Missouri. She is involved with many extracurricular activities at TU, including the TU Honors Program, Honors Student Association, Study Abroad Program, TU Leadership Program, Tulsa Energy Management Student Association, Students for Sustainability, Women in Business, Club Tennis, Chi Omega, and Force For Good. 

“I attended a number of leadership academies during high school, and I knew that upon entering college I wanted to apply what I had learned and seek out leadership roles at TU. Philanthropy and community service work have always been passions of mine. My involvement on campus has given me the opportunity to combine my leadership skills with my passion for serving others. Overall, I put my stamp on TU last year through my campus involvement, leadership initiative, and passion for my major.” 

Megan Hernadi is a Mechanical Engineering and Mathematics major from The Woodlands, Texas. She is actively involved in Kappa Kappa Gamma, the Advanced Materials Design Group, the Mechanical Engineering Department, the Reformed University Fellowship organization, and is an aspiring musician as a guitarist. 

“After my first year in college, I proved to myself that I had the ability to put myself out in front of people and find a means to pursue what I loved. High school was a safe place where I had friends since kindergarten and had a tight knit plan for what classes I was taking. College was entirely different. I came nine hours away from home where I knew no one and built a new community from the ground up. Every relationship was built off of genuine connection and not just close proximity.” 

Emma Robbins is an Exercise and Sports Science major from Rogers, Arkansas. She is involved with many extracurricular activities, including Chi Omega sorority, TU Pom Squad, Force For Good, Student Association, Presbyterian Leaders and Scholars Program, Exercise and Sport Science Club, and Panhellenic Council. She also serves as the Basketball and Volleyball Equipment Manager. 

“My first game as a member of the Pom Squad was like a dream – interacting with alumni, students and fans, participating in game day traditions and doing what I love: dancing for an audience. Attending The University of Tulsa allowed me to achieve a goal I had worked towards since age 5- dancing for a Division I dance team. Representing TU as a student athlete is my greatest achievement from my freshman year.” 

Steven Stagg, a Biochemistry major from Tulsa, Oklahoma, is on the pre-med track academically and is involved in a number of extracurricular activities, including serving as an orientation host, recruitment chair of Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity, secretary of the TU Barbell Club, volunteer at Hardesty Family Adaptive sports Complex, and a member of Early Careers in Community Medicine Program, American Chemical Society, Medical Exploration Club, and Newman Center. 

“I came to TU expecting and almost content with spending the next four years of my life simply grinding to maintain my provisional acceptance into med-school; however, by my second week on campus I found myself involved in organizations – particularly a fraternity that encouraged me to stay focused in school while placing an emphasis on the relationship-building aspect of college that I feel is often overlooked. With the guidance of mentors who live lives I hope to emulate one day, I left my mark on campus through academic mentorship and everyday friendly interactions.” 

Rachel Ward, an Exercise and Sports Science major from Prosper, Texas, is a member of a number of student organizations, including Student Association, Chi Omega, TU Student Life Offices, Tulsa Afghan Cultural Exchange Program, Force For Good, and Tulsa Dance Marathon. 

“When I first arrived on campus at the beginning of August, I was lost amongst a vast sea of students. By the end of the year, I was pursuing involvement within every organization I could. By participating in multiple organizations, I will continue to impact our university by cross-programing within these clubs and obtaining various skills to become the best student leader I can be, thus fostering creative ideas to aid in further developing the future of our student body.” 

TU music composition senior’s original film score wows critics

woman sitting in front of a desktop
Kyleigh Taylor

Vegas Movie Awards winner for Best Original Score, Oniros Film Awards winner for Best Main Theme, Festigious International Film Festival winner for Best Score and New York Movie Awards winner for Original Score: These are just a few of the many recognitions that award-winning senior music composition major Kyleigh Taylor brought home over the summer.

Taylor’s recent success was preceded by a longstanding admiration for music and film. Even as a child, Taylor would listen to Hollywood scores that her mother burned onto CDs. “We’d listen to them all the time,” said Taylor, who had, at a young age, already claimed a favorite composer: “I’ll always have a soft spot for Thomas Newman, thanks to my mother. ‘Finding Nemo,’ ‘WALL-E,’ ‘The Help’: His scores were the soundtrack to my childhood.” 

Despite having little experience in writing composition prior to coming to The University of Tulsa, Taylor knew a great deal about film scores and was proficient in both the piano and viola. This gave her the courage she needed to try her hand at the music composition major offered at TU. Additionally, Taylor discovered that she could place a film scoring emphasis on her major, something that sealed the deal: “I knew that TU was where I wanted my journey to begin.” 

Award show accolades

After countless class projects and student films, Taylor found work on her first television series, “Girl Unscripted,” in summer 2021. Taylor met with producer Eric Keith, who offered to let her test score an episode of an upcoming series that he and his team were working on. “They told me that they enjoyed what I came up with and asked me if I would like to score the entire series,” said Taylor, “Of course, I accepted without any hesitation.” Soon enough, people from Hollywood all the way to Tuscany would hear this talented musician’s score.

Woman smiling for the camera on a balcony
Kyleigh Taylor

Taylor spent most of October and November 2021 working on “Girl Unscripted,” but it was not until this past summer that the series began submitting to film festivals and screenplay competitions. “I was completely overwhelmed by the amazingly positive feedback that ‘Girl Unscripted’ was getting,” said Taylor, “and I was even more amazed to see that I had received up to 14 recognitions for my original score. It was reassuring to me that I am on the right path to making my way in the world.” 

Inspired to dream large

With graduate studies in view and Academy Award-winning aspirations, it is clear that Taylor’s peers and mentors have fostered an environment inviting to artistic and creative growth. Thanks to the careful instruction provided by Taylor’s professors, this driven pupil’s music has graced the ears of critics all over the globe. “All of my professors have provided guidance, wisdom and motivation,” said Taylor; “they inspire me daily to dream large and put my best foot forward.”

One professor that has been particularly helpful in Taylor’s music journey is J. Donald Feagin Professor of Music and Professor of Film Joseph Rivers, who has known her ever since she first visited TU as a prospective student. It did not take long in the classroom for Rivers to see that Taylor not only loved music but was a truly exceptional musician as well. Rivers recalls that her talent became apparent when she composed, mixed and mastered a marvelous score for a fellow student’s short film. “Her knowledge and skills will go a long way in helping her to find great success in film scoring,” said Rivers; “I am looking forward to the day when I see her name on the big screen.”

Want to see how far your love for music can take you? Turn your passion into a successful career with The School of Music today.

Welcome, new TU faculty!

Classes are in full swing and The University of Tulsa’s beautiful campus is bustling with activity. Among those walking to and from lectures are our newest faculty members eager to share their expertise and invest in the success of their students.

Group of people standing outside an arching doorway posing for a photo
Left to right: Young-Jae Yoon, Aaron Ball, Lauren Holt, David Carter, Christy Hedges, Ted Genoways, Mary Anne Andrei, Katherine Norton, Stephen Flowerday, Weiping Pei, Nathan Woolard and Vijay Gupta.

“We are excited to welcome 16 new faculty members to TU this fall,” said Provost George Justice, himself a relative newcomer. “They will inject energy and intellectual brilliance into our classrooms, labs and libraries. Our students will be enriched by their presence, and we hope that their time at TU will be productive for their careers and for their lives.”

With vibrancy, sharp minds and diverse perspectives to boot, TU’s newest professors and instructors are sure to build upon the academic excellence and innovative research taking place across our colleges. Please join us in providing them with a warm welcome to the TU family!

Browse the list below to learn more about our new faculty members’ varied areas of expertise:

Kendall College of Arts and Sciences

Mary Anne Andrei – Associate Professor of Media Studies
David Carter – Applied Assistant Professor in Music Education
Ted Genoways – Associate Professor of Media Studies
George Justice – Provost and Professor of English
Katherine Norton – Visiting Instructor of Art
Young-Jae Yoon – Visiting Professor of Psychology

Collins College of Business

Toby Joplin – Applied Assistant Professor of Management
Reza Alizadeh Kordabad – Visiting Assistant Professor of Data Analytics
Steve McIntosh – Adjunct Professor of Computer Information Systems
Nathan Woolard – Applied Assistant Professor of Marketing

College of Engineering and Natural Sciences

William Aaron Ball – Instructor in Geosciences
Stephen Flowerday – Professor of Cyber Studies
Neil Gandal – Applied Distinguished Professor of Cyber Studies
Vijay Gupta – Applied Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering
Weiping Pei – Assistant Professor of Cyber Studies

Oxley College of Health Sciences

Christy Hedges – Clinical Associate Professor of Speech-Language Pathology

The Office of the Provost is committed to providing faculty and students with the resources they need to succeed. Check out the programs that have been developed to recognize and support TU’s educators today!

