UCBA Alumni Spotlights
Alumna Excels in STEM, Gives Back to Students:
Shannon Griffin, Class of 1998
Shannon Griffin (Pre-Biology, 1998) grew up working in her family’s hardware store. She admits that, at one point, she thought she might work there as a cashier the rest of her life, but, being a self-proclaimed nerd, decided that college seemed like the appropriate next step after high school.
After her senior year of high school, Shannon took some time off to travel around the country with friends and enjoy music festivals—she is an avid Phish fan—while also helping at the hardware store. However, she knew after a short while that she was ready to begin college. When the time came, she decided UC Blue Ash College was the best place for her. She had concerns about starting on a large campus like UC Uptown, with a longer commute, difficulties in finding and paying for parking, and extra-large classes. “I knew I would have floundered,” says Shannon. Besides the convenient location, she was especially drawn to UC Blue Ash’s small class sizes. “If I’m spending my time and money to learn, I want [the professor] to spend time on me and my work.”
Shannon spent two years at UC Blue Ash and then made the move to UC Uptown to finish her bachelor’s degree in biology, where she was also a part of WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) as part of the Research Experience for Women Undergraduates. In this program, she was able to conduct “’real’ bench science in a ‘real lab’—and [she] loved it!” After graduating and embarking on a traveling stint out West, she received a phone call from one of her professors who encouraged her to pursue her master’s in biology.
Today, Shannon works as a biologist in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research and Development National Exposure Research Laboratory. She has worked in various roles with the EPA since 2006 and is currently involved in studies which focus on the development of quantitative approaches to evaluate community health and well-being. She also uses EPA web-based tools and Health Impact Assessment (HIA) to inform community decision-making while promoting community outreach and engagement. One example of Shannon’s work at the EPA is helping to develop innovative, non-invasive methods to detect infection using a person’s saliva, versus a blood test. Shannon credits part of her success to her time spent at UC Blue Ash: “The need to think critically, work independently, and build confidence and self-esteem, were important skills and life lessons I learned from my experiences at UCBA. I left there knowing that I’m a hard-working, bright, and capable individual.”
Shannon is a great role model for females in STEM fields and has recently begun giving back to UC Blue Ash as an alumni volunteer. Starting this semester, she will be mentoring a current student in the Alumni Mentoring Program. When asked what advice she has for students and young alumni, Shannon reassuringly states: “You don’t have to have it all figured out now. Get to school; explore, and learn your interests and gifts; commit; and then persevere!”
Chris Hummer, Summer 2016 Spotlight
Chris Hummer’s (Pre-Engineering 2004) career is soaring thanks to the education he received at UC Blue Ash College. He has spent the past 11 years working as a computational aerodynamicist for the U.S. Air Force at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.
Chris actually started with the Air Force through a co-op while he was an engineering student at the UC Clifton campus. He turned that experience into a full-time position where he designs ways to enhance the aerodynamics on all types and sizes of planes for our military, from the F-15A Eagle to the C-130 Super Hercules.
Before his plans took flight Chris was still figuring out what he wanted to do. He took off a few years after high school before attending college. He was attracted to UC Blue Ash because of the small class sizes and the welcoming environment he sensed when he visited the campus.
He knew it was going to be a challenge to adjust to college-level academics while also getting back into the flow of learning, but he found the support he needed at UC Blue Ash. “The resources that are there are tremendous,” says Chris. “I took a study skills course in my second semester and that made a huge difference. It really helped me understand how to learn new material and how to manage my time. I also spent a lot of time in the math lab.”
Chris credits the combination of support and rigorous academics with building the foundation for his future success in college and now in his professional life. After completing his associate degree, he earned his bachelor’s degree from the UC College of Engineering and claimed nearly every outstanding student award that was available. He then completed his master’s at UC through a tuition reimbursement program provided by the Air Force.
Chris is very proud of his connection with our college and gives back to his alma mater by serving as an active member of the UC Blue Ash College Alumni Council.
“The thing that inspired me the most to get back to UC Blue Ash is that it always felt like home. Even with the renovations and updates to the campus, it still feels the same when I’m there.”
As a Dayton resident, Chris is eager to see more UC Blue Ash alums attend our alumni events.
