Yingfah Thao, Fall 2017 College of Liberal Arts Outstanding Student

A first-generation Minneapolis resident has been selected as a fall semester Outstanding Student at Metropolitan State University.

Yingfah Thao, who graduated with a Master of Science in Technical Communication, was chosen outstanding graduate student in the university’s College of Liberal Arts. She was one of 1,368 students receiving bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Metropolitan State’s 101st commencement exercise on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017 in Minneapolis.

About her accomplishment and the hard work it took to achieve it, Thao said, “My parents came to the United States as refugees of the Vietnam War in 1976. Like many Hmong families, they preached that ‘education and hard work’ was the only way out of poverty and that marriage and children can wait. As my parents have gotten older, a lot of my energy is dedicated towards managing their healthcare needs while finishing graduate school, working a full-time job and carving out my space in the world. I know I’m not alone. Many of my fellow graduate classmates are like me—balancing work, life and family expectations—and it’s emotionally stressful.”

Prior to joining Metropolitan State, Thao earned a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations with a minor in Ethnic Studies from Mankato State University in 2005. Along with her master’s degree, Thao also earned a certification in User Experience Design from Metropolitan State University.

Thao, who has worked in non-profit organizations and higher education for the majority of her career, currently works as a communications and web manager. She said what she enjoys most about her work is helping create access and opportunity to higher education for everyone from the unique perspective of a user experience designer.

“A lot of people in the design community are working on something that benefits the world and I want to be a part of that in any way that I can,” she says.

She also enjoys exploring Minneapolis on her bike, participating in local community engagement events, and roller-skating.

Professor Tori Sadler from School of Communication, Writing and Arts said, “What impresses me most about Yingfah is that she is an active, not passive, learner. That is, she doesn’t just absorb new learning; she “pokes” at the information, asks lots of questions, and comes up with her own applications of the information. That to me is the hallmark of an excellent graduate student: she can take the new information and shape it into something meaningful for her, and then she shares it with others. Yingfah shares her learning with her colleagues at work and with professionals in her field as she improves processes, procedures, and usefulness of the communications she creates and disseminates.”

LaToya Burrell, Fall 2017 College of Management Outstanding Student

Latoya Burrell
Latoya Burrell

A Minneapolis resident has been selected as a fall semester Outstanding Student at Metropolitan State University.

LaToya Burrell, who graduated with a Master of Business Administration degree, was selected as an outstanding graduate student in the university’s College of Management. She was one of 1,368 students receiving bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Metropolitan State’s 101st commencement exercises on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017 in Minneapolis.

Already an accomplished attorney and a teacher, Burrell wanted more and decided to further her education. “My program took me two years, I attended on a part-time basis, and I could continue to work full-time.”

Burrell appreciated “the diversity of the program, overall.” She enjoyed the opportunity to work with experienced and practicing law professionals, as well as students seeking their undergraduate degrees. “The diversity in nationalities and in people’s background made the experience that much more valuable for me.”

Practicing and teaching law, going to school, and maintaining a family can be a lot to juggle. “The idea of being able to balance time, and being able to give 100 percent to the program, yet not neglect my family or my career in the process.” Burrell says that earning her Master of Business Administration isn’t the end, but rather the start of something bigger.

For Burrell, it’s important that her young son sees his mother in her cap and gown, and walk across the stage on graduation day. “I want him to equate that toward graduation, and start to inspire him towards that.” Her husband, also an attorney, championed the decision to continue her education.

Burrell, armed with her master’s degree, looks forward to spending time with her family and her friends, while looking to the future.

Susan Vold, Fall 2017 College of Nursing and Health Sciences Outstanding Student

A Bloomington resident has been selected as a fall semester Outstanding Student at Metropolitan State University.

Susan Vold, who graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing, was chosen outstanding graduate student in the university’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences. Vold was also featured as the President’s Outstanding Student Speaker for the Fall 2017 commencement ceremony. She was one of 1,368 students receiving bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Metropolitan State’s 101st commencement exercises on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017 in Minneapolis.

Prior to joining Metropolitan State University, Vold earned an associate’s degree in nursing from Century College in 2007. She is currently working as a Movement Disorder Nurse Care Coordinator and Deep Brain Stimulation Program Manager at University of Minnesota’s Neurology Clinic.

Vold also specializes in Parkinson’s disease and is very active in Parkinson’s disease fundraising events. She has facilitated various Parkinson’s support groups.

