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Notable Recent Alumni Report, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences


      The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is the largest and most diverse college at Emporia State University. Our college serves as a vibrant hub for countless scholarly and creative pursuits, and we often think of our college as the heart and soul of the university. At any given time, our faculty are working closely with students as they engage in a diverse array of scholarly and creative pursuits. Our students are provided with abundant opportunities to engage in high-impact learning experiences both in and outside of the traditional classroom. For example, our students have opportunities to create novel and unique works of art, provide the university and the community with high quality concerts or plays, solve complex mathematical equations, conduct original research projects, and participate in a study abroad or internship experiences. Our faculty are dedicated to the universities mission of preparing students for lifelong learning, rewarding careers, and adaptive leadership.

      In addition, we enjoy opportunities to celebrate the successes of our alumni. The ESU Alumni Association sponsors the Outstanding Recent Graduate award to recognize 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. The Outstanding Recent Graduate award has provided our college with a great opportunity to recognize the outstanding careers and service achievements of one of our recent graduates. However, we have found it very challenging to select a single individual to honor among the many excellent candidates who deserved recognition. This motivated us to establish an additional mechanism that would expand the recognition of our accomplished recent alumni.  Therefore, we decided to establish an annual newsletter to recognize the great accomplishments of recent graduates from across our college. This newsletter represents our inaugural edition of the annual Liberal Arts & Sciences Notable Recent Alumni Report. This newsletter provides a brief summary of the notable recent alumni selected by each of the academic departments within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. We hope that you enjoy the newsletter and want to remind you that our doors are always open to our alumni. Have a great summer!


Dr. R. Brent Thomas
Dean, Liberal Arts & Sciences

 Adam Rust


‘No faculty member who has ever met Adam will be able to forget his inquisitive mind, great conversation, and voracious reading habits,” so writes Dr. Michael Smith, chair of the Political Science Department.


Apparently Adam Rust didn’t forget any of this either after graduating from Emporia State University in 2008 with a degree in Social Sciences. His mind guided him to Santa Clara University School of Law in pursuit of a Doctorate of Law degree and the beginning of a life of active community service.


His hard work and community dedication is evident by the sea of accomplishments snuggled into his CV. Adam Rust now focuses his skill on civil issues: finding evidence of elder abuse, researching claims related to asylum and Convention Against Torture, blogging to educate the public about law, advocating for the South Asian community in central California.

 Chang Liu


From 2011--the year in which Chang Liu graduated with a M.S. degree in Biology from Emporia State University--to 2018, which finds her at Yale University,  Liu has published nine articles in high-impact journals, won three prestigious awards for exceptional research achievements, obtained a Ph.D in Pharmacology, and been awarded a postdoctoral fellowship at Dr. David Schatz’s lab at Yale University.


Her work has led to the discovery of the role of the enzyme, aminopeptidase N (APN), in reducing tumor growth and the spreading of tumors. She was also one of the first to identify the mechanisms of action of the coronavirus and how to prevent it from infecting cells. The deadly virus--Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV)--emerged in the Middle East in 2012. Dr. Chang Liu’s research has provided critical insight for understanding the animal origin, as well as illuminating the cross-species transmission.


She is currently expanding research training to immunology with the application of multiple approaches to how animals respond to threats, what causes them to produce an immune response, and how the animal is able to respond to different diseases.


 Dena Russell

Dena Russell

When the cards were stacked against her--in a history of personal encounters with emotional and physical abuse, working fulltime to support herself through college, the birth of a daughter in her 2nd year of college--Dena Russell refused to quit. Her supreme effort and heart were recognized; she was listed an All-American Collegiate Scholar for two consecutive years and was nominated for Senior of the Year by the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Crime and Delinquency in 2007.


Since graduating with a Sociology degree and a minor in Spanish, Dena has used her drive to develop a vast understanding of social problems, the child protection system, and the court system. She is currently serving as the director of the County Court Appointed Special Advocate of the Flint Hills program (CASA of the Flint Hills), working with children and families who have been exposed to abuse and neglect.


 Erin Schmidt 

Erin Schmidt

Since graduating from Emporia State University in 2007 with a BA in both Theatre and Sociology, Erin Schmidt has displayed commitment to connect the arts with the human experience.

After a very successful time at Emporia State University--featuring many ESU Theatre productions, Zoiks! Improv shows, and a double-nomination for Senior of the Year from her two departments--Erin moved to Chicago to work as a tutor for AmeriCorps. After a year she transitioned from tutoring students to teaching students to write and act at an inner-city high school. While in Chicago, Erin trained at Chicago’s best improvisational comedy theatre--i.O. Theatre, eventually producing and performing in several original plays and sketch comedy shows.

