Since 1995, Valparaiso University has presented its Martin Luther King Jr. Award to individuals and groups within the Valpo community who have made significant and lasting contributions to creating an environment where diversity is honored and respected on campus and beyond.

During the annual MLK Celebration Convocation Service on Jan. 16, the 2017 Martin Luther King Jr. Award was presented to Professors Heath Carter and Faisal Kutty for their efforts to promote racial and religious equality throughout the Valparaiso community and Northwest Indiana.

Heath Carter is an assistant professor of history at Valparaiso University, and for the 2016–2017 academic year he is serving as the William S. Vaughn Visiting Faculty Fellow at Vanderbilt University. He was recognized for the ways he has organized groups of students, faculty, and community members together to promote dialogue and enact change.

In 2015, Professor Carter organized and led a group of students and faculty to travel to Selma for the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday march. Within the community, he has played an integral role in leading the City of Valparaiso’s human relations council, which guided the process to pass a human rights ordinance in Valpo, a testament to the way Professor Carter uses his academic and social justice interests to create tangible outcomes. And as a professor, he has taught courses on civil rights, the social gospel in American life, hip hop and American culture, and many others that challenge students to think about history through a critical lens.

Faisal Kutty, associate professor of law and director of the international LL.M. program in the Valparaiso University Law School, was honored for his scholarship and his work enhancing the Law School’s identity as a safe and open environment for all students to freely pursue their studies.

Professor Kutty’s scholarship, which centers on Islamic Law, aims to provide people with greater understanding of Islam and seeks to break down stigmas and barriers that often exist between Westerners, Christians, and Muslims. Professor Kutty has a long and distinguished career pursing legal justice for and raising awareness about Muslims living in the West, and he has served as an advisor for media and government entities regarding portrayal and treatment of Muslims in both Canada and the United States. Because of his work, he has been named one of the 500 most influential Muslims in the world by the The Royal Islamic Strategies Studied Institute for the past six years. Professor Kutty is known for challenging his students and colleagues to think differently about their preconceptions in order to foster positive dialogue and growth.

Visit for more information about the Martin Luther King Jr. Award and MLK celebrations at Valparaiso University.

With a love for chemistry, the first time Brian Weaver ’17 stepped foot on campus was to attend a scholarship day hosted by the chemistry department. Brian met professors and saw a brief glimpse into the uniqueness of the Valpo experience.

Now, that day is a distant memory as Brian is fully embedded in the chemistry department, practically living in Neils Science Center, he says. Walking down the halls of Neils, Brian regularly interacts with faculty who customarily welcome students into their office no matter the hour. “I am surrounded by professors guiding, mentoring, motivating, and investing in me and my future,” Brian says. “The relationships I’ve developed with my professors have made my Valpo experience extremely rewarding and unlike anything I could’ve experienced elsewhere.”

As a biochemistry major, Brian is passionate about obtaining an education at Valpo that will prepare him to eventually contribute to the scientific community. With that goal in mind, Brian started vying for research positions his freshman year. He acquired a research position with Robert Clark, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry and MSEED program director, the summer following his sophomore year and has been immersed in that research ever since.

“At Valpo, we place great significance on ensuring our students are afforded ample opportunity to pursue meaningful research,” Professor Clark says. “Over the past couple of years, Brian has been a key contributor to my bio-inorganic research team, actively planning and engaging in research and proving himself to be technically superior.”

The research concerns investigating the nature of how CooA, a bacterial carbon monoxide sensing heme protein, binds to DNA. Brian’s active role in this research is critical for entry into graduate school and in his future career.

“Professor Clark, like so many of the Valpo professors, is definitely invested in his students. He is a huge motivator for me. He has a big heart and it shows,” Brian says. “Seeing the human side of my professors combined with the relationships I’ve developed have made my time at Valpo so valuable.”

Throughout each semester, the chemistry department hosts a speaker at the forefront of science as part of its colloquium series. Brian has attended since his freshman year, listening to inspiring, informative speakers and gaining broad exposure into the field. Recently, Valpo alumnus John Golbeck ’71, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry, biophysics, and chemistry at Pennsylvania State University, returned to campus as the colloquium’s guest speaker.

In response to Brian’s enthusiasm to secure a summer research position in John’s lab, Thomas Goyne, associate professor of chemistry, personally inquired with John.

“It’s been heartwarming and extremely gratifying to have Valpo professors remain in contact and reach out to me after all these years,” John says. “I have a special place in my heart for Valparaiso students, so I always take them when they express interest.”

For more than 20 years, John has opened his laboratory to numerous Valpo students, exposing these individuals to a university research lab and the opportunity to collaborate with graduate students as well as post-doctoral scientists. Working in this environment, the students learn the answer to important questions — How does one select a research problem? How does one deal with failure as most of research is failure? When you do have a success, how do you handle it and plan the next step? How do you communicate with your fellow lab workers? How do you disseminate scientific information?

John has stepped forward as a Valpo alumnus, serving as a professional mentor for past and current Valpo students. His primary concern is offering these students a valuable research experience, which is necessary if they wish to pursue research at the graduate level or in their future careers.

Perhaps most importantly, the opportunities John provides enable students to discern their true calling. “If you are immersed in this environment, you really have to love it,” John says. “Deciding what you want to do in your life, should be made on the basis of real life. They see it, they do it, then they know.”