Race, land and the business of oil in Indian Territory

Since 2019, the Helmerich Center for American Research (HCAR) at Gilcrease Museum has hosted a postdoctoral fellow each year under the Duane H. King Postdoctoral Fellowship. This fellowship enables scholars across diverse fields to mine HCAR’s collection of over 100,000 rare books, maps, manuscripts and photographs as well as present at a works-in-progress seminar and teach courses at The University of Tulsa.

Man in blue shirt smiling
Mark Boxell

In 2021-22, HCAR is honored to host its third King fellow, Mark Boxell, Ph.D., an American West expert who earned a doctorate from the Department of History at the University of Oklahoma in 2020. Boxell’s interests revolve around the American West, with a particular focus on the region’s conjunction with oil and the environment, as well as the two fields’ intertwined histories.

Prior to arriving in Tulsa, Boxell spent his undergraduate years studying at The University of Evansville, where he first discovered his keen interest in environmental and western history. After graduating in 2014, Boxell migrated further west to Fort Collins, Colorado, where he went on to receive a master’s degree in history from Colorado State University. While there, he studied the environmental history of public lands in the west and wrote a thesis that examined the history of fossil-fueled transportation in the Rocky Mountain National Park.

Race, land and oil

Black and white photo of a burning oil tank
A family poses in front of a burning oil tank near Healdton, OK, c. 1915.

Currently, Boxell is conducting research for a book on the interactions between race, land and the petroleum industry in the Mid-Continent oil region, particularly in Indian Territory/Oklahoma in the early 20th century. As part of this project, Boxell intends to further explore the allotment of the Five Tribes’ collective land base and its intersection with the production of oil. Additionally, Boxell is interested in understanding the growth of cities like Tulsa and the connections between white settlers and the petroleum industry. “Petroleum became central to white settlers’ identities and their growing institutions,” stated Boxell.

The collections related to oil and Oklahoma at HCAR, specifically the Jackson Barnett collection, especially appealed to Boxell’s scholarly goals. Barnett — a Muscogee man otherwise known as “The Richest Indian in the World” — and his family became embroiled in controversy over questions of inheritance surrounding Barnett’s tremendous oil wealth. “Barnett had been a member of Chitto Harjo’s group of separatist ‘full-blood’ and African Creeks,” said Boxell. “He attempted to rebel against white settlers and the federal government at the turn of the 20th century, and like a number of Muscogee individuals, his allotment in the Cushing area proved tremendously rich in oil.”

From fellow to professor

Black and white photo of a river and oil derricks
Oil derricks erected along the Cimarron River in Oklahoma, c. 1915. (Source: U.S. Geological Survey)

As part of his King fellowship, Boxell has had the opportunity to teach a couple of courses at TU related to his field. In the fall, Boxell taught a graduate course in the Museum Science and Management program called “Racial Violence and Public Memory.” Students examined the history of racial violence and studied how such instances are subsequently commemorated and/or whitewashed in their respective societies. “We often discussed the Tulsa Race Massacre,” stated Boxell, “and how the effort to spread awareness of these instances of violence has required a lot of labor from the affected communities.” Boxell gave the Eddie Faye Gates Collection as an example of this; specifically, the oral histories passed down from survivors recounting the role that oil played in Tulsa leading up to the massacre.

This spring, Boxell is teaching an undergraduate course for the Department of History titled “American Environmental History.” An introduction to the field at large, this course examines the ways that people have interacted with the natural world over time and how the natural world has responded and shaped societies, cultures and ideas.

After his fellowship at HCAR concludes, Boxell will be taking with him the knowledge and experience he has gained to The University of Nebraska at Omaha, where he will be an assistant professor of American and environmental history.

The Helmerich Center for American Research is open to visiting faculty, students and scholars from all over the world. Consider checking out HCAR for all your American history and culture explorations!

Understanding the dangers of eating disorders

Eating disorders are surrounded by misconceptions and confusion, but this does not have to be the case.

Ashli Sharpton, a post-doctoral intern at TU’s Counseling & Psychological Services Center, recently shared a wealth of knowledge about eating disorders. Often, people do not realize how dangerous eating disorders (EDO) can be, and that is a focus of Sharpton’s research.

“EDO have the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder,” she  said. “They can cause numerous physical and mental health problems, including heart problems; gastrointestinal issues; problems with your hair, teeth and nails; and tend to occur alongside other mental health issues like anxiety, depression and substance abuse.”

Often EDO are associated with shame and stigma, so many people suffering from them try to keep the information to themselves. But EDO are nothing to feel ashamed about, according to Sharpton, there are many ways to intervene.

“Moderation, self-compassion and the ability to listen to your body are what I would recommend as ways to practice good health,” she said. “Food is not good or bad; some foods give you more nutrients and some give you less, but everything is okay in moderation and provides fuel for your body. You’re not going to ruin your health or gain a lot of weight if you have pizza or cake once in a while.”

When it comes to best-practices with food, she added, “Listen to your body because it generally knows what it needs and sometimes we get in our own way. We have hunger and satiety cues for a reason, so if you’re hungry, eat. If you’re full, stop eating. It sounds very simple, but when people start dieting or trying to change their eating habits drastically, those things can get lost.”

While anyone can be affected by eating disorders, athletes are more likely to suffer from EDO because of their participation in a sport based on performance and often physical fitness. This extra pressure to look and perform well can manifest in an EDO.

At The University of Tulsa, coaches understand this potential issue and work to prevent it from becoming a problem.

Kevin Harris, head coach of the Golden Hurricane rowing team, explained how health is managed in a sport that requires the athletes to weigh in before a competition.

I don’t ever conduct weigh-ins and I rarely, if ever, discuss actual numbers with the individual athletes,” Harris said. “One of our female strength or athletic training staff conducts the weigh-ins and the trainer then sends me the numbers. We also have a dietician available if people have concerns they would like to address.”

While EDO are potentially fatal if not properly treated, TU is taking mindful steps through research and student support to prevent them among its athletes.



TU listed in 2020 “Best Value Colleges” by Princeton Review

The University of Tulsa is honored to be one of the nation’s best value colleges for providing outstanding education with supportive career preparation at an affordable price, according to the Princeton Review. The college admission and education services company recognized TU as one of The Best Value Colleges 2020.

Holi Festival at TU

TU earned this title from 2018-19 data collected from institutional and student surveys across the nation. A survey of alumni career and salary statistics from was also conducted and included as part of the selection process.

The Princeton Review used more than 40 data points to calculate return on investment (ROI) ratings and selected 200 featured schools from over 650 U.S. colleges and universities. Factors included academics, costs, financial aid, student debt, graduation rates, alumni salaries and job satisfaction. TU emphasizes student success by empowering a diverse campus population to become leaders in their chosen careers.

Out of the 656 schools considered, TU is privileged to be among the 200 chosen as Princeton Review’s Best Value Colleges 2020. Providing exceptional and affordable academic programs that support student success post-graduation is a key goal and aligns with the university’s mission.

JumpstartTU wins IIE Andrew Heiskell Award for Innovation

The University of Tulsa’s JumpstartTU program has been recognized by the Institute of International Education (IIE) with the annual Andrew Heiskell Award for Innovation in International Education. TU was honored Jan. 27 at the January meeting of the IIE Board of Trustees. JumpstartTU and the other programs that received the prestigious award are at the forefront of developing new models to build international partnerships, internationalize campuses and promote study abroad. The awards recognize the most outstanding initiatives among the member campuses of the IIE Network, IIE’s membership association of more than 1,300 higher education institutions.

andrew heiskell award
TU Vice Provost for Global Education Jane Kucko accepts the award in New York.

TU and the other winning universities will receive a cash award of $1,000 and a certificate from IIE’s president. Representatives from those institutions will make presentations to the board that highlight their programs and promote best practices, and participate in a conversation about the future of international education.

