UNC Grads Share Stories, Advice

UNC graduates

Graduating UNC students (counter-clockwise from top left) Mary Birdsall, Courtney Kranz, Will Schiffelbein, Zach Bond, Loana Mason, Ben Schiffelbein, Tara Schoenherr, Meghan Patrick.

News release about commencement and the class of 2012

Each of the almost 1,300 undergraduate and graduate students who graduated from the University of Northern Colorado during commencement ceremonies May 4-5 has her or his own unique story. Eight of them shared their stories, along with some advice for those who will follow in their footsteps.

Courtney Kranz - Political Science, Business Administration (Finance Emphasis)
Courtney Kranz describes the refugees she works with as resilient people who "manage so well with such grace."

The same could be said for Kranz.

When shoulder injuries that required multiple surgeries derailed her Division I basketball career, Kranz remained active with her team by helping at practices. She became a mentor and advisor, tutoring freshmen as part of the Student-Athlete Academic Success program.

The double major will graduate having been named the Political Science scholar of the year, making the dean's list in the School of Finance and receiving Big Sky all-academic awards.

Kranz left an equal impression as a volunteer.

She traveled on church mission trips to Uganda and, a year before that, Juarez, Mexico, to help build a house for a family there. It was heartbreaking, she said, when violence forced them to leave early with the house unfinished.

For the past year, she's volunteered at the Global Refugee Center, housed at a former elementary school in Greeley. She teaches GED courses and coaches basketball fundamentals during open gym for girls who otherwise wouldn't have an opportunity.

Kranz is deciding between staying at the center and entering graduate school in her home state. She's been accepted to a University of Minnesota development-practice program, which takes an interdisciplinary approach to educate on how to help developing countries.

Advice for freshmen: "Be honest, appreciate what been given to you and look for ways to positively impact the community — UNC offers a lot of ways to do that."

Tara Schoenherr - Human Services
Although Tara Schoenherr initially hesitated when she was encouraged to become a resident assistant in Harrison Hall after her freshman year there, she decided to give it a try and soon realized she'd found her niche - and a career path.

Schoenherr quickly started assuming leadership roles in hall and Residence Hall Association activities, and just as quickly gained a reputation as a ‘go-to" person when an event needed to be organized, a student was looking for someone to talk to or another RA needed advice on how to handle a problem.

Her always-positive attitude, willingness to help and strong work ethic were recognized in 2010-11 when she received RA of the Year awards from both UNC and the Rocky Mountain chapter of the National Association of College and University Residence Halls, and again this year when she was named Senior RA of the Year at UNC and received Housing and Residential Education's Distinguished Service Award.

That track record and a 3.65 GPA helped Schoenherr take the next step in her student services career path. She's been offered a graduate assistantship at the University of Utah, where she'll be director of a residence hall while she pursues a master's degree in Education Leadership and Policy.

Advice for freshmen: "Don't be afraid to take advantage of the opportunities that you're most scared of; you might be surprised at what you find out you're capable of."

Ben Schiffelbein - Political Science, Philosophy
Will Schiffelbein - Political Science
The Schiffelbein brothers have followed similar paths during their careers at UNC but some healthy sibling rivalry has resulted in them leaving their marks in very different ways.

Ben's 18 months younger than Will is, but they'll graduate together because of high school advanced placement credits and heavy course loads that enabled Ben to earn a double-major degree in three years.

In addition to graduating on the same day, they both majored in Political Science, both served as resident assistants, both participated in Student Senate and both held positions with the Drug, Alcohol and Tobacco Education program offered by the Center for Peer Education.

Beyond their involvement on campus and their commitment to their studies, both Will and Ben have had a hand in making changes on campus.

In October 2010, Will started UNC's chapter of Pi Kappa Phi fraternity. It was officially chartered a year later and is now the largest fraternity on campus. In addition to his involvement with the Center for Peer Education, he served as Student Senate election commissioner this year and was 2011 homecoming king.

Ben, as Student Senate's director of academic affairs in 2011, worked to help change UNC's grade forgiveness policy and improve the policy for awarding grants for students to attend conferences. This year he served as the senate's administrative assistant and also worked part-time at a law firm in Denver.

Will plans to move to Charlotte, N.C. this summer to work at Pi Kappa Phi's national office advising chapters around the county on how to operate more effectively and safely.

Ben will marry a UNC alumna later this month and then pursue a law degree at Georgetown University.

Although the brothers agree that getting involved is important, they have different advice for incoming freshman.

Will's advice: "Don't forget to get involved inside the classroom. It's easy to get involved with everything else and forget that your education is what you are here for."

Ben's advice: "The biggest asset of this university is that it provides an unparalleled forum for discussion. You can talk to your peers and professors about anything; it's important to just talk to people, because that can be a rare opportunity."

Meghan Patrick - Business Administration (Marketing Emphasis)
Meghan Patrick was chosen during her senior year as the first intern for American Greetings nationwide as part of a test program in the Monfort College of Business.