Then Erin moved to Asheville, NC to work for Bright Star Theatre. She wrote and directed plays, toured as an actor, and taught in-school theatre residencies, and was the lead for booking company tours throughout the United States, Russia, and Germany. She currently works at Art Space Charter School in Asheville--a school specializing in education through training in the arts--promotes Attic Salt Theatre Company, teaches classes at Painting with a Twist, and performs at regional festivals as a living statue.


 Jason Sickel 

Jason Sickel

The mission of the Kansas Teacher of the Year is to build a network of exemplary teachers who are leaders in the improvement of schools, student performance and the teaching profession. How does one become the Kansas Teacher of the Year? Look at Jason Sickle:


According to Kansas Commissioner of Education, Randy Watson--who made the announcement during the Kansas Teacher of the Year Banquet--”[Jason] does a remarkable job teaching his students performing arts and music are important. He shows students that he genuinely cares about them, [and] uses the arts as a vehicle to help his students grow--not only academically, but socially and emotionally, too.”


Jason Sickle graduated from Emporia State University in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in Music Education. He now has 13 years of vocal music teaching for grades 6-12 under his belt, the last four at Blue Valley North High School. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Music Education from the University of Missouri Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance.


 Dr. Jeff Kohlmeier 

Dr. Jeff Kohlmeier

During his time at Emporia State in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Jeff Kohlmeier could be found in the department building studying until midnight and returning before 8 am. He was a competitive student, pushing himself to score the highest on any exam, studying more than the others while also playing baseball. Despite his intensity, Kohlmeier was always personable. He would go about with a smile on his face, ready to have a conversation about his dual love for science and baseball.


His effort yielded results: after graduating summa cum laude in 2008, a Shepherd Scholar in his senior year, he was accepted to the University of Missouri of Kansas City School of Medicine for dentistry. He graduated in 2012, top of his class, accepted into a 3-year, prestigious surgical residency program at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.


In 2015, Dr. Kohlmeier returned to Emporia to practice at Emporia Orthodontics, eager to return to the region with his wife and 2 children.


 Ellen Weiss 

Ellen Weiss

After her time at Emporia State University, graduating with a bachelor’s of fine art in Printmaking, minoring in Art History and BIology, Ellen Weiss was accepted in the coveted and competitive M.S. of Biomedical Visualization program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her program was only one of four accredited medical illustration programs in North America, and allotted her the chance to study with top masters candidates from across the country.


She earned numerous awards, assistantships, internships, and the program’s most prestigious scholarship; after four years she graduated with a 4.0 GPA. Her medical illustration work has been displayed in national exhibitions and journals, including the Museum of Surgical Science in Chicago Illinois, the Journal of the American Medical Association, and the Northwestern Public Health Review.


She is currently employed as a medical illustrator and marketing and communication specialist at the surgical instrument and implant company, SpineCraft, in Westmont, Illinois.


 Kelly Holden

Kelly Holden

Throughout her nursing education at Emporia State University, Kelly Holden maintained a 4.0 GPA while simultaneously participating in student athletics. She was awarded distinguished recognition as an ESU Shepherd Scholar and was inducted into the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing.


Her commitment was noticed: she was one of the few nursing graduates to have been hired at a specialty hospital--Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri--and she was hired before graduation or passing the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX-RN).


Kelly Holden plans to pursue her doctorate in nursing and practice as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), proving only an increase in her levels of commitment to the profession of nursing.


 Melissa (Swager) Adkins

Melissa (Swager) Adkins

“Never again will you be in the atmosphere and around people whose purpose is to teach you whatever it is you want to learn. Embrace it, ask questions, search for answers and don’t stop until you have found them.”


Melissa Adkins began as the daughter of a high school math teacher in the small farming community of Goodland, Kansas. Geometry was the only class she had ever scored a “B” in: when she came to Emporia State University to play softball, that dangling “B” challenged her to pursue a degree in Mathematics. The excellence of the faculty combined with her motivation and curiosity fostered a deep passion in Melissa for the discipline of math.


After Emporia State, Melissa was accepted to Colorado State University, where she earned her M.S. and Ph.D. in mathematics in 2015. For the past two years, Melissa has worked for Northrop Grumman Corporation in Aurora, CO, as an R&D Engineer.


 Allyson McNitt

Allyson McNitt

Allyson McNitt has her bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degree in English: she is currently using her immense expertise as both adjunct instructor in the English and Communications department at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and faculty writing tutor at Kansas City Kansas Community College.