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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.


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.


Leah Childers
Pittsburg, Kan. 
BSE 2003, MS 2005

Leah Childers, Ph.D., (BSE-Mathematics 2003, MS-Mathematics 2005) is in her second year as a mathematician and assistant professor at Pittsburg State University. As a relatively new faculty member there, she has already been active in encouraging students, particularly young women, to pursue further study in mathematics and mathematics-related fields. While at Emporia State, Childers was active in a variety of organizations including Kappa Mu Epsilon, the math honor society, and Expanding Your Horizons, a program to motivate young women in science and math. She was the 2003 Outstanding Senior at Emporia State. She was recently elected as secretary of the Kansas section of the Mathematical Association of America.


Cory Haag
Emporia, Kan.
BSB 2002 

Cory M. Haag (BSB-Business Management 2002) is Director of Operations for Haag Management, Inc., in Emporia, a family-owned business specializing in the development of college, residential and senior housing. Haag has worked to develop quality properties throughout the Emporia area. Notable examples include the 2008 development of Granada Plaza and Lofts in downtown Emporia, part of a revitalizing project that has brought new commercial businesses and residential loft apartments to the downtown area. In 2011, he oversaw the development of another downtown project, the Kellogg Plaza and Lofts across the street from Emporia State University. He continues to work with local businesses and organizations to help redevelop downtown properties and housing options around the university.


Howard West
Boston, Mass. 
BSB 2005, MS 2007

Howard West (BSB-Computer Information Systems 2005, MS-Instructional Design and Technology 2007), trains the U.S. Armed Forces, Federal Aviation Administration and law enforcement personnel on security solutions such as air traffic control and emergency communications systems. As a training specialist with Raytheon Technical Services Company, West provided support to the U.S. Air Force at Kirkuk (Iraq) Regional Air Force Base. He has also provided training for administrative personnel in New York City’s police, fire and emergency medical departments. He volunteers for The Boys and Girls Club of Boston-Dorchester, Mass., and serves as a mentor to Emporia State IDT graduates seeking private-sector employment, and is a frequent speaker for IDT online webinars.



Leslie (Nigro) Freeman
Shawnee, Kan.
BSB 2002

Leslie Freeman is senior tax analyst for Kansas City Southern Railway, a position she has held for the past four years. A certified public accountant, Freeman has been a Junior Achievement volunteer and serves on ESU’s Accounting Associate Advisory Council. A professional, well-respected and technically proficient tax specialist, Freeman was a senior tax associate for PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP before joining Kansas City Southern Railway, and also served as an auditor for the Kansas Department of Revenue.


Jennifer (Schiffelbein) Lasseter
Austin, Texas
BS 2001

As an environmental consultant with Hill Country Environmental in Austin, Tex., Jennifer Lasseter helps companies with air permitting and waste reduction to increase efficiency and long-term profitability. A licensed professional engineer in Texas, Lasseter has experience presenting workshops for industrial facilities on Texas pollution prevention planning requirements and strategies. Outside of her work, Lasseter is a wife and mother of a three-year-old son. She also takes voice lessons, sings with her church choir, and enjoys swing and blues dancing. She does all this despite a visual impairment that qualifies her as legally blind.


Carol Levers
Kansas City, Kan.
MLS 2001

A native of South Africa, Carol Levers is director of libraries for the Kansas City (Kan.) Public Library. Levers and her family came to Kansas in 1989 to seek political asylum after her husband was pursued by the South African government for political beliefs. She was a student mentor for the Emporia Diversity Initiative, whose focus was to recruit and educate local minority library staff in Kansas, Colorado and Oregon. Levers is a past president of the Kansas City Kansas Women’s Chamber of Commerce and past board member of the Kansas City Kansas Area Chamber of Commerce.


Darcy L. Seitz
Topeka, Kan.
BSE 2006

Darcy Seitz has taken a traditional bachelor’s degree and applied it in non-traditional ways. As a freshly minted teacher, she launched into a virtual education teaching job in Elkhart, Kan. That job prepared her for a move to a new position as program instructor for Kansas STARBASE, where she taught math and science to fourth through sixth graders at Topeka’s Forbes Field Air National Guard base. She now is state youth coordinator for the Kansas National Guard Joint Forces Headquarters in Topeka, and is responsible for planning, implementing and administering the Kansas National Guard Youth Program throughout the state.



Aaron Bauck
Birmingham, Ala.
BSB 2001, MBA 2002

Aaron Bauck is director of acquisition due diligence for Surgical Care Affiliates, the nation’s largest independent surgical company. The firm operates more than 130 ambulatory surgery centers across the United States with more than 2,000 physician partners. A certified public accountant licensed to practice in Alabama and Kansas, Bauck previously worked for Grant Thornton LLP in its Charlotte, N.C. and Wichita offices, and was a staff accountant for BKD LLP in Wichita. He is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and CPA associations in Kansas and North Carolina, as well as the Institute of Management Accountants. Bauck is active in Junior Achievement, the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and United Way.