Vold has received numerous performance awards: Medical Ethics Student of the Year, Biology Student of the Year, Nursing Student of the Year, and ‘Fire Starter’ award. She was the commencement speaker for the nursing class of 2007 at Century College. She was also selected as the first chairperson for the Ambulatory Nursing Council at University of Minnesota Physicians (UMP).

In addition to her continued work at UMP, Vold may pursue a certification in holistic energy modality.

Vold said, “My future plans include expanding my role at UMP, public speaking and teaching, learning more about leadership, becoming more involved in the Parkinson’s disease community and neuromodulation, getting back to oil painting, and learning how to tango, salsa, swing and ballroom dance!”

Heather O’Rourke, Fall 2017 College of Nursing and Health Services Outstanding Graduate Student

Heather O'Rourke
Heather O’Rourke

A Hastings resident has been selected a fall semester Outstanding Graduate Student at Metropolitan State University.

Heather O’Rourke, who graduated with a Master of Science degree, was chosen outstanding graduate student in the university’s College of Nursing and Health Services. She was one of 1,368 students receiving bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Metropolitan State’s 101st commencement exercises on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017 in Minneapolis.

A short time ago, O’Rourke was working evenings as a patient access representative at an emergency room in the south metro so that she could have mornings free to care for her two children while her husband worked during the day. When her youngest child started kindergarten, O’Rourke began attending prerequisite classes at Metropolitan State University, working toward getting acceptance into the Entry Level Master of Nursing (ELMSN) program.

O’Rourke sailed through the prerequisites and began pursuing her nursing degree. She found comfort in the educational community. “Being with the same cohort for seven semesters really has given me the chance to get to know some extraordinary people. Many of us have become friends. Our cohort has gone seven semesters straight, including through two summers.”

Despite her course-load, working as support staff in an emergency room, and parenting two children, O’Rourke spends time each week packing nutrient-rich backpacks to be given to children in need at Food 4 Kids, part of the United Way in Hastings.

The past few years were busy for O’Rourke and her family. Even with her packed schedule, her family still was able to take camping trips and visit the beach in the summer. They look forward to more free time after graduation. “Freedom. We have had every moment scheduled for years. We are really looking forward to being able to spend some time together, to go camping more and to maybe even take a real vacation.”

O’Rourke looks to the future, “I am looking forward to passing the NCLEX and getting my first nursing job.” She plans to continue working with vulnerable adults, in a new capacity. “I want to start by working in psychiatric nursing in a large hospital to gain more experience and confidence; working with these populations and see what opportunities present themselves from there.”

Dionne Trice, Fall 2017 College of Community Studies and Public Affairs Outstanding Student

Dionne Trice
Dionne Trice

A Minneapolis resident has been selected a fall semester Outstanding Student at Metropolitan State University.

Dionne Trice, Minneapolis, who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology, was chosen Outstanding Student in the university’s College of Community Studies and Public Affairs. She was one of 1,368 students receiving bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Metropolitan State’s 101st commencement exercises on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017 in Minneapolis.

After decades of passionate service as a supervisor for the women’s support group at the Oasis of Love Center in North Minneapolis, Trice set her sights on furthering her education. “My theme was I was going to hit the ground running, and run straight through here,” she said.

Two and half years of school later, Trice reached the end of her bachelorette journey and found that she  learned a lot about herself during the experience. “I appreciated the ‘difficult’ professor. It challenged me to take in the information, and really think about what I was working towards.” Trice recalls her most difficult class, Research Methods, as the class that ultimately garnered her Outstanding Student honor.

A mother and grandmother, Trice returned to school in the wake of tragedy. Losing her eldest son was a major turning point. “Trying to re-ground yourself, and relate with the rest of the world again… It was reaffirming to see the other side of something I’ve been doing whole life, counseling other people, when it was time to seek it for ourselves.” It would inspire Trice to do more.

With her husband in the hospital, and her daughter and grandkids at her home, Trice needed a quiet space to think. She found school to be an escape. “I was trying to do homework at the hospital; I was trying to sleep at the hospital, then I’d go to work… Being able to be at school and studying was a relief.”

Trice now plans to get a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy. A self-proclaimed “nerd,” Trice is an avid dancer and reader of Deadpool comics, with a collection of 1,200 or so comics. “People are going to think I just like the movie, but I’ve been a huge Deadpool fan for years,” Trice says. She can also be found playing the videogame, Assassin’s Creed, with her grandson.

