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Spring 2007 Outstanding Graduates

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Each semester the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Alumni Association honors the ‘best of the best’ during commencement exercises. This semester is no different.

Eight Outstanding Graduates will be recognized during Graduate School Commencement at 5:30 p.m. in the Exhibit Hall of the Cajundome Convention Center. At the ceremony, one of the students will be named the Spring 2007 Outstanding Graduate. Each has been nominated by their academic deans based on academics, scholarship and community service. Here’s this year’s Outstanding Graduates.

Nathan Rabalais – College of the Arts

When he ventures across the Atlantic Ocean to pursue graduate studies at the University of Strasbourg, France, Nathan Rabalais will take with him memories of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette campus, his friends and the overall atmosphere of a city that he has called home.

Rabalais, this year's Outstanding Graduate for the College of the Arts, will earn a dual bachelor's degree in music theory/composition and guitar performance from the School of Music. A guitar player since the age of 14, Rabalais successfully performed two senior recitals in order to complete each concentration, a rarity according to Dr. Gordon Brooks, dean of the College of the Arts.

His inspiration for his musical compositions come from several sources, but Roland Dyens, a French guitarist and composer, is by far Rabalais' favorite. While studying in France, he hopes to sit in on Master classes by this guitar great and experience the many workshops that the Paris Conservatory has to offer.

“ I like to experiment with different harmonies, and I draw inspiration from the music of different countries, especially folk music,” he said. “A lot of my ideas and themes stem from old, traditional songs.”

During the course of his studies, Rabalais received two of the most prestigious awards that a music student can attain. He was awarded the Presser Scholarship, which is the School of Music's highest honor, as well as a very competitive Rotary International Ambassadorial Fellowship. This Fellowship will allow for his studies in France, as well as the opportunity for Rabalais to represent the United States as an Ambassador of Goodwill. As part of the Fellowship program, he will give speeches on Louisiana, Louisiana culture and the U.S. as well as participate in community service projects.

Much of his success and drive can be attributed Ebba Schoonover, Rabalais' German teacher, who has stood behind Rabalais through his college career.

“ She encouraged me to apply for scholarships, turning me on to sources of funding, and she came to all of my performances,” he said. “She has been a big source of support for me.”

The son of Joe and Gail Rabalais of Lafayette, Rabalais' testament to his studies goes far beyond his 3.95 grade point average. He is a member of the UL Lafayette Honors Program, Phi Kappa Phi and Alpha Lambda Delta. He is the recipient of the Friends of Music Endowed Scholarship, Orpheus Scholarship for incoming freshman in music as well as the Oran Robert Perry Burke Memorial Scholarship.

When not composing or playing his guitar, Rabalais is still involved musically with local churches and frequently accompanies fellow students for their recitals or jury performances. Following his fellowship program, Rabalais plans to earn a Ph.D. in Music Composition. His goal is to one day teach music theory and composition in a university setting, yet work as an independent composer of original music.

“ Music is my hobby, but it is also my work,” he said. “I enjoy teaching private lessons and seeing my students get better, and I enjoy composing for instruments I have not written for yet.”

Nicole Warner – B.I. Moody III College of Business Administration

Having grown up outside of the United States on the island of Saint Kitts in the West Indies, Nicole Warner has used her time at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to gain a truer understanding of life in the U.S., while making friends and being involved in various activities.

Warner, the Outstanding Graduate for the B.I. Moody III College of Business Administration, will graduate with a degree in Business Management. A scholarship recipient, she has conducted research under the Ronald E. McNair Program.

“ After meeting with the coordinator, Joseph Cotton, I found the opportunities the program presented to be irresistible,” she said. “My research has focused on transparency in nonprofit organizations and I've been mentored by Dr. Sandra Duhé of the Communications Department who it has been a great pleasure of mine to work with.”

Aside from her research objectives, Warner has been involved in several campus organizations including Blue Key Honor Society, Caribbean Students Association and the Residence Hall Association. Through her involvement in Blue Key, Warner served as editor of the 2005-2006 Blue Key Directory and more recently as the organization's President. Her outstanding leadership was proven at the 2007 Blue Key Honor Society Leadership Conference where she was awarded the President's Award for Outstanding Leadership and Service on the UL Lafayette campus.

“ Blue Key Honor Society was the only honor society I actually sought out to become a member,” she said. “I liked that it focused on leadership, scholarship, and service. Those are things I've always felt help develop character.”

