Archive for Sunday, March 21, 1999


March 21, 1999


College life has changed members of the first class of Journal-World Academic All-Stars.

When the Journal-World set out to recognize the first Journal-World Academic All-Stars team in 1997, the magic number was seven: seven students from area schools who stood out through a combination of academics and extracurricular activities.

But after judges started the review process, they went one step beyond, choosing eight.

"We managed to bring the field down to eight, but when it came down to cutting another one, we couldn't do it," judge Barbara Schowen said.

The selection of eight set the precedent, and when it was time to choose a new team in 1998, another eight were selected, and so it will be this year.

Those in the original group from 1997 are still youngsters, in relative terms. They are too young to have started professional careers but are old enough to know that college is a life-altering experience.

While many have changed their majors and their long-term plans, they all have remained committed to their education and are setting new goals for themselves.

The Journal-World caught up with them recently to find out what they are doing now.

Jennifer Carnes

As an outstanding Santa Fe Trail High School senior, Jennifer Carnes was the only member of the all-star team who chose to attend a university in another state.

She's currently a sophomore at the University of Minnesota, majoring in foreign language.

She is active in the Air Force ROTC and plans to serve at least four years in the Air Force after she graduates.

"I want to be an astronaut," Carnes said two years ago.

Now, things have changed.

"I'm not going to be able to do it," she said. "I don't have any science and math desires."

For now, she's hooked on Russian as her language of choice and is considering going into teaching once she gets out of the Air Force.

She also works as a volunteer with latchkey kids and performs with an ROTC precision rifle drill team.

"I'm glad I came here to school," she said. "I don't know that I had great expectations, but I like it a lot."

Carnes is the daughter of Michael and Dawn Carnes, Carbondale.

Megan Gripka

It was a combination of cadavers, snakes and insects that inspired Tonganoxie native Megan Gripka to choose biology as her major.

A straight-A student in high school, Gripka was named a Kansas Honors Scholar and was accepted into the Kansas University Honors program.

"I'm still studying biology, but I'm not sure what I want to do with it," Gripka said. "I'm still thinking about teaching."

Of course, as is the case with many students, her path hasn't been without diversions.

"The first semester I was here I studied psychology," she said. "I had a class in high school I really liked and wanted to try it, but I switched back. Biology is what I wanted to do."

After spending so much time in a small town, Gripka said she enjoys the lifestyle a large campus offers.

"It's a lot more diverse," she said. "And it's a lot harder."

After she graduates, Gripka hopes to pursue a master's degree, most likely at an out-of-state school.

For now, when she's not in class, she's often taking the time to learn how to scuba dive.

"I get credit for it as a class," she said. "But really I think of it more as a hobby."

Gripka is the daughter of Ralph and Cathy Gripka, Tonganoxie.

Mark Hammel

In high school Mark Hammel made a big change in midstream. He transferred from Washburn Rural High School in Topeka to Perry-Lecompton High School when his family moved to a home near Stull.

Two years later, the KU student is getting ready for another transfer.

"I'm getting married in May and moving to Salt Lake City," he said.

Hammel, who initially contemplated medical school, is studying biology and math and is thinking about teaching at the high school level one day. He will continue his studies at Weber State University in Odgen, Utah.

In addition to taking a full academic load, Hammel works 32 hours a week as the clothing stockroom manager at SuperTarget in Lawrence. He started working for the company while still a high school student.

As a high school student he reached the Life rank in Boy Scouts. Now, he is taking an Army ROTC class.

"It's been a lot of fun playing Army and shooting guns," he said.

An eye condition may prevent him from joining an ROTC program beyond the class, but for Hammel there are more than enough activities to fill his time.

"I go to class and do my homework immediately afterward," he said. "Then I go to work. I get off at 9, so I still have time to catch a movie or relax. Then I go to bed, get up and do it all over again."

Hammel is the son of Bradley and Linda Hammel, Stull.

Jerrell Herod

As a high school student. Lawrence resident Jerrell Herod wanted to get as far away from the pharmaceutical roots of his parents as possible.

It wasn't to be.

"I'm almost merging into the same field," said Herod, whose parents are both pharmacists.

Herod is majoring in chemical engineering at KU in preparation for a possible medical/biomedical doctorate degree.

That would include a tour of duty in medical school, as well as three additional years of biomedical research.

"I'm interested in artificial organs and tissue engineering," Herod said.

In the long run he may own his own biotech company or choose to practice medicine, he said.