“I better understand the perseverance and focus needed to perform research and obtain positive results,” Brian says. “It is gratifying to see a Valpo alumnus succeeding in my prospective field. Professor Golbeck further proves that Valpo alumni consistently achieve great things and gives me hope that I can do the same in my profession as a biochemist.”

At Valpo, Brian has had numerous opportunities to become actively involved in meaningful research, which continues into his senior year as he has been selected to complete a University honors project with Professor Clark. He is a dedicated student, receiving the Outstanding Organic Student Award his freshman year, the Outstanding Biochemistry Student Award his sophomore year, both the Outstanding Analytical Chemistry and Physical Chemistry Student Awards his junior year, and gaining admittance into Phi Lambda Upsilon, the chemistry honor society. Recognizing his aptitude for organic chemistry, Brian leads weekly help sessions in that discipline. Since his freshman year, Brian has been active in the Chemistry Club, currently serving as president and member of the executive board for three years. Brian’s academic excellence combined with faculty support and alumni mentorship have uniquely prepared him for his future scientific career.

Each year, Valpo students, faculty, and staff host a variety of holiday events to unite the campus with the greater Valparaiso community, as together they join in celebrating the season.

December 2016 events include:

  • Annual Tree Lighting, Thursday, Dec. 1, 4:30–7 p.m. Take a photo with Santa, enjoy caroling and refreshments, and watch as the tree is lit and fireworks burst over campus.
  • Jingle Jog, Thursday, Dec. 1, 4:30 p.m. Part of the Tree Lighting celebration, this
    1-, 2-, or 3-mile run/walk benefits local families. Participants are asked to bring a toy or non-perishable food item as their registration fee.
  • Christmas Concert: A Carol Festival, Friday, Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 3 at 5 p.m., Chapel of the Resurrection. An annual tradition dating back more than 90 years, featuring more than 200 student performers. Tickets cost $15 for adults, $10 for senior citizens and non-Valpo students, and are free to Valpo students, faculty, and staff.
  • Julefest, Sunday, Dec. 4, 1 p.m., Chapel of the Resurrection. Features performances by the Valparaiso Community/University Band. Free and open to the public.
  • TUBACHRISTMAS, Sunday, Dec. 4, 3:15 p.m., Chapel of the Resurrection. Enjoy holiday music played by low brass instruments. Cost is $10 per participant; admission is free.
  • Advent–Christmas Vespers, Friday, Dec. 9 at 7 and 10 p.m., Chapel of the Resurrection. An annual service of lessons and carols. Admission is free, but advanced-seating tickets are required.

Less than four years ago, Omar Lawrence ’16 accepted a full athletic scholarship from Valparaiso University to play soccer. He had never been outside the Caribbean and couldn’t afford to visit the University, but was fully aware that everything he had been working for since he was a boy playing soccer in the streets of Jamaica was becoming his reality.

“As far back as I can remember, I knew I was different from my entire community — motivated to make a difference, to foster change,” Omar says. “It was my responsibility to come to Valpo, to educate myself in order to help my family and change the circumstances back home. For me, Valpo is a world of opportunity — my greatest gift — granted to me through soccer.”

Growing up in Kingston, Jamaica, Omar was surrounded by extreme hardship — children lacking education, nourishment, and even shelter. While his family had its share of struggles, his parents made many sacrifices to send Omar to school and to ensure he attended church, was involved in activities such as Cub Scouts, and volunteered in the community. From an early age, Omar was driven to educate himself as well as provide support for his family and initiate change within the Jamaican community. Never losing sight of the bigger picture, he tirelessly pursed soccer, making many sacrifices in order to develop his passion and talent.

Upon his arrival on campus, Omar struggled to adapt to a completely new environment. Everything was different, from the culture to the people to even the food. Though he missed his family and yearned to be back home serving as the mentor his younger siblings desperately needed, Omar says returning to Jamaica without the assets necessary to promote change in the community was not an option.

While initially Omar fought an internal battle over leaving his home behind and embracing a new culture, he now points to innumerable reasons Valpo has been “perfect” inside the classroom and beyond. And, with only a few months until graduation, he now prepares for his two worlds to unite — his mother will board a plane for the first time in her life to watch him compete on the soccer field, witness him walk across the stage at graduation, and meet his wife, Malachia Jones-Bones ’16 Lawrence, a Valpo alumna whom he met on campus and married in August 2015.

As in Jamaica, Omar found refuge in soccer at Valpo. Through soccer, Omar has learned from and formed lasting relationships with a diverse group of men, honed his teamwork skills, and fostered his leadership skills through his two-year position as team captain.

“From the moment I met Omar and through his entire Valpo experience, I have never doubted how much he fully appreciates the opportunity before him to earn a degree from Valparaiso University,” says Mike Avery, head coach of men’s soccer. “In my 25 years of college coaching, I have never encountered another individual who has done more with his time in college than Omar — decorated player on a competitive Division 1 team, leading advocate of the #oneVALPO initiative, and active member of the campus community.”

Perhaps what has impacted Omar the most is the significance of community service to not only the soccer team, but to the University as a whole. Omar takes great pride in being part of a University that possesses a deeply embedded commitment to service.

