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Weber State Students


April Callister Found Her Passion and Became a Renowned Expert in It

The title of spring 2021 graduate April Callister’s 15-page academic manuscript is impressive: Effect of Indigenous Diet Iron Content and Location on Hemoglobin Levels of Ghanaians. Equally impressive, as an undergraduate studying sports nutrition education, she had her manuscript published in the journal Nutrients, a big deal in science and nutrition fields. Perhaps even more impressive are the invitations Callister received to present her work at some of the world’s largest gatherings of food and nutrition experts, including The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ 2020 Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo, and the American Society for Nutrition’s annual flagship meeting, Nutrition 2021. But what’s truly astounding, is that Callister volunteered to write the research paper; it wasn’t a class assignment.

Previously, she had partnered on a required project with David Aguilar-Alvarez, assistant professor of nutrition. Later, he asked if she’d be interested in a second collaboration. “He said, ‘Hey, I think this would be an opportunity; it would give you a lot of great experience,’” Callister recalled. “So, I was able to work on the project with a group of professors who thought I was up to the task.”

Callister’s research involved analyzing data previously collected by Weber State professors who traveled to Ghana to record food consumed by people in five different Ghanaian cities. The researchers also drew blood samples. Once Callister’s team analyzed the data, they found that the people who ate more iron-rich foods had higher hemoglobin levels, which meant they were less likely to suffer from iron-deficiency anemia. The goal was to find community-specific solutions to the widespread problem of the condition. “Because something that may work in Ogden, Utah, probably isn’t going to work in Ghana,” Callister said.

Given her passion for her topic and her exciting opportunities to discuss it with global audiences, you can only imagine her disappointment when every conference she planned to attend was moved to an online format because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was kind of bummed,” she admitted. “I think there’s lower engagement when it’s online, but the fact that I was accepted alongside these bigger researchers was pretty crazy.”

Callister’s next educational adventure awaits at the University of Costa Rica, where she will pursue a master’s degree in clinical nutrition of noncommunicable diseases. Then, hopefully, it’s on to a physician’s assistant program. “My hope is to use the understanding of nutrition and medicine to improve healthcare wherever I’m living,” she said. Wherever that is, Callister will remember WSU’s nutrition program and Aguilar-Alvarez. “I would have had no idea how to be able to do this or even that it was a possibility had he not approached me,” she said.

Callister’s story is an inspiring example of what makes Weber State so great, Great, GREAT: professors who know how to challenge their students and care enough to do it, and students who are willing to go the extra mile to enrich their college experience. “I’ve actually gone to three different universities, and the opportunities and mentorship I’ve had at Weber State are not available everywhere,” she maintains. “They are so incredibly unique to Weber.

From Intern to Respected Leader

Emily Nelson BS ’14 said finishing her degree at Weber State while holding an internship at L3Harris Technologies was tough but she was determined to succeed.

Now the software lead of a $500 million program at the Salt Lake City company, her determination paid off. Nelson is in charge of software that controls hardware for some of the U.S. Department of Defense’s electronic warfare activities.

WSU knew how to challenge her, and cared enough to do it.

Nelson, the mother of two now-teenage sons, enrolled at WSU in part because it was affordable, but she also really liked the computer science program.

“The professors are really great there, they’re really one- on-one,” she said. “The classes were small so you get that attention you need to actually excel.”

John Hirschi AS ’95, BS ’95, Nelson’s manager at L3Harris, praises her for leading the software effort for the largest program their company has ever been awarded.

“She gets results,” he said. “She’s a respected leader and gets the job done.”

Nelson also received the National Women in Aerospace Award in 2020.

“It’s good to be recognized for your sacrifice, and if something like that can inspire other women to go into aerospace, that’s even better,” she said.

WSU computer science department chair Kyle Feuz said his department encourages under-represented groups to enroll in the program through K-12 outreach efforts and ensuring students don’t feel alone or isolated.

“Our enrollment numbers aren’t going to change overnight, but we’ve seen a steady increase in our female student population over the last several years, and that is a trend we hope to continue,” he said. “I love seeing Emily and students like her go on to be successful, and that success is what will ultimately drive progress forward.”