Royce Kitts
Tonganoxie, Kan.
BIS 2006, MLS 2008

The director of Tonganoxie’s Public Library since 2008, Royce Kitts currently serves as second vice president and president elect of the Kansas Library Association. Prior to taking the position in Tonganoxie, Kitts was rotating book van coordinator, interlibrary loan librarian and reference librarian for the Manhattan Public Library. In addition to his KLA membership, Kitts is also a member of the American Library Association, the Association of Rural and Small Libraries and Mountain Plains Library Association. He attended the MPLA Leadership Institute in 2010 and received the association’s Board Members Choice Award in 2009.


Ben Pilat
New York, N.Y.
BFA 2005

Theatrical lighting design is Ben Pilat’s specialty, a craft he has practiced since arriving at Emporia State University in 2002. Every theatrical production in the succeeding three years received Pilat’s touch, whether as a lighting designer, shop worker or performer. The United States Institute of Theatre Technology recognized Pilat’s excellence and artistic achievement with its 2010 Rising Star Award. Pilat currently serves as lighting designer for the Los Angeles Ballet. Other recent lighting credits include productions at The Juilliard School, The Kennedy Center, the New York Theatre Workshop and The Muny in St. Louis.


Derrick Richling
Newton, Kan.
BSE ‘04, MS ‘06

Derrick Richling teaches fourth grade at the Walton 21st Century Rural Life Center for Newton’s USD 373. Instrumental in developing Walton School as an agricultural technology charter school, Richling is a school leader in technology integration and project-based learning. His class designed, built and decorated butterfly houses to raise money for classroom supplies. Richling won a 2008 Kansas Horizon Award presented by the Kansas State Department of Education to outstanding first-year teachers. An Eagle Scout, Richling is also a reserve police officer for the City of Newton and a member of the Harvey County Parks and Recreation Board.



Megan (Chalfant) Burgess
Topeka, Kan.
BS 2005

Megan is a replenishment specialist at the Hills Pet Nutrition corporate headquarters. She was previously a market analyst for Payless Shoe Source. Megan had been actively engaged on a variety of issues, and she ran three political campaigns on campus, but focused on different parties; since graduating, she has assisted ESU with interns. While in college she was a significant part of the American Democracy Project and organized students for some of the significant ADP events. 


Mark F. Schmelzle
Valley Center, Kan.
BSB 1999, MBA 2000

Mark is a certified public accountant, licensed in Kansas and a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and Kansas Society of Certified Public Acountants.  He joined Allen, Gibbs & Houlik in 2001.  He was promoted to manager in 2005 and then to senior manager in 2008.  Mark serves primarily as an assurance manager specializing in serving middle-market, closely held businesses. Mark has nearly 10 years of experience serving clients in the following industries:  financial services, mortgage banking, retail, wholesale distribution, manufacturing, auto and construction equipment dealerships, oil and gas, and investment banking. He also manages all of the firm’s ERISA auditing. 


Jodie (Kimball) Leiss
Emporia, Kan.
BSE 2003, MS 2006

Jodie is an instructor at ESU in the department of health, physical education and recreation.  From 2003 to 2008, she was a teacher at Village Elementary School in Emporia. Her contributions to society include serving on the PTA & PTO of various elementary schools, and on the student intervention team at Village Elementary.  She is coordinator for Kansas Kids Fitness Day. Professionally, Jodie is president of the Kansas Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance Association and has been selected for their young professional award.  She has received a grant for equipment at Village Elementary School through GeoFitness Company.  She is also the vice president of the health section for the Central District of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.



Jared Larson
Annville, Penn.
BA 2002, BA 2002

Jared Larson is studying for his Ph.D. in global governance at the University of Delaware while performing research in the United States and in Spain. He is a commentator on Spanish radio regarding U.S. foreign policy, speaking Spanish fluently and French and Portuguese very well, with proficiency in five other languages. His publications appear in Spanish journals and conference proceedings. He has taught at Lebanon Valley College, the University of Delaware, and ESU, and has taught English in Madrid.   


Jeremy Luby
Overland Park, Kan.
BSB 2003, MBA 2004

Jeremy Luby, the senior web developer at American Century Investments, has designed several web pages for non-profit groups. He is the sole proprietor of Tenretni Computer Systems in Emporia, a Direct Channel Innovation Award recipient and a Corporate Circle of Honor inductee. The former ESU webmaster designed and implemented the current university website, has spoken at professional development seminars and to a student group on campus, and has donated books on financial planning to ESU students.


Todd Wheat
Olathe, Kan.
BSE 2001, MS 2004

Todd Wheat is the principal of Northview Elementary School for the 2008-09 school year, after serving as an administrative principal intern at the Arbor Creek and Sunnyside schools the past two years. He began his career teaching second and then sixth grade, and is now pursuing his doctorate of education. He consistently serves on district-wide committees and teams focused on leadership, facilities, staff development, safety, curriculum, and parents, while creating new programs, writing successful grants, and much more.

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)