The four winners and three honorable mentions represent the broad diversity of higher education institutions in the IIE Network. They include a community college and major research universities and institutions from Pennsylvania to the South Island of New Zealand. The programs these institutions run take their students all over the world and bring international issues to campus. They demonstrate the important work being done to prepare students for a competitive labor market that prizes the ability to work across cultures and encourage them to develop a better sense of their own roles as global citizens. IIE’s core mission is to advance scholarship, build economies, and promote access to opportunities; we are aided in this by our close partnerships with like-minded institutions like this year’s Andrew Heiskell Award honorees.

Andrew Heiskell AwardTU is the winner of the study abroad category. JumpstartTU is a one-week experiential trip the summer before a student’s freshmen year that blends learning about another country and culture with field experience alongside local partners in Panama to discover global issues in an international context. Students who have attended JumpstartTU report having a cohort of friends before beginning TU, stronger confidence that they will succeed and an enhanced view of the world in which we live. Faculty and staff team leaders are inspired by the program, interact with the students at a deeper level and return to campus with energy to look at their work differently with enhanced global perspectives.

IIE Andrew Heiskell Award for Innovation in International Education Winners

Internationalizing the Campus
Winner: Rice University, Brasil@Rice
Honorable Mention: Texas A&M International University, Reading the Globe

Internationalizing the Community College Campus
Winner: Harper College, The Global Region of Focus Initiative

Winner: Lehigh University, Lehigh University / United Nations Partnership
Honorable Mention: Kansas State University, The Australian Initiative and Oz-to-Oz Program

andrew heiskell awardStudy Abroad
Winner: TU, JumpstartTU
Honorable Mention: University of Otago, Tūrangawaewae, Pōkai Whenua

About the Institute of International Education
The Institute of International Education (IIE) is the leader in providing international education strategies and program services. We work with policymakers, educators and employers across the globe to prepare students and professionals for the global workforce and equip them to solve the increasingly complex challenges facing our interconnected world. With support from donors, we also create initiatives that protect students and scholars in danger, expand teaching and learning across cultures, and provide opportunities to underserved populations. A not-for-profit organization founded in 1919, IIE has a network of 18 offices and affiliates worldwide and over 1,300 member institutions.

TU, LIBR partnership at the forefront of mental health research 

The Laureate Institute for Brain Research opened its doors 10 years ago to address one of Oklahoma’s worst health factors, mental health. As scientists and researchers discover the ways in which a person’s mental health is directly linked to their overall physical condition, LIBR, in collaboration with The University of Tulsa, is using new neuroscience tools and resources to answer old questions about Oklahoma’s health crisis.

Director Martin Paulus

LIBR was founded by the William K. Warren Foundation when then scientific director Wayne Drevets and five other colleagues from the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C., transferred to Tulsa in 2009. Today, the organization includes seven principal investigators (PI) who are faculty within TU’s Oxley College of Health Sciences and have tenure track or tenure appointments in the OU-TU School of Community Medicine. The goal then and now is to conduct neuroscience-based research that will improve the diagnosis or prognosis of individuals with mental illness. LIBR Director Martin Paulus said the institute strives to respect the dignity of each patient while leveraging leading talent and technology to discover the causes of and cures for disorders related to mood, anxiety, eating and memory. “We’re trying to use neuroscience to find better ways to develop mental health interventions,” he said.


When Paulus joined the LIBR staff in 2014, he set a goal to create a large data set that would allow researchers to investigate mental health prognosis and diagnosis through behavioral processes, neuroimaging, neuromodulation, psychophysiology and bioassays. LIBR’s largest research project, the Tulsa 1000 (T-1000) study, began recruiting participants with mood, anxiety, eating and substance disorders to complete more than 24 hours of baseline testing. The 1,000th and final individual was enrolled in 2018 with the goal of determining whether neuroscience-based measures can be used to predict outcomes in patients with mental illness.
Data Analytics Lead Rayus Kuplicki (B.S. ’09, M.S. ’11, Ph.D. ’14) has been heavily involved in the technical setup and analysis of T-1000 since its inception. He said the standardization of this initial data collection at the institute is critical for quality research. “My work has made it possible to take raw data from thousands of participants and compute the quantifiable traits that we compare across groups,” he explained.

TU graduate student Bart Ford

Data analysis of T-1000 participants continues and has generated more than 40 scientific papers, currently in progress. TU graduate students in the areas of psychology, engineering and biology contribute to T-1000 research through subsets of data analysis. Biology doctoral student Bart Ford is collaborating with LIBR PI Jonathan Savitz to examine the link between latent viruses and depression. “It is well established that early life stress and childhood trauma increase the risk of physical and mental health problems later in life, but the biological mechanisms by which this occurs are not well understood,” Ford said. “Dr. Savitz and I wondered if people who experience childhood abuse and neglect are perhaps more vulnerable to a common latent herpes virus called cytomegalovirus (CMV).”

The virus is usually harmless in otherwise healthy individuals but can weaken the immune system over time. Savitz and Ford studied a group of individuals with major depressive disorder and found that higher levels of self-reported childhood abuse and neglect were associated with a greater likelihood of testing positive for CMV. They then used the T-1000 cohort to replicate the study and discovered the same results with similar effects in size. The findings were published in the prestigious “JAMA Psychiatry” journal earlier this year.
“We interpret this to mean that the stress of abuse and neglect during development may render a person susceptible to a CMV infection,” Ford stated. “This could suggest CMV contributes to later life health problems that are often seen in survivors of abuse.”

According to Savitz and Ford, T-1000 is beneficial in understanding the biological causes, mechanisms and outcomes of mental health disorders, and consequently, can help identify therapeutic targets that will lead to treatments of the sources and after-effects of mental illness.


In addition to T-1000, another primary project ongoing at LIBR is the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) initiative, a study of more than 11,878 children, ages 9 and 10, at 21 different sites nationwide. LIBR researchers have conducted detailed assessments of 743 of the participants. Follow-up visits and scans will continue for 10 years to examine the course of wellness and mental illness during the second decade of life when mental health disorders tend to emerge. One of the first papers the data generated in 2018 was accepted to the journal “NeuroImage” and entitled “Screen media activity and brain structure in youth: Evidence for diverse structural correlation networks from the ABCD study.”

TU Tough

Professor Robin Aupperle

Robin Aupperle is another LIBR PI and assistant professor of community medicine who uses neuroscience and psychological research to improve mental health and gain insight into the causes of anxiety, depression and trauma. She is interested in identifying factors that support resilience to college-related stress and strategies to optimize a student’s psychological well-being. Paulus said meta-analyses show one in three students will develop significant anxiety and depression during their first year of college — a major reason why some students choose to drop out of school. That’s why Aupperle developed the four-week TU Tough program that teaches the skills and mindset necessary for mental toughness to effectively respond to stressful or challenging situations. “This is the idea that our abilities are not set in stone — that we can learn, improve and adapt,” she explained. “Likewise, our ability to be resilient in the face of stress is not hard-wired but can be built and strengthened through practicing certain skills as we seek out and face challenges.”

Aupperle is a mentor to graduate students such as TU clinical psychology Ph.D. student Tim McDermott. His predoctoral training grant application to the National Institute of Mental Health received a qualifying score for funding, which will support McDermott’s research to study the brain circuits underlying people’s ability to manage their emotional reactions. Understanding the brain circuits involved in the processing and regulating of emotions could potentially inform future anxiety and depression treatments. “We will examine whether individuals can learn to regulate their prefrontal cortex activation during emotional processing in response to feedback about their brain activation during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanning,” he said.

As an assistant in the TU Tough project, McDermott has led lectures in TU Tough modules and supervised small group leaders during breakout discussions. He also has managed data processing and analysis for fMRI neuroimaging scans performed before and after TU Tough treatment. Prepared by lead author Elisabeth Akeman (BS ’15) as well as Aupperle and McDermott, a recently published manuscript in the journal “Depression and Anxiety” reports findings from the first two cohorts of TU Tough. The research shows students who complete the program (compared to those who did not) experienced lower rates of self-reported stress and depression symptoms throughout their first semester of college, particularly as measured during finals week. Aupperle explained TU Tough is a strong example of LIBR research that can improve the overall mental health of Oklahomans. “By taking measures to improve resilience to stress and mental health among TU students, we are benefiting the community in general,” she said. “Supporting the health and well-being of our students is the equivalent to supporting the health and well-being of our community.”

