Iowa State University Alumni Association
 

2017 Iowa STATEment Makers

Robert Hable
Lawrence, Kan.
 
Robbie (A)(’13 chem engr) is on the verge of publishing the graduate research he’s pursuing as a PhD student at the University of Kansas, and it’s already creating a buzz. Robbie works to separate nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen from algae and convert into commercial products – including bio-crude oil -- through a process called hydrothermal liquefaction. The eco-friendly and more efficient twist? The algae he is studying was grown in and used to treat wastewater from a local municipal wastewater treatment facility. “What we discovered is the oil we produced from the wastewater algae is of higher quality,” he explains. “And the solid, char co-product we produced is of high value with potential catalytic, tissue, or phosphorus fertilizer application.” He hopes to someday manage his own research team or business unit in the sustainable fuel and chemical industry.
 
Robbie on…

…his favorite ISU memory: “Dance Marathon. I was a dancer my freshman year and ‘hid’ in the bouncy house from time to time to ‘rest,’ when in reality I was just tackled and piled on by the Miracle children and siblings. The next two years I served on the families committee and met the McGuire family. I was like a brother to them and did everything they said. I am fairly certain there is a music video out there somewhere of me singing and dancing to Barbie Girl and wearing a Mohawk.”
 
…his guilty pleasure: “Wearing Iowa State apparel in Lawrence, Kansas – especially after winning in OT and ending a 51-game winning streak in Allen Fieldhouse.”
 
…what would make the world a better place: “If people recognized that everyone has something to offer and thus an opportunity to teach something new”
 
…what Iowa State means to him: “Passion. Iowa State is where I found my passion for studying renewable and sustainable fuels and chemicals and developed a passion to mentor, lead, and manage.”
 

 

Samantha Clark
Washington, D.C.
 
Samantha (’09 pol sci) is deputy general counsel for the United States Senate Armed Services Committee–working for committee chair Sen. John McCain and standing alongside McCain when both received national awards from the Enlisted Association of the National Guard in 2016. Samantha, a former ISU Wallace E. Barron All-University Senior Award recipient who earned her J.D. from the University of Kansas in 2012 and graduated from the U.S. Air Force’s Air Command and Staff College in 2014 while working on Capitol Hill, was the 2016 recipient of the “Militia Award,” which recognizes congressional staff who have contributed outstanding and exceptional service to the National Guard. Samantha was specifically recognized for her work on the blended retirement modernization legislative language in the National Defense Authorization Act.
 
Samantha on…
 
…her favorite spot on the ISU campus: “the Grant Wood mural room in Parks Library”
 
…her dream job: “I’m very lucky to have my dream job now, working for a true American hero.”
 
…the movie she’s always quoting: “Super Troopers”
 
…her favorite words of wisdom: “You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, but you should always be the hardest-working person in the room.”
 

Nicholas Morton
Cajaruro, Utcubamba, Amazonas, Peru
 
After two years as a middle school admissions counselor at Iowa State, Nick (’14 env sci and pol sci) up and joined the Peace Corps in 2016 – fulfilling a dream he’s had since a young age. “Service has been a part of my life since a very young age,” he says. “I was lucky to be raised by two parents who strongly believed that your job on Earth was more than just punching a clock and looking out for yourself.” Inspired by his undergraduate extracurricular and service experiences at Iowa State, today Nick works in Peru to help local community members improve water and sanitation practices. Following his service in the Peace Corps, he plans to pursue graduate school – though he says he’s always open to whatever adventure or opportunity comes his direction.
 
Nick on…
 
…his favorite spot on campus: “The Memorial Union, hands down. I probably should have paid them rent my senior year since I was there more than my apartment. Such a rich history and the center of one of the best opportunities on campus: student organizations.”
 
…his favorite app: “Snapchat. Living overseas, it is always nice to get a little glimpse of what is happening in the good ole USA.”
 
…the everyday object he can’t live without: “My ring made from an Iowa state quarter. I may be thousands of miles from Iowa but I love being able to have a little bit of home with me.”
 
…what Iowa State means to him: “Iowa State University and Ames were truly places where I found out who I was. It was home for six years of my life as I studied at, and eventually worked for, a place that captured a part of my heart every day. Iowa State made me, me.”
 

Pete Kostelnick
Hannibal, Mo.
 
