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These 2017 graduates reflect the very essence of what it means to be a Kennesaw State Owl. Like their adopted mascot, they are purposeful and laser-focused. With a determination to succeed, they have set their sights high and hit their targets. They are driven by their passion to know more, to be better, to find their place and to make a difference. They face the future with confidence because they have run the gauntlet, persevered and excelled. With the wind at their backs and goals in their sights, KSUâ€™s graduates take flight and soar.
A NOTE ABOVE Music education graduate finds calling despite setbacks
usic has been her saving grace. For Christina Vehar, who graduates in May in choral music education, earning her undergraduate degree has been an incredibly long journey full of hope, loss and determination. A 2008 Harrison High School graduate, Vehar learned a month after her high school graduation ceremony that her mom, Diane, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She decided to delay her start at KSU for a year to take care of her mom and “be by her side.” “It was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made,” she said. “It’s what I needed to do and wanted to do. I am grateful for that extra year with her. “When I came to KSU, I think I had a different perspective than many of my classmates,” she said. “I had a different outlook on life.” Vehar enjoyed working with young children and originally majored in early childhood education when she arrived to Kennesaw State in 2009. After nearly four years pursuing that degree, she changed her major to choral music education, essentially starting her bachelor’s degree all over again. “The arts have always been a part of my life, but I never considered making a career of it,” said Vehar, of Powder Springs, Ga. “But looking back, music has always been my outlet.” An elementary education course on how to incorporate music into the classroom was her first clue that she may have found a new calling. Her professor, Angela McKee, a part-time assistant professor of music and music education, complimented Vehar on her ability to instruct young students in musical concepts. “Christina planted the seed and was thinking about music education, but she would be facing a huge challenge to shift majors,” said McKee. While most music education majors have spent years training and performing musically before coming to college, Vehar had never taken a vocal lesson or played the piano. But with little musical training, Vehar braved the immensity of learning new musical skills. Friends and family advised Vehar to finish her bachelor’s degree and then earn a master’s degree in what she really wanted, but she said she had to follow her heart. After completing her first three semesters, her family suffered another devastating blow when her dad passed away unexpectedly. Two years later, her mom faced another round of chemotherapy after a thyroid cancer diagnosis – the second of three cancer diagnoses, and an amputation – that she would endure while Vehar was in college. The oldest of three children, Vehar confronted that adversity head on with solid faith and strong support from family and friends. She persevered and focused on earning her degree. “My professors were so supportive and cared about me,” she said. “They wanted to build me as a musician but they also wanted to build me as a person, too. “There were so many people who believed in me, on the days I didn’t believe in myself,” she said. “There were times I thought that
I wasn’t talented enough.” With a passion to teach, Vehar landed a student-teaching position in music in Cobb County School District’s Ford Elementary. Although music education covers K-12, working with the younger set “sealed the deal,” she said, blending her early children education interest with her music education degree. “She has such a strong passion for doing this and she works incredibly hard,” said McKee. “The power of her desire to teach music education overcomes her lack of previous musical training and preparation. It is a miracle to watch this happen.”
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ANIMALS’ BEST FRIEND Honors graduate dedicated to veterinary school, volunteerism
ome students aspire to run their own businesses after college. Miriam “Mik” Chari already has been a business owner for several years prior to her graduation from Kennesaw State University this spring. In fact, co-owning Music by Tritone – the music school and recording studio she started at age 17 with her sister Sarah and brother Joshua – is just one of three jobs she held during college, along with being a music teacher and a veterinary assistant. Chari also found the time to volunteer at Zoo Atlanta and with animal causes such as the Ape Conservation Effort and Save the Horses. She did it all while carrying a full-time course load in the University Honors Program, majoring in biology. “The variety keeps me motivated,” Chari said with a laugh. “I feel very happy and thankful to have had this type of varied background as an undergrad.” Chari, 33, has taken an unconventional route to earning her degree from Kennesaw State. Her next move will be to Raleigh, N.C. – along with her husband, Dante Ha – to attend North Carolina State University’s nationally-ranked College of Veterinary Medicine. “My graduation from Kennesaw State is a big deal because it’s been so many years in the making,” Chari said. “It was a lengthy path, but definitely I would do it again the same way.” Music is in Chari’s blood. Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, she was a frequent visitor to world-famous Severance Hall when her grandfather, Daniel Majeske, was concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra. Chari’s mother and father passed their love of classical music on to her, even before she was old enough to play a real instrument. When she was 3½, Chari learned the notes on a violin fingerboard from a makeshift violin her parents fashioned by gluing a ruler to a Cracker Jack box. Chari grew into a polished violinist, as well as a bass player, vocalist, composer and studio musician. Her musical background came in handy when her father’s health declined and, at 17 years old, Chari needed to make her own way financially. She and her siblings opened Music by Tritone, which continues to thrive 16 years later with locations in Alpharetta and Roswell. “The three of us decided, ‘You know what? We’re old enough – just take it as a sign and start the music school,’” Chari said. “Thankfully, my parents had the foresight to give us a great education for classical music, so we were able to use that and start a career path of our own.” While music is an essential aspect of her life, Chari has an even greater passion for animals. Chari competed in equine show jumping and dressage as a child, and she helped care for boarded horses after her family moved from Ohio to a farm in South Carolina. With her music business succeeding and with her family’s
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encouragement, Chari rekindled her childhood love of animals. Volunteering at Zoo. Atlanta inspired her to pursue a biology degree at KSU, where she immediately felt at home. “Kennesaw State is a big school where you still have personal connection between the students and the faculty,” Chari said. “In my four years here, it’s unbelievable the track record of great professors that I really connected with.” One of Chari’s best experiences was being part of a neurophysiology research team under Lisa Ganser, an assistant professor of biology. Through research with zebrafish, Ganser and her team hope to learn more about the effects amphetamine exposure and addiction have on the human brain. Chari vows that she will continue to work “in a way that supports innovation and research in the veterinary field.” She also pledges to remain active in causes that promote animal health care and wellbeing. “The situation that happened when I was 17 gave me just a brief glimpse of what it’s like not to have means, so volunteerism always will be an essential part of my life,” Chari said. “Compassion and care are core values that guide everything I do.” Chari’s love of horses has her leaning toward pursuing equine medicine, but she is keeping her options open. However her veterinary career turns out, she is confident that already having been a business owner – and all her other steps along the way – have prepared her well for the next paths on her journey. “It definitely gives me confidence going forward,” Chari said. “Going into the veterinary profession is a new world, but I have some experiences to look back on and think, ‘OK, I made it through that, so I can make it through this.’”
LIVING THE DREAM Graduate takes his acting skills to the professional stage
anding a theater job straight out of college is the dream of many young actors, yet it often seems the odds are stacked against them. College of the Arts graduate Danny Crowe didn’t let that deter him, however. Crowe, who bears a passing resemblance to Jon Hamm, the actor who played bad-boy-adman Don Draper on AMC’s hit series Mad Men, naturally exudes plenty of the self-confidence necessary to earn roles in the competitive world of acting. “I’ve booked a yearlong contract with a theater company called Playhouse on the Square in Memphis,” said the lanky 23-year-old from Marietta who’s graduating with a Bachelor of Art degree in Theatre and Performance Studies. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are only some 610 actors working in Tennessee. Starting this month, Crowe will join their ranks. “I will be working and acting professionally in their season for the next year, then I will most likely relocate to Atlanta, since I’ve established several awesome connections here that could provide a lot of exciting future artistic opportunities,” he said. Those professional connections, self-confidence and talent are what set Crowe apart from many of his young peers in the industry. Crowe’s resume boasts several beefy parts in 13 Kennesaw State University productions, including, most recently, that of the dashing Russian army officer Vershinin, the lead role, in Anton Chekhov’s The Three Sisters. His professional credits include such roles as Banquo in Macbeth and Lumière in Beauty and the Beast, with the Oklahoma Shakespearean Festival. He also completed the National Theatre School of Ireland-Gaiety School of Acting study abroad program
through Kennesaw State. “Perhaps, the best time I had here was working on the show Spring Awakening,” Crowe said. “I played the lead role of Melchior, which was a dream role of mine, in a show that introduced me to the direction of one of my mentors, Rick Lombardo. It was a wonderfully realized production and the incredibly talented cast was made up of some of my very best friends.” This past winter, Lombardo, chair of the department Theatre and Performance Studies, directed the world premiere of a new play, Ring Twice for Miranda, at the New York City Center Stage 2 and enlisted Crowe to serve as his assistant from rehearsals through the play’s January premiere. A large part of his experience has been shaped by his COTA professors, he says. So, when asked to single out one of these, he mentions several. “There’s Rick Lombardo, Jan Wikstrom, Amanda Wansa Morgan, Karen Robinson, Angela Farr Schiller, Dawn Eskridge, Carolyn Dorff, Gary Hick, John Gentile, Judy Cole, Alex Crosett, Oral Moses, Charlie Parrott, Henry Scott, Harrison Long, and Margaret Baldwin,” he said. “Each of them has pushed me in very different ways, and I owe all the success I’ve had to them,” Crowe said. “Learning how to handle and accept rejection is a very big part about being an artist. And I’ve had my share. This program has taught me how to accept it, not let it get me down, and use it as a learning tool and fuel for my own personal growth.” A graduate of Marietta’s Kell High School, Crowe says he decided to attend KSU “because it not only had the most exciting theatre program that I found in the state, but was a beautiful university that had a very homey feel to it.”