TU graduate student McKenna Pierson

Other ongoing treatment studies at LIBR use behavioral activation or cognitive behavioral therapy (as part of ongoing studies in Aupperle’s lab) or novel intervention approaches such as the Float Clinic and Research Center led by PI Justin Feinstein. His studies use flotation as an intervention approach to mental illness, providing patients with a way to disconnect with the world and reconnect with signals firing in their bodies. His research was featured on the CBS This Morning’s “Pay Attention” series in 2018.

TU and LIBR’s unique partnership

Paulus is pleased with the substantial data collection, analyses and treatment LIBR has been able to provide to residents within its first decade. Although Oklahoma has a long way to go in improving its overall mental health, he explained LIBR intends to serve as the starting point for large sets of basic health information that support a biotech approach to mental health treatment and diagnosis. “We want to know how far we can develop, how advanced is our research and can we potentially establish startups that can be developed into effective treatments and commercial products,” Paulus said. In one example, LIBR Chief Technology Officer and physicist Jerzy Bodurka, created a way to use a real-time MRI to train a specific part of the brain to give instant feedback on if the training is effective. Paulus explained the training has reduced levels of depression in research participants, and Bodurka now is developing a turnkey system that will allow for scalability of the intervention at any site with MRI imaging capabilities.

LIBRBehind every principal or associate investigator stands a team of student researchers eager to get involved, serving as valuable assets for LIBR’s mission. When asked if TU depends on LIBR or if LIBR relies on TU, Paulus said the partnership is unique in that it is based on both concepts; while the institute focuses on quality research, TU is a generator of knowledge. “TU’s primary mission is teaching, but the goal of our faculty is to be top-level researchers,” Paulus said. “The research provides training opportunities for students, and we couldn’t train them if we didn’t have this relationship with TU.”

Close ties to LIBR are an incentive for students, especially those at the graduate level, to choose TU for advanced experience in their field of research. Students are invited to participate in rotations through the institute and contribute to the facility’s mental health mission. Although LIBR’s primary method of research is brain imaging, Paulus said there will be opportunities for additional biology-based research in the future as researchers pursue exciting advancements into the new decade.

Chapman Professorships allow faculty to innovate for student engagement 

The University of Tulsa has announced recipients for its new Chapman Professorship award, established to promote student learning and faculty enrichment across campus.

A total of 38 full-time resident faculty members from all five of TU’s colleges received the $5,000 grants made possible by the Chapman Trust Funds. They will be recognized as Chapman Professors for the 2019-20 academic year and have the potential to renew their awards for up to three years.

The initiatives, activities and programs proposed by this inaugural group of applicants reflect faculty who are eager to provide students with creative avenues of instruction and research. Most universities, especially larger state schools, lack the financial means to support faculty on such a personal level. At TU, administrators and the Board of Trustees agreed professors deserve additional resources to further enhance the college experience. The $5,000 awards encourage professors to think outside the box and engage with students in ways that inspire academic ambition.

“These grants represent the university’s commitment to funding novel ideas that promote learning and research,” said President Gerard P. Clancy. “Providing resources to professors who are seeking to further empower their students inside and outside the classroom is money well spent. I’m thrilled we could offer an award to every eligible applicant, and I look forward to seeing their projects develop throughout the academic year.”

Studio visits in the art industry

Teresa Valero, director of the TU School of Art, Design and Art History, plans to use her Chapman Professorship Award to expand curriculum content and help students embrace emerging practices they will encounter in the design industry. Specifically, the funds will support travel to the Dallas Society of Visual Communications conference in April 2020 where students can compete in graphic design events, participate in portfolio reviews, represent TU in an exhibition and network with industry professionals. While in Dallas, students also can visit a design studio and marketing firm to experience the day-to-day operations of agency life.

“These visits give them a sense of where they’d like to go, it gives them a goal,” Valero explained. “They can imagine themselves beyond TU and say, ‘I know what I want to do, and this is how I’m going to get there.’”

Chemical engineering in the kitchen

Tyler Johannes, Wellspring associate professor of chemical engineering, intends to use his award to pique the interest of current and prospective students in science and engineering and incorporate hands-on demonstrations that involve modern cuisine techniques into the curriculum. The funds will help develop cuisine modules for TU’s ChE 1011 course and teach students about the field in a fun and interactive way while increasing enrollment and improving retention in his department.

“The complex field of chemical engineering is often difficult to explain to high school and first-year students,” Johannes said. “Food production processes are a safe and easy way to introduce them to chemical engineering. Demonstrations will focus on films, foams, coffee and spheres to help students understand the concepts of material balances, dehydration, fluid flow and reaction kinetics.”

Expanding Project Commutation

Law Professor Stephen Galoob is a founder of the Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform’s Project Commutation, which helps lessen the sentences of prisoners whose crimes were reduced from felonies to misdemeanors by Oklahoma State Question 780 in 2016. He helped supervise 30 TU Law student interns who have staffed Project Commutation since it launched in 2018. These students have benefited greatly from participation in Project Commutation, refining their skills in legal analysis and advocacy while developing new tools critical for criminal law practice. Galoob’s Chapman Professorship award will fund a formalization of this experiential learning opportunity that ultimately convinced Gov. Kevin Stitt to overhaul the Pardon and Parole Board in support of the TU students’ work.

“Some of the funds will be used to compensate a student who is working on a project to secure the commutation of sentences for approximately 65 people who are serving 10 years or more for low-level property crimes, many of which are no longer even felonies under Oklahoma law,” Galoob said. “Other portions of the funds will be used to reimburse our students as they travel across the state to meet with applicants in nearly every correctional institution in Oklahoma.”

Data mining in health care

Chapman funding will also prove useful for faculty in the Collins College of Business such as  Kazim Topuz, assistant professor of operations management and business analytics. His vision for the grant is to partner with a group of students to develop an online course, analytics programming, that will connect students to the R and Python data analytics community. Topuz plans to invite those same students to work on a couple of his health analytics projects, one of which includes predicting graft survival after liver transplantation.

“In existing organ transportation literature, only a handful of studies utilized data mining approaches in predicting graft survival,” he said. “The overall goal of this study is to contribute to the advance of matching algorithms for liver transplantation. Students will have hands-on experience in data science and will have published conference proceedings and recognition very early in their careers.”

A campaign for student health

chapman professorshipsProposals from the Oxley College of Health Sciences include a plan from Eric Wickel, associate professor and chair of the Department of Kinesiology and Rehabilitative Sciences, to develop a university leadership team to implement Exercise is Medicine® On Campus (EIM-OC). “Despite reported benefits of physical activity on chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease, about half (54%) of college students do not meet current physical activity guidelines,” he said.

The EIM-OC campaign will promote physical activity as a vital sign of health and conduct surveillance studies among students to assess daily physical activity and unique sedentary behavior. “Implementing EIM-OC through TU’s Department of Kinesiology and Rehabilitative Sciences will facilitate student engagement projects across campus, such as 5K runs and daily health and fitness tips, to promote health and wellness and provide valuable mentorship opportunities,” Wickel said.

The university congratulates all of the 2019-20 Chapman Professorship award recipients:

Kendall College of Arts and Sciences 
Miriam Belmaker – Anthropology
Mark Brewin – Media Studies
Emily Contois – Media Studies
M. Teresa Valero – Art, Design & Art History

Collins College of Business 
Meagan Baskin and Timothy Hart (joint) – Management & Marketing
Meagan McCollum – Finance, Operations Management & International Business
Rob Moore – Energy Economics, Policy & Commerce
Eric Olson – Finance, Operations Management & International Business
Kazim Topuz – Finance, Operations Management & International Business

College of Engineering and Natural Sciences 
Kimberly Adams and Amy Schachle (joint) – Mathematics
Mark Alan Buchheim – Biological Science
Dustin Donnell – Mechanical Engineering
Laura Ford – Chemical Engineering
Tyler Johannes – Chemical Engineering
Gabriel LeBlanc – Chemistry & Biochemistry
Peter LoPresti – Electrical & Computer Engineering
Tom Rendon – Mechanical Engineering
Dale Schoenfeld – Computer Science
Robert Sheaff – Chemistry & Biochemistry
Akram Taghavi-Burris – Computer Science

Oxley College of Health Sciences 
Samantha Beams – Kinesiology & Rehabilitative Sciences
Tedi Courtney – Nursing
Lori Davis – Communication Sciences & Disorders
Cassy Abbott Eng – Nursing
Greg Gardner – Kinesiology & Rehabilitative Sciences
Rachel Hildebrand – Kinesiology & Rehabilitative Sciences
Brandon King – Nursing
Angela Martindale – Nursing
Sheryl Stansifer – Nursing
Suzanne Stanton – Communication Sciences & Disorders
Eric Wickel – Kinesiology & Rehabilitative Sciences
Nicole Wilkins – Kinesiology & Rehabilitative Sciences
Laura Wilson – Communication Sciences & Disorders

College of Law 
Chuck Adams
Stephen Galoob
Gina Nerger

Electrical engineering interns power up for job prospects

Juniors and seniors in The University of Tulsa’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering have a 100% internship and job placement rate. That means all May 2019 graduates are employed in the industry, and all incoming seniors have either concluded or are still working an internship.