The Valpo men’s soccer team has even provided a platform for positive societal change. When two of the team’s players were subjected to racial slurs from their opponents during non-conference play, Omar and his teammates created the #oneVALPO initiative, requiring a signature and a promise to show respect for all other cultures and backgrounds. This initiative has been overwhelmingly successful, and the men were granted the Martin Luther King Jr. Award in recognition of their strong commitment to creating an environment where diversity is honored and respected on campus and within the broader community.

“As team captain, Omar has been a true servant leader, setting a high standard of excellence through his commitment, consistency, and compassion,” Coach Avery says. “Omar has been a tremendous addition to our soccer program, and I could not be more proud of all he has accomplished and will continue to accomplish, both on and off the field.”

Omar is a first-generation student majoring in international business, whose fondness for accounting and economics as well as a recently discovered appreciation for travel and the experience of new cultures drew him to the field. Exposure to infinite possibility at Valpo helped Omar uncover his ultimate career aspiration, gaining employment in cross-cultural management, a career he never knew existed.

Pursuing academics diligently, Omar has developed the expertise and confidence necessary to excel as a graduate. He has experienced marked improvement in his communication skills, both written and verbal, and complete immersion in a new culture has taught Omar to understand and appreciate cultural difference, skills that will undoubtedly aid him in his future career.

“I knew virtually nothing about Valpo before my arrival as I was completely focused on soccer,” Omar says. “But, over time, I started to see what Valpo stood for — Christianity, service, community, scholarship, and so much more.”

Omar remains motivated to help his Jamaican community, with the goal of establishing a homeless shelter there. He will always miss his home, but Omar now looks forward to building a life in the U.S. with his wife.

Two-time Olympian and six-time U.S. javelin champion Tom Pukstys brought his talent and knowledge to Valparaiso University. Shortly after he enrolled in the sport administration master’s program in 2015, Coach Pukstys committed to coaching track and field, making a substantial impact on student–athletes and colleagues alike.

As a young boy, Coach Pukstys never imagined he would someday be throwing javelins abroad instead of rocks on the lakeshore of the Indiana Dunes. Spending youthful summers at his cousin’s farm in Chesterton, Ind., Coach Pukstys recalls the ingenious excitement of digging in the sand for the very best rocks and tossing them into the distant Lake Michigan.

By the time Coach Pukstys turned 11, his brother Andrew removed the rocks from his seasoned right hand and replaced it with a javelin from Lithuania, a much less familiar implement than the baseballs and footballs his peers were throwing. The javelin is an 8-foot spear used in a throw event in track and field, a popular event in the European nations like Russia and Lithuania, where Coach Pukstys’ parents emigrated from in 1949. Though they found a new life in the United States, the Lithuanian culture was never forgotten at home.

Life changed for Coach Pukstys after his encounter with javelin. The distant waters turned to yards of grass and the childhood hobby of throwing mindlessly for hours became a passion for young Coach Pukstys.

“I loved throwing. That’s how I developed my arm as a little kid, just throwing everything I could find,” Coach Pukstys says. “People used to ask me how I could throw so many javelins during practice, and I would just respond that I’ve thrown all my life. It’s normal for me.”

His passion thrived through adolescence with both inherited and acquired talent.

“My talent was acquired by circumstance. I grew up modest, and my talent was there. My ability to get out and improve was brought upon by opportunity. It was a personal challenge,” Coach Pukstys says. He advanced and threw for the University of Florida, leaving a lasting impression as he still holds many facility records throughout the United States.

“When we threw at the University of Tennessee at the Sea Ray Relays, Coach Pukstys’ name was on our heat sheets for the track record in 1992,” says NCAA Regional qualifying Valpo thrower and alumnus Jeremy Getz ’15. “It was really cool to walk around in Valpo gear and have the pro-guys asking if he was my coach.”

Coach Pukstys graduated college and continued to train and coach, focusing on the 1996 Olympics, where he qualified and took the reins of javelin in the United States, breaking his own record more than five times.

“I had specific goals of being the very best I could be. When you have an opportunity for the Olympic games, you don’t really need more motivation,” Coach Pukstys says. “I had this extreme natural energy that was really extraordinary. I loved it. I really loved throwing javelin.”

After his Olympic career concluded, Coach Pukstys moved home to Palos Heights, Ill. He married Texas-native Ann Bass, and they adopted three boys from Lithuania. Coach Pukstys continued to foster the American javelin legacy he created and coached in the neighboring suburbs of Chicago for many athletes, a majority of them going on to collegiate athletics. Among those many athletes was Valpo basketball player Jubril Adekoya ’17.

“Coach Tom coached me during middle school with all sorts of strength and conditioning,” Jubril says. “He was the first coach I ever had who really pushed me. I couldn’t just show up. He taught me how to work hard and push myself. I didn’t do that until I had him as a coach.”

The two were able to reconnect at Valpo in the Athletics–Recreation Center. Now whenever Coach Pukstys coaches on the indoor track, he waves down to Jubril on the basketball court. “I’m glad I got to see Coach Tom again,” Jubril says.

To Coach Pukstys, leaving a lasting and memorable impression on his athletes is what he strives for as a coach. “Our legacy is the ability to coach the next generation,” he says.

Soon after enrolling in the sports administration program, Coach Pukstys became involved with the Valpo track and field team as a graduate assistant coach for a group of javelin throwers.

“My first few months here, I started to notice how passionate the coaches were. I have fun coaching, and I want my athletes to have fun with me. That’s the real reward of coaching at a school like Valpo,” Coach Pukstys says.