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MED SCHOOL BOUND Biology graduate credits her advisor Few Kennesaw State students can say they went from tending goats and sheep in Nigeria to graduating from college. And fewer still are heading to med school in the fall like senior biology major Michelle Edward. “My decision to attend KSU was unplanned,” said the 20-year old. “I had only been back in the country for four months after a sixyear hiatus in Nigeria and was gradually losing hope that I would be able to attend university that fall.” After taking a gap year between high school, Edward said she “was eager to start college but I had missed most deadlines and was greatly misinformed about how to gain admission as an international student.” “After hearing about KSU from a family friend, I approached my parents about wanting to attend,” she said. “I wanted a school that was affordable, but that could also guarantee me one of the best educational experiences I could receive in Georgia.” During a summer visit to KSU, Edward had a fortuitous visit with newly hired College of Science and Mathematics advisor Hannah Santoro. “Michelle met with me at KSU the summer before she started at KSU,” Santoro said. “Accompanied by her father, she came to learn not only about what she should expect within her biology degree, but also what she should expect from college in general.” The experience was so positive, Edward quickly applied; it was two days before the final deadline. “You could say that I was the happiest girl in the world,” said Edward, “when I was accepted to KSU three weeks before classes began.” Santoro recalled Edward’s enthusiasm the day the two met. “She left such an amazing first impression with me that I still clearly remember it. This began an advising relationship that would continue until today.” Edward faced many challenges when she began at KSU at the age of 17. “I remember panicking about that one class every semester that would make me doubt my journey through college,” said Edward. “I would run to my academic advisor, Hannah, mid-semester to vent, but she’d always reassure me that there is nothing too hard to accomplish and that all I need to do is believe in myself and try my best.” Another challenge was scheduling her studies and extracurricular activities. “I would have to say time management was one of the toughest challenges for me,” Edward said. “It certainly isn’t easy being a college student. From extracurricular activities to work to classes and research, it’s like you really can’t catch a break.” She said she found solace in the saying that a “short pencil is better than a long memory,” meaning that it’s often better to write
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things down than commit them to memory. “I found early on in my college journey that I have to list everything I Biology graduate credits her advisor need to complete: the deadlines, presentations, work and social events, so I use a combination of to-do lists and Google Calendar to keep myself and my time in check.” According to Santoro, advising Edward was relatively easy because she was a model student. “Whenever she had any questions, she sought my advice immediately,” said Santoro. “And, when advice was given, she listened and followed it without any reservation. She very well could be the poster child for ‘how to perfectly navigate the biology degree.’” Asked what she would tell a new pre-med student, Edward replied, “It’s OK to fail, but you shouldn’t give up. If you put in that extra work and strive for what you want, you will get there. Also, don’t be afraid to talk to your professors and ask for advice. I feel like that is really key. You are here for only one person – yourself – so asking questions and asking for guidance is fine.” As her graduation date approached, Edward shared some good news with her trusted advisor Santoro. “Michelle said she had just received ‘the letter,’” said Santoro. “She had been accepted to one medical school and was hoping to hear good news from another. “We both jumped up and down and she gave me a hug. I told her how proud I was of her. Having been an advisor at Kennesaw State for the past four and a half years, she is one of the first students – if not the first – I have advised.” One long journey is over and the hard work has paid off. Edward graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree, summa cum laude. She begins her next journey, to become a doctor, in the fall.
