Cameron University graduating class of 2013 filled with inspirational stories

Cameron University will honor the class of 2013 during its annual Commencement ceremony at 7:30 p.m., Friday, May 10, at Cameron Stadium in Lawton, with guest speaker T.W. Shannon, Oklahoma Speaker of the House and a Cameron alumnus. For many, commencement represents more than earning a degree. It serves as a personal milestone for achievement and overcoming adversity. Included below are stories of personal accomplishment of a few graduates from the class of 2013.

BRYCE, SETH and TREVOR GEIGER

Attending Cameron University is a family tradition for the Geiger clan of Snyder. Jerry and Royce Geiger each earned a bachelor’s degree from Cameron and went on to careers in education in their hometown of Snyder. Their son Mike graduated from Cameron with a degree in chemistry and is now an optometrist in Altus, and daughter-in-law Shaun also attended CU. This year, the family tradition is a bit more special, as three Geiger offspring are receiving degrees. Bryce, Seth and Trevor - three of the Geiger quadruplets - have completed their bachelor degrees this year. The other quad, Darah, attended CU for two years before entering OU’s dental hygiene program.

Bryce has earned a bachelor’s degree in biology, Seth has earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, and Trevor has earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

All three have taken full advantage of the college experience. They attended Cameron as PLUS scholars, have consistently appeared on either the President’s List or Dean’s List and are members of Phi Kappa Phi, the national honor society that recognizes and rewards academic success. Individually, they have been active on campus through participation in numerous student organizations and activities including the American Chemical Society, Biology Club, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Health Professions Society, Baptist Collegiate Ministries, Student Housing Association, Programming Activities Council, Student Government Association and the Cameron Disc Golf Club.

“Even in high school, we got involved in a lot of activities,” Bryce says. “I like meeting new people and getting involved and making a difference. That’s so much better than doing nothing. I have a lot of good memories from the things I’ve been active in. Getting involved in a lot of stuff on campus makes the whole college experience more fun and takes your mind off studying when you need a break.”

Seth echoes that statement. “Being involved on campus gave me something to do outside of school work. I like to keep busy.”

“Being part of a community is fun - you get to know people,” says Trevor. “We were really active in high school, and that translated into wanting to get involved in things at Cameron. I enjoy getting to know people and becoming part of a community.”

Seth and Bryce shared several classes during their academic career and used mutual study time to their advantage. “We both like to study alone – normally we don’t study with other people,” Seth says. “But for those classes, we’d study in the same room. If I was having a problem, he would help me and vice versa.”

Bryce says that even though he didn’t have any classes with Trevor or Darah, he valued their input about some of the classes they had taken. “Sometimes they’d tell me about a class they’d really enjoyed, so I’d take it.”

Both Seth and Bryce have chosen to follow in their father’s footsteps and will be attending Northeastern State University’s School of Optometry, which admits only 28 students per year.

“I always wanted to be some kind of doctor and to help people,” Bryce says. “I decided on optometry because I want to work with my dad.”

For Seth, the choice made sense on two fronts. “I personally don’t like blood very much, and there’s not very much blood in optometry,” he laughs. “Seriously, as an optometrist, you’re your own boss. My dad was always around when we were growing up, because he could set his own schedule. I want to be able to do that when I have kids.”

Trevor, who says he’s “the most different” of the brothers, has chosen a career path outside of the medical profession – business administration. “I think that’s a better fit for me and my personality,” he explains. “I’d like to have my own business someday. My goal is to find a business sector that I really like and to eventually build my own business.”

He has applied to several graduate schools and is waiting to learn if he has been accepted. “I’m waiting to see what happens,” he says. “If the right opportunity arises, I’ll probably start working.”

Each is able to identify a distinct memory about their time at Cameron.

“Being in the PLUS program was the biggest thing about going to Cameron,” says Bryce. “As a PLUS scholar, you’re active on campus. I feel like I got to know President Cindy Ross because of her involvement with PLUS. She and (PLUS advisers) Jennifer Holland, Jennifer Pruchnicki and Zeak Naifeh, among others, would give great advice and help us understand how to make good decisions. The PLUS program was the most impactful thing of my time at Cameron. I couldn’t have wished for a better college experience.”

Trevor also enjoyed participating in the PLUS program. “Being a PLUS scholar was amazing. The PLUS advisers have been super helpful, and getting to benefit from President Ross’ guidance was incredible.”

