Archive for Sunday, April 22, 2012

From Dakar to D.C. to Eudora, 2002’s academic all-stars continue pursuit of excellence

April 22, 2012


Lawrence Journal-World area Academic All-Stars, front row from
left, are Catherine Kelly, Lawrence Free State; Bryan Gurss,
Tonganoxie; Katrina Cook, McLouth; and Bryce Huschka, Ottawa. Back
row from left are Leslie Short, Lawrence High School; Lynn Feng,
FSHS; Micah Salkind, FSHS; Patrick Bengtson, LHS; Julia
Gegenheimer, LHS; and Amanda Pearce, Wellsville.

Lawrence Journal-World area Academic All-Stars, front row from left, are Catherine Kelly, Lawrence Free State; Bryan Gurss, Tonganoxie; Katrina Cook, McLouth; and Bryce Huschka, Ottawa. Back row from left are Leslie Short, Lawrence High School; Lynn Feng, FSHS; Micah Salkind, FSHS; Patrick Bengtson, LHS; Julia Gegenheimer, LHS; and Amanda Pearce, Wellsville.

A decade after being named Academic All-Stars, the winners in 2002 have settled into a variety of careers and their paths have led them everywhere from Douglas County to Senegal.

We caught up with eight of the 10 all-star alumni, and asked them what they were up to these days, and for a perspective on the 9-11 terrorist attacks, which happened during their senior year of high school.

Read about the Journal-World's 2012 Academic All-Stars

Catherine Kelly

• Then: At Free State High School, she maintained a 4.0 grade-point average and got a 32 on her ACT, performed on the violin in the State Festival Orchestra and played tennis.

She decided to go to Washington University in St. Louis and thought about pursuing an interdisciplinary program built around a study of English.

“There are so many areas that I find interesting,” she said.

• Now: In a telephone interview from Dakar, Senegal, Kelly said she is now a Ph.D. candidate in political science at Harvard University.

Catherine Kelly, a 2002 Academic All-Star.

Catherine Kelly, a 2002 Academic All-Star.

She’s monitoring the political situation in Senegal for her dissertation. She earned a Fulbright Scholarship and studied in Belgium.

• Thoughts on 9-11: In high school, she said, she didn’t really follow politics, and didn’t really understand what was going on.

“Today, there’s a huge presence of Al Qaeda in places like Mali and Algeria,” she said.

And what comes to mind now is how her research might be able to contribute to some solutions to the underlying issues that contributed to the attacks.

Patrick Bengtson

• Then: The Lawrence High School student earned a 4.0 and scored a 33 on the ACT, and was involved in American Legion Boys State, Youth in Local Government Club, Model U.N., Scholars Bowl and Student Council.

He also took an interest in presidents and presidential biography.

Patrick Bengtson, a 2002 Academic All-Star.

Patrick Bengtson, a 2002 Academic All-Star.

“My dream would be to be a representative in Congress,” he said. “Obviously, I’ll need a backup plan. I’d like to go to law school.”

• Now: After graduating in three years from Kansas University with a bachelor’s degree in economics, he went on to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania law school in 2009. He went to work as an associate at the law firm Jones Day in Dallas, but left when he realized he wasn’t fulfilling his dream of pursuing a career in public service or public policy. Today, he’s considering his options for the future, including graduate school.

• Thoughts on 9-11: “For me personally, I felt that was a defining moment,” he said. “I had the opportunity to go to Washington to meet the president in July 2001. He seemed very youthful and charismatic... In the aftermath (of 9-11), I was struck by how much he had aged.”

Bengtson said it motivated him to follow his dream because one never knows what’s going to happen.

Micah Salkind

• Then: He planned to attend Brown University and participate on the cross country team and pursue a career in pre-medicine, anthropology or writing.

Micah Salkind, a 2002 Academic All-Star.

Micah Salkind, a 2002 Academic All-Star.

He also had plans to keep singing in chamber groups and a capella groups.

He maintained a 4.0 GPA at Free State High School.

“Everything I’ve experienced really made it stand out as one of the best places to get a public education in the state of Kansas,” he said.

• Now: Living in Providence, R.I., he’s obtaining a doctorate in American studies at Brown University after having earned a master’s and a bachelor’s degree there.

While he eventually wants to teach in higher education, he said today he works as a professional DJ and helps to organize arts events.

• Thoughts on 9-11: “It certainly has shaped the political climate in the U.S.,” he said. “I think at the time I felt like it was something that was going to define my generation, but now I don’t think it does. I don’t want that to define my generation in any way.”

Amanda (Pearce) Lyman

• Then: Pearce was off to Emporia State University to train to be a psychologist or a teacher.