Metropolitan State University, a member of Minnesota State, is the Twin Cities’ public, urban, comprehensive state university providing lifelong learning and competitive academic and professional degree programs at the bachelor, master and doctoral levels.

Daniel Silva, Fall 2017 College of Sciences Outstanding Student

Daniel Silva
Daniel Silva

A Saint Paul resident has been selected as a fall semester Outstanding Student at Metropolitan State University.

Daniel Silva, who graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Mathematics, was chosen outstanding graduate student in the university’s College of Sciences. He was one of 1,368 students receiving bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Metropolitan State’s 101st commencement exercises on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017 in Minneapolis.

Silva plans to continue developing his skills at his current job at prnLink, an insurance consulting company. In the near future, Silva also plans to pursue a master’s degree in Applied Statistics from Minnesota State University, Mankato.

While at Metropolitan State, Silva received a master tutor certification from CRLA (College Reading & Learning Association) and worked as a tutor at the Center for Academic Excellence.

Silva was active in student life. He was a member of Friends of Erdős (Mathematical Society of Minneapolis/Saint Paul).

For his outstanding work as a student at Metropolitan State, Silva received numerous scholarships: University Academic Achievement Scholarship, Metropolitan State University Student Scholarship, and Educational Empowerment Scholarship.  Silva’s academic honors include being on the Dean’s List.

Associate Professor Wei Wei in the Mathematics department said about Daniel, “He is the most hard-working student that I have ever seen in my nine years of teaching at different institutions. Daniel got a GPA of 3.89 with straight As in all of his statistics courses.

In an independent study that he did with one of the math faculty, he spent hundreds of hours researching the materials for a graduate-level topic. The end product was almost a 100-page manuscript. He presented this paper at the Friends of Erdos Mathematical Society of Minneapolis/St. Paul in 2017.”

The associate director at the Center of Academic Excellence, Christopher West, said, “Daniel is a true student and sponsor for STEM literacy at Metropolitan State University.”

Lisa DeCory, Fall 2017 School of Urban Education Outstanding Student

Lisa DeCory
Lisa DeCory

A Saint Paul resident has been selected as a fall semester Outstanding Student at Metropolitan State University.

Lisa DeCory, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education, was chosen outstanding graduate student in the university’s School of Urban Education. She was one of 1,368 students receiving bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Metropolitan State’s 101st commencement exercises on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017 in Minneapolis.

DeCory is an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. She grew up in the Twin Cities area and currently lives in Saint Paul’s East Side with her four adopted children.

“For the past 13 years I have worked with the homeless population in the Twin Cities. The majority of this work has been with youth. As I move forward with my professional goals, I hope to be in a classroom teaching and working with urban children. I would love to pursue a master’s degree in the future and continue my learning so that I can serve my community.”

DeCory is a group residential housing case manager at Higher Ground in Saint Paul, where she works with chronically homeless single adults to secure them housing within the complex, and provides intensive case management for the people moving into housing.

She is also a volunteer at the American Indian Magnet School and a member of the Parent Teacher Organization there.

DeCory was awarded the Minnesota Indian Post-Secondary Student of the Year in 2017.

Professor Bruce Drewlow from School of Urban Education said, “Lisa is also a single adoptive mom to four children. In the past, she has also fostered nine children. She is very involved in traditional ceremonies. Her home is a place open for others to come and pray. She has also organized drum and dance presentations for people outside the community as a way to educate people about her community. She has also put on a community clothing and item exchange where people bring their used items and exchange them with other families. Lisa has tutored for Indian Education and worked for years during the summer at an Indian Youth Enrichment Program. She has also worked for years doing Indian youth leadership camps out at Wilder Forest.

Lisa has also been homeless herself during part of the time she has been a student in the School of Urban Education. That did not slow her down. She continued on pace to graduate with a 3.47 GPA. She is indeed a role model for other students in our program, to her community but also to all of us who teach in the School of Urban Education.”

Kunchok Sangpo, Fall 2017 College of Management Outstanding Student

Kunchok Sangpo
Kunchok Sangpo

A Golden Valley resident from Tibet has been selected as a fall semester Outstanding Student at Metropolitan State University.

Kunchok Sangpo, who graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree, was chosen outstanding graduate student in the university’s College of Management Accounting program. He was one of 1,368 students receiving bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Metropolitan State’s 101st commencement exercises on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017 in Minneapolis.