On the academic side, Trevor enjoyed the Portfolio Management class, during which he was part of a team of students who managed a $1.7 million investment portfolio. “Managing a portfolio of that size was a great opportunity,” Trevor says. “It’s something not every college student gets to do. I had such great professors in the School of Business. That’s a big part of why I’ve really loved my experience at Cameron.”

For Seth, it’s more personal. “My favorite thing that happened at Cameron is meeting my soon-to-be wife, Madison Potter. I met her while I was working at one of the summer camps. I asked her if she needed some help and ended up tutoring her.”

Madison is graduating with an associate in science degree in interdisciplinary studies and will be pursuing a nursing degree at Connors State College while Seth is attending optometry school. They will tie the knot on June 22.

So with Bryce, Seth and Trevor graduating from Cameron, is the Geiger family tradition coming to an end? Not at all. Their younger sister Maddie just finished her freshman year, so the tradition continues.

JACOB JARDEL

Take a look at Jacob Jardel’s activities during his four years at Cameron, and you might consider him a modern day Renaissance Man. While the Lawton resident will graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology, he certainly didn’t limit himself to that academic discipline. You might say he took complete advantage of the collegiate experience, having participated in student organizations such as Psi Chi, joining the Honors Program, presenting his research at conferences, serving as a member of Cameron’s “Mind Games” team and expanding his horizons with Study Abroad trips to London and Italy. He was also featured as a student speaker during Cameron’s 2011 Convocation.

“Heading into college, I just wanted to get a good feel for it,” Jacob says. “I didn’t know what there was to offer, so I didn’t know if there was anything for me.”

His “a-ha” moment came during Cameron’s 2010 Commencement ceremony, which he attended since one of his friends was graduating. “I noticed there were students being highlighted, and I wondered if I would ever do something to be highlighted when I graduated. It occurred to me that I would just be one of the kids sitting in the crowd getting my diploma unless I did something to change that. The next fall, I started my first Honors class with Dr. Vivian Thomlinson, and I learned that there is a lot to do around campus. She had us attend different events during the Afghanistan Academic Festival, and I realized how much fun it was. So I decided to jump more into the Honors Program, which led to the ‘Mind Games’ team.”

Through the Honors Program, he also became interested in Cameron’s Study Abroad program, traveling to London in Spring 2012. “It was after London that I started wanting to do more,” Jacob recalls. “I was part of this great program, and I wanted to give back. I joined Psi Chi and started getting involved in other activities, like helping a friend with MathCom or another friend with English, which is my minor. I wanted to take the interdisciplinary views I learned from Dr. Thomlinson and use them to best of my abilities.”

While becoming active in campus activities, Jacob also excelled in his academic pursuits. “I take things one thing at a time,” he says. “I try to do my best to find something I enjoy in everything I do – even if it’s something that on the surface I may not be that interested in. Therefore I care more about it, so I’m not letting anything go with half my best. It’s tough sometimes because of time, but basically, it’s just a matter of balance. “

Even in required classes that didn’t necessarily engage him on paper, Jacob found a way to take something away from every experience. “Sometimes the professor makes the class, makes it more interesting and engaging,” he explains. “It goes back to the interdisciplinary aspect. Sometimes you can apply what you learn in a government class to something you are studying in a psychology. You use those moments to connect a lot of dots. It’s just a matter of how something fits into the context of everything else - that’s how I feel about the learning experience.”

He’s applying that philosophy to his interactions with a broad array of personalities to his future in the field of behavioral sciences.

“Coming out of high school, one of my first goals was to be able to have a conversation with anyone I meet about any topic,” Jacob says. “I grew up watching ‘Jeopardy’ with my grandmother, and I tried to answer at least one in every category. That’s how I wanted to be in my college career. I didn’t know there was a word for it - interdisciplinary. I learned a lot about the different disciplines and the different people involved in everything I do. It reminds me of a quote from John Green. When asked what the meaning of life was, he said, ‘Other people.’  I take that to heart. That’s what I get from talking to other people. It spurs the hope that there is a common ground and you can get things rolling, and that will help me significantly as I go along with my marriage and family therapy career hopes.”