Pete (’09 intl bus & finance) took up running in college to help him lose weight. Every year since, his running goals – and accomplishments – have gotten bigger and more ambitious. After completing his first marathon, he moved on to enter the Badwater 135-Mile Ultra Marathon in 2014. In 2015, he won Badwater. In 2016, he won it again and broke the course record by nearly an hour. Then, on Oct. 24, 2016, Pete broke the record for fastest run across America by accomplishing the feat in 42 days, 6 hours, and 30 minutes – more than four days faster than the previous cross-country record. “The first step is always the hardest,” goes the wisdom of Pete’s personal favorite quote, “so take it and never look back.”
 
Pete on…
 
…his favorite Iowa State tradition: “Late-night walks around campus with one of my senior roommates, who now happens to be my wife, Nikki!”
 
…his role models: “Those who let their achievements speak louder than their voices and don’t look for excuses. Fred Hoiberg. My parents.”
 
…his guilty pleasure: “ice cream”
 
…what’s next for him: “breaking the American 24-hour running record for the distance run in 24 hours, currently 172 miles)”
 

Tyler Stafford
Santa Monica, Calif.
 
In 2016, Ty (’11 advertising & speech comm) was named to Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list in the category of marketing and advertising and as one of the “top 20 marketers in Los Angeles” for his work as a content strategy manager for Omelet, an L.A.-based creative agency where he has helped direct creative content and strategy for a number of global brands, including his personal favorite clients: Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, AT&T, Guild Guitars, and more. Throughout his young career, Ty has embraced the modern advertising landscape and delivered results in innovative ways—dating back to his time as manager of Red Bull’s Global YouTube channel, where he was honored with two Webby Awards and two Streamy Awards while increasing the channel’s subscriptions to more than 4 million.
 
Ty on…
 
…his favorite ISU tradition: “the Beardshear-to-Curtiss run”
 
…what would make the world a better place: “if VEISHEA was brought back”
 
…the everyday item he can’t live without: “air conditioning”
 
…what Iowa State means to him: “Iowa State made me who I am today. I look back on my time there and it’s almost impossible to pinpoint one moment that made my experience so amazing, but when I do reflect I am overwhelmed with joy and often tears for how grateful I am for my experiences.”
 

Joe Sweeney
Radcliffe, Iowa
 
Joe (’13 ag business) is passionate about entrepreneurship, and even more about his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: farm raising high-quality seafood in the middle of Iowa. The successful Buckeye Fish Company he helped create was acquired in 2016. So in October, Joe and his business partners – Paul Skartvedt ’97 and Nathan Katzer ’07 – launched “Eagle’s Catch,” a new fish farm in Ellsworth, Iowa, that is on track to become one of the largest re-circulating aquaculture systems in the world. Joe’s also currently hard at work launching another business venture in the biotech industry as he strives toward his ultimate goal of revitalizing Iowa’s rural economy – to “bring skilled, high-paying jobs to rural Iowa, where our beautiful landscape, small town life, and rural morals make a great and meaningful life.”
 
Joe on…
 
…his favorite college memory: “the Iowa State football upset of No. 2 Oklahoma State [in 2011]”
 
…his role models: “Norman Borlaug and John D. Rockefeller”
 
…the everyday item he can’t live without: “black coffee”
 
…what it means to him to be recognized as a STATEment Maker: “The hard work and support of my parents, business partners, friends, and faculty of Iowa State is the reason I’ve been so lucky to have experienced some success. This award has recognized some amazing graduates doing incredible things in the past years, and it is a true honor to be among them.”
 

Jessie Opoien
Madison, Wis.
 
As a state government and politics reporter for The Capital Times in Madison, Wis., Jessie (L)(’11 journalism and mass comm) has at a young age already become one of the nation’s top state politics reporters. A former editor of the Iowa State Daily and recipient of the Hugh S. Sidey Scholarship for print journalism, she has been recognized by the Washington Post’s “Fix List” as one of the best state political reporters and political tweeters in the nation. A native of the state, Jessie says she’s found her dream job. “I work every day at the Wisconsin State Capitol,” she says – “a privilege I never dreamed I’d have when I first visited it on a middle school field trip.”
 
Jessie on…
 
…the movie she’s always quoting: “The Royal Tenenbaums. And ‘The Big Lebowski,’ because – let’s face it – that’s a quotable movie.”
 
