Outstanding Recent Graduates

The Outstanding Recent Graduate award recognizes an outstanding recent graduate from each of the undergraduate colleges and schools at Emporia State University. Selection for this award is based on criteria determined by each school/college and the stipulation that the recipient be no more than 10 years past graduation at Emporia State University. This award is sponsored by the ESU Alumni Association.


Sean Balke
Wichita, Kan.
MS 2006 - Psychology


As president and chief operating officer of Craig HomeCare, Sean Balke leads a regional organization with 11 offices in Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. His company provides pediatric nursing care in patients’ homes, allowing medically fragile children to thrive at home and providing much-needed relief and support to families.

Balke advanced from a career in human resource and operational support consulting to lead Craig HomeCare by putting to practical use the research skills and knowledge base he learned at Emporia State, finding ways to improve and advance the company’s operations to fulfill the mission and improve the quality of life for both their patients and their employees.

A lifelong Kansan, he maintains ties with Emporia State’s Student Society for Industrial-Organizational Psychology by hiring students in the program to conduct mission critical projects such as client satisfaction surveys and statistical data analysis, along with offering internship opportunities in his business to students in the program. Additionally, he teaches classes at Friends University, mentoring those students and promoting ESU graduate programs as next steps in their academic careers.

Heather Braum
Lawrence, Kan.
MLS 2008 - Technology Librarianship


While working on her Master of Library Science degree at Emporia State, Heather Braum started working for the Northeast Kansas Library System in 2007, serving in various technology-related roles including technology support and digital and technical services. Currently the NExpress Coordinator and Resource Sharing Librarian, she leads the NExpress regional shared catalog project, a library consortia of more than 40 public and school libraries in the Northeast Kansas region, sharing more than 1 million items with residents of Northeast Kansas.

With lifelong passions for learning and sharing, Braum has presented at numerous regional, state, and national workshops and conferences on a wide variety of topics including innovation, social media, open source software, lifelong learning, and open education resources.  She has taught the Information Technology for Library and Information Professionals course for Emporia State’s School of Library and Information Management.

A lifelong Kansan and a third-generation librarian, she was the 2010 Kansas Library Association New Professional of the Year.

Maggie Fletcher
Wichita, Kan.
BSB 2005 - Accounting


After graduating from Emporia State University, Maggie Fletcher put her accounting degree to use at Flint Hills Resources, LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries, Inc. Serving in various challenging roles as an accounting analyst, a project cost accountant and a tax accountant, Fletcher worked at a Flint Hills-owned facility in Corpus Christi, Tex.

In 2008, she transferred back to Flint Hills’ corporate headquarters in Wichita, and is now responsible for preparing and reviewing multiple types of tax returns ranging from new acquisitions to existing entities.

Fletcher and her family are members of NewSpring Church in Wichita, where she volunteers as a kindergarten teacher on weekends. She is also active in the Salvation Army Angel Tree project through Koch Industries.

Lea Gimenez-Duarte, Ph.D.
Washington, DC
BS 2004 - Economics

Lea Gimenez-Duarte currently works as an economist in the Poverty Global Practice of the World Bank, the world’s leading international development organization. Her dissertation received the Elizabeth V. Stout Dissertation Award of Lehigh University, her degree granting institution.

Lea’s academic research has focused on the effect of family structure and shocks on wellbeing and long term outcomes. Her job market paper, “Parental Loss and Children’s Wellbeing,” was accepted for publication in the Journal of Human Resources, a top ranking field journal in economics.

She has also co-authored and contributed to several journal articles, policy notes and reports in the area of economic development for Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Colombia, Paraguay and the Organization of the Eastern Caribbean States.

Her research interests are in economic policy, poverty, health and human capital.


Click here to see the video from the 2013 Distinguished Alumni and Outstanding Recent Graduate recipients.

Emily Aronis
Wichita, Kan.
BS 2006 – Health Promotion

Workers at some of Wichita’s largest employers are healthier, thanks to Emily Aronis. A member of the Health and Wellness Coalition of Wichita, Aronis has worked with employers including Bombardier, IMA, Meritrust Credit Union and Conco to develop their health risk management program strategies.

Now a Benefits Analyst in charge of wellness program implementation at Spirit Aerosystems, Aronis developed running clubs when she worked at Bombardier and IMA to encourage coworkers to become more active.

She returns to Emporia State each fall to take part in Worksite Wellness Program speaker panels, sharing her career journey, experience, and professional advice with current health promotion majors.

Michele Burke
Salem, Ore.
MLS 2006 – Library Science

Michele Burke is Reference Librarian at Chemeketa Community College, Salem, Ore. A frequent guest speaker at Emporia State’s School of Library and Information Management (SLIM) classes in Portland, Burke shares her expertise with information literacy and leadership skills.

She founded the Information Literacy Advisory Group of Oregon (ILAGO), an initiative that works to expand college students’ access to information available in libraries. Her attitude of respect and willingness to listen has made her a major player among Oregon’s academic librarians in their statewide effort to create shared information literacy standards and desire to improve consistency across varied institutions and curricula.

Burke was president of the Oregon Library Association in 2012 – 2013, and was named a Library Journal “Mover and Shaker” in 2012.

Ashton Ludden
Knoxville, Tenn.
BFA 2009 – Engraving and
Printmaking, Art History minor

One of only two undergraduates to receive a 2009 Kansas Arts Commission Emerging Artist Award Fellowship while at Emporia State, Ashton Ludden is completing her Master of Fine Arts degree in printmaking at the University of Tennessee – Knoxville.