A competitive edge

How important is an internship when setting off on the right foot after college? It’s everything, said Kaveh Ashenayi, Hans S. Norberg Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Ashenayi, who also serves as department chair, believes that young graduates with engineering experience have a competitive edge over others who do not. “It’s easier to get a job after graduation and experiencing what it’s like to work as an engineer makes a student more desirable to employ,” said Douglas Jussaume, applied associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.

That’s why Ashenayi and his faculty sat around a table two years ago and set the lofty goal to find an internship for each junior and senior in the department. “We wanted to find honest-to-goodness engineering internships where students worked on actual projects at local companies,” he said.

Faculty tapped into their industry networks, made dozens of calls at Tulsa-area companies and connected students with electrical engineering mentors. Some students received three-month summer internships while others arranged for year-round positions, allowing them to work part time during the semester and full time in the summer. “We are trying to distinguish ourselves by obtaining internships for seniors, juniors, sophomores and even the freshmen,” Ashenayi said. “Many of the students are eventually hired full time where they interned.”

For all faculty and staff in the department that includes a senior class of less than 30 students, helping young engineers complete their degrees and start their careers is the ultimate reward after hundreds of hours spent teaching, advising and mentoring. “When they get internships, their self-confidence goes up,” said department administrative assistant Marla Zumwalt. “They begin to see how what they’ve learned in class can be used in the real world.”

Mason Holley, John Zink Hamworthy Combustion

electrical engineering internshipsInternships also provide exposure to different work environments, interaction with coworkers and customer service, said senior Mason Holley who interned this summer at John Zink Hamworthy Combustion in Tulsa. “I picked up a lot of soft skills and learned how the business aspect of engineering is a lot bigger than I realized,” Holley said. “You can build something, but if no one buys the product, what’s the point?”

Holley’s technical work involved embedded systems and hardware, but he also gave presentations to business leaders, took a speech class offered through the company and soaked in the advice he received from two company mentors who are TU alumni. “Everyone I bumped into was helpful and knowledgeable and that impressed me,” he said.

As Holley returns to campus for his senior year, he begins the semester knowing he has a job locked down at John Zink if he chooses to stay in Oklahoma. “They extended a job offer to me,” he said. “I haven’t decided yet if I want to go to grad school, but it’s pretty exciting and a relief to know that I already have something lined up. It’s a weight off my shoulders.”

Caitlyn Daxon, Cymstar

electrical engineering internshipsHolley is not the only TU intern to receive a job offer. Senior Caitlyn Daxon has interned at Cymstar since March 2019 and has the option to work there full time in the future. Although there aren’t many engineers in her family, she excelled in math and participated in Project Lead the Way as a student at Union High School in Tulsa. This summer, she has helped Cymstar employees overhaul the website that manages and communicates all company projects. She has shadowed engineers, learned about the accounting skills they often use in projects and explored the inner workings of Cymstar’s flight systems. “Engineering is very hands-on, so you don’t know what you want to do without experiencing it first,” Daxon said.

Taylor Deru, Enovation Controls

electrical engineering internships“All of the professors have been very adamant and persistent with us on internship applications and helping us make connections,” said senior Taylor Deru who just finished a summer position with Tulsa’s Enovation Controls. The Houston native joined an office of longtime employees with decades of engineering experience. His tasks included troubleshooting faulty systems reported by customers and various testing with circuit boards, displays and electronic components.

“Once you move into a professional setting, you realize the point of a degree is to learn the fundamentals such as math, physics, circuits and electrical components,” Deru said. “A degree teaches you to think critically and how to solve problems, but there’s a lot you aren’t able to learn in academics. An internship is a very valuable sneak peek at what’s to come after college.”

Patrick Maley, Aaon

electrical engineering internshipsPatrick Maley’s internship at Aaon began in July, and, as a junior, he plans to continue working part time throughout the semester. Right away, he was handed a program used in the company’s HVAC systems and instructed to test inputs/outputs and communications on the product’s circuit board. “It’s about ironed out,” Maley said, “I’ve learned how much responsibility is needed in product and design.”

His assigned Aaon mentor, Senior Electrical Controls Engineer Thomas Burrow, said Maley’s product design was so good that it was sent to manufacturing, exceeding the skillset and quality of an entry-level engineer. “I would trust Patrick to go into any meeting and represent any department,” Burrow said. “When there are employees with 40 years of experience in the room picking apart a design, that can be intimidating, but TU interns are well-spoken and can handle the criticism.”

Burrow explained Aaon often uses the internship as a job interview and, considering Maley’s outstanding performance review, the odds are in his favor. If he chooses to join the industry after his undergraduate degree, a position awaits him. However, Maley still has two years of coursework remaining at TU, and although he’s keeping his options open right now, he knows he’s in the right field. “Electricity is badass, and I wanted a career that allowed me to help people,” he said. “Choosing electrical engineering was the best decision of my life.”

Around 20 local companies hosted TU electrical engineering interns in 2019. Ashenayi said the department is working on a new goal for next summer: to find internships for all freshmen and sophomores, too.

NSF-funded robotics project helps children with hypotonia at Little Light House

Members of the Biological Robotics at Tulsa (BRAT) Research Group in The University of Tulsa’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, are studying the muscle condition hypotonia to improve the quality of life for children who suffer from it. Graduate student Bradford Kerst and Joshua Schultz, an associate professor and BRAT group director, partnered with teachers and therapists at Little Light House in Tulsa to learn how hypotonia reduces muscle tone and strength. Their research is sponsored by a grant from the Disability and Rehabilitation Engineering program at the National Science Foundation and is TU’s first nationally funded project in rehabilitation robotics.

Understanding hypotonia

Kerst said he and Schultz are beginning the final phase of data collection through a device that supports a child’s head and is worn by Little Light House students who experience weak neck muscles as a result of hypotonia. Known commercially as a Headpod, the device holds a child’s head in a neutral posture. Current therapy for hypotonia involves supporting a child’s head from a lightweight suspension frame using a cable and head strap, but TU researchers plan to build a robotic prototype that relinquishes a portion of the support when a child does not need it. This will allow therapists to program a regimen that trains neck muscles in the hope that strength development will enable children to hold up their heads on their own.

“We will use a motion capture system and the initial data gathered to pick out the right motor size for the device, and we’re working with therapists to determine what safety features we need,” Kerst explained.

Little Light House students who have worn the data-capturing Headpod so far have been able to access switches near their head to activate a switch-adapted power wheels truck. Lynda Crouch, assistive technology coordinator at Little Light House, also explained that, in some instances, the Headpod device has been attached to a stander. “Because of the support of the Headpod, we can see secondary results of increased visual attention and social interaction with other students. Their heads are supported in an upright position to see their world. Without the Headpod, they keep their head down or we have to position them reclined in wheelchairs.”

Robotics to the rescue

With mentoring from Schultz, Kerst and an undergraduate researcher who will be added to the TU team this fall will develop biomechanical computer models to program the device’s robotic support system. The project is Kerst’s first exposure to robotics research and has piqued his interest in a career that uses rehabilitation robotics to improve head control.

“Our goal is to understand hypotonia and learn new information about the disorder that we can use in the future to help people,” he said. “It’s been overlooked in a lot of research, so it’s something Professor Schultz and the therapists discussed and saw a need to study.”

As researchers complete the final phase of data collection, Little Light House therapists anticipate a TU design that will improve head positioning for students and allow them to participate fully in daily classroom activities.

“We already knew our students were special, but this research has shown us how unique and incredible they are,” said Crouch. “We’re learning how important it is to capture data that reflects what we as therapists and teachers observe in daily interactions with the children.”

