Front row, left to right, Chuck Aoki, Joy Thao, Interim President Devinder Malhotra, Provost Ginny Arthur, Megan Olson and Valerie Wilwert
Back row, left to right, Jana Gegen, Stephanie Hahn, Jodin Morey, Stephen Lenius, Derek Gella and Fanice Thomas.
Ten students were selected spring semester 2015 outstanding students at Metropolitan State University. The honored students are Chuck Aoki, School of Urban Education; Jana Gegen, School of Nursing undergraduate; Derek Gella, College of Management (COM) undergraduate; Stephanie Hahn, School of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice (SLC) graduate; Stephen Lenius, College of Individualized Studies; Jodin Morey, College of Arts and Sciences undergraduate; Megan Olson, SLC undergraduate; Joy Thao, COM graduate; Fanice Thomas, College of Health, Community and Professional Studies (CHCPS) undergraduate; and Valerie Wilwert, CHCPS graduate.
Chuck Aoki, 24, Minneapolis, was once named the country’s top wheelchair rugby athlete. A participant in the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, he is a six-year member of the U.S. Paralympic national team that travels internationally and will participate in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro. Aoki says he is the only person in the United States with a very rare genetic condition called hereditary sensory autonomic neuropathy type 2. The condition—which prevents him from feeling sensation below his elbows and knees—has resulted in amputations of parts of his fingers and broken bones in his legs. The social studies major and member of the National Education Association and Education Minnesota says he hopes to pass on his perseverance and other positive qualities to the urban students he is passionate about teaching. Aoki is also passionate about another thing: Serving as a role model for others with disabilities.
Jana Gegen, 47, Prescott, Wis., underwent a 2013 kidney transplant that sparked a renewed appreciation for life. A 21-year registered nurse, her experience enduring numerous hospitalizations also supplied her with valuable insights into how health care workers can positively impact patients. Gegen—who strongly subscribes to the holistic health care emphasized by the university’s nursing program—previously worked at Regina Hospital and Augustana Health Care Center in Hastings. Gegen received her associate of science in nursing from Excelsior College, N. Y. She became a licensed practical nurse after graduating from Dakota County Technical College, Rosemount. A mother of two sons, Gegen volunteers at the Saint Croix Valley Restorative Justice program. She has been accepted into Metropolitan State’s doctorate of nursing practice program.
Derek Gella, 25, Blaine, was active in Metropolitan State student activities, serving as a student senator and earning an “outstanding junior senator” award. The marketing major also gained recognition in the Guiding, Empowering and Mentoring Success (GEMS) mentoring and leadership program. Cofounder and first president of the Metropolitan State Business Association, the university’s first student business group, Gella was one of two student representatives on a Metropolitan State presidential transition team that assisted Interim President Devinder Malhotra. A member of the Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association, he is a shift leader at Walgreen’s in Coon Rapids and oversees 15 employees. Gella graduated from Anoka Ramsey Community College with an associate of arts concentrating in mathematics and engineering. Active in the community, he was a panelist for a National History Day event evaluating the work of young researchers, and he participated in a Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation fundraiser with other Walgreen’s employees.
Stephanie Hahn, 28, is a full-time Hennepin County probation officer who investigates potential violations of felony-level cases. She also is a part-time Anoka County corrections officer. Earning her master of science in criminal justice at Metropolitan State, Hahn also received her bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice in 2007 from the university, winning academic honors in the process. She graduated with honors from Park Rapids High School in 2004. Hahn was active in high school band, choir and drama and received an American Musical Foundation Band honor. She plans on continuing her work as a probation officer and hopes to also teach college-level criminal justice, perhaps at Metropolitan State.
Stephen Lenius, 59, Golden Valley, selected student commencement speaker, completed a 40-plus year quest to obtain a college degree. His self-styled major: cultural leadership through writing and design. A self-described evangelist for alternative learning, he received considerable credit from Metropolitan State for various learning strategies. Since 1982, Lenius has owned and operated Movable Type, a Golden Valley graphic design and typography services firm. He is also a 20-year award-winning columnist for Lavender, a Twin Cities-area GLBT magazine, and has written nationally and regionally for the popular press as well as scholarly articles. He owns Nelson Borhek Press, which provides editorial services and publishes books, including his own, Life, Leather and the Pursuit of Happiness. A long-time activist, promotor and documentarian of Minnesota’s GLBT and leather communities, Lenius has volunteered creative services for AIDS fundraisers and Twin Cities Pride, sponsors of the annual GLBT pride festival in the Twin Cities. He headed a committee that brought a national leadership conference for the leather community to Minneapolis, winning a national community service award in the process.