…her guilty pleasures: “Cheese. Wine and gossip with friends. Bourbon. Netflix binges. And Subway meatball subs.”
 
…her role model: “Barbara Mack. No words I can write will do her justice. She was an Iowa State alum and an Iowa State journalism professor. She was a journalist and a lawyer. She was my adviser, and she will always be my hero.”
 
…what Iowa State means to her: “My dad got his bachelor’s degree and Ph.D at Iowa State, so I’m proud to have carried on the family legacy. Iowa State opened doors for me, connecting me with the people – instructors, advisers, and peers – that made me the journalist and person I am today. I pushed myself. I failed and succeeded, both on levels I’d never experienced before, and I grew from all of it. Iowa State is where I confirmed I had chosen the right career path, and it’s where I learned the things I needed to succeed at it.”
 

Emma Reed
Bristol, Conn.
 
Emma (’10 journalism and mass comm) is an ESPN associate producer, contributing to projects like SportsCenter and the women’s college basketball selection show and serving as tape producer for Monday Night Football, Monday Night Countdown, the Women’s Final Four, and multiple SportsCenter On the Road productions. A former video production crew member for the Iowa Cubs and Iowa State athletics, she has now written, filmed, and produced many high-level ESPN features and montages. “My dream job at Iowa State was to work for Oprah Winfrey or ESPN,” she says. “ESPN was the only one that responded among dozens of companies I applied to. After hanging up from the phone interview, I didn’t think it went well – but shortly after I graduated, I received a phone call from the World Wide Leader offering me a position – a dream come true!”
 
Emma on…
 
…her favorite ISU tradition: “Destination Iowa State. DIS set the stage for me in my development as an incoming freshman – so much so that I decided to be a DIS leader for two years and a Cyclone Aide. DIS is a unique tradition to ISU that I will forever treasure.”
 
…her favorite app:  “Calendar app. Has all my schedules, appointments, and reminders”
 
…her favorite college memory: “Nothing beats being on the field at Jack Trice, taking in the action while also learning what goes into a TV production. One Saturday, I was assigned to camera grip for one of the endzone camera operators. This camera operator was a great teacher of mine throughout the entire season. This specific Saturday in the second half of the game, he told me to take over and run the camera. Without telling the producer/director, he put the headset on me and handed the camera to me and I immediately started framing up my shot. The director/producer was already calling for my camera, and when I heard ‘ready 4, take 4,’ the red light of my camera turned on and everyone in Jack Trice Stadium was seeing my shot. In that moment, I learned how to hold my camera steady while also controlling my excitement, and yet when I thought it couldn’t get any better, our boss said over the headset, ‘Nice work, Casey,’ thinking it was the veteran camera operator and not a first-time college student!”
 
…what’s in her future: “Traveling the world! South Africa in August, and Scotland next year!”
 

Jennifer Cross
Omaha, Neb.
 
Jennifer (A)(’09 landscape arch) is an award-winning landscape architect who has worked on such noteworthy Iowa projects as the Iowa’s Living Roadways Community Visioning Program, the Des Moines Beaver Avenue Streetscape Master Plan, and the Iowa State University Green Space. Currently a member of the RDG Planning & Design team, Jennifer’s work reflects passions for sustainability and community-building that nominators say have made her an early-career standout. Jennifer says she is also passionate about advocating for women in architecture. “I’d like to help the missing 32 percent,” she says, “by helping the design and architectural world to have more flexible schedules for their employees and working mothers.”
 
Jennifer on…
 
…her favorite ISU tradition: “Hilton Magic. It’s a real thing; most people don’t believe it until they experience it.”
 
…her favorite spot on the ISU campus: “The west terrace of the Memorial Union overlooking Lake LaVerne. Combine that with fall colors, a sunset, and Friley Hall in the background and it’s picture perfect.”
 
…her favorite app: “Instagram. It allows me to showcase my lifestyle through a creative outlet.”
 
...what it means to her to be recognized as a STATEment Maker: “It confirms that the programs offered at ISU can take you to great places, and indeed help you achieve your dreams. I’m proud to be an alumna.”
 

Felicia Wenell
Wilmington, Del.
 
