RSU Announces First Class of Graduating Seniors

A student from Nepal who traveled to America to pursue the dream of an education, a young man who returned to Claremore to raise his family and attend college close to home, and a U.S. Navy recruiter from Fayetteville, Ark. who earned his degree online will be among the first recipients of bachelor’s degrees at Rogers State University.

RSU will grant its first 17 bachelor’s degrees, in addition to 272 associate’s degrees, at its 90th commencement ceremony at the Claremore Expo Center on Saturday, May 11.

“This will be a significant moment in the history of higher education in northeast Oklahoma,” said RSU President Joe Wiley. “It is the first time that a baccalaureate education has been available in this area.”

RSU was granted accreditation as a four-year university less than two years ago in August 2000. A few weeks later, students began enrolling in its new bachelor’s degree programs. These students will be the university’s first graduating class of seniors.

“Our first class of seniors is small, but after visiting with many of them, I can tell you they are highly qualified, dedicated and enthusiastic students,” he said.

Wiley added that he expects the number of graduating seniors to increase sharply in the next several years. RSU has 489 student enrolled in bachelor degree programs.

This spring, RSU experienced the largest full-time equivalency enrollment increase of all Oklahoma colleges and universities , including two-year and four-year and public and private institutions. Full-time equivalency enrollment increased by more than 23 percent over last spring, according to statistics compiled by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. RSU has led the state’s regional four-year institutions in full-time equivalency enrollment growth during the last several semesters.

RSU’s first class of graduating seniors include:

Dinesh Adhikari

For Dinesh Adhikari, it took a big leap of faith to begin his college career more than 8,000 miles from his home in the Asian country of Nepal. Adhikari wanted to study in the United States after he finished his schooling in Nepal – best known for its Himalayan mountain range including Mt. Everest – but he didn’t know where. The fact he didn’t know anyone in this country only compounded the difficulties of his search. Adhikari ultimately relied on his research and faith to choose a private Christian university in Oklahoma. However, after a year there, he began to look elsewhere because of the financial strains of paying for a private education.

“I really liked this area, and I wanted to be able to stay around here,” he said.

After looking at schools in the area, he said transferring to RSU was a perfect fit for his educational goals. After two years, he earned his associate’s degree in computer science in 2000, and then began working on his bachelor’s in business information technology with an option in software development and multimedia.

Following graduation, he intends to pursue a master’s degree in computer science from OSU-Tulsa.

Daniel Combs

After earning his associate’s degree in art from RSU in 2000, Daniel Combs wanted to stay close to home to further his education. And that’s why he opted to pursue a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from RSU.

Combs recently exhibited his paintings in oil, acrylic and watercolor, as well as his drawings and photographs as part of the “Capstone Art Show” for RSU’s first senior art students. He is a member of Phi Theta Kappa.

He is a 1995 graduate of Pryor High School and is the son of David and Rhonda Combs of Pryor.

Matt Ferrell

When Matt and Abby Ferrell got married, they knew they wanted to live and raise a family in their hometown of Claremore. They met while attending Oklahoma State University. Both intended to earn bachelor’s degrees from OSU, but preferred to earn their degrees closer to home. In the summer of 2000, when RSU was accredited as a four-year university, that dream became a reality.

“After we got married, we really wanted to move back to Claremore to be close to our families, and to start our new family,” says Matt Ferrell. “Since RSU began offering bachelor’s degrees, we decided to take advantage of the new opportunity.”

While Matt will receive his a bachelor’s degree in applied technology, his wife Abby is not far behind. She is working toward RSU’s bachelor’s degree in social science – psychology. She wants to work in the social work or psychology fields. Both Matt and Abby previously earned two-year associate’s degrees from RSU.

Matt, who is the son of Chris and Julie Geiger of Claremore, is a graduate of Claremore High School. He currently is employed at Westside Texaco. After receiving his bachelor’s degree, he hopes to work in product sales or management at a company in the Claremore or Tulsa areas.

He and Abby are the parents of three-month-old Emily Ferrell.

Thomas Howard

When Thomas Howard of Claremore completed his associate’s degree in computer science from RSU in 2000, he wanted pursue a bachelor’s degree in computer science. However, at the time, there were few options for him in the Tulsa area.

“I was planning to study computer science at the University of Tulsa, but that was right around the time RSU began offering its bachelor degrees,” he said.

He wanted to stay close to home, plus he knew that it would be difficult to afford tuition at a private school. After he learned he would receive the Robert Aldridge Scholarship in Business Information Technology and an Academic Merit Scholarship from RSU, he knew that the university would be the right choice for him. He will receive his bachelor’s degree in business information technology – with an option in software development and multimedia. He is a member of Phi Theta Kappa and the Association of Computing and Technology.

He is graduating summa cum laude, which recognizes students with a 4.0 grade point average. Howard currently serves as the webmaster for RSU’s web site, and intends to remain in that position though the summer and begin working on a master’s degree in computer science at OSU-Tulsa. A 1997 graduate of Claremore High school, he is the son of Robert and Linda Howard of Claremore.

