OU graduate Jessica Summers ‘ 05, has found a home courtside with the Oklahoma City Thunder. What about wearing orange?
Who’s your favorite Thunder player?
Well of course I love every single one of them and the difference they make on the court and in the community. I couldn’t be more proud that they represent Oklahoma. If I had to pick I would probably say Russell Westbrook because I wish I had that amazing athletic ability and tenacity!
Where was your go-to restaurant in college?
Hands down Sooner Dairy! I’m a huge cheeseburger lover and made sure to get a milkshake and cheeseburger there often. In fact I try to stop there any time I’m in Norman. Some of my best memories are going there with coworkers when I worked at OU and meeting the late Bob Barry, Sr. there.
What was it like to have to add orange to your wardrobe in light of the fact it’s one of the Thunder colors?
Haha well I always bleed Crimson and Cream but I love adding the sunset color to my wardrobe. It’s great because the whole state loves the Thunder colors and it’s something that everybody is unified on so I feel lucky that I can use multiple colors to display my pride for our state and my university.
What does it mean to you to be an alum from OU?
I’m so proud to have a degree from the University of Oklahoma. Most people that know me know the sense of pride I have for my alma mater as I never let them forget how wonderful OU is. It amazes me to see the caliber of graduates OU churns out every single year. I’m proud to share the Sooner bond with so many around the state and it is definitely something I’m not shy about!
Did you have a certain professor or mentor from your time in college that influenced you?
While I had wonderful professors all throughout college I also spent all 4 years of college working in the Athletics Media Relations office as a student assistant and I feel like that is where I grew the most. Current Senior Associate Athletics Director Kenny Mossman was my boss at the time and he taught me so much about being a professional, a great leader and balancing priorities. I still reach out to him from time to time as I will always consider him a mentor and treasure everything he taught me about life as well as working in athletics. OU is lucky to have him!
For Madison Ward, time is always on her mind. A redshirt junior and on the OU volleyball team, she lives in increments. Practice time. Match time. Class time. Time for interviews and appearances. Study time. And precious little down time.
But for Ward, the time that matters most is more profound. It’s the time we cannot measure. The time we know not when it ends. It’s that time that drives her. On the court and off.
“Everyone has a number. Our time is so short and so limited,” she explains thoughtfully. “I want to get the most out of what I have and I want to encourage other people to get the most out of what they have and do things that matter and do things they love.”
For the 24 hours she gets to experience each day, Ward is managing to tend to an All-Big 12 volleyball career with the Sooners, a budding music career, a start-up company and an apparel line aimed at aiding young kids who depend on aid for the essentials most of us take for granted.
This past summer a video of Ward’s singing in a campus cafeteria caught internet fire and she found herself in a viral state of being. It seemed everyone caught a glimpse of Ward’s soulful performance, including music and sports figures from around the country. It’s a talent, much like volleyball, that has been honed from a young age.
“It started actually when I was really young. My mom played the piano in a church we all went to,” Ward recalls. “A lot of the time, she’d be practicing at home and I’d just be around her. I’d be around the piano and she’d go and do something and I’d try to pick up what she played. That started when I was very young; I could barely reach the keys type thing.”
Like her love of sports, music grew into a passion. With no formal training, she took on cords and harmony just as she did with kills, blocks and digs. Tenaciously.
“I’m really a super-perfectionist with lots of things I do,” she admits.” It’s something I’ve had to work on, being so hard on myself. I want to be the best. That goes hand-in-hand with music too. If I can’t figure something out on the guitar, I’m going to work and work at it until I know how to do it. Same with piano and drums right now and definitely the same with volleyball right now.”
Oh yes, the same with volleyball. Last season, Ward was a unanimous All-Big 12 selection as a redshirt sophomore. A two-time All-Big 12 Player of the week, she finished the year with a team second total of 296 kills, including 177 during her last 13 starts of the year. Add to that 234 digs, third highest for the Sooners, and eight double-doubles in 96 sets on the year and that perfectionist attitude is believable.