As a Residence Hall Director, Warner is on the front line helping students with not only residential issues, but with social issues that they face while living on campus.

“ The exposure to group dynamics and, conflict and crisis management, I simply could not have received in any other campus activity,” she said. “I've taken an improved understanding of the human skills needed to work within and lead a group away from this experience.”

Being on campus has given Warner easy access to campus activities as well as what she terms a more 'collective experience' of university life that focuses on traditions and activities for students.

“ International Week is a great time for me. I see my flag hanging proudly in the Student Union and I feel a sense of pride and also that I am a 'real' part of this campus and I'm recognized even though my cultural heritage is different,” she said.

Her success in college can be attributed to the many administrators who have worked with her and the organizations she belongs to, but Warner stresses that it was a scholarship that has most affected her.

“It is a UL Lafayette out-of-state transfer scholarship that makes this graduation possible. I really would not be at this point in my life without the university's financial assistance,” she said. “UL Lafayette gave me an opportunity to finish what first started as a distance undergraduate degree. I've never forgotten that. I've come across so many inspirational individuals on this campus; I am happy to now call them friends.”

After graduation, Warner plans to pursue a graduate degree in Mass Communication with a concentration in Public Relations, continuing the McNair Scholar Program nonprofit research that she started while at UL Lafayette.

Warner is the daughter of Robert and Eugene Warner of Basseture, Saint Kitts, West Indies.

Ashlyn Fangue – College of Education

Chalk and erasers, bulletin boards and desks that no college student can comfortably fit in will be the setting that Ashlyn Fangue walks into each day as an elementary school teacher.

The Outstanding Graduate for the College of Education, Fangue will earn her degree in elementary education with high hopes for bettering the educational process for children in years to come.

A scholarship recipient, Fangue has earned the Junior League of Lafayette Endowed Scholarship in Education as well as the International Association of Drilling Contractors Scholarship. She is also a member of Kappa Delta Pi, which she says has provided resources that will aid in her future as a teacher.

She has worked for the past three years at the Alumni Center Development Office. Through this position, she has developed a positive work ethic and has been mentored by many of the Alumni staff members. Aside from these experiences, being a student at UL Lafayette has helped Fangue develop her two favorite hobbies.

“I enjoyed the Lagniappe tennis class, which definitely prepared me for actual matches on court,” she said. “Also, I loved visiting the University Art Museum, since I am extremely interested in photography.”

With the encouragement of her adviser and professor Mary Keller and the other supportive faculty, Fangue has been able to reach her goal of graduation.

“ Mrs. Keller, has provided terrific advice and helped me develop skills that will be used throughout my career,” Fangue said. “She encouraged me to join Kappa Delta Pi and apply for scholarships.”

After graduation, Fangue will move to Floridia where she would like to spend a few years teaching. She plans to work toward a master's degree with hopes of becoming a school principal. She also plans to earn a Ph.D. to become a college professor.

“ Once I have gained experience from the education environment, I am going to participate on the school board,” she said. “I want to help make correct and vital decisions on how education can be changed for the better.”

Fangue is the daughter of Laurie and Carl Fangue of Lafayette.

Aimee Rachal – College of Engineering

Securing a job at Dow Chemical in Plaquemine as a plant engineer for the Poly B Plant, is just one more testament to the education that Aimee Rachal received while at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Rachal, a chemical engineering major, is the Outstanding Graduate for the College of Engineering this semester. She is the recipient of many scholarships including a Student Government Association Scholarship, Chemical Engineering Department Scholarship and the Keith Lindley Honors Scholarship.

“ The past four years at UL Lafayette have been a growing and memorable experience,” she said. “My academic achievements are only a part of what my experiences have been here. The friends that I have made, the community I feel and my involvement in activities has given me a deep sense of belonging to this school.”

During her tenure at the university, she was a member of the Blue Key Honor Society, currently serving as its Vice President. She was also a member of Alpha Lambda Delta, Phi Kappa Phi, Tau Beta Phi and Phi Eta Sigma. Rachal is completing her term as President for Omega Chi Epsilon this semester as well.

Her service goes beyond her involvement with the honor societies. She was chief justice for the Judicial Branch of SGA, member of Panhellenic as well as a member of Kappa Delta Sorority. She is a member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, National Association of Corrosion Engineers and the Louisiana Engineering Society.