“In the journey of my life I have worked so hard to reach at the position where I am today. I have always kept my aspiration high and never backed out from learning more. Educating myself with new knowledge was my passion beside my hobbies of outdoors,” Sangpo says.

Sangpo is originally from Tibet. Before transferring to Metropolitan State, Sangpo graduated from Delhi University, in India, with a bachelor’s degree in commerce. He is the first member of his family to go to college. “I am very grateful to Metropolitan State University for accepting my application and transferring many credits from Delhi University,” he says.

Sangpo is also an active member of Regional Tibetan Youth Congress in Minnesota, serving as a board member and the general secretary. In Delhi, Sangpo was president of the Tibetan Student Council and volunteered as a coordinator for Students for Free Tibet.

Currently working as an accountant at Visual Impact LLC, Sangpo plans to complete the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification after graduation. “At this stage I think I have built a solid foundation of my profession with the help of school’s learning and organizations and workplace experiences. Since learning never ends, I am looking forward to earning the certified public accountant license. Preparing for CPA exams will be my first step after school.”

Andrea O’Malley, Fall 2017 College of Community Studies and Public Affairs Outstanding Graduate Student

Andrea O'Malley
Andrea O’Malley

A Saint Paul resident has been selected a fall semester Outstanding Student at Metropolitan State University.

Andrea O’Malley, Saint Paul, who graduated with a Master of Arts in Psychology, was chosen Outstanding Graduate Student in the university’s College of Community Studies and Public Affairs. She was one of 1,368 students receiving bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Metropolitan State’s 101st commencement exercises on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017 in Minneapolis.

Four months after earning her Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology, O’Malley was back at Metropolitan State University, enrolling in the master of psychology program.

With a full course load, and a full-time job as a targeted case manager with Ramsey County, O’Malley had her work cut out for her, “My main challenge as an adult student has been maintaining a full-time work and school schedule. I am fortunate to work in an environment that supports continuing education and was therefore able to be flexible with my work schedule.”

O’Malley also tutored in the Psychology Lab, and for data analysis. She says that her most memorable times at Metropolitan State were, “getting involved in research by both going to conferences and by collaborating with other students on campus.”

As a first-generation college graduate, O’Malley really caught the learning bug and has higher aspirations. “Next? I’m hoping for more school! I have applications out to several Legal Psychology PhD and JD/PhD programs and am hoping to gain acceptance for fall admission.”

O’Malley survived her college experience by taking “mini-vacations” with her husband and their two Chihuahuas. “We tried to sneak away every couple of months, even if it’s just for a few days.” To her celebrate her master’s degree, O’Malley and her husband plan a west coast road trip, accompanied by their beloved dogs.

Nikitha Kommera, Fall 2017 College of Sciences Outstanding Student

Nikitha Kommera
Nikitha Kommera

A Saint Paul resident has been selected a fall semester Outstanding Student at Metropolitan State University.

Nikitha Kommera, who graduated with a Master of Computer Science degree, was selected as an outstanding graduate student in the university’s College of Sciences. She was one of 1,368 students receiving bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Metropolitan State’s 101st commencement exercises on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017 in Minneapolis.

After completing her undergrad from a top university in Telangana, India, Kommera decided she would pursue a master’s degree in information technology in the United States. Finding a potential National Science Foundation research opportunity in cybersecurity at Metropolitan State sealed the deal for her.

She transferred from the University of Michigan to Metropolitan State in spring 2016. She started as a graduate research assistant under Dr. Faisal Kaleem. She drew on technical skills that she had learned as far back as high school, and went to work.

“I was inspired by Dr. Faisal to pursue a career in the field of cybersecurity,” she said.

Her first months of research came with challenges. “I was neither aware of the cybersecurity nor the project. But it is because of Dr. Faisal’s trust in my capabilities he gave me a chance to get onboard.” Kommera pushed through the difficulties for two years, balancing school and research. She also worked full-time to guarantee her project deadlines were met.

Kommera is a first-generation college graduate in her family. “My parents are extremely happy and proud of my achievements. They always dreamt of making my dreams come true and wanted me to succeed the way I want to succeed in life. I’m happy I made them proud.” Her parents attended her graduation ceremony on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017.

With a recent move to Chicago, Kommera seeks opportunities to serve and protect the community from cybercrime. “I want to continue a lifelong journey towards making a significant contribution in the field of cybersecurity.” When she’s not busting cyber-criminals, Kommera can be found at the gym, spending time with her family, or relaxing with a book.

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