Jodin Morey, 41, Saint Paul, teamed with a Metropolitan State professor on a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded project to integrate sustainability topics into algebra and pre-calculus courses. Among other things at a national mathematics conference, Morey discussed how materials developed for the NSF project will be made available to teachers worldwide. Making schoolwork challenging for the mathematics teaching major, he has tendonosis, which severely limits the use of his hands and requires him to deploy voice-recognition software to complete math homework and tests. Morey, a member of the American Mathematical Association and the Minnesota Council of Teachers of Mathematics, graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in music. For years, he was a vocalist in choirs and played string bass in orchestras and jazz combos. A one-time co-owner of a Twin Cities-area limousine company, Morey has volunteered at the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center, Habitat for Humanity and several soup kitchens. He plans on pursuing a graduate degree in mathematics.
Megan Olson, 22, Osseo, is a night manager at Dean’s Supermarket in Osseo. A former intern with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the criminal justice major is completing another internship with the Minnesota Prison Doula Project at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Shakopee, a women’s prison. She graduated from North Hennepin Community College with an associate of science in criminal justice and an associate of arts in liberal arts. Olson, a member of Phi Theta Kappa while attending North Hennepin, was secretary of the school’s criminal justice club and participated in a program that promoted higher education and law enforcement careers to younger students. Among other community service activities, Olson assisted with patrols at the Cinco de Mayo Festival in Saint Paul and volunteered at the Minneapolis Police Activities League, Feed My Starving Children and CornerHouse, a Minneapolis children’s advocacy center. Her future plans include securing a criminal justice position perhaps related to restorative justice.
Joy Thao, 37, Maplewood, is an accounting manager for the city of Saint Paul and oversees 11 employees. She previously was a finance specialist for Minnesota Management and Budget, where she earned two awards: one for her work on the state’s economic forecasts and another for revenue-reporting improvements. For her MBA at Metropolitan State—which had double concentrations in finance and management information systems—she won a professional development scholarship from the Government Finance Officers Association, of which she is a member. With her husband, Thao administers the Hmong American Education Fund, a nonprofit foundation that promotes higher education nationally in the Hmong community and has distributed numerous scholarships since 2013. Thao, who has a five children, is considering pursuing a doctorate of business administration degree.
Fanice Thomas, 30, Columbia Heights, is a Kenya native whose research addressed how Western media have contributed to negative body image for Kenyans and Kenyan-Americans. The psychology major presented her findings—which a Metropolitan State professor described as “absolutely unprecedented” for an undergraduate—to national, regional and Minnesota psychology associations. Thomas, who arrived in the United States in 2002, was active in university and other professional activities—secretary of the student Psychology Club,and member of the Behavioral Science Student Association, the Psi Chi International Honor Society, the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, and the American Psychological Association. She works full-time as a conference center coordinator for Oppenheimer, Wolff and Donnelly, a Minneapolis law firm. Thomas received an associate degree in psychology in 2011 from Normandale Community College. Active in community service, she has volunteered for the Salvation Army and Feed My Starving Children. Future plans for Thomas, who is married, include pursuing graduate school in psychology and continuing her body-image research.
Valerie Wilwert, 34, Cottage Grove, compared differences in attitudes, beliefs and culture between Boomer, Generation X and Millennial generations for her master’s thesis in applied social psychology. She has presented on this topic and others at various national conferences and colloquiums. Wilwert, an operational teller trainer at Wings Financial Credit Union, Apple Valley, previously taught several grades and subjects in Hudson, Wis. After graduating summa cum laude from Bemidji State University in 2004 with bachelor’s degrees in psychology and secondary education, she spent a year teaching English in southwestern central China. Active in the community, she volunteers for Feed My Starving Children and has volunteered for the Minnesota Psychological Association. Wilwert is a member of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, the American Psychological Association, the Psi Chi International Honor Society and Metropolitan State’s Behavioral Science Student Association. Married with one child, this diehard Minnesota Twins fan eventually plans to pursue a doctoral program in psychology.