Through these and other campus organizations, Rachal has found time to be involved with community service projects. Through the Newman Club, she participated in a Mission Trip to General Cepeda in Mexico. She has been instrumental in raising money for child abuse prevention organizations, and has been involved with the Up Til' Dawn program and Faith House.

She is the daughter of Paul and Catherine Rachal of New Roads. “The support of my family, friends and the faculty of UL Lafayette has given me the chance to reach my full potential,” she said. “I look forward to coming home to support the Cajuns as I continue in the next step of my life.”

Michael Williams Jr. – College of General Studies

Juggling and clowning of the professional kind were what Michael Williams Jr. was accustomed to before beginning his career at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

A graduate of the Dell Arte' International School of Physical Theatre with a concentration in Clown Theatre, Williams came to UL Lafayette in 2004 for a clean start after an injury hindered his clowning career.

This Outstanding Graduate from the College of General Studies will graduate with a 3.65 GPA. He founded and is a two-term president for the UL Lafayette Juggling Association, and under his leadership and guidance, the club has grown to about 12 members. This year they were invited to perform as part of Festival Internationale.

“ It will be a big learning curve for the members of the club, but it will be my return to street performing after 5 years,” he said.

Williams has earned the Frank S. Land Scholarship, Oran Robert Perry Burke Memorial Scholarship as well as the General Studies Foundation Scholarship and takes pride in the fact that he has finished his degree without being on the T.O.P.S. program or having to take out student loans.

“ It was odd coming back to school at this age,” he said. “I have been able to use my performance abilities through my academics, and in the end, I will end up using academics to channel performance.”

Several programs in the New Orleans area, William's hometown, have hosted him as an instructor where he could hone in on his teaching and directing skills. He has served as Movement Instructor for the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, Advanced Clown Instructor for Circus Smirkus in Vermont, and Clown Instructor for The New Orleans School of Circus Arts.

His motivation to finish his degree was formed by his friend and mentor, Daniel Mehn, who passed away last October.

“ He taught me that you can have a Jeckel and Hyde life and career,” Williams said. “I have trained as a performer, but since I can not longer do that I will end up in education teaching the craft.”

Williams said he has found friendship in his instructors and will miss that most about UL Lafayette upon his graduation.

“ UL Lafayette gave me a chance to start over after 10 years,” he said. “I needed something to give me a renaissance.”

After graduation, Williams plans to enter graduate school and eventually earn a Master of Fine Arts degree or a Ph.D. He would like to one day direct. He is the husband of Vitka Williams.

Marielle Phillips – College of Liberal Arts

'You get out of life what you put into it' is not only the mantra that her parents taught her, but it's what helped Marielle Phillips through her academic activities like the completion of an honors thesis.

Phillips, this semester's Outstanding Graduate for the College of Liberal Arts, will graduate with a degree in Psychology and a 4.0 grade point average. A member of the UL Lafayette Honors program, she believes that her education has prepared her for life and its surprises.

“ I can think on my feet and deal with adversity,” she said. “I am way more prepared professionally and academically, and there is nothing I cannot get through.”

She completed her Honors Thesis entitled “Self-Deception, Impression management and their influences on group performance.” Phillips said that she saw the thesis option as a great opportunity to learn the process of publication as well as research. “It was great to get my feet wet,” she said. “I am extremely prepared for any school and I just wanted to get the most out of my education. It has been the most fulfilling opportunity to finish that.”

During her college career, Phillips gained knowledge about her field from her professors in the Psychology Department. “They are such a colorful group and I look up to them as something I want to be, “ she said. “They are great role models.”

She does credit much of her success and learning to Psychology Department head Dr. Theresa Wozencraft and Dr. Cheryl Lynch, associate professor of psychology, who she admires for their ability to balance home life with careers.

“ Throughout every step of my education, they guided me on opportunities that were available,” Phillips said. “They are my good friends, role models and just strong women.”

When not focusing on her academics, Phillips is a volunteer for Stuller Place where she serves as a phone counselor and crisis advocate each Thursday night. She is also a member of the St. Edmond Catholic Church's RCIA program and has participated in Bowl for Kid's Sake that was sponsored by the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Acadiana.

“ I am a perfectionist,” she said laughingly. “I wanted to get the most out of being here. I did not do 100 percent just to look good on paper. I did it in order to give back to the university and community which to me is very rewarding.”