TU faculty and students have a long history of working closely with the Little Light House. Schultz and Kerst meet bi-weekly with the school’s staff to incorporate problem-solving, strategic planning and engineering applications into the plan for a therapeutic device.

Once data collection is complete, Schultz and his team of student researchers will build a prototype that they plan to begin testing in 2020.

TU recruits tackle STEM Bootcamp before classes start

The first semester of college is an exciting time for students, but living in a different environment, adapting to university academics and making friends can cause anxiety. That’s why The University of Tulsa is introducing a STEM Bootcamp to prepare incoming students for this new and challenging phase in their lives.

Thirty-three participants will begin the TU program Aug. 5 and spend two weeks working on activities involving math, chemistry and academic skill development while completing self-paced math skill sessions and exploring science and engineering career opportunities. Students also will take field trips to facilities such as Fab Lab Tulsa to complete projects that reinforce concepts discussed in the classroom.

Improving the student experience

“The bootcamp is designed to help students feel confident in their abilities and know where to turn if something doesn’t go as planned,” said program coordinator Sheila Givens. “Our goal is to make sure that participants transition into their studies at TU with motivation and preparation and possess tools that can help them succeed to the point of graduation.” 

STEM BootcampGivens said students should expect an intense two weeks of college prep, but she also recognizes that learning occurs off campus. Some of the additional science and engineering excursions planned around Tulsa include stops at ONEOK Field and The Gathering Place.

The College of Engineering and Natural Sciences is sponsoring the program and will pick up the tab for participants’ first-semester math and chemistry books — a $400 value.

TU studied other university summer programs to identify best practices before developing its custom model. “We looked at a lot of schools close to us in the state or similar in size. We chose a program with carryover into the semester because that’s when it becomes real to students — four weeks in, they’ve got their first mid-term,” said Amy Schachle, senior math instructor and lead faculty for the bootcamp.

The summer session and six follow-up meetings are an incentive for students because those who complete the program will earn class credit. Once the semester begins, Schachle said the STEM Bootcamp participants will be required to check in regularly with her and Gabriel LeBlanc, Wellspring Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, to evaluate how they are adapting to their classes and college life. Providing extra resources, boosting skills and starting the college transition process early are all priorities to improve the student experience, which program organizers hope will result in higher retention and graduation rates.

Math + chemistry = STEM foundation

LeBlanc said his role as a faculty adviser involves teaching students how to apply chemistry principles differently than they did in high school. Presenting these basic concepts before the semester begins could prevent some students from leaving the major.

“During a traditional chemistry course, there’s so much content to cover so quickly that we don’t get to spend very much time discussing how to set up problems to solve them,” LeBlanc explained. “Students who don’t understand that baseline information within the first week or two of the semester are destined to do poorly in class. If we can master some of this material on the front end, then chemistry won’t become a deterrent to their career path.”

Although math and chemistry are the two main topics that Schachle and LeBlanc will teach, representatives from TU’s Center for Student Academic Success will lead sessions on study skills, identifying and applying personal learning styles, notetaking, conquering test anxiety and exam prep, goalsetting and more. “It’s important we break down some of those barriers to tutoring, studying and taking notes the right way,” LeBlanc explained.

Students with STEM plans

STEM BootcampGivens said many of the students invited to attend the bootcamp program are interested in using a STEM degree to advance health care or pursue other philanthropic projects that make a difference globally. To become a scientist or engineer, Schachle said it all begins with a strong foundation in mathematics.

“We want to make sure they’re ready to hit the ground running,” she said. “We’ve got to make sure they can do college-level math by starting that transition process a little earlier and providing extra resources.” 

Givens explained the program is designed to improve student learning, but it is also a learning opportunity for TU. Participant feedback will be used to develop future summer programming and allow TU to better understand how to serve students such as Mai VuLe of Broken Arrow, who wants to one day serve in the medical field.

“I hope to make all types of friends, know the campus better, enjoy dorm life and become more prepared for my classes in the future,” VuLe said. Studying biochemistry is the first step toward her career goal to learn about the chemical processes that occur within living organisms.

“It’s a good opportunity to start in advance on being a college student,” VuLe said. “I’ll already have an idea of what classes are like, and I’ll be able to learn how to make sure I’m ready for each class.” 

Read more about TU’s efforts to serve students and help them achieve success in college. 

High school seniors perform cutting-edge research as TURC Junior Scholars

This summer, The University of Tulsa is hosting 13 rising high school seniors from the Tulsa area and surrounding communities as TURC Junior Scholars. The program stems from the nationally recognized Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge (TURC), which allows standout high school students to engage with tenured and tenure-track faculty in the university’s state-of-the-art laboratories. The Junior TURC program has hosted more than 70 high school students since its establishment in 2012.

Researching workout supplements

Seerut Parmar, a senior at Holland Hall, has been working with Gordon Purser, a TU chemistry professor. The two have taken on a project to determine whether a workout supplement is providing the extra boost that it claims.

Junior TURC
Professor Purser and Parmar

Purser explained that the supplement, l-arginine ethyl ester, has been endorsed by athletes for several years, but “we haven’t found any evidence in the literature to support that position.”

As a TURC Junior Scholar, Parmar has the opportunity to look for such evidence or disprove the claims altogether. The high schooler was not shaken by being thrust into an academic environment at the university level.

“I felt prepared coming in,” she said. “I had to adapt and learn things about arginine that I didn’t know, but the people at TU helped me feel included and engaged from the first day. They made the transition from an AP Chem classroom to an actual research project a comfortable one.”

Purser, likewise, had nothing but good things to say about Parmar and the Junior TURC program.

“The high school students do not have the preparation of TU students – they haven’t had organic chemistry here, for example. But they’re also exceptional students from around the Tulsa area, so with very little guidance, they can come into the program and make a big impact. Working with Seerut this summer has been a pleasure. Nobody has been more eager to help and driven to learn.”

As the team continues researching, Parmar is laying the foundation for a potential career. She wants to double major in chemistry and journalism in college, planning a future where she can explore “writing with chemistry, or doing chemistry with writing.”

Studying disease in cotton

In the Department of Biological Sciences, Junior TURC scholar David Steichen is working with TU Associate Professor Akhtar Ali on a project about mycoviruses, or viruses that infect fungi.

Junior TURC
Professor Ali and Steichen

One of these fungi, Fusarium oxysporum, has destroyed large percentages of cotton crops in Texas and will only continue to spread if no remedy is found. Since cotton is a major cash crop of the southwest, a deadly fungi could significantly damage the economy.

Steichen and Ali are working to prevent this. Their research with mycoviruses is aimed at using these mycoviruses as a control agent to stop the spread of the fungal disease.

As Steichen explained, “We are trying to isolate the virus and purify it, find its specific RNA, DNA and genetic material, then eventually get that into sequencing.”

Doing so would make the cure achievable.

“After sequencing, we would have to make a solution to drip near the root of every plant,” Ali added. “The virus would be transferred by nature. It would be a solution with no pesticides, no environmental pollution and positive long-term effects.”

In other words, Steichen has spent the summer focusing on research that can help the Midwest economy. Come August, he will return to high school at Bishop Kelley to focus on AP tests and choosing a university to attend next year.

Steichen spoke on this dichotomy of high school life versus college research, saying that he finds joy in both and values them for different things.

Junior TURC
Ali studies a field of cotton infected by the fungi.

“I recently took AP Bio and learned about DNA and how it’s sequenced,” he said, “But never had I actually sequenced it. At TU, after watching, learning and asking a lot of questions, I was able to dive into the research, and being immersed in what I’ve studied helped me truly understand it.”

Ali, regarding the Junior TURC program, said, “It’s a pleasure to work with such bright, intelligent high school students that want to engage with a research project such as this.”

While Steichen hopes to pursue more research or a career as a medical doctor, Ali will continue his research on crops, and both of them will certainly help advance their fields.

“This is a great experience to learn as much as I can to work with college research while in high school,” Steichen said. “I’m seeing how research works and getting a clear path of where I want to go.”

Learn more about the Junior TURC program.

TU featured in 2020 Fiske Guide to Colleges

The University of Tulsa is honored to again be listed in the Fiske Guide to Colleges as one of the top 300 colleges and universities in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. The Fiske Guide to Colleges is a best-selling admissions publication used by millions of students, their families and educators nationwide.

General Student PhotoThe Fiske Guide to Colleges 2020 includes real student quotes and other background information typically not found online. The annual publication has provided honest, straightforward university statistics and profile information for the past 36 years. It highlights aspects such as student body, academics, social life, financial aid, campus environment, housing, food and university activities.

