Congratulations Class of 2017: Commencement Spotlight | CoLA | SIU

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Congratulations Class of 2017: Commencement Spotlight

April 18, 2017

We call it commencement because it is the beginning, not the end, for the students who are graduating with a liberal arts degree. Meet some of the graduates, from the design student who fondly remembers a spontaneous dance break in the studio to the psychology student ready to pursue graduate school who came here thinking he’d be an engineer. We’re proud to be part of their stories.


Brandon Kellum

Brandon KellumBrandon Kellum, a native of Lake Station, Indiana, came to Southern Illinois to strike out on his own. After some investigation, he applied to SIU with the intention of becoming an engineer. It was not to be. After an introductory course in psychology with Meera Komarraju, now Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, and a Distinguished Teacher in the Department of Psychology, he realized two things: he was really interested in people; there were many professional avenues open to a person holding a degree in psychology.

Brandon’s parents were not initially in favor of his attending college out of state, nor did they immediately warm to the news that he had changed his major to psychology. However, now he’s receiving a bachelor’s degree with a concentration in counseling, and he plans to pursue a master’s in social work at one of many prestigious schools pursuing him.

While at SIU, Brandon served an internship for 30 hours per week at the Women’s Center, Inc., in Carbondale, working primarily with children. The only male intern at the center from May through July 2015, his role was to help children at the shelter come to terms with what they had witnessed and experienced. He also provided drug and alcohol education, and generally sought to help mitigate the lasting effects of trauma.

During his internship, Brandon witnessed what he describes as many “intersectional identities” operative at the same time: rural women of color, some of whom had been diagnosed with mental disorders and who also struggled with substance abuse issues. This experience, he says, “is what propelled me into the area of social work.” Specifically, as a scholar he is interested in “understanding, through a feminized lens, how women with ‘minoritized’ bodies negotiate and perceive their own mental health deficiencies on the basis of their identities.”

The best undergraduate memory for this incredibly articulate Saluki was winning an award for a paper he presented at his first academic conference, sponsored by the SIU Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies program.


Madeline “Abby” Hodson

Abby HodsonStudy abroad, says Madeline “Abby” Hodson, “has taught me patience and openness.” Abby had the opportunity to travel the East Coast of China in spring 2016, spending four months in Shanghai enrolled in an intensive language course. She studied Mandarin Chinese for two years prior to the intensive experience, in the Department of Languages, Cultures, and International Trade.

Abby will “walk” in May but she will officially graduate after she completes her internship this summer – a paid internship in Taiwan. She will work in the marketing and legal departments of an international company that sells candle-making supplies worldwide – and, yes, she will make use of her skill as a translator.

Abby took full advantage of every opportunity the department afforded her, from studying abroad to the language partner program (she’s had two, exchanging practice in English for practicing Mandarin) to the weekly Chinese table – a social gathering of those interested in improving their foreign language skills. She credits Shu-Ling Wu, assistant professor of Chinese, with providing excellent support with internships and study abroad.

Never one to gather any moss, Abby held down three jobs at once while pursuing her bachelor’s degree – waiting tables at Global Gourmet and the Underground restaurants, and also working for Aspen Court Apartments.

“It’s all in the scheduling,” she says with a smile.

Her energy and ambition have not gone unnoticed. She is currently entertaining five job offers, all in Chicago and Miami.

Following her travels in China, Abby has become an avid green tea drinker and she adores authentic Chinese street food. However, she confesses that she has variously had to eat beetles on a stick and snack on chicken feet out of a bag at a gas station because she feared offending the people graciously offering these popular foods to her.

Abby is originally from Seattle. Her close-knit family now lives in St. Louis. Her plans include attending graduate school and getting to Iceland one day.


Lula Morton

Lula MortonLula Morton, a native of Murray, Kentucky, sacrificed a Bluegrass State scholarship in engineering to enroll in the design program in the School of Art and Design, concentrating in industrial design. Lula was attracted by the program’s reputation, relative affordability and favorable teacher to student ratio. She has since become a trailblazer.

A recent finalist in the 2017 Rickert-Ziebold Award Exhibition, Lula began work on her project April 15 of last year, investing nine months of effort into what is a fairly complicated design – a one-sixth scale model of a sleek electric motorcycle. She has ridden motorcycles from a very early age, and she hopes to land a first, post-graduation job as a designer in either a power sports gear company or a motorcycle manufacturing company.  

Over spring break, Lula worked as an extern at TEAMS Design in Chicago. Prior to that, she had the opportunity to study abroad for two months in Prague, and in December of this academic year was one of three students and one professional designer to accompany Tao Huang, assistant professor of design, to Guangzhou, China. In China, which Lula describes as “the most amazing experience ever – and the most terrifying,” the American design students worked alongside their Chinese counterparts in a workshop dedicated to developing a new product in only one week.

They developed a “tissue case.”

But what a tissue case it was! Tissues were printed with graphics to enable the user – likely a traveler – to indicate food preferences, allergies and preferred religious practice by gesturing to depicted items. The tissues were intended to be used again as either a table napkin or as a bathroom tissue or towel, as facilities in China rarely supply such restroom amenities.

Her best memory of SIU? That would be one morning at 3 a.m. on charrette in the Pulliam Design Wing, when Shakira came up on the playlist and all the Brazilian exchange students dropped everything and began dancing. There was nothing to do but join in!


Bret Stout

Bret StoutBret Stout doesn’t take anything for granted. His journey has been rather incredible, awe-inspiring even.

When his father presented him with four choices upon graduation from high school: Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines, the Chicago native chose door number three. Twenty-six years later, this veteran of many conflicts, a husband and the father of two, transfer student and Honors scholar will graduate with a perfect grade point average this May, having earned a bachelor’s degree in political science, with a concentration in international relations.

After serving 26 years in the Air Force as a civil engineer, for which he received much technical training but little formal education, Bret wanted “to get back to school and be an example for my kids.” He said he also thought his wife deserved to have a real home and the chance to put down some roots after 17 years navigating the globe with him. By his count, the former senior master sergeant has seen 53 countries, averaging about two for every year of his service.

For him, studying international relations was a natural fit.

When you talk with Bret, you understand that his military background is something of an asset. He speaks of looking to see results by exercising the right “attitude and effort.” He credits the G.I. Bill with allowing him to focus on his education while minimizing distractions. Bret says that SIU was brisk to address his admission; the same thoughtful flexibility has been present along the way, too. For example, the University Honors Program waived the service requirement for Bret, with the comment that, surely, 26 years was quite enough service! In Bret’s case, he was able to spend time with his family even while handling a heavy course load, beginning to redress the imbalance with regard to his family life while on active duty all those years.

As a nontraditional student, Bret says he’s always regarded his professors as his best support, finding them to be strong student advocates. In his own field, he describes as “phenomenal” his professors in political science, especially Stephen Bloom and Benjamin Bricker. He also relied on Andrew Youpa, professor of philosophy, and Matt Sronkoski, one of the college’s expert advisors, for their advice and support.

What’s next for Bret? He’s off to law school.