Hon. Andrew Ciafardini, Spring 2016 Spotlight
UC Blue Ash alumnus Andrew Ciafardini is no stranger to being around highly distinguished individuals, so it comes as no surprise that he, himself, has won the college’s highest alumni honor of being named the 2016 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient.
Starting his career in public service, Ciafardini has served in numerous roles including Special Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs at the White House, where he served as the liaison to state legislators across the nation ensuring their priorities were considered; Assistant Chief of Protocol at the U.S. Department of State under Secretaries Powell and Rice, where he coordinated the visits of world leaders to the U.S. for meetings with the President, Vice President, Secretary of State, and other senior governmental officials, and where he also traveled to over 30 countries with President Bush; and even fulfilling the role of State Representative for Ohio’s District 28, before going on to contribute to Senator Portman’s successful U.S. Senate election.
Today, Ciafardini is serving his community in a different way through his work at Vantiv and through volunteer work in his free time, when he’s not at home with his wife Beth and son William. Ciafardini serves as the Vice President of Corporate Communications for Vantiv—the nation’s second largest payment processing company—where he is responsible for leading media affairs, crisis communication, social media marketing, employee communications, corporate philanthropy and community affairs. “My current position is only possible because of the broad and deep educational and professional experiences I've had over the last 20 years. It draws on my stakeholder management and government service roles.”
When he is not overseeing external and internal communications at Vantiv, he serves as a member of the Board of Trustees for the Talbert House and also by giving back to his alma mater by serving on the UC Blue Ash Alumni Council. Whether it’s volunteering at one of the college’s signature events, or serving as an Alumni Mentor, Ciafardini is dedicated to making an impact at the very place that was so impactful on him. “After a difficult academic experience in high school and during my first semester at UC main campus, I was looking for an educational community that could help me succeed in a manner that was better suited for non-traditional students. UCBA was the right size and had the perfect culture to do so.”
Lauren Altman doesn’t tend to stay in one place very long. She has always been, as she calls it, “hyperactive”—which is how she first got started working in the bustling restaurant industry. While this sense of restlessness proved to be a challenge throughout school for Altman, it suits her well now as the Corporate Manager at Thunderdome Restaurant Group, which owns and manages five concepts (with 30 locations nationwide) including Bakersfield, The Eagle, and Krueger’s Tavern.
In 2010, while working as the General Manager of Moonstruck Chocolate Company in Portland, Oregon, she was called by her hometown friends to move back to Cincinnati to help start Thunderdome. Despite her initial reaction being “I am never moving back to Cincinnati!” Altman visited and was blown away by the transformation of the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. Upon returning to Portland, Altman “sold everything [she] owned and moved back to Cincinnati” to open Thunderdome’s first restaurant, Bakersfield, as the General Manager. Six years later, Altman’s endless energy is essential as she travels from city to city opening new locations of Thunderdome’s popular restaurants. Most recently, she oversaw the opening of Bakersfield in Pittsburgh, which serves as the brand’s sixth location, and Thunderdome’s ninth full-service restaurant location overall.
As Thunderdome’s Corporate Manager, Altman helps oversee new site’s construction; hiring, training and development of all staff (including the General Manager); community promotion leading up to the grand opening; and ongoing support for staff after the restaurant is up and running. While training new staff, Altman draws upon her experience at UC Blue Ash. “It’s usually a classroom of 50, and I do it the same way as my UC Blue Ash professors. Like them, I try teach in a way people will understand.” Altman says her favorite part of what she does is bringing people into the restaurant world and uncovering each individual’s unique skillset and abilities.
As someone who didn’t initially excel in school, Altman credits her own skills and ability to her time spent at UC Blue Ash. “There is no way I would be in the position I am in today without UC Blue Ash. I always knew I was smart, but I couldn’t prove it on paper. That changed at UC Blue Ash.”
UC Blue Ash alumnus Ken Suer (Pre-Education, 1970) never thought he would attend college. As the oldest of five siblings and with parents who never advanced past high school, he didn’t think it was in the cards. Higher education wasn’t even something Suer considered until one of his high school teachers gave him the encouragement he needed. “You need to go to college,” Suer recalls his teacher imploring.