She had a 4.0 GPA at Wellsville High School and scored a 27 on the ACT.

She enjoyed working with younger children, and coached and officiated several sports.

“They’re just a joy,” she said of younger kids. “When they accomplish something they didn’t think they could do, it’s really exciting. And it makes you feel good about yourself.”

• Now: Lyman is married with a 4-year-old son and a 1-year-old daughter, and works at Gardner High School teaching chemistry and honors chemistry.

She coached softball there for the last five years, but gave it up this year to spend more time with her family.

She earned a master’s degree from Baker University in 2010.

“I was inspired by my teachers, and now I get to pay that back,” she said.

• Thoughts on 9-11: She said she remembered exactly where she was in class when the attacks occurred. It was a very somber day, she remembered.

“There’s so many things out of your control,” she said. “You have to live each day to the fullest because you never know when it could be your last.”

Bryan Gurss

• Then: The Tonganoxie High School senior planned to go to KU to study engineering, mostly because he enjoyed math.

“There’s just something about working with numbers that I understand really well,” he said.

He scored a 30 on his ACT and maintained a 4.0 GPA in high school while playing sports, participating in clubs and performing community service.

• Now: After going to KU, he didn’t feel comfortable in his chemical engineering program, so he switched to math education.

Today, he teaches eighth grade math at Eudora Middle School and coaches volleyball, girls and boys basketball and track.

“I really enjoy it, too,” he said.

• Thoughts on 9-11: He remembered feeling sick on the day of the attacks, particularly when watching the second plane hit the World Trade Center.

“I kind of feel like it happened and the way to move on from it is to live life the way you do and go from there,” he said.

Lynn Feng

• Then: A bilingual senior at Free State High School, Feng’s parents spoke Chinese around the house.

She planned on a potential career in diplomacy or politics, and credited her parents for setting high academic standards. She earned a 1520 on the SAT and a 4.0 GPA at Free State High School while playing varsity tennis and volunteering in the community.

• Now: Interviewed on the day she was admitted to the New York bar, Feng is now working in New York City at Paul Hastings, LLP, in real estate law, after graduating from law school at New York University. She also attended Yale University and Peking University in China for two years.

• Thoughts on 9-11: “I feel that it has more of an impact for me now that I live in New York,” she said. “Being in Lawrence, you’re really so far removed from it.”

While no one she knew was directly affected by the attacks, today, she knows people whose friends and family members who were.

“You kind of think about it,” when working in Manhattan, Feng said. “What if you have to get out? It’s definitely on people’s minds still.”

Bryce Huschka, a 2002 Academic All-Star.

Bryce Huschka, a 2002 Academic All-Star.

Bryce Huschka

• Then: A senior at Ottawa High School, Huschka was involved in numerous clubs and organizations, and planned to enter a career in politics or working with a service organization.

He learned to balance those activities with schoolwork, and earned a 4.0 GPA.

“Sometimes I learned the hard way,” he said of his many activities. “It just taught me that I need to prioritize and not do as much, but everything I do, do it very well.”

• Now: After graduating from Kansas State University in a five-year program that gave him a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in industrial engineering.

He went to work full-time at ExxonMobil instead of pursuing a Ph.D., he said. He became involved in sales and marketing for the company’s automotive lubricant products, which combined retail and technical knowledge.

Today, he lives in Washington and works in Fairfax, Va., in the controller’s office of the company. He established scholarship funds at KSU after benefitting from similar scholarships himself.

• Thoughts on 9-11: He said it was a signficant event, but taken with the rest of the events of his life, it has helped instill in him a sense of loyalty to the country and a desire to give back.

“I think everybody remembers exactly where they were on 9-11,” he said.

Julia Gegenheimer

• Then: The straight-A student at Lawrence High School wanted to learn more about the world and study abroad.

She expressed a desire to major in international relations at Yale.

“Some day, I hope to work overseas,” she said at the time.

• Now: She graduated from Yale in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in history and political science before spending a year abroad on an Insight Collaborative fellowship that took her to Cyprus, Cambodia and the Netherlands.

She graduated from Harvard Law School in 2010, and clerked for a federal district judge.

Today, she works as a trial attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice, a job she got after completing an internship at the department.

“I thought it was great work,” Gegenheimer said. “It was challenging but also very rewarding. I enjoyed working with the other attorneys in this section (of the department). I thought they were great attorneys and also great colleagues.”

• Gegenheimer, working long hours on a trial at the Department of Justice, did not respond to a request for her thoughts on 9-11 by the time this edition was printed.

Attempts to reach 2002 Academic All-Stars Katrina Cook and Leslie (Short) Wolfe for this article were not successful.

— Higher education reporter Andy Hyland can be reached at 832-6388. Follow him at


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