And while hours of practice in McCasland Field House have aided those numbers, Ward says time with her guitar has also helped.
“If I am having a hard time trying to figure out something on the volleyball court and just can’t quite get it and just need a break, I can get into the music zone,” she says. “It’s a big relaxation for me and I can take my mind off things and occupy my mind a different way.
“It’s been really helpful. After a bad game, if I haven’t performed like I think I should have, instead of beating myself up about it, I can go home and work on a few different instruments that I love or keep writing.”
Those different instruments still include the keys she first caressed while following mom around the house, as well as the drums. Ward also writes original music.
Her latest adventure has taken her into the world of fashion, where she developing an apparel line, that will benefit a parent company she owns that she will use following here OU career to benefit children from low-income households.
“Really it’s about the concept of time on earth being limited and wanting to get the most out of it; doing things that have eternal value,” is how Ward frames the company’s vision. “That’s really the driving force behind it.”
And using that force to provide for those for whom provisions are precious few.
“It comes down to me wanting to provide “necessity bundles” for those children,” she quietly declares. Simple things such as T-shirts, socks and shoe laces.
Necessity. Ward would say that’s where music falls in her life, in that blur between what one wants to do, has time to accomplish and can’t live without.
“It’s my heart,” she says. “I don’t really know how else to put that. Without it I don’t know where I’d be. With tough times, things that have happened in my own life, it’s helped me. Music helps a lot of people.
“Whatever you’re going through you can find a song or a genre you like and snap out of it.”
Beginning her fourth year on the Norman campus, Ward says what she has experienced has an overwhelming positive feel, volleyball being the catalyst.
“It’s surpassed everything I thought it would be,” Ward says on being a Sooner. “I have such a great team to be around, such good friends. I have such good people on the support staff around me at all times. I have mentors I speak too regularly. It’s been unreal being here. It’s changed my life.”
Asked if there was one greatest moment wrapped within many of the great ones, Ward believes it would be hard to pick just a moment in, you know, time.
“There have been a lot of great things,” she reflects with a satisfied tone. “I don’t know if there’s been a single best thing. I think if there is, it’s been my own growth as an individual. Learning from the people I’ve been around and all the great things we have here at OU. That’s been the best thing that’s happened to me.”
When April and Lili Casas were born, it was quite a surprise for their parents, Manuel and Martha Casas. Ultrasounds, showing a healthy baby boy turned into two healthy baby girls. The girls, born and raised in Clinton, OK., and now juniors at the University of Oklahoma, recall being told everyone in the delivery room was quiet surprised, to the point dad passed out. Only Manuel could say for sure, but part of what might have dropped him to the floor may have been the thought of having two children in college together, something both April and Lily understand.
“Being twins, it’s harder on our parents,” Lily acknowledges. “We’re in college at the same time. It’s double the payment for everything.”
That means two sets of books, two tuition payments, twice the living arrangements and…well, you get the point. That’s why the Casas family is so grateful the twins are recipients of scholarships. The latest award they received came from the OU Club of Clinton, which awarded each of the Casas girls scholarship funds for this school year. The awards are part of the annual effort by OU Alumni clubs to fund scholarships for students in a clubs’ geographical areas. This year, clubs will fund more than $700,000 in scholarships.
To understand just how much the scholarships mean, consider that in the case of April and Lily, scholarship money is funding two first-generation college students, both of whom plan careers in the medical fields; April as an eye doctor and Lily as an orthopedic surgeon. The girls are both majoring in biology, Lily on a pre-med track and April with a Spanish minor. Both have their own deep appreciation for having received scholarships, especially those funded by the community in which they grew up.
“I think it’s nice,” April notes. “This past semester, I made the Dean’s Honor roll. Dr. Floyd Simon (a Clinton dentist and longtime OU supporter) knows us and he went up to my mom and gave her a hug and told her he had seen we were doing well and that he was proud of us. It’s nice to know they are taking the time to really know how we’re doing. They put a face to a name.”