As he reflects on his undergraduate career, Jacob cites two experiences that he considers most memorable: being part of the Honors Program and going on the Study Abroad trips. “Those are interconnected,” he says. “I did the Study Abroad because of the Honors Program, which was a big launching pad into doing some of the things I wanted to do, whether it was research, the ‘Mind Games’ team, Study Abroad or being involved on campus. The Study Abroad trip to London was a launching pad for me. It took me from getting into experiencing everything Cameron has to offer to continuing to be involved.”

Along the way, he has words of praise for faculty and staff members who paved the way for his collegiate experience. “Dr. Thomlinson really opened up a lot of doors to me in the interdisciplinary aspect,” Jacob says. “The two things I got out of her classes and from her as a person are her support and her general enthusiasm for everything she does. Lani Malcolm (Academic Services Coordinator) got me into the Honors Program to begin with. She has been a big help with talking me through things, helping me get more into the program, letting me be me during the Study Abroad experiences, doing ‘Mind Games,’ doing research. She’s given me good guidance and support.”

He also cites Dr. Chris Keller, Associate Professor of Communication, and Dr. Jenel Cavazos, Assistant Professor of Psychology, as influences. Of Keller’s Introduction to Journalism class, he says, “His class helped me look into everything I did in a new critical light, through the lens of somebody who’s trying to find out more about it.”

He says of Cavazos, “She’s a very good teacher and a great communicator. In Psi Chi, she’s a great adviser. In both roles, she helps students to a greater understanding. She is a good role model. If I ever teach, I would want to emulate her.”

Jacob will continue his Cameron career as a graduate student, pursuing a Master of Science in Behavioral Sciences degree and licensure as a marriage and family therapist. He hopes his career will include both professional practice and teaching.

MIKE AND RAMONA MARTIN, MELISSA JERNIGAN

For Mike and Ramona Martin and their daughter Melissa Jernigan, pursuit of a college degree turned out to be a family affair. All three will be graduating this spring – Ramona with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a minor in foreign languages, Mike with a bachelor’s degree in computer science with a minor in mathematics, and Melissa with a bachelor’s degree in sport/fitness management.

“It’s a total coincidence that we are graduating together,” Ramona says. “My children were graduating from high school and talking about their dreams and going to college. When Mike retired from the service, he wondered what he would be doing next, and he always wanted to get a degree. They all inspired me. I thought, ‘I’ve been raising children; now it’s time for me to go to college.’”

Ramona often thought of her father, who passed away when she was 17. “He told me to get an education. He said, ‘That way, you can do whatever you want in life.’ I never forgot that. My dad was my biggest motivator.”

Mike’s decision to pursue a degree came easily. “After I retired from the Army, I had the GI Bill available to me, and I wasn’t going to not use it!” he says. “I gave it some thought for a few months and decided I’d get my degree in computer science. I’m always fooling around with computers, so I knew I would be eager to learn more about them.”

Because he works full-time, Mike was unable to take a full class load and on occasion would take a semester off. Melissa also took a break in her academic pursuits so although they had a head start on Ramona, her ability to take a full load each semester allowed her to catch up with them just in time for commencement.

During her first semester, Ramona found encouragement in her English Composition class. “I was nervous about that class because I’m originally from Germany. But my professor loved my writing and complimented me on my ability to transfer my thinking into English. That class laid the groundwork for a positive experience as a student.”

She and Melissa took a couple of classes together, an experience they both say was beneficial. “We helped each other a lot, studying together,” Melissa says.

Ramona concurs. “We leaned on each other. It was great to have the same classes so we could help each other.”

And even though she had no classes with Mike, the couple came up with a study plan that benefitted each of them. “We made time to study together,” Ramona explains. “We’d schedule two hours in the evening, because Mike works all day, and evening was the only time he had to study. I didn’t want to do my homework during the day and then be watching TV while he was doing his, so we made the decision to schedule two hours of study time together. It was great, especially when there was something he could help me with.”

“I think it helped us understand what the other was going through,” Mike says. “I tried to help her when I could, maybe just put things in different terms, and she helped me by putting a different spin on things so I’d look at my homework with fresh eyes and take a different approach. That’s very helpful when you’re working with computer science problems, trying to find solutions.”

Ramona’s final semester included a 16-week internship with the Department of Human Services, an experience she describes as “eye-opening.” “You go into something like that thinking you already know what goes on, but then once you get there, you discover your expectations are nothing like what they really do. It was such an awesome experience to learn what they do for children and families that I think an internship at DHS should be mandatory.”