Valpo Athletics has a specific mission to not only improve student-athletes in sport but in life as well. Athletic Director Mark LaBarbera sees great strength in fostering a setting where athletes can prepare for the next steps in life.

When track and field head coach Ryan Moore proposed adding Coach Pukstys to the coaching staff, Director LaBarbera was impressed with not only his credentials, but also his attitude.

“After hearing Coach Pukstys’ intentions, I thought he was a really nice fit,” Director LaBarbera says. “We want to make sure student-athletes have a good experience, and that’s where people like Coach Pukstys come in. That’s the importance of finding the right people to be a part of our mission.”

As a former track and field athlete himself, Director LaBarbera sees the work ethic and efforts it takes to be successful. “He’s not what you would expect, personality-wise from someone that has competed the way he has. His humility and the way he presents himself made him a great fit,” Director LaBarbera says.

The track and field javelin group is a reflection of Coach Pukstys’ impact on Valparaiso University. Growing up throwing rocks on the beach of the Indiana Dunes, just 10 miles from campus, was more than coincidental.

“I always feel like I need to be offering humanity something back for all the world has given me,” Coach Pukstys says. “I can’t just consume; I have to provide something worthy for mankind. I’m sure that through coaching kids and offering my skills I can provide something positive.”

The mark Valparaiso University has left on Coach Pukstys and vice versa is worth more than championship titles, and it goes further than international competition — the significance is seen in the attitudes and composure of the student-athletes and colleagues who are surrounded by Coach Pukstys’ enduring presence.

At Valpo, Emily Robinson ’17 has blossomed in countless ways — as a leader, collaborator, scholar, educator, musician, and motivator. Even though Emily may not know exactly where she’ll be after graduation, she is confident Valpo has prepared her for whatever career path she may choose.

From St. Louis, Emily toured more than 20 schools before eventually selecting Valpo. After visiting and being accepted into the Lutheran Leaders Intern and Scholarship program as well as Christ College — The Honors College, she knew Valpo would be her perfect home for the next four years.

“Valpo has definitely become my home,” Emily says.“It has become a home because I have created my own family here. Everything that is encompassed by a home is here, and you discover it along the way.”

Emily is a music major with a minor in business administration. With a concentration in music industry, she has taken courses in music careers and entrepreneurship, which will allow her to pursue a career in many areas, including recording, retailing, or arts management.

“I have been impressed by Emily since I first encountered her as a high school student attending Lutheran Summer Music,” says Jeffrey Doebler ’87 M.M., Ph.D., professor of music and director of music education and bands. “I was elated when she chose to attend Valparaiso University to pursue a major in our music industry program.”

Since arriving at Valpo, Emily has actively engaged in campus life. She cites Christ College, Lutheran Leaders, and Chamber Concert Band as being the cornerstones of her Valpo experience.

The transition into college life is often full of challenges. “I grappled with finding balance,” Emily says. “Valpo has taught me the importance of balancing schoolwork, extracurriculars, and friends, as well as taking care of my physical and spiritual self.”

Emily has successfully balanced the challenges of being a Christ College honors student as well as a band member with the rigorous duties required of a Lutheran Leader. Emily’s engagement on campus doesn’t end there, as she is also head usher in the Center for the Arts and a member of Sigma Alpha Iota.

As part of an exclusive group of nine students, Emily meets weekly with Lutheran Leaders to discuss leadership and plan a leadership retreat. Gaining work experience through internship is an essential aspect of Lutheran Leaders. Emily has secured an internship every semester and summer, the most recent being with the St. Louis Symphony.

Through the symphony, Emily has gained valuable experience in everything from auditioning to programming. Currently, her work with the symphony focuses on the creation of a family and education concert, which is slated to be sent to the publisher shortly and eventually captured on stage. Her role at the symphony has enabled her to explore her passion for music, develop creatively, and connect with people through music.

“I love symphonic music, and through this internship, I have uncovered an additional passion for education,” Emily says. “I seek to create performances that speak to each audience member, teaching them something new about themselves and leaving them individually fulfilled. If I can do that, I consider it my personal success.”

As a Christ College student, Emily finds herself constantly challenged and motivated to meet the high expectations permeating the honors environment. She is more aware of the world around her, continually explores her life’s purpose, and has developed extensive critical thinking and writing skills.

“I discovered I possess a need to be in a constant state of learning and developing,” says Emily. “I may not know where my career will take me, but Valpo has helped me question my passions and strengthened my commitment to the intersection of faith and scholarly work.”

Emily was selected as a member of Chamber Concert Band, Valpo’s most advanced band, her freshman year, where she is afforded the opportunity to play the music she loves within a unique community. She has made a significant contribution to the University in notable performances throughout the year, including Easter worship, Christmas Concerts, and Commencement ceremonies. Further, she has been part of living music in playing new works of visiting composers.

Exhibiting a strong commitment to music education, the Chamber Concert Band collaborates with Valpo High School musicians in an annual winter concert. This initiative has highlighted Emily’s strength as a mentor and educator of young musicians. Her impact extends across the University, serving as the stage manager for the majority of campus performances.

“Emily is a wonderful person and musician. She is an ideal fit for Valparaiso University, and it is an honor to work with her,” Professor Doebler says. “She has been an important contributor through her three years of college, and I look forward to what’s to come in her senior year.”