The University of Tulsa is committed to overall student success through inclusion, engagement, empowerment and self-discovery. TU’s original student success center is expanding to include additional services and resources to best serve our students. Working to insure students are successful both during school and after graduation is evident through our total job placement rate of 96% within six months of graduation. TU is improving the first-year experience with the University Studies program that introduces all students to the humanities during their freshmen year. The University of Tulsa is also dedicated to the quality of student life by continually adding new programs to student housing such as a competitive eSports club.

Edward B. Fiske served as education editor of the New York Times for 17 years. He was inspired during that time to write the Fiske Guide to Colleges to help students and their families make decisions about their college choice. The online resource is updated annually by the Fiske editorial team.

Amy Dodson is Ms. Homecoming 2019

This spring, The University of Tulsa’s Amy Dodson (BA ’80) was named Ms. Homecoming 2019 during a Tulsa Alumni Chapter board meeting. President Gerard Clancy’s special announcement came as quite a shock to Dodson, who served as assistant director of alumni engagement for nine years.

“I’m very humbled. There are so many worthy people, and I’m just so grateful to be considered,” she said.

amy dodsonTo know Dodson is to know her friendly smile and infectious spirit for TU. She has worked closely with alumni of all ages to organize reunions, receptions, tailgates and other events while preserving items and memories from TU’s past. The Heritage Room in Collins Hall is filled with TU memorabilia and photos Dodson helped acquire and carefully curate through relationships with alumni.

“That has been a treasure to me,” she said. “Those items have incredible stories, and I hope the collection continues to grow in the future.”

Dodson is a devoted advocate for TU’s 12 alumni chapters and 22 clubs and said one of her favorite parts of the job involved collaborating with the Future Alumni Council. “I love working with these young leaders,” she said. “I love watching students grow through the years and then graduate as they go out into the world and take TU with them.”

Homecoming is a highlight each year for Dodson. After months of planning alongside colleagues, committee members and volunteers, all of the long hours culminate in a week of unforgettable experiences.

“I don’t know what it is, but every year the bonfire and fireworks make me cry,” she said. “And I love that moment on the football field when we recognize all of the Homecoming award recipients. Honoring them is so much fun!”

Now, it’s Dodson’s turn to receive one of TU’s most cherished distinctions. As Ms. Homecoming, she will represent TU at all Homecoming activities. Although it is not required for the honoree to be a TU graduate, Dodson’s status as an alumna makes the award that much more special. Originally from the St. Louis area, she remembers feeling an immediate connection to TU as a student. She is a member of the Tri Delta sorority, majored in advertising and public relations and met her husband, Mike (BA ’80), during their junior year.

“Those bonds started instantly when I stepped on campus, and as a Tri Delta, I had instant friends and sisters for guidance,” she said.

This year’s Homecoming celebration will be particularly bittersweet for Dodson. She wrapped up another TU chapter of her life and completed her last day as an employee on July 1.

“The main thing that touches my heart about all of this is the love and incredible passion I have for TU,” she said. “I’m so honored that I can continue to share that wherever I go. I’ve learned and grown so much, and being named Ms. Homecoming goes above and beyond anything I could ever dream of in my life.”

Dodson plans to remain active in TU Alumni volunteer opportunities and nonprofit projects around Tulsa. She’s excited to explore new adventures such as traveling more with Mike and visiting their sons, Jake (BS ’14) and Sam, in Texas as often as possible.

Dodson’s duties and responsibilities at this year’s Homecoming celebration will be a much-deserved change of pace. Surrounded by friends, family and Tri Delta sisters, it promises to be a week of memories, laughs and maybe a few sweet tears for one of TU’s favorite alumni.

High school senior offered $2.5M in scholarships at 35 universities, chooses TU

Recent high school graduate Nicholas Tsahiridis of Branson, Missouri, has chosen to attend The University of Tulsa after earning more than $2.5 million in scholarship opportunities at 35 universities.

Nicholas TsahiridisTsahiridis is planning a career as a neurologist/neurosurgeon. His inspiration to pursue medicine comes from his younger brother who suffers from conditions including epilepsy, autism, cerebral palsy and ADHD. “Because of him, I became interested in medicine. I want to help cure brain disabilities,” Tsahiridis said.

He committed to attending The University of Tulsa after meeting TU President Gerard Clancy during a campus visit this spring. Tsahiridis, who has decided to major in biology on a pre-med track, said he connected immediately with Clancy, one of only four physicians in the country who also serves as a university president.

“Dr. Clancy said he would help me in my medical career with recommendation letters and advice,” Tsahiridis said. “At a lot of universities, the president is not on everyone’s level, but I could tell he will be very helpful during my time at TU.”

Tsahiridis is wrapping up a successful experience at Branson High School after competing in three varsity sports, completing several advanced placement and honors courses and achieving the rank of Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America.

Before attending TU this fall, Tsahiridis will participate in Ionian Village, a three-week international summer camping ministry facilitated by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. He looks forward to focusing on his academics while joining TU’s diverse community of students from all backgrounds and walks of life.

When asked why he applied to so many different universities, Tsahiridis said he wanted to set an example for high school students. “I wanted to show them that hard work pays off because if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.”

Three faculty named TU Outstanding Researchers

The University of Tulsa honored its inaugural group of Outstanding Researchers at spring commencement on May 4. The Outstanding Researcher Award is a lifetime distinction, received only once in an individual’s career. It is intended to honor career-spanning achievements that have been validated in the scholar’s professional field.

These are the 2018-19 recipients:

outstanding researchersRose F. Gamble, Tandy Professor of Computer Science Engineering. Gamble developed a safety and security requirements model that can be embedded and used by a self-adaptive system to intelligently determine the least risky adaptation to deploy at runtime.

outstanding researchersJamie L. Rhudy, Director of the Psychophysiology Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience and Professor of Psychology. Rhudy’s research identifies mechanisms that contribute to and/or maintain chronic pain (particularly in Native Americans) and seeks to develop non-invasive methods for assessing individuals at risk for developing chronic pain.

Outstanding ResearchersCem Sarica, F.H. “Mick” Merelli/Cimarex Energy Professor of Petroleum Engineering. Sarica’s research has been disseminated to the public at large through more than 240 publications and incorporated in various software. He has been recognized internationally with several awards by the Society of Petroleum Engineers, most notably with an SPE John Franklin Carll Award in 2015.

Candidates for the Outstanding Researcher awards were nominated by deans from the Kendall College of Arts and Sciences, College of Engineering and Natural Sciences, Collins College of Business and the Oxley College of Health Sciences. Nominees were selected for their recognition of outstanding research and scholarship achievements based on a single project or a cumulative contribution.

Other considerations included pedagogical awards, honors from scholarly societies, grants, publication citation counts or other forms of public recognition. External recognition of a faculty member’s work also factored into the selection process.

Learn more about this year’s distinguished faculty awards, including the 2018-19 Outstanding Teachers and Medicine Wheel Award recipients.

Veteran, TU alumnus builds cyber career in Tulsa

Nathan Singleton (BS ’08, MS ’10) has blazed his own trail to success first as a veteran, then a University of Tulsa student and now as a cybersecurity professional. He was the first full-time cybersecurity employee at a Tulsa-based drilling and technology company. Starting with zero budget and staff almost five years ago, Singleton has developed a ten-member cybersecurity team with a multi-million-dollar budget. “We get to interface with all levels of the organization, from the guys on the rigs to those in the mailroom and up to the executive leadership team,” he said.

Learn more about TU’s undergraduate degree options in computer science or graduate programs in cybersecurity.

nathan singletonHis ability to think independently and relate to different fields outside of the cybersecurity discipline are skills he developed as an undergraduate and graduate student at TU. In the ever-changing environment of digital security, Singleton said professionals must be open to continuous learning and different ideas. “There are a lot of bad actors out there that are spending as much money or more than we are in the industry to figure out new ways to get beyond our security measures and protocols,” he said.

“Cybersecurity is always marching forward. It is very fast-paced and going through an education program that is set up in a very similar manner helps prepare you for that.”

