Class acts: Senior stories of distinction

Author: Dennis Brown


The University of Notre Dames 2004 graduating class can be defined collectively, through a variety of numerical and statistical observations, as well as individually, through the stories of seniors with compelling tales to tell.p. Some of the numbers are:

  • About 95 percent of the 1,958 students who enrolled at Notre Dame in the fall of 2000 will receive a diploma Sunday (May 16)a graduation rate exceeded only by Harvard and Princeton Universities.* Some 80 percent of the graduates participated in volunteer and service-learning programs in the greater South Bend area, nationwide and around the world.* About 10 percent of this years seniors will continue in volunteer service to society, engaging in a year or more of work in programs such as the Peace Corps, Teach for America, the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and Notre Dames own Alliance for Catholic Education and Holy Cross Associates.* All 50 of the United States are represented in the senior class, making Notre Dame among the nations most geographically diverse universities.

Beyond the numbers, here are some individual senior stories of distinction:

Lauren Barkmeier , Appleton, Wis. — Born 11 weeks prematurely, Barkmeier lost her hearing soon after birth for reasons that are not completely known. Throughout her elementary and secondary school years, she attended regular classes with the assistance of a sign language interpreter and was graduated from Appleton North High School in 2000. At Notre Dame, she says any needs associated with her hearing loss were met in both Cavanaugh Hall, where she served as secretary, and the classroom, where she excelled. A summa cum laude graduate in psychology and computer applications, she received a Senior Recognition Award from the psychology department and has been accepted into the doctoral program in educational psychology at the University of Minnesota, one of the leading programs in the world. “Low literacy is epidemic among the deaf, and academic achievement at the level of graduation from an elite university is definitely to be celebrated,” said Michael Pressley, formerly on the psychology faculty at Notre Dame and now at Michigan State University. One of Pressley’s colleagues at Notre Dame suggested Barkmeier seek his counsel for graduate school. “I was skpetical at first, but the skepticism evaporated rapidly as I got to know her,” Pressley said. “She is a really inspiring story.” Barkmeier is interested in teaching and research at the university level. Her father is a 1971 Notre Dame graduate, her mother was graduated the same year from Saint Mary’s College, and her brother Andrew and sister Sarah also are graduates of Notre Dame, in 1999 and 2001, respectively. Barkmeier can be reached at * *Dennis Barrett, Avon, N.J., and Maureen Carney, Eden Prairie, Minn.After completing an internship with the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) in Washington, D.C., Barrett returned to Notre Dame determined to make a difference. He enlisted the help of Carney and other students to establish the first collegiate chapter of the organization, with a mission to inform, educate and motivate the Notre Dame community about issues of child poverty in the South Bend area and across the country. Barrett and Carney served as president and vice president of the chapter, respectively, and paved the way for a successful future for the organization at the University. More information about the Notre Dame CDF chapter is available on the Web at . After graduation, both will continue their service work, with Barrett completing a fellowship with the Congressional Hunger Center in Washington, and Carney joining Notre Dames Holy Cross Associates in Chile.p. Barrett can be reached at or 574-360-8183 and Carney is available at or 574-210-2457.

Mario Bird, Kenai, AlaskaMany students majoring in film, television and theatre (FTT) produce and direct a short film of their own creation. Bird has gone several steps beyond with his production of a 92-minute feature film which he wrote and directed with a high school classmate, Alden Ford. TitledEcho Lake,the movie has been some two years in the making and was submitted this month as Birds honors thesis. The sound effects and music are still rough, and Bird hopes to finish that work and have the movie ready for submission to film festivals by mid-summer. Part horror, part coming-of-age flick, the film is about a young writer in college and his director friend who go to Echo Lake, a fishing village in Alaska, to make a movie and come across a monster that eats humans. Bird received an $11,000 grant to fund the project from the College of Arts and LettersUndergraduate Research Opportunity Program and Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts.The movie never would have been made without them,said Bird, who also credits FTT professor Don Crafton for helping steer the project. After Commencement, Bird plans to move to Los Angeles or New York in hopes of working his way into the film industry.Writing, acting and directing are what I love to do,he said.But its a pipe dream to say youre going to do that right out of college. Im hoping this film, regardless of its marketability, will serve as a résumé-builder to help shoe-horn me into the industry.