Traveling more than 8,000 miles, Ashita Bhatnagar ’18 arrived at Valparaiso University two years ago sight unseen to embark on what has proven to be a journey full of challenges and growth both academically and personally. Not one to sit idle, Ashita has immersed herself in the community both inside and outside the classroom, combining a rigorous academic schedule with active extracurricular engagement.

“From the moment I arrived on campus, I have been inspired,” says Ashita. “I have never felt more engaged or active. My brain is constantly at work, and I have discovered I have purpose.”

With more than 700 international students, Valpo draws students from diverse backgrounds who flourish here for a multitude of reasons. Ashita attended an International Baccalaureate high school in India, and her only knowledge of Valpo was shared by her brother, Eshaan Bhatnagar ’17, who started his Valpo journey just one year prior as an engineering major. While Eshaan guided Ashita, impressing upon her the significance of the Valpo experience, Ashita has been the true inspiration.

“Ashita and I have been together since she was born — the same preschool, the same elementary school, the same boarding school, and now the same college,” says Eshaan. “I’ve watched her grow up from the time she took her first steps. However, it wasn’t until last year that I saw the woman she has become. It was only at Valpo that I noticed the leader she has become, the dedicated student she has become, and most importantly the confident individual she is now. Because of Ashita, who spends her days studying, I find myself motivated to work hard, spending hours in the library. I couldn’t be happier or more proud to call Ashita my sister.”

As a Christ College — The Honors College student and biology and psychology major with her eyes set on a chemistry as a third major, Ashita is fully engaged academically with hopes to attend medical school upon graduation. However, the transition into college was not a seamless one for Ashita, challenged with adapting to a new country and culture. Through the inclusive environment of Christ College, where open-mindedness is fostered, Ashita found comfort in exploring different religions and cultures and being afforded the opportunity to bring her own culture to the table.

“Often times, people have preconceived notions about those of differing cultural backgrounds. At Valpo, I have found people actually want to know my story,” says Ashita. “It is amazing to be fully embraced by a community. Being in a community where people respect you and want to learn more about you is something that reassured me about Valpo.”

In Christ College, Ashita has grown both intellectually and personally, approaching the challenges with the aid of faculty mentors. Initially she feared writing, but through one-on-one faculty interaction, her writing skills have “flourished,” and she is now en route to becoming a Christ College Scholar. The interdisciplinary nature of Christ College has forced Ashita to step outside the science spectrum, exposing her to new ideas. In her Word and Image class, she reignited her creative side, sparked a new interest in art, and now finds herself constantly analyzing her surroundings.

“I was delighted to have Ashita in my Word and Image class this past spring,” says Gretchen Buggeln, Ph.D., Phyllis and Richard Duesenberg Chair in Christianity & the Arts and associate professor of art history and humanities. “Although Ashita’s academic focus is science, she gets everything she can out of her humanities courses by reading carefully, participating vigorously in class discussion, and being open to being challenged and changed by new ideas. Ashita approaches the world with her mind and all her senses wide open, and her enthusiasm energizes her classmates as well.”

This summer has found Ashita in the chemistry department, engaged in a 10-week research experience. Working alongside fellow students and faculty advisor Thomas Goyne, the research team is seeking to chemically synthesize a fluorescent amino acid. The goal is to understand how a protein works in a living cell. Ashita is one of an elite few who have worked with the Ultra-Performance Liquid Chromatography Instrument, which is used to analyze the products of the synthesis process. Through this research experience, Ashita has explored her capabilities, become more versatile, and discovered an unknown joy for research.

Prior to Valpo, Ashita described herself as being terrible at chemistry. She has been inspired by Valpo, pointing to her professors as the catalysts for her success. Ashita has grown more independent through innovative teaching styles such as the flip classroom, which requires the student to delve into the material on her or his own and apply that knowledge to problem-solving in class. Outside the classroom, Ashita has developed close connections with her professors, whose support, encouragement, and mentoring have aided her in uncovering her potential both academically and personally.

Similar to many Valpo students, Ashita is not only dedicated to academics, she is also committed to several extracurricular activities. She has been a member of both the Valparaiso International Student Association (VISA) and the Pre-Med Club since her freshman year and joined Gamma Phi Beta her sophomore year. Last year, she served as social chair of VISA and will be holding leadership positions in all three organizations next year, including vice president of VISA alongside her brother who was elected president.

“My time at Valpo has been characterized by marked social growth,” says Ashita. “I’ve grown as a person. Now, I see myself as a confident, independent woman ready to take on whatever life throws at me.”

Through VISA, she has expanded her group of friends to include students from around the world and discovered an inclusive platform where she can express herself and engage in dynamic cultural exchange. As a member of Gamma Phi Beta, she is involved in numerous service opportunities and is now part of an extensive network of alumnae. The focus of the sorority is on the empowerment of women, which is of particular interest to Ashita due to the remaining prevalence of abortion of girls in India. Ashita is committed to bringing the community together to build stronger, more confident women.

At Valpo, Ashita has gained a thorough understanding of herself and her capabilities and has been inspired into action in and outside the classroom. With two more years until graduation, she is determined to remain engaged. Ashita seeks to obtain three degrees and graduate summa cum laude, with the highest academic achievements. She is focused on recruitment for VISA, community service for the Pre-Med Club, and increasing awareness regarding Gamma Phi Beta.

