Where are they now? Checking up on the 2009 Academic All-Stars

photo by: Mike Yoder

The 2009 Academic All-Stars, pictured in this file photo from spring 2009 were, from left, Jeff Miller, Bishop Seabury Academy, Jarrod Bechard, McLouth High, Julia Rose Faubion Davidson, Bishop Seabury, Jacob Rhodes, Oskaloosa High, Jared Willits, Lawrence Free State, Lauren Crandon, Lawrence Free State, JoAnna Male, Eudora High, Alexandra Hyler, Lawrence High and Marian Mersmann, Eudora High.

Each year, the Journal-World reaches out to the Academic All-Stars from 10 years ago to see what they’ve been up to since high school. Here’s what the members of the 2009 class told us via email:

Jacob Rhodes

When Jacob Rhodes graduated from Oskaloosa High School in 2009, he hadn’t yet decided on a college, but was interested in working with computers. He planned to study business and later go to graduate school for computer science.

Where are you 10 years later?

“I now live on the Upper West Side in New York City working for a global consulting and outsourcing firm in a corporate finance capacity. Specifically, my role involves helping the company to price and evaluate the financial and accounting implications of its largest client transactions.”

What is your advice to the class of 2019?

“My advice to the class of 2019 is to make time to travel. Traveling or studying abroad builds empathy and understanding of the outside world and what drives other people, something everyone can benefit from; you might even discover something new about yourself.”

Alex Hyler

By the time Alex Hyler graduated from Lawrence High School in 2009, she had traveled to five other countries and had studied abroad in Lawrence’s sister city of Eutin, Germany. She planned to study chemical engineering at the University of Kansas and work in the biomedical field.

Where are you 10 years later?

“I graduated with honors from KU and … studied abroad in Stuttgart, Germany. I was actively involved in the Scholarship Hall community, sporting events, and Dole Institute of Politics. I conducted research in Dr. Prajna Dhar’s lab where I fell in love with engineering solutions to medical problems. So, I pursued a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at the joint Virginia Tech-Wake Forest program where I researched early triggers to ovarian cancer progression … I was honored to be selected as a Fulbright Fellow spending a year in Copenhagen, Denmark, furthering my research internationally.

“At the completion of my Ph.D. in 2018, I was selected as the Graduate Student of the Year at VT. I am currently the Chief Research Scientist and Engineer for a biotechnology startup company, CytoRecovery, developing an innovative platform for disease research and medical diagnostics.”

What is your advice to the class of 2019?

“This world is incredible so never stop exploring it and learning from others on your journey. Take time to write a thank you note. Remember to pack your underwear. Try something that terrifies you. Do your share and a little bit more. And most importantly, remember there really is no place like home.”

JoAnna Male

When JoAnna Male graduated from Eudora High School in 2009, she hadn’t chosen a college, but she did have plans to major in chemical engineering and possibly to get a double major or minor in business management, Spanish or political science. After that, she wanted to attend graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and possibly study abroad.

Where are you 10 years later?

“At Pitt (the University of Pittsburgh), I wanted to give back to the student body so I founded and led organizations to encourage academic rigor, career preparation, and community involvement. I also interned with Hershey and ExxonMobil to explore career options in engineering. I was curious about corporate philanthropy and was excited to see it firsthand — profits and volunteers from The Hershey Company are directed to the Milton Hershey School, started as an orphanage, now supporting over 2000 students. When I graduated in 2013, I took eight months off to backpack around Southeast Asia and volunteer as a climbing guide in the Swiss Alps before starting with ExxonMobil outside Washington, D.C.

“Since then I’ve lived in Houston, Baton Rouge, and now Winchester, England and currently manage a portfolio of multi-million dollar projects for ExxonMobil. Along the way, I met my wonderful husband Andy Short at a D.C. Christmas party and we married in 2017. I have been so fortunate and grateful to have traveled 45 states, over 30 countries, and meet people from over 50 countries and cultures, and have been struck by the resilience and kindness of those I’ve met on my travels.”

What is your advice to the class of 2019?

“Get out of your comfort zone! You have so many opportunities ahead of you — open your heart and expand your mind with new cultures and experiences. Doing so will better prepare you for life’s challenges and ensure you play your part in the global community for a more peaceful and prosperous world.”

Jarrod Bechard

Jarrod Bechard graduated from McLouth High School in 2009 with plans to attend Kansas State University to study biochemistry. He hoped to one day work as a forensic scientist and help solve crimes.

Where are you 10 years later?

“I received both an MS and a BS degree in Biochemistry from Kansas State. I then started as a Forensic Toxicologist for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation in 2014 and have been there ever since. My job duties involve testing biological samples for the presence/absence of drugs and alcohol. I have really enjoyed my job as the field is constantly evolving with new technology and drug trends.

“While in college, I played trombone in the K-State marching band, where I met my future wife. We have been married for four years and live in Topeka with our cat, Izzy.”