Attending TU as a veteran

Originally from Houston, Singleton attended high school in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and joined the military after graduation. He worked 10 years as an electronics technician on submarines in the U.S. Navy, and as his time on active duty drew to a close, he visited Tulsa where a friend told him about TU. He discovered the opportunities that awaited him if he pursued a computer science degree with a focus on cybersecurity. After studying a couple of semesters at Tulsa Community College, Singleton enrolled at TU as a 28-year-old transfer student. Key staff members in the TU Veterans Student Success Center, such as Cindy Watts, helped him coordinate his Department of Veteran’s Affair Vocational Rehabilitation funding. His seamless transition to a four-year university was enhanced by fellow student veterans on campus from all branches of the military.

“It’s a very welcoming vet-friendly environment, and those are relationships that are probably going to carry me through the rest of my life,” Singleton said.

He immediately got involved in research, publishing papers, representing the university at conferences in Japan and Poland and completing internships with local businesses and federal agencies. “My overall experience was amazing,” Singleton said. “I think research at such an early stage of my educational career was what drove me further and further. Because I was former military and because I was older, I had the opportunity to lead research projects that prepared me to manage a cybersecurity department at a multi-national company.”

From grad school to the government

Research, internships, direct interaction with professors and the tight-knit dynamic of TU’s computer science and cybersecurity programs convinced Singleton he’d made the right college decision. Following his bachelor’s degree, he stayed at TU and earned a master’s in computer science, which opened up a whole new world of cyber scenarios and research leadership opportunities. TU’s reputation as a cyber education center set him on track with a career at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Southwest Power Administration where hydroelectric power from U.S. Army Corps of Engineer dams is linked to preference customers in cooperatives and military bases. As the security program manager, Singleton was responsible for the protection and security of the agency’s dams and infrastructure in four states as well as other facilities, substations and power lines that interface directly with the U.S. Army. He rebuilt the physical security program to respond to floods, natural disasters and pandemics. Singleton also oversaw counterintelligence and counterterrorism projects and eventually led the agency’s cybersecurity team.

Finding opportunity in Tulsa

Three years later, he began to look for a new challenge and was contacted by H&P in Tulsa. He has developed the company’s cybersecurity team from the ground up and manages all incident response activities and system reviews. The department’s roles also have expanded to providing security awareness and training, governance, risk analysis and compliance.

“TU taught me how to think outside the box, solve problems and succeed in the government and at H&P,” he said.

After his work experience in the government, he had planned to look for jobs in Washington, D.C., on the West Coast or overseas, but family ties and the prospect of entrepreneurial cyber growth pulled him back to Tulsa. He believes that with more investment from local organizations interested in building out the city’s cyber infrastructure and capabilities, companies will find Tulsa an inviting city with a low cost of living. “As the word spreads and more opportunities arise here in Tulsa, I think we’ll see how it’s a great location for a startup,” Singleton said. “It’s about attracting the minds, giving them what they need to make that initial, first shaky step and then watching them launch.”




Samuel Taylor receives Goldwater Scholarship

University of Tulsa junior Samuel Taylor has been selected as a 2019 Goldwater Scholar and is TU’s 64th student to receive a Goldwater Scholarship. This award honors Senator Barry Goldwater and was designed to encourage outstanding college sophomores and juniors to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering. The Goldwater Scholarship is the preeminent undergraduate award of this type in these fields.

samuel taylorTaylor is majoring in computer science and mathematics. He is a National Merit Scholar, a member of the TU Honors Program and participates in the Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge. Taylor not only excels academically but lives out other aspects of the True Blue identity by giving back to the community. For more than a year, he has mentored high school students in a local Tulsa FIRST Robotics team. Taylor also helped design a bubble machine with the university organization Make a Difference Engineering (MADE at TU), which aids children with special needs.

From an estimated pool of more than 5,000 college sophomores and juniors, 1,223 natural science, engineering and mathematics students were nominated by 443 academic institutions to compete for the 2019 Goldwater Scholarship. Only 496 were selected. Many of this year’s Goldwater Scholars, including Taylor, have already published research and presented their work.

Taylor plans to pursue a Ph.D. degree in cognitive science with an emphasis in computer science. This will include researching computational models of biological and artificial cognition to see how these models could inform better adaptive artificial intelligence. Ultimately, he hopes to teach and research within academia.

TU’s Conner Bender awarded Truman Scholarship for public service

University of Tulsa computer science senior Conner Bender has received the honorable Truman Scholarship, the premier graduate fellowship in the United States for those pursuing careers in public service leadership. The scholarship, awarded in 2019 to 62 students from 58 institutions nationwide, is the hallmark of the Truman Foundation, the nation’s official living memorial to the 33rd U.S. President Harry S. Truman. Bender will receive a maximum of $30,000 for graduate study.

conner bender
Bender with Jim Sorem, dean of the College of Engineering and Natural Sciences

Originally from Jenks, Bender is double majoring in computer science and mathematics, while earning his master’s degree in cyber operations. He will graduate with his bachelor’s degrees in May 2019 and continue his graduate degree at TU next fall. He serves as TU’s student body president, an ex-officio member of the Board of Trustees, president of Future Alumni Council, and founding president of the Rotaract Club. Bender is a Presidential Scholar, Stanford University Innovation Fellow, orientation leader, university ambassador, triathlete and marathon runner-up.

Bender used his computer science skills to establish a meal swipe donation program and was awarded the prestigious TU Medicine Wheel Award for Community Service. He is a two-time teaching assistant for the TU President Gerard Clancy and one of 10 U.S. undergraduates selected for a Fulbright Summer Institute in Scotland. Bender was named 2019 Greek Man of the Year and has held several internships and research positions with the U.S. government. He created a free iPad app that enhances word association and motor skills for people with disabilities and at Harvard, helped develop an emotion-based text reading application for Android users who are blind or visually impaired.

Bender is a local nonprofit board member, a cappella singer in Phi Mu Alpha, ministry team member for Reformed University Fellowship and was selected to lobby for the Fraternal Governmental Relations Coalition. He also serves as the Philanthropy Committee undergraduate representative, ritual peer for the Sigma Chi International Fraternity and vice president of TU’s chapter of Sigma Chi. Bender is a member of the Diversity Action Committee, Foundation of Excellence Committee, University Council and Student Conduct Board. He also is a notary public and is in the process of obtaining his private pilot license.

This year’s Truman Scholars were selected from 840 candidates nominated by 346 colleges and universities — the largest and one of the most competitive application pools in Truman Scholar history. Finalists were chosen by 16 independent selection panels based on their academic success and leadership accomplishments, as well as their likelihood of becoming public service leaders.


TU’s Benjamin James and Jordan Sosa receive NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

Two students from The University of Tulsa have been awarded Graduate Research Fellowships from the National Science Foundation. TU’s 2019 recipients are Jordan Sosa, an engineering physics senior from Florissant, Missouri, and Benjamin James, a computer science senior, from St. Louis, Missouri.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited institutions in the United States. Fellows receive a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 along with a $12,000 education allowance for tuition and fees. Other benefits include opportunities for international research and professional development and the option to conduct research at any accredited U.S. institution of graduate education.

Jordan Sosa

jordan sosaSosa currently focuses on materials research and metallic materials as a student in the TU Department of Mechanical Engineering. As a TU undergraduate, Sosa has received valuable experience in physics, materials science and engineering as a visiting researcher at West Virginia University, Oklahoma State University-Tulsa and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In addition to his academic and research agenda, Sosa has served in leadership roles for TU’s Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and the Society of Physics Students, attended the National Institute for Leadership Advancement and helped host a Noche de Ciencias, or “Night of Sciences” community event that invited local public school children to learn about STEM degrees.

“These experiences have instilled a stronger desire in me to pursue a higher degree so I can develop a stronger understanding of STEM and provide others with access to that education,” he said.

He plans to earn a Ph.D. degree from Harvard University in materials science and engineering in research fields of energy storage and eventually work in a laboratory or the research and development department of a materials technology company.

Benjamin James

benjamin jamesJames has performed research in the bioinformatics subfield computational genomics, which emphasizes the use of computational and statistical techniques such as algorithms and machine learning/artificial intelligence to solve biological problems.

“At TU, under the mentorship of Dr. Hani Girgis, I created intelligent and adaptive software systems to compare and cluster nucleotide sequences, especially long, genome-length sequences, as a method of in silico data analysis for computational biologists,” James said.

The clustering algorithm currently is used by biologists in multiple pipelines, including groups of third-generation sequencing reads and grouping of microbial communities. James plans to attend graduate school at MIT and work independently on bioinformatics research projects that can have a positive impact on society.