“Valpo has always been my home away from home, but now it’s just become home for me,” says Ashita. “There is no place I find greater comfort, involvement, or inspiration.”

Dawn Trautman ’94 is a woman of impact among her friends, within her community of faith, and throughout her professional world. Equipped with a keen understanding of her purpose, Dawn leads a life of intention. Focusing her time and energy on the areas in which she excels and can be of influence, she never strays from her path.

Dawn thrives in numerous arenas — managing auditions, rehearsals, dance classes, voice lessons, coaching calls, online business developments, and special projects for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

“I don’t believe we live in a compartmentalized world. Valpo helped me see the wide landscape, pushing me to explore new ideas and opening me to possibility,” Dawn says.

As a child, Dawn developed a natural passion for dance and performance, which evolved into a serious love for musical theatre as she gained more exposure to that scene. At Valpo, she had multiple arts outlets — choreographing Songfest for her sorority, the Pi Mu Alpha musical, her Christ College Production, as well as performances in the main theatre; engaging in liturgical dance at the Chapel; and singing in the choir.

While it may have been natural passion originally drawing Dawn to theatre, that love has evolved into an opportunity to connect with an audience, expanding people’s ideas of the world and its possibilities. Art is a mechanism for Dawn to develop creatively and speak to others. By providing people with a new way of looking at the world, they learn about themselves and their capacity to influence in their own unique way.

Dawn points to her experience in Christ College — The Honors College as life-changing, forcing her to see things in a different light. For instance, the Freshman Production provided an avenue to view the ways in which all parts of our world inform one another. Dawn choreographed this production to music arranged by her fellow classmate and current associate professor of music and department chair at Valpo, Joseph Bognar ’94.

“As a multi-passionate individual, the manner in which Christ College combined all academic subject areas really resonated with me,” says Dawn.

An experienced actress with her eyes set on Broadway, Dawn performs throughout the country, her most recurrent role being in “Church Basement Ladies.” Inspired by the book “Growing up Lutheran,” this musical comedy affords Dawn the opportunity to bring her experience and insight into the Lutheran culture to production and rehearsals. Perhaps her biggest performance highlight was her role in “Witches of Eastwick,” a pre-Broadway try-out under consideration for Broadway.

As she continues to shine in the theatre realm, she also cultivates a presence in the life coaching business, Big Picture Big Purpose. Dawn’s first exposure to life coaching occurred while she was obtaining her M.A. in industrial organizational psychology from New York University. Dawn quickly embraced life coaching and its global nature, allowing her to confront issues emerging in all aspects of life. Her coaching business is comprised of eCourses, videos, podcasts, and retreats. As a woman informed by the Lutheran world, she fills a unique niche, coaching a significant number of women and pastors.

Life coaching allows Dawn to draw on personal experience. In her podcasts, she refers to significant and special moments at Valpo. For instance, in discussing leadership challenges, Dawn refers to her time as a member of Kappa Psi Omega, when she served as president of Intersorority Council. In this role, Dawn led meetings, resolved issues, ran large-scale events, learned to compromise, and guided people toward a more expansive vision of possibility — establishing the foundation for her life of leadership.

Dawn’s experience in Christ College is also instructive in her life coaching business. The interdisciplinary nature of Christ College challenges students to think critically and grapple with the meaning of a new ideas personally as well as in the larger context of the world around them. As a coach, Dawn guides her clients as they encounter life’s transitional moments, attempting to find meaning in their lives and to discern their individual callings.

Through life coaching, Dawn commits herself to nurturing others, ensuring people are living a life of value and using their skills to best serve those around them. She works with people on their journey to truly understand the answers to questions such as, “What is your big picture? What is your purpose? Why does God have you in this world?”

Beyond theatre and coaching, Dawn utilizes her master’s in youth and family ministry, obtained from Luther Seminary, in her commitment to various consulting projects. Working with ELCA Youth Ministry Network, Dawn is on a national planning committee that creates an annual Extravaganza event designed to renew, educate, and connect people volunteering or working professionally in family ministry.

“Effectively balancing theatre, coaching, and ministry requires sharp focus on one’s unique skill set, which Dawn does in an unwavering manner, spending no time on things that distract her from her big picture goals,” says Reverend Scott J. Maxwell-Doherty, who works alongside Dawn on a national planning committee for an event called Extravaganza, which is sponsored by the ELCA Youth Ministry Network. “All those around her, including the Church, benefit from her unique ministry.”

The Extravaganza brings hundreds of people together in one room, all experiencing the same theological message, leading to discovery and growth. “In every area of my life, I have these moments where I feel connected to the whole universe and God and everything,” says Dawn. “Through my consulting projects, I watch people as they begin to see a bigger picture and reassess how they can have a positive impact on the world around them.”

Every area of Dawn’s life enriches the others, bringing a theatricality to the liturgy at the ELCA Extravaganza, mentoring children performing in her musicals, and integrating show tunes into her eCourses at Big Picture and Big Purpose.

“I live with intention instead of in reaction to whatever crosses my path,” says Dawn. “I want to help people live with purpose and passion rather than coast through life. I believe God created every person to contribute to the world in some manner, and I am motivated to uncovering the unique way in which each person can make a positive impact.”

In all aspects of life, Dawn is guided by her personal mission, “to ignite the experience of discovery” in herself and those around her.