The attraction to OU for both April and Lily was two-fold. Both expressed an interest in coming to Norman because it was far enough away from their hometown to force them to grow as individuals and close enough to to head home to see mom and dad. And, for Lily, another scholarship played a factor. She earned one of OU’s Distinguished Scholar awards, a four-year renewable scholarship based on academic and ACT performance coming out of high school. The pair found coming to Norman and beginning their university careers a smooth transition, living together in OU’s residence halls as freshman and continuing to live together now.
“It’s fun that we get to share the same friends,” Lily says. “When we lived in the dorms, we had all the same hall mates and we were friends with everyone. It’s pretty cool. This semester we’re taking two classes together so we get to go to class together, study together.”
“It’s a built in best friend,” April adds.
So, with classes together and the same circle of friends, do the pair suffer from the dreaded twin rivalry? Not so much.
“We’re not into the comparing,” April is quick to say. “We get enough of that from everyone else.”
While academics takes up a majority of their time, both the Casas girls have found time for activities on campus. Both served as members of OU’s Sooner Scouts program, helping in recruiting potential OU students from western Oklahoma by sharing their own experiences on the Norman campus. Lily is active in the OU Pre-Med Club, while April is in Spanish Club and a member of Alpha Chi Omega sorority. Those activities, and the knowledge their educations are receiving the funding support they need, have left April and Lili with a deep appreciation of their OU experience.
“We have friends at other universities and they aren’t having the same experience we’re having here,” Lily reflects. “I’m really glad we’re here. Without the scholarships, we wouldn’t be here. We’ve been able to make it. We’ve been able to experience college life.”
“I want to be able to give back, as the people in Clinton have given to us,” April concludes.
Vice President for University Community, Jabar Shumate, fields questions from the OU Alumni Association as he begins his first full semester in his new position.
This past May, University of Oklahoma President David L. Boren established OU’s Office of University Community. The action came on the heels of last spring’s revelation of a recording of members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity singing racist chants during a fraternity event. The action led to the expulsion of SAE from OU.
President Boren also emphasized that Shumate’s hiring would position OU to be a leader in the discussion of diversity nationally.
Shumate served four terms in the Oklahoma House of Representatives before being elected to the state Senate on Nov. 6, 2012. He held leadership positions in the Oklahoma legislative Black Caucus. He also serves as a member of the board of trustees for the National Urban League.
Upon graduation from OU and prior to his career in public service, he served as press secretary to the OU president.
Shumate, who has a passion for improving education, serves on the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence Board of Directors. He earned a bachelor’s degree in public affairs and administration and a master’s degree in human relations, both from OU.
The Vice President for the University Community will have oversight over all diversity programs within the University, including admissions. The vice president will also be kept completely informed by the Office of Student Affairs of all activities aimed at making campus life more inclusive, and will work directly with the president and with deans to broaden the pool of applicants for faculty and staff positions.
You served as student body president, press secretary and now you’re back in a diversity leadership role. What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned that you feel has prepared you for this latest chapter in your university life?
During my Freshman year, I was assigned to live in Couch Center, which at that time was temporary housing. At the end of the semester, my fellow Couch residents didn’t want to leave our community. I was asked to lead a diverse group of students in a campaign effort to keep Couch open. Eventually, we caught the attention of OU President David Boren and he kept Couch open. I learned to never underestimate the power of organized students to bring change. In fact, I remind myself everyday, that my office exist because of the extraordinary efforts of students.
You’re entering your first full semester in your new position. What goals are on your early agenda?
I am excited about our work to establish a diversity experience for our freshman. In addition, we established positions in each of our colleges that will work with my office to enhance our community engagement and inclusion efforts. Lastly, our office is working with recruitment services to recruit the largest, most diverse, and academically prepared class in OU’s history.
Where was your favorite place to study as a student?