She hopes to earn a master’s degree and to become a juvenile counselor. “I worked at Lawton Public Schools for six years with special education children. Some of them were from homes that were less than ideal, and they really struggled. I know that if you just give them a little bit of attention, you can guide them toward success. That’s what I hope to do.”

Mike also hopes to pursue a master’s degree. For now, he’ll continue working at Fort Sill and wants to ultimately transition to a job in the computing and technology field.

Melissa’s goal is to work with a professional sports team. “There a broad spectrum of opportunities in sport/fitness management,” she says.

They are looking forward to Cameron’s commencement ceremony.

“For a family to graduate together, I don’t think that happens every day,” says Melissa. “It’s exciting to share this with my mom and my dad. I think we’re all proud of each other!”

DISA MUSE

Facing obstacles and navigating challenges is par for the course for most college students, but the obstacles and challenges Disa Muse has faced in pursuit of a college degree far exceed the norm. She was born with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), a progressive, degenerative eye disease that left her legally blind by 2005. Today, she has limited central (or tunnel) vision, and even that is far from perfect. “Imagine putting a pair of panty hose over your head,” she explains. “That’s as good as it gets for me.” 

A former resident of Tulsa, Disa worked for Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma until 2005, when she was no longer able to drive. She found herself isolated at home and in an unhappy relationship. She made the decision to start fresh with her four daughters, moving to Mississippi to be near her extended family – some of whom were also living with RP. Although she had not been living near her relatives for some time, surely they would provide the support system she needed.

“We moved hoping they would understand, but they didn’t truly accept me,” she recalls. “It was a small town in Mississippi with no public transportation and no taxis. At one point, I sat at home for 100 days. I was isolated and living the life of a shut-in. I told my girls, ‘This is neither normal nor acceptable,’ and we began to talk about where to go next.”

Because her two oldest daughters were in high school, they began discussing potential colleges. They decided on Cameron University, so the family moved once more and arrived in Lawton in July 2009. “After two years, I thought, ‘I must have some potential.’ I already had an associate degree and decided I should continue my education. So after a six-year sabbatical, I started my life over by enrolling at Cameron.”

Disa recalls her first day as a Cameron student in Fall 2011. As the Paratransit bus dropped her off on campus, she wondered if she would last three days. “I’ve only used a cane since Cameron. I’d come to campus with a mobility instructor a few weeks before classes started and learned where my classes were and memorized the routes.“

But one day, something as simple as lawn maintenance interfered with her route. She had come to recognize the sound of the air conditioning system in the Sciences Complex and used that to guide her to Nance-Boyer Hall – until the sound of a lawn mower drowned out the sound she was so accustomed to and she had to ask for assistance to reach that building.

Diving into an academic routine, Disa found herself educating her professors, some of whom had never taught a visually-impaired student before, as to what specific accommodations she required in order to receive the same quality education as other students. Primarily, she needed all materials provided in boldface type. She was also to be afforded 50 percent more time for taking tests.

On rare occasions, she did have to request assistance from Dr. Jennifer Pruchnicki, Director of Student Development and Cameron’s go-to person for ensuring that disabled students receive the appropriate accommodations in the classroom. She also found support in the Office of Student Support Services (SSS).

 “Dr. Pruchnicki is amazing in her field,” Disa says. “She seems to be just the right person for that position. She was always very kind and very professional. I found her always easy to talk to, and she really gave a listening ear. She always ensured that the disability accommodations were followed.”

Obstacles outside of Cameron impacted her ability to continue her studies. On two occasions, the Oklahoma Department of Vocational Rehabilitation cancelled her access to Paratransit – and her primary means of getting to class - due to administrative errors. Disa worked with SSS to provide the required documentation and was able to get her transportation reinstated.

“The Office of Student Support Services has always been there when I needed something, from a blue book if I forgot one or paperwork I need for Vocational Rehabilitation,” Disa says. “No matter what I needed, they were very supportive. The staff in SSS and Dr. Pruchnicki, through her office of Disability Affairs, literally helped me make part two of my life come true. I would not have made it through college without them.”

She also holds Dr. Jonathan Odo, Chair of the Department of Criminal Justice and Sociology, in high esteem. “Dr. Odo has been a true leader and an encourager every step of the way.”

With a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice soon to be in hand, Disa hopes to work with adults who are seeking education and re-training in some capacity. “Adult education is what they call it,” she explains. “I could see myself working in a field like Student Support Services or an office where ADA questions are answered. I want to work with the poor, the needy, the oppressed, the disabled - the people who have lost their voice.”