Crystal Jackson

Crystal Jackson didn’t waste time pursuing her education. She began taking classes from RSU as a concurrently enrolled high school student between her junior and senior years at Nowata High School. After graduating from high school, she earned two associate’s degrees from RSU, completing most of her classes at the RSU-Bartlesville campus.

When it came time to pursue a bachelor’s degree, she chose RSU’s new bachelor’s degree in applied technology because it was a strong area of interest for her, matched her career goals and was available via the Internet.

“Since I live in Nowata and work in Bartlesville, completing my degree online was really convenient,” she says. “I have worked full-time during my entire college career, so it was really helpful to work on my classes by computer in the evening.”

She works as an underwriter at the Graham-Rogers insurance company in Bartlesville. She and her husband Josh Jackson have a four-month-old son Jared. She is the daughter of Dennis and Sharon McKee of Nowata.

Rob Kirkley

The opportunity to build upon close working relationships with his professors was one of the key reasons that Rob Kirkley of Inola chose to continue his academic career at RSU. After receiving his associate’s degree in art from RSU in 1999, Kirkley opted to pursue a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts at RSU.

“Certainly, proximity was an issue, but I really enjoyed building relationships with my professors and getting personal attention,” he said. “That sort of personal attention in education is addictive.”

Kirkley is a member of Phi Theta Kappa and the Student Art Association at RSU. He showed his oil paintings, photographs, clay sculptures and poetry in the first senior art student exhibition at RSU. After taking a year off to “decompress,” Kirkley said he would like to take a few more classes before pursuing a master’s degree in fine arts. A 1997 graduate of Inola High School, he is the son of Bob and Debbie Kirkley of Inola.

Michelle Krueger

When it came time for Michelle Krueger to choose a university, RSU was a natural choice because it was close to home. And, after earning her associate’s degree in art in 1999, choosing to continue her studies at RSU was also a natural choice for her.

“RSU offered a small student-teacher ratio, and I was very pleased with the amount of time that I got to spend with each of my professors,” said the 1997 graduate of Talala Christian Academy. Maintaining the relationships with her professors was a key reason in her pursuing her bachelor’s degree in liberal arts at RSU. Krueger recently participated in the “Capstone Art Show” at RSU’s Foundation Gallery and exhibited her watercolor paintings, sculpture, pottery and mixed media works of metal, wire and sheetrock.

She is graduating cum laude, which recognizes students with a grade point average above 3.8. She is a member of Phi Theta Kappa at RSU, and received a scholarship from the Three Rivers Artists. She is the daughter of Sal and Brenda Briseno of Claremore and Glynn and Tami Welch of Ariton, Ala.

Kevin Peck

The bachelor’s degree in applied technology was a “perfect fit” for Kevin Peck of Broken Arrow. After completing an associate’s degree in science from Tulsa Community College, Peck was able to transfer his credits to RSU to pursue the bachelor’s degree in applied technology.

“I’m a computer geek, but not necessarily a programmer,” he said. “I wanted to pursue educational opportunities in network administration or information technology, and the applied technology degree just fit everything I was looking for.”

Other selling points for Peck about RSU were the quality of professors and the small class sizes.

“The quality of the professors – especially Dr. Bert Tollison – really shows, and the move toward bringing in more doctoral level instructors raises the quality of education at RSU,” he said.

Peck is employed as student activities coordinator with OSU-Tulsa. He also is serving an internship with OSU-Tulsa’s community relations department by providing computer support to clients statewide.

He intends to pursue a master’s degree in computer science or telecommunications following graduation. A 1998 graduate of LaSalle-Peru Township High School in Chicago, Peck is the son of Larry and Sally Peck of Broken Arrow.

Christopher Pierce

After looking around at other universities, Christopher Pierce of Pryor discovered what he was looking for right in his own backyard.

“(RSU) was close to where I live and affordable,” he said. “I’ve visited and have been enrolled in other schools, and this one seemed comfortable.”

He received a Robert Aldridge Scholarship in Business Information Technology and a Mildred Smith Endowed Scholarship. After earning his bachelor’s degree in business information technology, Pierce hopes to gain employment in the information technology field as either an analyst or programmer.

A 1996 graduate of Pryor High School, Pierce is the son of Judith Holt of Pryor.

Gary Ramsey

Ramsey is the first student to receive a bachelor’s degree entirely online through RSU’s U.S. Navy Education Program.

Ramsey is a second-class petty officer and recruiter for the U.S. Navy in Fayetteville, Ark. He decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree because it is required for admission into Naval officer candidate school. On Oct. 26, he will begin training to becomeĀ a Naval officer, and in February 2003 he will attend flight school in Pensacola, Fla. He hopes to become a Naval Flight Officer.

He had attended several colleges and universities across the nation, completing classes in person in the traditional manner. When he was stationed in his hometown of Fayetteville, he decided to pursue his bachelor’s degree through RSU Online because of the convenience and academic reputation of the program.

“I put in more than 60 hours a week on the job, so completing a degree online was the best option for me,” he says. “I considered going to some other larger universities but the classes were too big and were mostly taught by graduate students.”