Without question, the great reading room in Bizzell Library is my favorite place on campus. As a student, I spent countless hours studying in that beautiful room.
As a student, who were the campus mentors that had the greatest impact on you?
OU President David L. Boren was my greatest political mentor; he encouraged me to run for student president and the legislature. Dr. George Henderson was the best teacher and academic mentor I ever had. As well, Ambassador Edward Perkins had coffee with me every week and he pushed me to study abroad in China. Subsequently, I have visited Turkey, Israel, and Africa.
It’s the middle of the fourth quarter and you’re down by two facing fourth and three at your own 49-yard line. You are Lincoln Riley. What do you do?
Former Oklahoma Sooner Ben Habern fields questions from the University of Oklahoma Alumni Association, looking back at what he learned in Norman and talking about the opportunity to work for the College Football Playoff.
Ben Habern joined the College Football Playoff as a full-time staff member after previously serving as the marketing and strategic partnerships intern for the 2014-15 season. Before his time at the playoff, Habern worked as a graduate assistant in the Office of Trademark Licensing at the University of Oklahoma and also spent time as an intern for Oklahoma Athletics’ Sooner Club. As an undergraduate, Habern played center and was a team captain for the University of Oklahoma football team. A native of Denton, Texas, he is married to wife, Morgan.
What was the experience of being an intern during the first year of the CFP like?
To be on the staff of the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship was an opportunity that provided incomparable professional experience that I will always be fortunate for. I am grateful to Bill Hancock and the entire College Football Playoff staff for allowing me an opportunity to be a part of the biggest event in college football.
How did that experience, as well as your experience in OU’s Trademark and Licensing Office, prepare you for the next step in your new position?
Both positions provided an opportunity to gain valuable knowledge in two external areas of intercollegiate athletics. Additionally, the opportunity to work under excellent supervisors at both organizations helped build many of the fundamentals that are necessary to have in the business of college sports.
As a former player, do you have a special feeling of fulfillment working for the CFP considering its importance to college football?
As a former player, it is an honor to be a part of the organization that prepares, plans and executes the national championship. I am elated that I have an opportunity to continue working in college football, especially because of my previous years as a student-athlete at the University of Oklahoma. College football was a once-in-a-lifetime dream come true for me that helped mold me into the person I am today. I am grateful for the game and the amazing opportunity to have played at the University of Oklahoma.
What are some of the initiatives and projects you’ll tackle immediately?
My main responsibilities will be to assist in the generation of additional revenue. Specifically, I will assist on the sponsorship and premium ticketing/corporate hospitality programs in conjunction with the College Football Playoff.
Talk about your OU experience? What did you learn both as a student and an athlete?
My experience at OU was a dream come true for me. I grew up an Oklahoma fan, as my father has family ties in Oklahoma. When I started watching football as a kid, I would always watch OU. I guess you could say it was in my blood at an early age. As a freshmen at OU, I remember being wide-eyed and feeling a little culture shock. I attended a small private high school in Argyle, TX, where I graduated with around 70 kids. Stepping on campus and knowing you are 1 of over 5,000 freshmen and 1 of 25,000 plus students was daunting to say the least. However, I took each day one step at a time and because of that, everything got a little easier as the weeks and months progressed.
I was fortunate to have attended a great high school in terms of academics so I remember feeling prepared from an academic standpoint. However, I grew a tremendous amount academically throughout my career. I am most proud of my recent achievement in graduating with my masters at OU in the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education. I graduated with a Masters in Adult and Higher Education, with an emphasis in Intercollegiate Athletic Administration. As a freshmen going into college, I would have never thought that I would have gotten my masters, so I am extremely proud of that accomplishment.