MISSION ACCOMPLISHED Coles College grad keeps promise to earn MBA
ife is good for David Smith. Just a few days after moving into a new house, Smith received his Master of Business Administration degree from Kennesaw State University. Add to that having a job he loves, and Smith is enjoying a contentment he didn’t think was possible not too long ago. Smith, 46, overcame several challenges to earn his undergraduate and graduate degrees from KSU, including a period of being homeless. “I went from homelessness to home ownership while I was at Kennesaw State,” Smith said. “I’m living proof that you can change your life and move onto greater things.” Smith enrolled at Kennesaw State in 2009 after moving to the Atlanta area following two stints in the armed forces. He was in the Marine Corps from 1992 to 1996 and, after receiving a hardship discharge to care for his ill father, served in the Army from 1998 to 2007. Smith said that Kennesaw State’s “reputation and location were perfect” for him to start the next chapter of his life after his military career. He added that the University’s low faculty/student ratio appealed to him as a non-traditional student who had been out of school for a while. “I wanted that connection, and Kennesaw State welcomed me with open arms,” he said. “I saw the growth potential the University had, and the great opportunity for me to grow along with it.” After graduating with a sport management degree with a concentration in marketing, Smith enrolled in Kennesaw State’s Master of Business Administration program. However, just seven days after Smith received his undergraduate degree, his mother suffered a massive stroke. Smith remained in school, attending classes during the week and flying to Detroit to spend weekends with his mother. The strenuous schedule eventually became too much for him, though, and he withdrew from KSU. But with the encouragement of Executive Director of MBA Programs Amy Henley and others, Smith returned, taking classes online. He earned his MBA from the Coles College of Business this spring, fulfilling the pledge he made to his mother before she died on Christmas Eve of 2014. “I promised my mom I’d get it done,” Smith said. “Having been
in the military, I have that fortitude to finish a mission. I finished what I started.” “I could tell David was a fighter, and he was going to keep fighting no matter what obstacles life threw his way,” Henley said. “The timing of his mother’s illness during his first semester in the MBA program proves how resilient he is. Rather than giving up, he took some time off after her death, and came back stronger than ever.” Along with earning two degrees from Kennesaw State, Smith worked at the University. Smith missed the camaraderie and service to country that he had felt in the military, so he became an admissions counselor and veterans recruiter for the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. He then moved on to his current position as a senior peer specialist for the Veterans Supportive Housing program – a partnership between the U.S. Departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development that helps homeless veterans find and sustain permanent housing. It’s the very program that gave Smith a hand when he was homeless. Smith said he also served time in jail for three DUI arrests before making a conscious decision in 2007 to change his life, because “no one was going to do it for me.” Now he shares his story to inspire the homeless veterans he assists, many of whom also need mental health treatment and substance use counseling. “I have an avenue to deliver my story to help me to help them,” Smith said. “I have discovered that this is my passion. I don’t work – I love what I do.” So while he is celebrating receiving his second degree from KSU, Smith does not consider it an individual achievement. He gives the credit to the many people at Kennesaw State who helped and supported him along the way. “I could give you a list of unbelievable people on that campus who believed in me. That was what I needed,” Smith said. “It’s a journey of humility. I’m humbled by it all.” “Every student needs to feel as if someone believes in them, especially non-traditional ones, and it was very easy to believe in David,” Henley said. “It’s an honor to teach someone as special as David Smith because I probably learned more from him than he did from me.”
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GOING PLACES Graduate receives Fulbright Award
t’s no surprise that Erica Moody had job offers lined up prior to graduating from Kennesaw State University this spring. A University Honors Program student and Coles College of Business Scholar, Moody graduated magna cum laude with a degree in economics. Moody accepted what she considers an even better opportunity: being awarded a Fulbright Study/Research Award. She will depart this fall for a one-year master’s program in behavioral economics at the prestigious University of Nottingham in England. “It was simply an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” Moody said, “being awarded a scholarship to study at a university regarded as one of the world’s leading institutions for economics. I’m so excited.” Moody became interested in behavioral economics on an education abroad trip she took last year to Guatemala through the Coles Scholars program. Behavioral economics examines how people’s actual behavior, influenced by psychological and contextual biases, differs from classical economic theory which assumes that people are perfectly rational decision-makers. Moody and fellow students participated in an effort to establish a community bank in Guatemala, which has one of the highest poverty rates in Latin America. Policy and infrastructure failures have hindered the country’s rural poor from reaping the same benefits from economic growth as upper- and middle-class citizens, Moody explained. “People are being kept in poverty based on the rules that are in place,” she said. “Public policy, which is largely influenced by economic theory, often fails to consider the role human factors play in policy outcomes. I want to help the poor by learning how to create and implement policy that takes into consideration the way people actually are as opposed to the way classical economics assumes they should be. If this is accomplished, we could see much more positive change than we do now.” The experience in Guatemala was one of three education abroad trips Moody took as a KSU undergraduate. She also ventured to Kennesaw State’s campus in Montepulciano, Italy through the Great Books Honors program, and spent a semester in Madrid, Spain. Madrid, Spain. “Of course you study abroad to study – and you do learn in the classroom – but you learn so much more outside of the classroom,” Moody said. “Your entire belief system is sometimes challenged. It’s a very introspective experience. There’s always a different perspective, and it frames the way you see your own problems and your own victories.” Along with her travels to Italy, Spain and Central America, Moody held several leadership roles in Kennesaw State’s Student Managed Investment Fund.
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Kennesaw State University, a unit of the University System of Georgia, is an equal opportunity institution which does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, national origin, marital status, veteran status or disability.