She is also applying for graduate school, thanks to a scholarship from the National Federation for the Blind. Disa is one of only 30 scholarship recipients nationwide.

As she crosses the Commencement stage to receive her diploma, her daughters Carissa, Corrie, Kymbre’ and Kami Beth will be on hand to cheer her on. As she reflects on life with RP, Disa says, “You can either overcome your disability or you can be overcome by it. Those are the only two choices you have before you.”

DEVON SHANNON

In many ways, Devon Shannon is a typical busy housewife with two small children and a hard-working husband who’s out of town a lot. In June 2011, she decided to add to her hectic schedule by pursuing a second degree – a Bachelor of Arts degree in English with a concentration in creative writing. Once you know that her husband is T.W. Shannon, Oklahoma Speaker of the House, you realize that her “typical” existence is unique due to his heightened political profile. After all, how many other graduates can say that their spouse was the speaker at their Commencement ceremony?

Devon says she’s always enjoyed the process of writing. Once her youngest was headed to Pre-K, she knew she’d be able to devote more time to writing, so she started looking for a writing workshop to attend. Her internet search yielded a tidbit that piqued her interest. “I found out that Cameron offered a writing degree,” she recalls. “I showed it to T.W., and he said, ‘You should do this. You should get this degree. You would enjoy it.’  It was really his encouragement that inspired me to go back to school.”

For the past two years, she has been able to schedule her own classes so they don’t interfere with her parenting time.

“Audrey (age 7) and T.W. Jr. (4) both attend Lawton Christian School, and I was able to schedule my classes while they were in school,” she explains. “When they get home at 3:00, I go into ‘mommy’ mode, and then when they go down at night, at 8:00, I do my homework and writing. T.W. is very supportive of everything and is always there when I need some assistance. So it all works.”

She reflects on her latest Cameron endeavor with fondness and has high praise for her professors.

“I am so fortunate to have sat under some of the amazing professors at Cameron,” Devon says. “Dr. Marge Kingsley, the chair of the Department of English and Foreign Languages, is just amazing. She has been a tremendous help, making sure I’m in the right class in the right semester. I can’t say enough about Dr. Bayard Godsave and Dr. Vivian Thomlinson. They have made my experience at Cameron a memorable one. I hope that every student walks away with professors like that in their lives. They make you strive towards greatness because you don’t want to let them down. I believe that speaks highly of Cameron University.” 

As a Cameron student, Devon’s work was published in “The Gold Mine,” Cameron’s literary magazine, as well as in “Crosstimbers,” a multicultural interdisciplinary journal. For the past two years, her work has been selected for exhibition at the Scissortail Creative Writing Festival’s literary gallery.

Cameron is a special place for Devon, as this is her second time to attend classes on campus. Even more special, Cameron is where she met T.W. In Fall 1999, she was a freshman pursuing a communication degree, and T.W. was a senior getting ready to transition to law school. She was taken with his confidence, and he knew he’d found his wife-to-be.

“We started dating long distance when he was at law school,” Devon says. “I knew it was serious when he wanted to go to my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration. He was in law school and was also working for Congressman J.C. Watts, so his schedule was pretty hectic. He rearranged his schedule and drove to Louisiana to be part of that celebration. I knew then this was meant to be.”

During the summer of 2000, he picked her up to go for a drive. “We were driving past the Communication Building when he said the emergency light had come on and he’d better pull over,” Devon recalls. “He wheeled into the parking lot there, and we got out of the car. Then he dropped to one knee and proposed. It was a beautiful, old-fashioned proposal.”

After they married, she completed a degree in liberal studies at the University of Oklahoma.

Devon is looking forward to the May 10 Commencement ceremony, where her husband will speak to this year’s graduates. He will also be delivering a Commencement address at other Oklahoma universities, yet Devon says that T.W.’s Cameron speech is bound to be special. “I think it will be different because Cameron is his alma mater and Lawton is in his legislative district, He loves Cameron! He’s giving a speech at home, and it’s very personal to him. Of course, with me among the graduates, there is even more of a tie. I’m so excited to know that I’ll get to hear him speaking at a ceremony that is special to me, and I’m so excited for our kids, who get to be in a venue where mom is graduating and dad is speaking.”

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May 6, 2013

PR#13-096