From the athletic perspective, I was challenged every single day I was on campus. Being a part of a football program that has so much history and tradition, there’s an additional weight that follows. You immediately gain a sense of pride knowing you are a part of a program that has accomplished so much over numerous decades. Because of this, the coaches, training staff, teammates, and fans expect the absolute best out of you every day. However, it is a tremendous honor to represent your school, peers, family and yourself every time there was an opportunity to put on the Crimson and Cream. Football taught me so much more than the basics of the game. Any student-athlete is going to know how to block, tackle, run or catch, but football is so much more than that. Football builds and reveals a person’s character; football creates an opportunity to build an everlasting bond with your teammates; and football teaches many valuable life lessons. Lessons such as time management skills, hard-work, dedication to a commitment, respect for authority and much more. I learned so much during my time at Oklahoma and will always be grateful for the opportunity.
You faced some adversity with injuries as a player. Have you been able to take those experiences and use the lessons learned in your professional life?
I have most definitely been able to take the lessons through my adversity as a student-athlete and apply them to my professional career. While most of my adversity was injury specific, the lessons I learned were things that I can apply professional and to everyday life. I learned that giving up was not an option. Going through numerous injuries and surgeries, I was unable to practice at times. Because of this, I was in the training room every day for months at a time. That was extremely difficult knowing your teammates were outside battling and you were doing rehab. However, I learned it was vital for me to rehab every day and continue to do my absolute best, even though I was unable to practice. The adversity I will face in my professional career will most likely be different than having an injury and rehabbing, however I know that doing my absolute best and staying consistent will be important for the overall success of the organization.
How big of an influence has coach Stoops and other university and athletics department personnel been on your career?
I would not be where I am today without the amazing support I received during my time at Oklahoma. I cannot begin to express my gratitude for all of the help I received as a student and as an athlete. The academics department in the athletics department is first-class and I would not have been prepared for my master’s program without their guidance, advice and assistance. From an athletic standpoint, I believe that coach Stoops is the best coach in college football. The way he manages his assistant coaches and treats his players is truly remarkable. He wants the absolute best for his team and will work 24/7 to make it happen. Wins and losses are a footnote to his passion for student-athlete success. In addition, I could not have asked for a better athletics director than Joe Castiglione. He has built an athletic department on integrity first, and success second. Because of this, success has come in many different forms for Oklahoma athletics. It was an honor to be a part what Joe and his staff has built at Oklahoma and continues to build.
Finally, you’re working for another Sooner in Bill Hancock, who is widely regarded as one of the most talented and humble executives in college athletics. What has that experience been like so far?
The success and accolades that Bill Hancock has received during his life are all extremely well-deserved. Bill is the absolute best in the business and deserves all the recognition and respect he gets. It has been an honor to work for him and to learn from him this past year. He is extremely talented at what he does and the opportunity to gain invaluable wisdom from him is irreplaceable. I am extremely fortunate for the opportunity to be a part of the College Football Playoff staff and am grateful to Bill for allowing me the opportunity to begin my career with such a credible organization.
With the first day of the 2015 fall semester on the University of Oklahoma campus a little over three weeks away, it may be surprising to learn thousands of incoming Sooners began their OU journey in the heavy heat of June and July in Oklahoma.
Camp Crimson, OU’s camp for new Sooners, gives students their first taste of campus life and ignites friendships that last a lifetime. As importantly, it provides a first glimpse at the extensive support system available to all OU students and comforts the adjustment to what, for many, can seem like a daunting environment.
Camp Crimson coordinator Zac Stevens will be the first to tell you: This three-day, two-night camp keeps you busy. Days are filled with team-building activities like constructing cardboard boats and setting sail across a pool and get-to-know-me exercises that help campers find a common ground with one another. In addition, there are sessions aimed at giving students a jump on such necessities as just knowing where everything is on campus.
Mixed in with those boat races and bonding experiences is the chance to get to know Camp Crimson Namesakes, OU faculty or staff selected by Camp Crimson organizers to spend time with campers and share their favorite OU memories. Stevens said the namesakes get across to students that faculty and staff are accessible and willing to help.