After graduation, Phillips plans to attend graduate school and eventually obtain her Ph.D. in School Psychology. “I believe that children and adolescents are in a developing stage of their lives when intervention will best remedy social, academic and behavioral problems that they may encounter, providing the best possibility for growth and development,” she said.

Phillips is the daughter of Wynn and Joyce Phillips of Lafayette.

Ashley Sanders – College of Nursing and Allied Health Professions

Taking vital stats of patients and taking care of them in their recovery process are just a few of the skills that nursing major Ashley Sanders learned during her time with the UL Lafayette College of Nursing and Allied Health Professions.

As this semesters Outstanding Graduate for the college, Sanders brings the spirit of nursing into everything that she does. As a member of the Student Government Association, Sanders was the College of Nursing Senator, then President and upon graduation will complete her term as Student Body Treasurer.

“ In nursing I take care of the patient, but as treasurer I take care of each student,” she said. “Running for SGA office and being involved in my college has really helped me to network and make my own family here.”

Sanders said her involvement in the Student Government Association has afforded her the opportunity to work and deal with a variety of personalities and has also given her the chance to become an advocate for the university.

“ The swamp, my friends, just waking on campus and being able to stop in UL Lafayette President Ray Authement's office or Dean of Students Edward Pratt's office and having that open relationship with them has made all the difference,” she said.

Not only has Sanders been involved within her college and with SGA, but she was also on the Power Lifting team, earning the title of USA Power Lifting Collegiate National Champion on 2004 and All-American status in 2003, 2004 and 2005. She said that being able to combine student organizations, athletics and academics is something that few students get to experience.

“ My motivation comes from anything that seems hard or has the ability to push me to learn or change myself a little bit,” she said.

When looking for guidance, Sanders frequently sought the help of Dean Gail Poirrier and Dedra Harrington who she says challenged her every day to be not only a better nurse, but also a better person.

“ They were lights of hope giving reality to every situation I was presented with,” she said.

During her academic career, Sanders worked as a nurses' aid at a nursing home and as a medical assistant for a local cardiologist. After graduation, she plans to work as a registered nurse in the Lafayette area and eventually return to graduate school to pursue her dream of becoming a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist. Eventually, she would like to earn her Ph.D. and become part of the faculty at UL Lafayette.

Sanders is the daughter of Doug and Darra Sanders of Slidell.

Claire Pettit – College of Sciences

Next fall, Claire Pettit will be busy with lesson plans and numbers as she takes on the challenge of teaching gifted math at Lafayette High School while working toward her own educational goals of earning a master's degree.

Pettit, Outstanding Graduate for the College of Sciences, will graduate having completed the requirements for a degree of Bachelor of Science with a major in Mathematics.

During her academic career, she has demonstrated her leadership in a number of organizations including the Blue Key Honor Fraternity, Student Government Association, the Association of Future Alumni and the University Program Council.

“ While serving the university, I feel that my experiences have helped me to grow into a better leader and have prepared me for life after graduation,” she said. “My leadership positions in campus organizations have awarded me the opportunity to meet leaders throughout the state and across the country.”

She is supported by a National Science Foundation Mathematical Biology Program Fellowship, and is involved in writing a paper for publication on population estimates of Hyla cinerea, or green tree frogs, in an urban environment. She also holds professional memberships in the Mathematical Association of America and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

When not focusing on academics, Pettit enjoys supporting the Ragin' Cajuns as well as remaining active in campus organizations.

“ Homecoming week was always a fun and memorable week, and I will always be grateful to have served as Homecoming Chair one year and a member of the Homecoming Court another year,” she said. “I will always cherish the memories of serving on the Executive Board for the Association of Student Advancement Programs, which allowed me to represent our university on a national level.”

Much of her success can be attributed to her parents, Mike and Scarlet Pettit, whom she says have been very supportive.

“ They encouraged me to get involved, meet new people, and enjoy college life,” Pettit said. “I am also very appreciative for the guidance I have received from Mr. Anthony Daniel, director of the Student Union, and Dean of Students Edward Pratt during my years at UL Lafayette.”

Pettit is the recipient of a number of scholarships including the UL Lafayette Alumni Endowed Scholarship, the Marion Butler Hall Endowed Scholarship in Mathematics and the Poché Prouet Scholarship.

“ After graduation, I will miss the opportunity to be a student and I will miss the people I have had the privilege to work with while at UL Lafayette, and getting in free to UL Lafayette sporting events,” she said. “Although my undergraduate career may be over, I will always be a Ragin' Cajun.”