The internship included the opportunity to attend an "Asset-Area Supervisor Training" session in Cleveland over spring break, and she'll present her final intern project to a team of American Greeting executives who will visit the UNC campus May 10.

She's already received a job offer from the company, and after two months of training in San Francisco, she'll work as an area supervisor and run her own territory.

Patrick, a Business Administration major with a marketing emphasis, also was a member of a team chosen as a finalist in this year's Research Excellence Awards at UNC. She and a classmate explored marketing strategies for big pharmaceutical companies in bottom-of-the-pyramid markets and examined the financial viability of those strategies.

"The Monfort College of Business has truly prepared me for my future," she said. "I've already had real world experiences while a student that will help me succeed."

Loana Mason, Special Education (Visual Impairment Emphasis)
As part of her doctoral dissertation, Loana Mason sifted through 40 years of literature and found more than 650 articles pertaining to literacy for individuals with visual impairments.

When this list was narrowed down to include only those studies that provided scientifically-based evidence, 20 articles detailing a variety of interventions remained.

One of the articles contradicted what is believed to be best practice for efficiently using the hands and fingers to read Braille. While most teachers of students with visual impairments instruct Braille readers to use at least the index and middle fingers of both hands, the only recent piece of scientifically-based evidence showed an advantage for the left middle finger.

Mason replicated that study from 1971 to include one- and two-handed reading techniques using all plausible combinations of the index and middle fingers. She worked with 15 participants who were Braille readers attending schools for the blind.

During her study, Mason, who herself has a visual impairment, positioned a video camera underneath a transparent surface and recorded the students' hands as they moved through 10 different passages in Braille that she specially produced on clear paper. She asked them to use their personally preferred method and then nine techniques she randomly assigned.

More than six years after starting the dissertation process, which included 1,200 hours coding data, the results of her dissertation "supported that which we have believed for the last 100 years to be best practice - the two-handed technique."

For her efforts, she earned the Graduate Dean's Citation for Outstanding Dissertation.

An experienced educator, Mason has taught students with visual impairment in K-12 schools and prospective teachers at the university level. She's also served as a Braille literacy project director for the American Printing House for the Blind.

After earning her doctorate (she also holds a master's degree from UNC), she'll become coordinator of the visual impairments program at New Mexico State University.

When embarking on her doctorate, Mason never thought that she would devote six years of her life to Braille literacy, and she downplayed being called a foremost authority on the topic.

"I'd like to think that I have some expertise in the area, but I continue to learn new things every day. That's what I love about what I do."

Zach Bond - Business Administration (Finance Emphasis)
Although some of his classmates might think he's lucky, the fact that Zach Bond's graduating with a job offer in hand was more about discovering a passion, setting a goal and doing what it takes to achieve that goal.

After transferring to UNC from Regis University after his freshman year, Bond realized that his dream job would be to serve as a sports information director for a college or professional team. Since he grew up in Greeley and is a lifelong Bears fan, he approached the Athletics department's sports information staff about learning the ropes.

After working on a volunteer basis for the first 18 months and as a paid student employee for another 18 months, on June 15 he'll transition into a full-time, 10-month paid position as an assistant sports information director.

"I feel fortunate that I'm able to work in something I want to do and that I'm passionate about," Bond said, "But if it doesn't work out, I'll have a degree in Finance to fall back on."

Advice for freshmen: "Get involved with at least one club or internship and really explore what you're passionate about. Even if it's late in your college career, like myself, it will always be better if you're doing something you love."

Mary Birdsall, English
Before she receives her master's degree at UNC's Graduate School commencement ceremony May 4, Mary Birdsall will have the rare opportunity to tell everyone just what she thinks.

That's because she was selected to perform the time-honored tradition of giving the student welcome at the ceremony.

Birdsall, who came to UNC to both get her master's in English and prepare for licensure to teach high school English, was picked from among graduates encouraged by their advisors or professors to submit a paragraph summarizing what they'd say if chosen to give the welcome.

Birdsall said that the basic premise of her message, which struck a chord with the selection committee, had already taken root before the call for submissions.

"The completion of a degree is a natural time to reflect on what you've done and what you're going to do next," Birdsall explained.

Birdsall used a trained writer's skills to turn those reflections into an inspiring message that's sure to resonate not only with the graduates and their friends and family, but also with other members of the university community.

We won't reveal her message's theme, but we will share that one of her reflections is about tutoring an undergraduate student in the UNC Writing Center, an experience that helped her decide to change her plans and teach on the college level.

Advice for future graduates: "Make the difference: Look back and evaluate what you accomplished compared to what you planned."

Editor's Notes

  • Videotaped highlights and transcriptions of select addresses by students and keynote speakers from UNC's graduate and undergraduate commencement ceremonies will be available on the UNC website next week.
  • For more information about UNC's commencement ceremonies, including the keynote speakers and facts and figures about the class of spring 2012, go to http://www.unco.edu/news/releases.aspx?id=3901.