Service. Leadership. Vocation. For Caleb Rollins ’15, these words defined his experience at Valpo and created his path to philanthropic work as development manager for Lutheran Services in America.

Caleb was initially drawn to Valpo for its “home away from home” community, but he says the financial support and the promises of the Christ College — The Honors College experience led him to stay.

“I wouldn’t have been able to go to Valpo if it weren’t for the financial awards I received. The opportunity to participate in Christ College was also a big draw for me because of the academic rigor and community they offered,” Caleb says. “I felt Valpo was a place that could be my home for four years. I attended three high schools, lived in about five cities before college, and was really looking for a place to call home. I felt like Valpo could be that place, and it was.”

Caleb, a recipient of the Allen Scholarship for Church Vocation and the Board of Directors Scholarship, majored in international service, now called global service, with a minor in philanthropic leadership and service. Through his academic work in Christ College, he also earned a major in humanities.

Caleb emphasizes that it’s not only the academics that prepared him for his career in philanthropy, but also the variety of service and leadership opportunities that make up the unique Valpo experience.

“Valpo provided me with a lot of different opportunities to shape my education — from studying abroad, to broadening my scope of communication with people of diverse backgrounds, to practicing fundraising and development work through the Social Action Leadership Team, to learning student social justice ministry at the Chapel, to working on my critical thinking skills through my time in Christ College,” Caleb says. “Those opportunities, coupled with the support by faculty and staff, made my time there invaluable.”

When alumni reflect upon their Valpo experience, they often think of the people who influenced them during their time here and the relationships developed — most often with faculty and staff mentors and advisors. Caleb Rollins is no different.

In appreciation, Caleb wrote thank you cards to a few faculty and staff after graduation. Among those was Elizabeth Lynn, director of the Institute for Leadership and Service. “She was a great mentor to me. She encouraged me to reflect on my service and my learning and to think critically about them,” he says.

Caleb met Elizabeth Lynn at the start of his sophomore year and expressed enthusiasm for the mission of the Institute, which is dedicated to preparing Valpo students for lives of leadership and service in the world. Director Lynn says this moment characterizes Caleb’s commitment to making a difference.

“He consistently takes initiative to work with others to create meaningful new action to improve our world,” Director Lynn says. “I immediately hired him as a research assistant and put him to work assessing and mapping different types of student service on our campus — a complex assignment he fulfilled promptly and effectively while also managing a full course load, other jobs, and growing student leadership roles on campus.”

Like Director Lynn, other Valpo professors had a definitive impact on Caleb as a student and helped to shape him into the philanthropist, leader, and person of faith he strived to be.

“Professor Heath Carter helped me realize that I can’t really separate my Christian faith from work for justice. I think that’s important for my identity now outside of Valpo,” Caleb says. “And Professor Greg Jones — I don’t know if he would know he had a big impact on me, but he definitely did. He taught me to continue to work for and cry out for justice even when people aren’t listening to you.”

Professor Jones says he is honored to have contributed to Caleb’s academic and faith formation at Valpo. “Caleb is one of those rare individuals whose heart is carried and shown in full view of the public,” Professor Jones says. “His life is a testimony to the power and presence of faith to transform us into an instrument of good. Caleb simply lives his faith.”

Pastor Jim Wetzstein says Caleb is the typical kind of student that Valpo attracts. “He’s both talented and hardworking, passionately committed to finding his place in the world, not to become famous or for self-profit, but to be of service as an expression of his own awareness of God’s great love and service to him,” Pastor Jim says.

Caleb rose to leadership in the Social Action Leadership Team (SALT), the social justice ministry of the Chapel of the Resurrection, under Pastor Jim’s direction. Pastor Jim says, “Like many before and countless more that will follow, Caleb heeded the call to be ‘salt of the earth’ and is taking it seriously. Knowing Caleb and others like him is among the greatest joys of my work here at Valpo.”

In addition to the impactful leadership of faculty and staff mentors, Caleb says being part of the Calling And Purpose in Society (CAPS) Fellows Program helped guide and shape his career path. CAPS is a distinguished program within the Institute for Leadership and Service. CAPS Fellows are placed in internships with organizations engaged in important forms of service and leadership for 9-10 weeks in the summer, for a minimum of 300 hours. The CAPS experience is more than a job working in a service environment, it’s an opportunity for students to reflect on service, and reflect on their call to service.

“My true vocation was defined by my experience in CAPS,” Caleb says.

Caleb’s CAPS Fellow placement was at Lutheran Services in America, not coincidentally where he started his new professional role as development manager in March after his CAPS Fellows experience helped him cultivate his Lutheran identity.

“I lived with a community of Fellows who also had extraordinary experiences outside of Valpo in service-oriented positions,” Caleb says. They reflected on those experiences collectively and how they relate to their vocation. “My time in the CAPS Fellows Program gave me more of an insight into how I view vocation and how that is affecting me in what I do now. I do work in Lutheran social ministry for Lutheran Services in America, and I’m not sure I was as committed to my Lutheran identity before my time in the CAPS Fellows Program.”

Caleb is just starting his career in the philanthropic sector, and his ambitions are high. “I want to work in a career where I’m able to love and serve God and my neighbor,” Caleb says. He wishes to continue to work in a faith-based organization, and eventually pursue a graduate degree in international development, and ultimately, a Ph.D. in philanthropic studies.