What is your advice to the class of 2019?

“Pursue those things in life in which you are most passionate about, but also challenge and open yourself to new ideas, people, and experiences. The world is a better place when we constantly strive to keep learning and empathize with one another.”

Julia Rose Faubion Davidson

Julia Rose Faubion Davidson juggled a busy slate of activities, including ballet, theater and forensics, during her time at Bishop Seabury Academy. When she graduated in 2009, she hadn’t decided on a college, but she wanted to pursue a degree in the performing arts, the humanities or the social sciences.

Where are you 10 years later?

“I am based in the Twin Cities with my husband and cat. I teach dance and am a grant writer for a number of choreographers and artists in the area and abroad. In the most perfunctory sense, I have a stable job and am paying off student loans, living in a city I love, doing what I hoped I would be doing.”

What is your advice to the class of 2019?

“2019 — you don’t need my advice. You are capable, you are enough and you are great just the way you are. Maybe my advice is to write that down on a sticky note where you will see it everyday …”

Lauren Crandon

Lauren Crandon graduated from Free State High School in 2009 with plans to study math, science or engineering, and hadn’t yet settled on a college. She also was interested in studying abroad.

Where are you 10 years later?

“I recently finished my Ph.D. in Chemical/Environmental Engineering at Oregon State University. I currently live in Bend, Ore. and work for OnTo Technology, a startup company that does research and development for recycling electric vehicle batteries. Before that, I graduated from KU and lived in the scholarship halls. I just got married to a fellow Kansan and we love exploring Oregon together.”

What is your advice to the class of 2019?

“Take advantage of opportunities as they come. You might not end up doing what you thought you would, but saying yes to opportunities might lead to something even better. Don’t panic if your path takes a few turns. For me, that led to some of my best experiences so far!”

Jeff Miller

When Jeff Miller graduated from Bishop Seabury Academy in 2009, he planned to go to college to pursue anthropology or political science. He hoped to ultimately work in the public policy field in a foreign country, possibly in Latin America.

Where are you 10 years later?

“Ten years on, I’m in a fun pattern of working social service jobs part of the time and traveling on my bicycle during the rest. Currently, I work at the Lawrence Community Shelter. I love it there, what a vibrant community. I’m getting ready to pedal from Oregon to Argentina, so if you know anyone with a couch, please be in touch!”

What is your advice to the class of 2019?

“Look after your teeth, give yoga a try, that headache is probably because you’re dehydrated. Also, not going to college straight away is just fine! Better to take on debt carefully and with a plan that’s your own. And the vegetables! Eat them!”

Jared Willits

Jared Willits graduated from Free State High School in 2009 wanting to study aerospace engineering, with an eventual goal of designing equipment for spaceflights. He was considering attending Michigan, Purdue, KU or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Where are you 10 years later?

“During nine years at Purdue University, I completed a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics. My graduate research characterized novel propellants that perform on par with industry standards with lower toxicity and volatility. I was funded through a NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship which also allowed me to spend four summers at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. collaborating on related topics.

“Since April of 2018, I’ve worked at SpaceX in Hawthorne, CA. Currently, I design and test the Draco thrusters which maneuver the Dragon 1 and Dragon 2 spacecraft in orbit. In March of 2019, our demonstration flight of Dragon 2 performed the first autonomous docking with the International Space Station by an American spacecraft, and despite the many hurdles still ahead, our next goal is to ferry U.S. astronauts from U.S. soil for the first time since the Space Shuttle was retired.”

What is your advice to the class of 2019?

“Don’t just hone what you know you’re good at; aim to broaden your skill set. The time will come to narrow your expertise, but this early in your career, in the environment you’re entering, you’ll serve yourself immensely by practicing adaptability and approaching new problems from step one.”

Marian Mersmann

Marian Mersmann graduated from Eudora High School in 2009 with a number of artistic honors under her belt. She planned to study psychology and secondary education at Kansas State University. Eventually, she hoped to work as an English teacher or a school psychologist.

Where are you 10 years later?

“I now live in North Carolina, where I moved for a graduate program. I ultimately left that program, but loved the area — so I stayed. I have a dog and have just gotten married. I spend a lot of time enjoying nature through hikes in state parks with my husband.

“I’m not an art therapist, but art and psychology both have places in my life. One thing I have in common with my past self is that there are still many things I want to do, and my mind still changes often. My prevailing goals now are person-centered.”

What is your advice to the class of 2019?

“Embrace change — it’s inevitable. And know that at any point, you can pursue a new interest, work toward a new goal. Don’t hold yourself back — allow yourself always to stretch and grow.”

• • •

The Journal-World was unable to reach JoAnn Doll, a 2009 honoree from Lawrence High School.

More: 2019 Journal-World Academic All-Stars

Poultry, teamwork helped shape Hilary Griggs, the Journal-World’s 2019 Academic All-Star

Meet the 2019 Academic All-Star finalists


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