Ludden has been serving as a Graduate Teaching Associate and the UTK Letterpress Studio Coordinator. While at UTK, Ludden has furthered her curiosity with animal agriculture and has lectured at the 2012 Animal, Ethics and Law Symposium. She completed a five-week Artist-in-Residency at the Academy of Fine Arts in Wroclaw, Poland, and received the 2013 Frogman’s Graduate Scholarship Award. Her prints have been exhibited internationally.

Jeremy Rusco
Emporia, Kan.
BSB 2006 – Business Administration

Emporia is cementing its status as a mecca for alternative sports, particularly with the work that Jeremy Rusco has accomplished in the past few years. Disc golf is said to be one of the fastest-growing sports in the United States, partly because of Rusco’s work to promote it.

Rusco owns Dynamic Discs in Emporia, a premier disc golf retailer that he started as an eBay company in 2005. The business has expanded from an attic to three different basements before settling into retail storefronts in Emporia, Kansas City, and Lewisville, Texas.

He was co-director of the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) Amateur and Junior Disc Golf World Championship tournament that attracted 550 of the world’s best amateur disc golfers to Emporia in July 2013.

Sean Balke (MS '06)
Heather Braum (MLS '08)
Maggie Fletcher (BSB '05)
Lea Giminez-Duarte (BS '04)
Emily Aronis (BS '06)
Michele Burke (MLS '06)
Ashton Ludden (BFA '09)
Jeremy Rusco (BSB '06)
Leah Childers (BSE '03, MS '05)
Cory Haag (BSB '02)
Howard West (BSB '05, MS '07) 
Leslie (Nigro) Freeman (BSB '02)
Jennifer (Schiffelbein) Lasseter (BS '01)
Carol Levers (MLS '01)
Darcy Seitz (BSE '06) 
Aaron Bauck (BSB '01, MBA '02)
Royce Kitts (BIS '06, MLS '08)
Ben Pilat (BFA '05)
Derrick Richling (BSE '04, MS '06) 
Megan (Chalfant) Burgess (BS ‘05)
Mark Schmelzle (BSB ‘99, MBA ‘00)
Jodie (Kimball) Leiss (BSE ‘03, MS ‘06) 
Jared Larson (BA ‘02, BA ‘02)
Jeremy Luby (BSB ‘03, MBA ‘04)
Todd Wheat (BSE ‘01), MS ‘04) 
Rob Curley (BIS ‘01)
Jeff Johnson (BSB ‘97, MBA ‘99)
Michelle Moore (BSE ‘96, MS ‘03) 
Bob Fitzpatrick (MS ‘03)
Rapheal “Joey” Hamilton (BSB ‘95)
Vandy Blue Spikes (BS ‘97) 
Ken Hamby (BSB ‘95)
Brian Obermeyer (BS ‘94, MS ‘96)
Faith Scott (BSE ‘96) 
Cynthia Price (BA ‘00)
Darin Selby (BSB ‘99, MBA ‘00)
Stacy (Cox) Shipley (BSE ‘95, MS ‘99) 
John A. Blaufuss, Jr. (BSB ‘94)
Benjamin Butler (BFA ‘97)
Marcie (Hamilton) Frederickson (BSE ‘97, MS ‘01) 
Jarod W. Allerheiligen (BSB ‘96)
Megan McGaffin Dillingham (BA ‘96)
Lisa (Pendergast) Gates (BS ‘94, MS ‘97) 
Brian E. Cathers (BS ‘92)
Kenneth L. Harmon (BSB ‘95)
Jeffrey P. McAdoo (BSE ‘94, MS ‘98) 
Mario Bonilla (BSB ‘94)
Shawn M. Brewer (BS ‘91, MS ‘93)
Jeremy Kohomban (BS ‘89) 
Sarah (Gleason) Cook (BS ‘92)
Kristi (King) DeMint (BSB ‘94)
Dawn Ella (Brawley) Rust (MS ’89) 
Kim Pember (BSB ‘88, MBA ‘89)
Everett Spellman (BS ‘91, MS ‘93)
Donna Stuber-McEwen (MS ‘87) 
Brad Minear (BSB ‘83)
Lisa Wagner (BSE ‘87)
Daniel Wann (MS ‘87) 
Deborah Huth (BS ‘88)
Craig Kuckelman (BSB ‘91)
Joan (Carley) Brewer (BSE ‘91, MS ‘94) 
Audie Baughman (MBA, ‘86)
Darla (Hodges) Mallein (BSE ‘80, MS ‘94)
Alain-Phillippe Durand (BA ‘92)              
Marjorie McHenry (MS ‘87)
Richard Morrell (BSE ‘79, MS ‘82)
Jan (Biles) Steinert (BSB ‘80) 
Karen (Burns) Meenen (BSB ‘83, MBA ‘85)
Janet (Pepperdine) Smith (MS ‘89)
Nedra (Kneeland) Reynolds (BS ‘81, MA ‘84) 
Kimberly (Krebs) Beardslee (BS ‘82)
V. Ann (Scheve) Mayo (BS ‘82, MS ‘85)
Kim Penner (BSB ‘80) 
Marlin Berry (MS ‘82)
Kurt Breitenbach (BSB ‘79)
Charles Greenlief (BS ‘83)