Friday, May 17, 2024

LSUS graduates recount their journeys to the stage at Friday’s ceremonies

by BIZ Magazine

SHREVEPORT/BOSSIER – Shelby Wadel was in a race.

Wadel wanted to finish her Master of Business Administration degree before the birth of her daughter Hazel.

Mom won that race by a week, doubling up on classes in the Fall AP2 session to finish her degree in March.

Shelby, six-week old Hazel and husband Wesleigh traveled from Topeka, Kansas, to walk across the graduation stage at Brookshire Grocery Arena.

She was one of an LSUS record 1,355 graduates, about 900 of which attended graduation ceremonies in person Friday. LSUS had graduated the third-most students of any Louisiana university over the past three years.

“It was definitely nerve-racking when you’re 38 weeks pregnant and trying to finish your masters,” Shelby Wadel said, who earned a concentration in project management. “I’m a former athletic trainer who worked at an orthopedic clinic with the goal of working more with medical braces.

“My husband has been a rock star throughout this whole process, picking up the slack at home while also running a pallet business and working in the solar industry.”

Angel Heckard wants to enter the athletic trainer profession, following her experience as a high school athlete at Vidalia High near the Mississippi border.

The Ferriday native wants to stay in the Shreveport area with its abundance of high schools and connections to major hospitals with dreams of working with professional teams one day.

“LSUS had a home-y feel to it when I visited the campus, and I’ve really enjoyed my time here,” said Heckard, who received her bachelors in occupational physiology with an exercise science concentration. “I was originally going to do physical therapy with older people, but my experience with athletic trainers inspired me to follow that path.

“Athletes are so driven, and I want to be a part of getting them back out on the court or field after they have an injury.”

Dr. Adebayo Agboola traveled from a little further afield to accept his Master of Health Administration in person. Now living in Long Beach, Calif., Agboola earned his Doctor of Medicine in Ukraine before practicing in his home country of Nigeria.

He made his way to the U.S. to do clinical research, and the MHA will further his medical career either in research or medical practice.

Agboola is one of nine Nigerians earning LSUS degrees this spring, the most of any international country.

“To learn so much about healthcare policy, to really get a sense of the financial aspects of healthcare here, it’s benefitted me a lot,” Agboola said. “Healthcare is my passion, and this degree will give me a lot of options on the ways I can work in the field.”

Karissa Hill also had international aspirations when she entered the MBA program.

Hill, who has a Master of Divinity and is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Idaho, wants to ultimately be involved in an international nonprofit like the Red Cross or Compassion International.

“I needed the business knowledge to pair with other degrees, but I didn’t expect this experience to be as fulfilling as it has,” said Hill, who was part of LSUS’s trip to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates with the International Studies class. “Dubai is the one place I’ve been where I think inclusion is actually happening, where people of all races are coming together to live with minimal hate and crime.

“It feels like they were working for the same purpose. That’s something that my classmates and I took from the experience, and we helped each other through the program and will be life-long friends now that we’ve graduated.”

LSUS’s most profound impact has been on its own state with nearly 41 percent of Friday’s graduates hailing from Louisiana.

Kaleigh Melvin never intended on being a teacher, but working at the Evangel Christian Academy daycare inspired her to teach young children as a career.

The 25-year-old earned her bachelors in early childhood education and will teach kindergartners at Sun City in Bossier City.

“I learned that I loved working with the younger kids,” said Melvin, who was also heavily involved in summer programs. “They are so fun and full of life.

“I wanted to stay close to home to teach, so I’m excited for this opportunity to remain near my family.”

Amber Prestenbach, who works in manufacturing on the West Bank opposite of New Orleans, said her MBA with a project management concentration has immediately helped her transition from the military.

“I’ve had the opportunity to directly apply what I’m being taught and really cut the learning curve down,” said Prestenbach, who still serves in the Louisiana National Guard after serving in Afghanistan. “It was a perfect time to start the program as I was transitioning into a new industry because all of the information I was learning was valuable.

“The tuition exemption with the Army National Guard made this degree possible.”

Prestenbach wants to further her education, either in LSUS’s Doctorate of Leadership Studies or Industrial Engineering at LSU Baton Rouge.

Daimont Staples has made New Orleans his home for the last 11 years as a high school STEM teacher, but he recently transitioned out of the classroom and into a leadership role with Teach For America.

The Master of Education (Curriculum and Instruction) degree holder originally wanted to be a dentist before two years of working with youth at summer camps pushed him to pursue a field in which he interacted with young people.

Now the teaching profession needs people like Staples more than ever.

“I’m working a lot with recruiting and retention of teachers, working to engage our teachers in every way possible,” said Staples, who made his way to New Orleans from New York via Teach For America. “We usually place teachers in high needs areas where income is low, but what we’re finding is that more and more areas are what we’d classify as high need because of the shortage of teachers.

“We’re having success with one program in which we pair college students to virtually tutor kids so they can feel that impact of what it’s like to help in that way.”

Down the bayou in Larose, Andrew Verdin wanted to make himself more versatile by adding an MBA with a human resource concentration to his Master of Library Science.

“Every organization needs information and people that can locate and use it, and now with a business degree under my belt, I feel like that opens so many doors,” Verdin said. “I’m actually pursuing a certificate in hospitality management with the potential to break into the tourism industry as well.”

The color purple intrigued educator Briona Millidge to give LSUS a closer look as she Googled different masters programs.

The South Carolina educator finished her third year in the classroom teaching middle school science and algebra but is interested in instructional coaching now that she has an advanced degree.

“I’m really interested in cultural responsibility when it comes to education, and I saw that the LSUS program had several classes related to that area,” Millidge said. “Everything that’s going on with the banning of books and (critical race theory), I believe the best way to teach our students is to teach them based on who they are.

“Relationships are key in promoting them to be better than who they are. And so I want to help my students in that way while eventually helping other teachers instruct in that manner.”

Commencement speaker Brian Crawford, a senior vice president at Willis Knighton Health, scoured the internet for the best MHA programs after joining the WK administration in late 2018.

“I learned that one of the very best MHA programs in the nation was right in my back yard at LSUS,” said Crawford, who said he wasn’t a good student growing up, didn’t find educational success until his 30s but now holds four different degrees. “Since the day I started in the program, I can honestly say there’s hasn’t been a day that I haven’t used what I’ve learned to better serve our patients and our community.

“That’s significantly shortened my learning curve in this field.”

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