First Class of WSU Doctors

The Dumke College of Health Professions and the Annie Taylor Dee School of Nursing celebrated the graduation of 12 Doctor of Nursing Practice students, the first cohort to complete the program, as part of the class of 2021.

Physics Down to a Fine Art

Student Rachell Lemmons discovered and thrived in physics at WSU

Rachell Lemmons BS ’21 loves a challenge.

In fact, she loves a challenge so much she switched her major from art to physics after two years of working toward her degree. Starting at WSU in 2014 as an art teaching major, she had an “aha moment” after taking an astronomy class from professor Stacy Palen.

In support of her new major, Lemmons volunteered and then was hired at Ott Planetarium where she worked with Palen, and later with physics professor John Armstrong.

“The difference between physics and art isn’t as much as you’d think,” Armstrong said. “I think it takes the same sense of exploration and the same sense of creativity, and it’s obvious she has an eye for composition and an eye for different artistic things.”

At the planetarium, Lemmons created an educational short film about terraforming Mars, “The Martian Initiative.” The movie started out as a simple outreach project but evolved into a much bigger endeavor. She partnered with actors, video technicians, asked NASA for permission to use graphics, designed costumes and even won a grant to fund her efforts. Lemmons and her film crew shot footage in Moab shortly before COVID-19 hit the United States. Armstrong said while it would have been completely understandable for Lemmons to take a break or let the pandemic derail her project, she “went above and beyond.”

On top of all her Weber State endeavors — along with running an online jewelry-making business and raising her young daughter, Rubee — Lemmons worked at Northrop Grumman. She has held several positions there over the years that have allowed her to work in areas including nuclear hardness and survivability as well as systems engineering for ground-based strategic deterrents, more commonly known as missiles.

“It is challenging, it really is, and I get excited for that challenge,” Lemmons said.

Lemmons has used her position to help other WSU students find internships and other opportunities at the company.

“About two years ago, a graduating physics student mentioned he was trying to find a job,” she said. “I referred him to the hiring recruiters, and they offered him a position. I was so happy that he got the job! He’s still working at NG too and says he loves it.”

Now working full time at Northrop Grumman, Lemmons is hopeful to one day pursue a doctorate in astrophysics with the aim of working for NASA.

Lemmons’ daughter, however, appears to be taking a different path. Rubee, who is approaching 7 years old, prefers English and the arts.

“But she’ll also ask questions like, ‘Why does the earth turn?’ and ‘Why does the sun go across the sky?’ and those questions are really fun to talk about,” Lemmons said.

“The difference between physics and art isn’t as much as you’d think... It takes the same sense of exploration and the same sense of creativity.”— John Armstrong

Prioritizing Mental Health, Not Just Academic Success

Patrick Luo BS ’21 remembers working eight- to 12-hour shifts everyday at his family’s restaurant in southern Utah to help them pay the bills and keep their home. Once, he recalls, his parents argued over whether the family would have to skip medical visits for a year to save money. 

With little to spare, college seemed out of the question.

Then, in 2017, he received the full-ride Daniels Scholarship and was accepted to Weber State. He knew he had to make the most of the opportunity. “I could not fail,” he said.

That pressure drove him to become an academic success, receiving the Outstanding Student Researcher Award for the Dr. Ezekiel R. Dumke College of Health Professions in 2021. His mental health was another story. “When I did fail, I would essentially consider myself worthless, and meaningless,” he said.

Luo found help processing his failures at WSU’s Counseling & Psychological Services Center.

Through therapy, Patrick Luo found ways to accept failure and celebrate his accomplishments.

He discovered his coping mechanism had been getting involved in more and more activities to avoid thinking about failure. At WSU, he served as vice president of service for the WSU Student Association and vice president of the Asian Student Involvement Association and was involved in the National Society of Leadership and Success, First Gen Club, The Signpost and other organizations. Logging more than 1,520 volunteer community engagement hours, he received the 2020 Presidential Award for Community- Engaged Student.