In addition to leadership development opportunities, Caleb also took advantage of opportunities to create fun experiences and memories at Valpo through the Social Action Leadership Team (SALT) and Social Justice Ministry of the Chapel and various positions in Christ College and admissions.

However, a particular highlight of his time at Valpo was SALT’s Color for a Cause — an event he helped organize. It was the memories created with friends through that event that Caleb says will last his lifetime.

“Color for a Cause is a color run that SALT puts on the first weekend of May each year. Its purpose is to raise funds for their World Relief Campaign, their primary annual funding initiative,” Caleb says.

“It is a night that perfectly captured the community and service aspect of my Valpo experience, and it was fun.”

Something not so unique about the Valpo experience is its community, but Caleb says that sense of community and the way it impacted him is what made his experience so special.

“I think I was fortunate that I can define my Valpo experience as being holistic,” he says. “I could go to class on Wednesday morning with some of my best friends, and then maybe we’d go to lunch, or go to Chapel Break together. Then I could go onto the recreational sports field and play some intramural flag football with them. And then I could go to a staff meeting for the Social Action Leadership Team and see some of the same people there.

“The same applied to professors. I could see them in class, and then I’d be going on a trip with them to Selma, Alabama. And then I’d maybe see them out to dinner in downtown and have a conversation with them and their family.”

Caleb says it’s through these experiences and Valpo’s community-based culture, coupled with what he learned in the classroom, that changed him throughout the course of four years into someone who knows himself and his passions.

“When I think of Valpo I think of people who are committed to learning and service and their faith, and who invited me to come alongside them to also learn and service and be faithful with them for four years,” Caleb says. “The people who were along my journey at Valpo were, and are, incredible.”

Water boils over the stove at an old off-campus home awaiting uncooked noodles. A kitchen timer beeps, and giggles erupt from the kitchen table where five girls are sharing stories after a full day of student teaching.

This is ritual for senior secondary education and mathematics student Kathryn “Katie” Merkling, who shares a home with her classmates. The group has spent three and a half years learning alongside each other in the classrooms of Meier and Gellersen as the first-ever MSEED scholars at Valpo.

MSEED is the math and science education enrollment development program at Valparaiso University, supported by the National Science Foundation. It offers students like Katie an opportunity to excel in science and teaching year-round through research and paid internships.

“MSEED is just a wonderful Valpo program,” says Jon T. Kilpinen ’88, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “It engages some of our most thoughtful faculty members and attracts excellent students like Katie. The result is well-prepared graduates who leave here ready to make a difference in the world through their leadership and service. We could not be more proud of Katie and her classmates in the first group of MSEED graduates.”

The program was brought to Valparaiso University when Katie was just a freshman, and she jokes that they were the guinea pigs when Professor Robert Clark, Ph.D., introduced the program in hopes to get more math and science teachers in the work force. Katie considers his efforts a success, exclaiming with a laugh, “We’ve practically taken over the education department!”

In four years the program has exceled, with nearly 50 students fulfilling the requirements of two internships, a research project, and a cultural diversity element. But for Katie, the experience was much more than that. She is also a Christ College Associate and a leader in many other organizations, but she says MSEED brought the most compelling community atmosphere to her Valpo experience.

“It’s a really close-knit community,” she says, referring to her four house-mates who are also MSEED scholars. “When we all get back from student teaching, we come home and talk about our experiences that day. It’s a great time to reflect for us that I wouldn’t have anywhere else.”

Freshman students look up to Katie and her graduating class, yearning for that same type of relationship. Katie took her time with MSEED to immerse herself in the experience, noting it was something she really loved about campus. “You can walk into a math or science classroom and see a group of MSEED students together. In pretty much every class I’ve been in there was an MSEEDer in there, which is great for us. We rely on each other.”

When Katie lends advice to younger students in the program, she encourages them to make the most of their experiences. She embraced opportunities throughout her time at Valpo by planning events, attending weekly MSEED dinners and creating programs for incoming MSEED students. Though, she credits much of her success to her educational experiences.

When it came time for the program requirements, Katie was eager to get started on what she deems to be the most fulfilling part of the program, her pedagogy internship. Katie redesigned the introductory math course at Valparaiso University, making it more hands on and innovative than ever before. “This was the big one for me,” she says. “It was the first time that I had really ever been in the position of an educator before.”

She was able to see the results of her project by teaching the course with Professor Karl Schmitt, and Katie’s teaching stature lived up to Valpo standards. She restructured assignments, organized the course and provided mentorship to junior students.

“Her insight was incredibly valuable as we worked to improve the learning experience,” Professor Schmitt says. “If she continues in the same vein, she will be an amazing educator, the kind I hope will teach mathematics to any children I might have.”

The experience gave her an upper hand as she prepares to graduate in May.

“I’ve been out into the field before anyone else,” she says. “I’ll be able to go into an interview saying I’ve redesigned an entire college course.”

As Katie finishes her final semester at Valpo, she is embracing every moment, knowing that soon she may not come home to a house filled with her best friends.  Though it is bittersweet, Katie knows she is prepared for a future of educating students and credits much of that to MSEED.

“MSEED has set me up for what I hope to be a successful career,” she says. “It has been a fantastic opportunity. That pretty much sums it up in a few words — it’s changed me for the better.”

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