Ramsey will receive RSU’s bachelor of technology degree in applied technology.

“You have to be more autonomous to take classes and complete your degree online,” he said. “And the threaded discussions promote class participation by requiring you to participate in discussions. In a regular class, you’re not required to raise your hand. I think that really makes a difference.”

Ramsey is a member of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society at RSU. He received scholarships from the Navy to participate in the program.

He is a graduate of Rogers (Ark.) High School. His parents are Gary L. Ramsey of Rogers and Delora Boaz of Fayetteville. His wife, Sherian Ramsey, is pursuing her bachelor’s degree at the University of Arkansas.

“With my bachelor’s degree, I was able to get into officer training school and I’ll get an increase in position and pay,” he says.

In November 2000, RSU was one of 16 universities in the nation – and the only university in Oklahoma – to be selected as a distance education partner in the U.S. Navy College Program.

Stefanie Reynolds-Metzger

Stefanie Reynolds-Metzger of Claremore knows a lot about juggling.

As a single mom with an 11-year-old son and a seven-year-old daughter, she juggled the responsibilities of raising and providing for a family with her studies as she worked toward her bachelor’s degree from RSU.

Couple that with her duties as a member of the U.S. Navy Reserves and working as an AmeriCorps*VISTA member with the Regional Learning Center in Bartlesville, and it’s been a hectic few years for her family.

The payoff will come when Reynolds-Metzger receives her bachelor’s degree in social science with an option in psychology and sociology during the commencement ceremony.

After high school, she joined the U.S. Navy. When she completed her service, she started taking classes at RSU in 1997 and received an associate’s degree in liberal arts in 1999.

She began pursuing her bachelor’s degree at another university for a year, but tired of the long commute.

“I kept watching and hoping that RSU would begin offering bachelor’s degrees,” she said. “And when they did, I transferred over here as soon as I could.”

While at RSU, she was secretary for Phi Theta Kappa and a member of Adult Students Aspiring to Prosper (ASAP) and the TRIO Student Organization.

She is graduating magna cum laude, which recognizes students with a grade point average above 3.9.

After graduation, she intends to spend as much time with her children as possible this summer and plan for her wedding later this month. In the fall, she intends to pursue her teaching certificate from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah. She ultimately hopes to become a secondary teacher in social science, political science and history.

A 1989 graduate of Claremore Sequoyah High School, she is the daughter of Gary and Billie Reynolds of Claremore.

Cassie Shaw

Cassie Shaw says she felt fortunate to find the bachelor’s degree she needed when she moved to Claremore two years ago.

“We moved here so my husband could work as a golf professional,” she says. “I was glad RSU offered the degree I needed here.”

Shaw will receive a bachelor’s degree in social science with an emphasis in psychology and sociology at commencement this year. She had already earned an associate’s degree in general studies from Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa, close to her hometown of Lamont, Okla.

After graduation, the couple will move to Bethany, Okla., where she will pursue a master’s degree in counseling psychology from Southern Nazarene University. Then she plans to join a counseling practice.

She currently works full-time as a secretary for Dr. Jeff McElroy and Dr. Clayton Rogers in Claremore, and part-time for the Alzheimer’s Association in Tulsa. She is the daughter of Cindy McDaniel of Lamont and Rocky Waddell of Enid. She graduated from Deer Creek-Lamont High School.

Melinda Vass

Melinda Vass of Chouteau, who will be receiving a bachelor’s degree in applied technology, said the degree program allowed her a smooth transition from an associate’s degree that she had previously earned from a college in Indiana to her bachelor’s degree from RSU.

Vass started taking classes at RSU in January 2001 after moving to the area with her parents.

“I had originally started at RSU to pursue another associate’s degree,” she said. “My advisor told me that, because I already had an associate’s degree, I could just as easily get a bachelor’s degree.”

During her studies, she served an internship with the Pryor Chamber of Commerce during the fall 2001 semester.

A 1996 graduate of Winamac High School in Winamac, Ind., Melinda is the daughter of Carl and Elaine Vass of Choteau.

Eric Welch

After his plans to play basketball at an out-of-state university didn’t come to fruition, Eric Welch of Claremore decided to seek his educational opportunities a little closer to home.

He started at RSU in the spring 1998 semester and earned an associate’s degree in 2000. He immediately began working towards his bachelor’s degree in applied technology.

“The availability (of RSU) was really a big factor in deciding to come here,” he said. “And the (applied technology) program really helped out my interest in business.”

He recently completed an internship with the City of Claremore where he got direct experience in its information technology, budget and personnel departments.

Welch intends to pursue career opportunities in business management, and later return to school to seek a master’s degree in business administration.

A 1997 graduate of Claremore High School, he is the son of Wayne and Darlene Welch of Claremore.

Other bachelor degree candidates are:

  • Mikael Allen of Owasso, bachelor of science in social science with an option in psychology and sociology.
  • Kambria Callantine of Bartlesville, bachelor of science in social science with an option in psychology and sociology.
  • Andrea Warren of Tulsa, bachelor of science in social science with an option in psychology and sociology.