It was during Suer’s senior year in high school that UC Blue Ash College (then Raymond Walters College) was founded. The first classes were held at the college in September of 1967 and Suer began the following year. To his surprise, he flourished. Suer says he hadn’t been exposed to a real “academic environment” before coming to UC Blue Ash and found tremendous support from his outstanding professors. “It was an eye-opening experience,” Suer explains. While studying pre-education, he says he “really got hooked.” He did so well in the program that he eventually graduated from UC Blue Ash as valedictorian.
During his two years at the college Suer also excelled outside of the classroom and found a passion for serving others. He was a member of student government where he was Chief Justice on the student court and worked with his peers to vote on cases involving student parking violations.
After graduation from UC Blue Ash, Suer earned his bachelor’s degree in education from UC and his master’s in education from Xavier. He served more than 30 years as an educator — starting at Woodward High School and then spending the majority of his career at Great Oaks, where he filled multiple roles over the years as a teacher, administrator and counselor. Additionally, Suer was an adjunct instructor for 12 years at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College.
After impacting the lives of so many students throughout his career, Suer has been working to have a positive impact on his fellow residents. He has served on the Montgomery City Council for the past 14 years, including a recent two-year term as Mayor. Suer is also a member of the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce, Montgomery Historical Society, Hamilton County Municipal League, and the UC Blue Ash Alumni Council. As a UCBA alumnus, he has volunteered for several events and programs, including the summer Leadership Success Panel and the new Alumni Mentoring Program, where he will be paired with a current student to help with their career development. “Attending UC Blue Ash many years ago was such an important experience for me. It is an excellent school and I truly enjoy giving back to the college and the students.”
A graduate from the dental hygiene program at UC Blue Ash College will travel half way around the world to begin her career and try to make a difference in her home country of Estonia.
A little over five years ago, Brigitta Kulberg followed her mother to the United States with a plan to earn her degree in dental hygiene and return to her home country to begin a movement for better oral health.
“The people of Estonia are not very well educated when it comes to dental care; even basic care like flossing every day. One of the things I am looking forward to is holding workshops about proper dental care,” says Kulberg.
Along with providing information on ways to improve and maintain good oral health, dental hygienists also provide preventative care, perform teeth cleanings, take x-rays, administer local anesthesia and examine patients for signs of oral disease, such as gingivitis.
When Kulberg came to the U.S. to live with her mother and attend college, she found UC Blue Ash just a few miles away. She loved its picturesque campus, small classes and famous dental hygiene program. “I really like UC Blue Ash a lot, everyone gets to know you and the professors are very supportive. I could not have asked for a better college experience.”
Kulberg recently graduated with degrees in business and dental hygiene, and plans to make the 4,500-mile trip back home this fall where she will live in the capital city of Tallinn and use her education to help others. She is especially interested in helping children learn more about proper dental care and nutrition. She may even start her own non-profit organization to support that work.
PREVIOUS ALUMNI SPOTLIGHTS
Distinguished Alumnus Award: Tammy Wynn, Class of 2009
Tammy Wynn is the Founder and CEO of Angel’s Paws, a pet hospice company that provides end of life care for animals. Angel’s Paws is the only pet service of its kind in the country, with over 85 partnering Veterinary Hospitals. Wynn is a proud mom herself to furry friends—two of which she adopted directly from the Veterinary Technology program as a student at UC Blue Ash. Wynn describes finding her way to UC Blue Ash’s Vet Tech program as a “happy accident.” While visiting campus for the first time for a continuing education class for, as Wynn describes, “human hospice” care (after already switching careers from the business world), she noticed a small sign that read, “Veterinary Technology Program.” At this point, she had known that pet hospice was a venture she would eventually pursue, but on that day, the stars seemed to align. Immediately following her continuing education class, she found her way to the Vet Tech building and met with department chair Jennifer Wells, DVM. Even though Dr. Wells frankly told Wynn she might not necessarily need to become a registered vet tech to start her pet hospice company, Wynn was devoted to providing the best possible end-of-life pet care to her future clients by learning and understanding the science behind animal care.