Among this year’s namesakes is the Audas Family, led by JP Audas, vice president for Alumni and Development. Audas, his wife Ally, and daughters, Lexi, Cami and Izzy, spent three intensive days, and some relaxing evening hours, with their “adopted” students. From casual conversations about future dreams and cautionary tales of past mistakes, to formal sessions about the keys to making the most of a college experience, namesakes provide an opportunity for campers to discuss their serious, and not so serious, concerns. Intended or not, it’s also a chance for the namesakes themselves to reignite their own spirits.
“Our entire mission is centered around helping young people realize their dreams and become their very best,” Audas pointed out. “You’re reminded of that.”
Kicking off in 1996 with 120 campers, Camp Crimson has grown to about 2,000 annual attendees, with five sessions each summer.
Students become familiar with campus as their daily activities take them from one building to the next. Zac Stevens, Camp Crimson coordinator and assistant director of Student Life, said the camp isn’t intended to overload students with facts and figures. Instead, the campers learn time-honored traditions and focus on connecting with their small group leaders and group mates.
The most important part of Camp Crimson, though? Building that circle of friends and establishing a support system in them and others.
Part of that support system includes those serving as namesakes. Namesakes such as Audas take seriously the role of conveying to new students the importance OU places on providing a full array of support for all facets of student life.
“The effort and passion that goes into helping new students get off to a successful start here at OU is not only impressive, but also inspiring and powerful,” Audas was reminded.
Part of each Camp Crimson session includes plenty of opportunity for campers to use their creative abilities in developing cheers, dances and general lung capacity. It’s loud. A great kind of loud that results in lessons that flow upstream, from campers to namesakes. One of those lessons, for Audas, came in the form of a reminder of how lucky he is to do what he does.
Reflecting Thursday morning on the session’s opening the day before, a time in which he could have easily appeared a bit worn, Audas’ enthusiasm for his camp experience was evident.
“Being a part of Camp Crimson has renewed my energy and enthusiasm, and it has given me a profound reminder of why I chose to work at a university, specifically my alma mater.
“Yesterday was easily one of the best days of my entire career,” he concluded.
Hopefully, for those starting down the same path Audas traveled as a young student, the Camp Crimson is the first in a long series of OU bests.
OU President David L. Boren and First Lady Molly Shi Boren are picture with OU students and staff in Arezzo, Italy. The OUA campus has become one of the many popular destination for Sooners studying abroad.
As a resident adviser at the University of Oklahoma, Bridgitte Castorino thought she had seen everything the student experience presents. She was wrong.
Castorino spent three of her undergraduate years on the Norman campus as an RA, serving as a de facto house mother, friend, confidant and disciplinarian. She watched students grow from the opportunities academics and social life on a college campus present. Her time in the residence halls led her to the above conclusion. A year in Italy convinced her otherwise.
It was a year as graduate resident director at OU’s center in Arezzo, Italy, under the university’s Education Abroad program, where Castorino figured out the world was much larger, both literally and figuratively, than that residence hall in Norman.
“As an RA, I thought I’d seen all the student development I could see,” Castorino recalls. “I was wrong.”
Wrong, understand, in a good way, as in there were plenty more opportunities for learning, growth, relationships and service to which she could introduce students.
“It was the best experience of my life,” Castorino says. “It involved three things I’m passionate about; working with students, the University of Oklahoma and traveling. How can you not love that?”
With infectious enthusiasm, Castorino now works to pass on her love for students, her university and the expansive international opportunities available to students in her role as the OU in Arezzo (OUA) Study Abroad Adviser.
In June, Castorino will return to Arezzo with OU President’s Community Scholars students for a two-week immersion in academics, culture and service. It will be her first trip back to OUA since her year as a graduate resident director.
“It is such a life-changing experience,” Castorino says. “There’s a feeling of confidence you get. It’s realizing you can be independent.”