_Bird can be reached at _

Kevin Conley, Panama City Beach, Fla.A midshipman in the Naval ROTC, Conley has fulfilled his military obligations while also participating in a wide range of other activities, including service as a Eucharistic minister, a resident assistant in Stanford Hall, and in student government as chair of the Residence Life Committee and a member of the Senate Steering and Academic Committees. He majored in political science and preprofessional studies and earned Deans List honors each year. The Alumni Association recognized him this spring with its 2003-04 Distinguished Student Award. As part of the Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program, Conley will enroll this fall in a four-year course of study in the University of Florida College of Medicine. The program includes 45 days of active duty each summer. After medical school, he will serve as a doctor in the U.S. Navy. His long-term goals include work in foreign affairs, intelligence and public office.

_Conley can be reached at _

Laura Hoffman, Parma, OhioA political science major, Hoffman is unable to see clearly at either long or short range due to a genetic disorder called optic nerve atrophy. As a result, she cannot drive and must have all written material enlarged for reading. Despite the challenges, she has excelled in the classroom, graduating cum laude, and has been involved in a wide array of extracurricular activities, from singing in the Liturgical Choir to assisting others with disabilities through Logan Centers Best Buddies program, and Disability Week activities on campus. Logan Center honored her with its annual McDermott Award, given to a Notre Dame student who makes significant contributions to the center.Ive come to find,she said,that working with others with disabilities is my vocation.After interning in the Justice Department while participating in Notre Dames Washington Program as a junior, Hoffman also found that she is drawn to the legal profession. She will combine her two passions by attending Ave Maria Law School in Ann Arbor, Mich., and concentrating on legal issues for people with disabilities.

_Hoffman can be reached at _

Jonathan Nickels, Knoxville, Tenn.A chemical engineering major, Nickels conducted cutting-edge research under the direction of Andre Palmer, an assistant professor of chemical engineering who is seeking to extend the viability of blood substitutes. A major problem with blood substitutes is that “shear forces” tear away at them as the blood flows through the circulatory system. Thus far, substitutes last only a day or two before they are washed away, as compared with the 120-day circulation lifetime of red blood cells. In Palmers lab, Nickels worked on designing mechanically stable liposomes, which are hollow bodies similar to biological cells, as drug delivery vehicles. Nickels has demonstrated that the shape and size of these liposomes can be engineered to make them more resilient to blood shear forces. His research has been published in the scientific journals Biophysical Journal and Langmuir. Nickels will attend the University of Texas to pursue a doctorate in biomedical engineering and continue his research.

_Nickels can be reached at _

Keri Oxley, Fremont, OhioAs one of the thousands of students who engages in community service each year, Oxley, a philosophy and pre-professional major, has illustrated how service can help lead to academic success. Based in part on her experience with national and international service projectsincluding work in Mother Teresas Home for the Destitute and Dying in Calcutta, India, and volunteering at the Chapin Street Clinic in South Bendshe has decided to study international medicine and medical ethics at Yale School of Medicine after graduation. As both freshman and sophomore class president, Oxley became a symbol for the student body on the value of service in the local community. Before 6,000 appreciative students and parents at the 2003 Freshman Orientation, she reflected on her experience serving others and challenged the students to use their undergraduate years for both personal development and the betterment of society. Among Oxleys many distinctions, she was a Malloy Sophomore Scholar and served on various advisory boards for the University.

_Oxley can be reached at _

Patrick Quill, Crofton, Md.When Quill, a marketing and art studio major, went home for winter break, he didn’t know his time away from the Golden Dome would lead to a golden opportunity. But there it was, in the pages of his daily paper. He read an article in the Washington Post calling for artists to design coins for the U.S. Mint. Quill submitted his application and was selected as one of 24 artists who will be invited to submit new designs for specific coin and medal programs throughout the year, including the 50 State Quarter Program, which still has 20 coins remaining to be issued. In addition to coming up with ideas for the five quarters that will come out this year, Quill also is working on a design for a new nickel that will be released in 2005. After graduation, he plans to work for an advertising agency in Washington, D.C.

Quill can be reached at .

_ Contributing: Shannon Chapla, Julie Flory and William Gilroy, office of news and information; and Kelly Roberts, director of communications, Center for Social Concerns_

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