Wynn describes UC Blue Ash College as playing a “critical role” in getting her where she is today. She credits Dr. Wells’ for helping map out the best plan for her career goals and for developing the overall quality of the UCBA Vet Tech program, which she describes as “exceptional from start to finish.” She also credits the other professors found at UCBA. “It has a small college approach. The instructors knew the students and put in extra time; you don’t find that at every college,” said Wynn.
Wynn’s claimed mentor: her father. “My dad was my Google… Even in his death he is present and still acting as my mentor.”
Young Alumni Outstanding Achievement Award: Rachel Richardson, Class of 2005
Rachel Richardson is a history buff and reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer covering communities in Warren County including Mason, Deerfield and Lebanon. Some of the topics she covers include business, local government, schools, features and crime and courts. She got her break at the Enquirer as a graphic designer after graduating from UC Blue Ash in 2005 with her associate degree in liberal arts. Richardson was originally enrolled in the Electronic Media program at UCBA (where she gained skills in graphic design), but switched her major to liberal arts and then eventually earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UC in history and American history, respectively. She always had a career in journalism in mind, but her educational journey took some twists and turns along the way. “I knew where I wanted to go; I was trying to figure out the best path to get there,” said Richardson.
As a first-generation college student, Richardson says she didn’t have the necessary study skills to succeed initially and didn’t find much support from professors at her first institution. After eventually finding her way to UC Blue Ash, she felt a personal connection with her instructors and began to see improvements with her academics. “Once I found support and structure, I excelled. The feedback I received from professors encouraged me,” Richardson explains.
When Richardson is not working to serve the voice of residents within Warren County, she volunteers as a guardian ad litem to give a voice to children within the foster care system who’ve been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect. She just finished her first two-year case in January, marked by her appointed children officially becoming adopted.
Richardson’s mentors: UCBA professors John McNay, Sue Sipple, Judy Spraul-Schmidt, and the late Lee Baker, among other professional mentors. Of McNay, Richardson fondly recalls, “John was the first person I met who loved history as much as I did.”
When Christine Jagger began working on her associate degree at UC Blue Ash as a first-generation, non-traditional student, she would never have guessed what was in store for her in the next several years to follow. Jagger grew up in northern Indiana in a poor, farming family. She never went on a college visit, nor did she receive support or encouragement to attend college after graduating second in her high school class. It wasn’t until more than 20 years later—in the midst of a divorce, leaving her with three kids to raise and limited job prospects—while accompanying her eldest daughter on college tours that she first entertained the thought of continuing her education. With UC Blue Ash being close and convenient, and offering tuition at about half the cost of Clifton, Jagger made a life-changing decision and enrolled in her first classes at UCBA in 2008. With it being over 20 years since she was last a student, Jagger had a lot to adjust to, especially when it came to computers in the classroom. “I felt like a fish out of water,” admits Jagger.
Undeterred by juggling classes part-time and keeping up with her part-time job to support her family, she managed to graduate with her associate degree in Pre-Business Administration in just over two years. But Jagger didn’t stop there. She was awarded the William Baughin Transition Scholarship, designed for UCBA students transitioning to Clifton to continue their education, and decided with the help of that scholarship money she would be able to pursue her bachelor’s degree. In 2012, after four years of intensely focused dedication, Jagger earned her Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting from UC’s Lindner College of Business.
Looking back at her time spent at UC Blue Ash College, she credits her professors for giving her an extra push to reach her goals. “Professor Minter and Professor Foote personally invested in me. I feel indebted to them,” says Jagger. She also credits Professor Sue Sipple for taking her learning outside of the classroom. While Jagger had always loved to travel, she hadn’t really thought that studying abroad was something she could afford to do. “Professor Sipple asked, ‘Have you thought about studying abroad?’ It took that personal invitation for me to stop and think, ‘Why not me?’” After learning about all of the scholarship money available at UCBA, including numerous Dean’s Study Abroad Scholarships and other private scholarship funds, and that the length of the trip was only three weeks, Jagger submitted her application and was thrilled to later learn she was accepted to study in Great Britain!