When COVID-19 put a hold on campus activities, his coping mechanism failed.

“I was just super-overwhelmed, and I thought ‘I can't cope with this,’” he said.

It was then he asked for help. “I learned why I felt like an absolute failure and deserved to be punished whenever I didn’t succeed at one thing or when I received a 99% on a test instead of 100%.”

Through therapy, he found ways to accept failure, and he later shared his story through the Presidential Leadership Fellows, an exclusive group of nominated students who go through a highly selective process to serve as Weber State ambassadors while building leadership skills through monthly seminars.

“If people don't talk about mental health issues, the stigma and problems behind it are never going to be addressed,” Luo said.

In fall 2021, he started the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. While processing his failures, he will also celebrate his accomplishments.

Improving MS Patients’ Lives with Yoga

Weber State Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) graduate Mindy Robert received national recognition for her adaptive yoga program to help improve the quality of life for people with multiple sclerosis (MS).

Robert is one of 10 individuals to receive the 2020 International Organization of Multiple Sclerosis Nurses (IOMSN) Nightingale Award. The award honors significant achievements in MS nursing and provides a grant of $5,000, which helped fund her project.

Robert, a certified IOMSN nurse and nurse practitioner at Ogden Clinic Neurology and Sleep, launched the eight-week pilot program in October 2020.

“I feel strongly that yoga is something anybody can do,” Robert said. “There are so many benefits, no matter what level you’re at or what physical limitations you may have.”

Eight participants completed the program, with almost all reporting improvement in balance, anxiety and confidence in their ability to exercise. Participants also expressed enjoyment in their interactions with other MS patients.

Robert conducted the program as part of her doctoral degree, which she completed in spring 2021 with WSU’s inaugural class of DNP graduates. She hopes it can be used as a model for future MS therapy programs.

WSU Students Exemplify Community Engagement

Lori Cummings BS ’20 and Finau Tauteoli were selected as the first recipients of Weber State’s Ivory Prize, which recognizes students or recent graduates who go to extraordinary efforts to promote student success and engage the community.

The Clark and Christine Ivory Foundation founded the prize in November 2020 with a donation of $12,000. The foundation has pledged $60,000 over the next five years to continue the recognition.

Nominations are made through the Center for Community Engaged Learning (CCEL), and each of the winners receives a $2,000 cash prize and up to $10,000 to be split between the two recipients’ cause or initiative.

“We have limited ways to incentivize this kind of work for students, they often do it out of the goodness of their hearts,” said Becky Jo Gesteland, executive director of CCEL. “The more we can reward that, I think the better, more active and engaged citizens we create.”

Cummings was selected as an Ivory Prize recipient for her work as an intern with the CAPES! program, a skills-enhancing program for children with developmental disabilities. Each week, WSU students work with the children to enhance their independence through a variety of physical, cognitive, social, emotional and behavioral skills.

During her internship, Cummings put her heart and soul into the program and was responsible for organizing events, pairing children with WSU students, and making sure the children were happy and engaged. She also developed a parent meet-and-greet, so parents could meet WSU students and learn about the program prior to the first week. This also helped WSU students learn more about the student they would be paired with at CAPES! prior to the program starting.

With a degree in physical education teaching, Cummings now works as an adaptive physical educator in the Davis School District.

Tauteoli was selected as an Ivory Prize recipient for her work as a member and president of The Ohana Association, which educates the community about Pacific Islander heritages and traditions, and offers support for students.

In addition to her responsibilities as president, Tauteoli found time to support her peers in other WSU clubs and organize community events. She played an integral role in helping establish several WSU Pacific Islander cultural events, including the first Pacific Islander College Prep Night in 2019, and the Pasifika Youth Talk Series for students in middle and high school.

She is passionate about reaching out to the younger generation of Pacific Islanders in Utah to help them connect to their culture and teach them about their options for higher education. Her share of the prize money will help fund events The Ohana Association has coming up, including an intercollegiate showcase and the next College Prep Night.

Finau is an accounting major and plans to graduate in fall 2022.