Experiences with Teach for America and the opportunity to pursue a master of arts degree in secondary education after her time at Iowa State led Felicia (A)(’11 supply chain mgmt/pol sci) to a position with Freire Charter School in Philadelphia, Pa., where she discovered the ability of a great school environment to touch the lives of young people. As co-head of the school in fall 2015, she launched a new charter high school in Wilmington, Del., with the goal of providing a rigorous college-prep education in a safe environment for at-risk and underserved students. In the first year alone, the high school saw students achieve nearly 1 ½ years growth in math and English and score higher proficiency rates than the majority of local schools serving similar populations.
 
Felicia on…
 
…her favorite spot on the ISU campus: “Alpha Gamma Delta”
 
…what would make the world a better place: “if everyone lived with a greater sense of love toward others and gave grace more freely”
 
…her favorite words of wisdom: “This, too, shall pass.”
 
…what Iowa State means to her: “My entire life I have been a loyal fan and now proud alumna. No matter how many years or miles separate me from the university, Iowa State will always be a piece of who I am. During my four years, I learned more about myself and how to live in the world around me than I ever could have imagined or quantify today.”
 

Cameron Creighton
Torrance, Calif.
 
Cameron (’06 indus tech) is currently a product manager for Toyota North America, specializing in product strategy and visioning for the RAV4. Cameron has always aspired to a career in the automotive industry, landing first at Ford Motor Company while he pursued an MBA from Wayne State University and then at Volkswagen, where he worked as a product strategy specialist. His inspiration, he says, has come from his participation in Science Bound and from a junior year meeting with Ralph Gilles – one of the youngest African American executives in the auto industry. “He encouraged me to go for my dreams,” Cameron says. “He recommended that I work in product planning – which is what I do today. It’s pretty much my dream job.”
 
Cameron on…
 
…his favorite ISU tradition: “Harambee celebration during VEISHEA, put on by the Black Student Alliance. It was always great to come together and celebrate African American culture.”
 
…his favorite apps: “Instagram, Uber, and MotorTrend (all tied for #1)”
 
…his guilty pleasure: “McDonalds breakfast”
 
…what’s next for him: “I’ve learned not to ‘over-plan’ my life. I typically have a long-term goal, but am always flexible on how to achieve it. Life never goes exactly how you plan it; I give God control and follow His direction.”
 

Deepak Premkumar
Berkeley, Calif.
 
Deepak (’14 econ/global resource systems/mathematics) grew up in Ames, but he says that didn’t change his sense of wonder and excitement about the ISU experience – from meeting one of his role models, Barack Obama, to honing his high-level skills in global academic research, which he continues today as a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley. His current research projects are “The Ferguson Effect: Do High Profiled Fatal Encounters with Police Lead to Reductions in Arresting Intensity?” and “Hospital Closure and Hospital Choice: How Hospital Quality and Availability will Affect Rural Residents,” both of which he hopes will prepare him for a post-PhD career in public policy, academia, advocacy, or even a run for office.
 
Deepak on…
 
…the movies he’s always quoting: “The Dark Knight or 21/22 Jump Street”
 
…his guilty pleasure: “reading an unfortunate amount of Clickhole”
 
…his favorite words of wisdom: “’Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.’ – Robert F. Kennedy”
 
…his favorite college memories: “There are honestly too many to count. There are the countless heart-stopping basketball victories that come to mind, such as when I watched us beat Iowa in the last seconds in 2013 with my closest friends. There was the incredible community of Global Resource Systems, where I found myself discussing the most complex of issues with classmates. There was putting those concepts into practice with Dylan Clark by conducting original field research in Tanzania. Certainly one of the most consequential experiences was starting and advocating within the ISU Global Health & AIDS Coalition, illustrating the nexus of my passion for service, development, and policy. It allowed me to grow as a person and as a leader, providing a constant reminder how young people can truly make a difference.”
 

Emily Fifield
Bristol, U.K.
 
As a junior at Iowa State, Emily (A)(’08 Spanish & intl studies) participated in the Footsteps of the Inca study abroad program and fell in love with the language and culture. While studying in Peru, she developed a relationship with a knitting cooperative and vowed to help the low-income women improve their lives by connecting them to markets where they could sell their goods at fair prices. Emily went on to co-found a company called Chiri, which designs and sells ethically made alpaca apparel. In 2015 she earned an MBA in global social sustainable enterprise from Colorado State; then, armed with a passion for using business as a force for good, Emily moved to the U.K. with her husband and took a job with the nonprofit community development organization Up Our Street while also working to expand Chiri’s U.S. business into European markets.
 