Jagger has fond memories of staying at and exploring secret passageways within Harlaxton Manor, the home-based castle for the trip, traveling to Stonehenge and London, and getting to know her fellow traveling students and the locals. Of her study abroad experience, Jagger explains: “You see how big and varied the world is, but it also makes it seem smaller. Globally, everyone is so similar with the same concerns around family, financials, the environment, and so on. It’s the people you meet that make it a wonderful experience.” When asked what advice she had for current students considering study abroad, Jagger responded, “Do it. Do it early and you’ll learn how wonderful it is and have time to do it again.” She added, “It seems like a lot of money, but, for what you get, it’s worth it. Scholarships can help make it possible.”
While Jagger completed study abroad trips to both Great Britain and Guatemala during her undergraduate degrees, she tacked on a third trip to China at the end of her graduate degree—she earned her Master of Business Administration in April. “Each [trip] was not only a learning experience, but also a reward for my hard work in school,” she says. Jagger credits the scholarships she earned for being able to study abroad and further her education as far as she has. Of her scholarship donors, she expresses: “They made such a big difference in my life. I hope they know how much they’re helping people—all these years later, it’s still making an impact on me.”
Billy Johnson (Electronic Media, 2011) always had a passion for sports and video, and a goal to find a career where he could pursue both of these passions together. Thanks to his education at UC Blue Ash College, he hit a home run with his first job after graduation!
While working toward his associate degree in electronic media, Billy was able to take advantage of an experiential learning program at UC Blue Ash that helped him land an internship with the Cincinnati Reds. Over the next year he learned about all of the video and animation production that went on behind the scenes during games and other special events hosted by the team.
After graduation, Billy was able to turn that internship into a full-time position as Production & Scoreboard Coordinator for the Reds. On game days he is high above the stadium in the press box coordinating nearly everything that you see on the scoreboard throughout the game – music videos, animations, and all of the graphics.
Billy says none of this would be possible without the expertise and encouragement of the faculty and staff in the eMedia program. “My education at UC Blue Ash gave me the skills and experience I needed to compete for the job I wanted,” said Billy. “I already had a lot of hands-on experience when I applied for the internship with the Reds, that’s why I was able to get it.”
His role with the Reds goes well beyond just game day. Billy also stays busy throughout the year developing and editing video for Reds TV commercials, producing videos for RedsFest, and documenting the team’s fantasy camp and spring training in Arizona.
Billy has been fortunate enough to find his perfect position with the Reds right out of college, and he plans to continue working very hard to keep it. “Living my dream is a great feeling and I never want to take it for granted.”
Aaron Allen, E-media - Spring 2014 Spotlight
Aaron Allen (Electronic Media Technology, 2010) admits he was a “band nerd” in high school. He played multiple instruments in several bands throughout high school, including Concert, Marching, Jazz, Pep, and even a rock band. While recording demo CD’s for his rock group, he discovered an unknown passion that would change the path of his future. “I realized that I loved the production process of making [the music demos] more than actually performing,” says Allen. From that moment on, he would pursue an education that would prepare him for a career creating various forms of media.
Allen says the affordable tuition and convenience are what originally drew him to attend UC Blue Ash. Once he began taking classes, he found that the E-media program offered more than just lectures and exams; it provided him with opportunities to gain professional experience. In addition to internships and the professional Capstone Project, completed in the final year, Allen developed real-world skills and built his portfolio by participating in the College Movie Festival, an annual short-film competition for students within the Greater Cincinnati region. In 2010, Allen and a group of his fellow E-media classmates submitted a seven-minute modern-day western film titled “What Ain’t Yours”, which won three out of four possible award categories, including Best of Show.
Now an alum, Allen works as a Contract Video Specialist for F&W Media, Inc. in Blue Ash with several other E-media alums: Phil Grosvenor (Electronic Media, 2008), Sam Laudner (Electronic Media, 2013), and Justin Eckstein (Electronic Media, 2008). Together, they collaborate and provide their F&W Media clients with high quality video, photos, and much more. Allen, along with Laudner, found his way there by connecting with former professors. “Networking is how I got this job. I had been applying to jobs and hadn’t heard back about any, and I wondered if my previous professors knew of any job openings. Since graduation, I had stayed in contact with Lou Olenick [Electronic Media Program Manager and Adjunct Assistant Professor at UC Blue Ash] and decided to reach out to her for any potential job leads,” explains Allen. Indeed, Olenick was contacted by Grosvenor for referrals and, for former job-seekers Allen and Laudner, the rest is history.