In addition to his classes he is the telecommunications chair for the National Society of Black Engineers and is a member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

He has received the Torch Bearer Award for high academic achievement from the engineering society, as well as an engineering award.

He regularly participates in Templin Hall activities and is a member of the campus activist group Delta Force.

"College has allowed me to do a lot of things, meet new people and hear new views," he said. "I listen to people better than I used to."

Herod is the son of Johnny Wayne and Cynthia Herod, Lawrence.

Luke Lang

Two years ago Wellsville senior Luke Lang wanted to major in business at KU, go on to medical school and settle down in a small Kansas town.

Today, Lang is holding on to part of his dream, but he has altered his career goals considerably.

"I'm majoring in math education, and I'll go to seminary after that," Lang said. "Being a doctor is not what I want. The commitment to it and the time away from my future family would be too much."

Lang, who comes from a family of ministers -- his father and maternal grandfather are both in the ministry -- felt the calling last year.

One thing that has remained strong is his desire to live in a small town.

"I think it's better for children," he said. "I grew up in a small town and I turned out OK. I think there's less to worry about."

Lang is active in the campus Christian organization ICTHUS and participates in a Bible study every Sunday night in Wellsville.

He said he would be engaged within a few months and is planning to get married at the end of his junior year.

"My first semester was a little rough," he said. "I think I was kind of fake. But now I feel real because I've decided who I am and what I want to be."

Lang is the son of the Rev. Ron and Eula Lang, Wellsville.

Justin Poplin

Growing up in a small town gave Baldwin native Justin Poplin plenty of time to pursue multiple activities.

As a KU student, he's still very active, serving as the rush chairman for Triangle fraternity, working as part of a formula race car team and tutoring other students in math.

"I'm enjoying it immensely," he said of his college experience.

Poplin planned to major in chemical engineering, but once he got into the program decided to do some fine-tuning.

He's still interested in engineering but has made the switch to mechanical engineering.

He was awarded the Mechanical Engineering Department Award for his decision.

"I didn't want to spend forever doing chemistry," he said.

He's in the process of looking for summer internships to explore different options within the field.

Poplin said he still enjoys getting to know small groups of people in a big way.

"For college, I think it's important that it's big, but to have smaller groups within that size," he said. "I see the same 45 guys in my classes, and that's important."

Poplin is the son of Allen and Fredia Poplin, Baldwin.

Christine Rieder

Christine Rieder can talk about organic synthesis research all day long, and she often does.

"I love this job," Rieder said of her part-time position in a KU lab. "It helped me learn that I want to go into research."

Rieder is majoring in chemical engineering, just as she planned while still in high school. She would like to use her degree to do more research or consulting work.

She was recently named a University Scholar, an award reserved for the top 20 sophomore students at KU.

In addition to her academic lessons, Rieder said, she has learned about life through college.

"It's opened my eyes to a lot of things about myself and the world," she said. "I've learned how valuable people are to me."

She's made a commitment to run four miles every day and hopes to play on an intramural softball team later this year.

In addition, she serves as a campus Girl Scout leader and works with girls in a program called "Girl Power," providing positive female role models for fifth-, sixth- and seventh-grade girls at the Boys and Girls Club.

"KU has provided me with many wonderful opportunities," she said.

Rieder is the daughter of Roger and Alicia Rieder, Lawrence.

Daniel Smith

When Daniel Smith was a student at Lawrence High School, he did just about everything, including working at a part-time job, playing in the marching band, studying, participating in sports and composing music.

As a sophomore at Emporia State University, Smith is busier than he's ever been, and he's maintained his involvement in music, despite majoring in premedical biology.

He's the first chair euphonium player for the ESU band and recently participated as a member of the Kansas Intercollegiate Band in Wichita.

"Perhaps most significantly, I have joined the U.S. Army Reserve, serving in the 312th United States Army Reserve Band in Lawrence," Smith said.

He's considering a change in his major, from biology to computer science.

"I have built several Web sites, and I enjoy working with and learning more about computers," he said. "I have also considered becoming involved in Army ROTC and getting a commission after college, though any such plans are definitely tentative."

In addition to his studies, Smith works as a cashier in an Emporia restaurant.

"College has forced a change in the way I think about my life," he said. "Living on campus, I cannot compartmentalize my life as home and school -- the two are one and the same. I have had to integrate my life, therefore, and solve any problems which have arisen in either. ... Problems must be worked out immediately."

Smith is the son of Jay and Nan Smith, Lecompton.

-- JL Watson's phone message number is 832-7145. Her e-mail address is

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