Emily on…
 
…her favorite spot on the ISU campus: “standing on the balcony of Catt Hall watching the snow come down on Central Campus”
 
…her role model: “Andrea, the woman who runs the knitting workshop in Peru. She left her home in the mountains with nothing, but she built a home and future for her sons in the city, brick by brick, and has come out stronger on the other side. Her combination of fight and grace inspires me every day.”
 
…her favorite words of wisdom: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
 
…what it means to her to be recognized as a STATEment Maker: “I appreciate the opportunity to shine a light on work that is often undervalued – a lot of it traditionally done by women – and to share the stories of the people behind it.”
 

Cassidy Williams
Seattle, Wash.
 
Less than three years after graduating from Iowa State, Cassidy (’14 computer sci) has already been named one of the Top 10 Professionals in Enterprise Tech by LinkedIn and as one of 35 Under 35 Changing the Tech Industry by Glamour magazine. Her current professional work as a senior software engineer at L4 Digital in Seattle; her past work experiences at Clarifai, Hacker Fund, and Venmo; her extensive public speaking and advocacy contributions – including at South by Southwest and the United Nations; her work as an admin for the global Hackathon Hackers network; and her service as an active mentor for college students and professional developers has made her a standout in her profession at an early age.
 
Cassidy on…
 
…her dream job: “LEGO Master Builder. Or a carpenter! I love building things. I do a lot of ‘virtual’ building now with my computer science degree, and some day when I have the space to build physical things like furniture and models, I’d love to do both.”
 
…the everyday item she can’t live without: “Q-Tips. They are an unappreciated necessity.”
 
…her favorite words of wisdom: “My favorite quote is from Helen Keller: ‘One cannot consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.’”
 
…what Iowa State means to her: “Iowa State is my home away from home. I love the community, the campus, and the opportunities it presented to me. I’m a Cyclone to the core, and will always root for the teams and the academics. The people of Iowa State, my advisors, my professors, my peers, the staff, everyone, were to this day some of the nicest, warmest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. I know that I wouldn’t be where I am today without the empowering opportunities ISU presented to me.”
 

Elyse Brimeyer
Urbandale, Iowa
 
The Urbandale Community Schools knew Elyse (L)(’07 music ed, MEd ’13) was a talented difference-maker when they hired her at the young age of 28 to become principal of Olmsted Elementary, which serves more than 300 students in the district. The respect, dignity, and caring Elyse has consistently shown not only as an education professional, but as a mother of three and a citizen, has touched countless lives. Her vision each day is to make school a safe and caring place, to make children feel special, and to teach and reach the whole child – not just academically, but also socially, emotionally, and behaviorally. Ultimately, Elyse says the world would be a better place if we all would “read more, listen more, slow down our lifestyle pace, and be more content on a daily basis.”
 
Elyse on…
 
…her favorite college memory: “my husband asking me to marry him underneath the Campanile at midnight”
 
…her favorite app: “Headspace, a guided meditation app. Meditation is a daily part of my life.”
 
…her role model: “Malala Yousafzai”
 
…her favorite words of wisdom: “’Don’t hurry, be happy,’ by Kid President and ‘The only person you need to compare yourself with is who you were yesterday” by Rushton Hurley”
 

Jenny Lichty
Huxley, Iowa
 
What started as a childhood love for FFA has become a career calling for Jenny (A)(’09 ag and life sci ed, MS ’14), who today is the agriculture instructor and FFA advisor for Ballard Community School District. But Jenny wasn’t hired to take over the FFA duties from a previous advisor; she was hired to build the program from the ground up. Inspired by her passion for the organization, Jenny – who says her former FFA advisor remains her strongest role model to this day, worked tirelessly to get the program off the ground; today it is serving the community in countless ways. Jenny, an avid volunteer and committed servant leader, has inspired these traits in her students and motivated others around her.
 
Jenny on…
 
…her favorite ISU tradition: “Cy and tailgating at ISU football games”
 
…her favorite spot on the ISU campus: “Curtiss Hall”
 
…her favorite college memory: “serving on the VEISHEA entertainment and public relations committees”
 
…what Iowa State means to her: “Iowa State is home. It is that one place that helped me become the person I am today.”
 
 
 
(A)=Annual Member; (L)=Life Member
 
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