Along with PCS Adviser Kari Dawkins and the OU Alumni Association’s Courtlyn Shoate, Castorino will make the trek to Italy with 30 PCS students. Suzette Grillot, dean of the OU College of International Studies, will serve as the faculty member teaching the international and area studies course around which the trip is constructed. Students will earn three hours of credit. However, Castorino points out, many lessons learned will also come outside the classroom.
“The amount that students grow is amazing, especially those students who immerse themselves,” she points out. “They just realize the world is a much bigger place. They become more self-aware. They gain an appreciation for diversity. You watch students completely transform.”
PCS students will follow members of the President’s Leadership Class to Italy. Some 50 PLC students left earlier this month to study with Kirk DuClaux, director of Italian Programs, and David Ray, dean of the OU Honors College.
In addition to their time at OUA, PCS student will visit Rome, Florence, and Assisi. In Arezzo, they’ll continue a service project begun last summer by prior PCS summer group in Arezzo. They’ll paint the walkway under a city rail track with murals depicting both local flavor and a bit of Norman.
Through its study abroad initiatives, OU offers various opportunities for students to study away from the Norman campus, including yearlong and semester-long programs, 3 – 4 week Journey programs and college- or major-specific programs run by the university’s academic colleges and independent educational travel partners. In addition to OU in Arezzo, the university runs OU centers in Puebla, Mexico and Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Destinations for this year’s Journey programs include Turkey, Tanzania, China and Brazil, in addition to Italy. This summer, nearly 340 OU students will study abroad in Italy.
Regardless of the destination or program, Castorino says the experience of taking the classroom beyond Norman becomes unforgettable for students.
“There are so many takeaways, culturally and academically,” she says.
Castorino experienced firsthand those “takeaways” as she was saying goodbye to her first class of students in Arezzo last year. She recalls seeing a student tearing up, a student who she says normally might not be prone to show such emotion.
“I was surprised,” Castorino admits. “It wasn’t his personality. I asked if he was okay and he said, ‘We’re leaving.’ I said, ‘Yeah, but you can come back.’ And he said, ‘But not with this group, not like this.’
“It was deep and profound. It was a memory and a story that was created.”
Deep and profound. Both experienced in Norman and thousands miles away.
For more information on OU’s Education Abroad program, visit http://www.ou.edu/cis/education_abroad.html.
Since returning to the University of Oklahoma to serve as president of his alma mater, David Boren has stressed the importance of adding an international flavor to the academic and cultural experience of students. Julia Mainini is proof of just how important such and experience can be.
A former Rhodes Scholar himself, the president has preached the importance of OU students experiencing the broader boundaries of the world. He also is quick to encourage students on the Norman campus to reach out to those from different cultures and backgrounds. In 2001, Mainini may have been just the type of student Boren would have had in mind as one to whom others should reach out.
Mainini came to OU that year as an exchange student from Ecole de Management de Strasbourg in Strasbourg, France. She would return six years later to pursue a master’s degree in business. The reason, she says, was pretty simple.
“Studying abroad in the U.S, and at OU was a mind opening experience for me,” Mainini recalls.
Mainini says after earning her first master’s in business in France and working three years as a brand manager for a cosmetics company there, her year-long exchange experience at OU convinced her it was time to come back and earn a master’s of business administration.
Despite a heavy load in the classroom and the demands of a job, Mainini found founded the French and Francophone Student Association.
“A fellow classmate, Rahul Nayak, who was president of the Indian Student Association, convinced me I could do it,” Mainini explains. “I served as president for the 2007-2008 academic year. After I graduated I continued as a consultant with the group.”
Mainini said the focus of the group continues to be service as a conduit to French and Francophone culture, providing a voice for French-speaking students on campus and to share the culture with the greater campus community.
That passion for OU and her native France is a major factor in the establishment of the OU France Alumni Network in September 2013, of which Mainini has been chosen president.
During her time at OU, Mainini served as a graduate assistant under Dr. Millie Audas, Director Emerita of Education Abroad and International Student Services at OU. She credits the mentorship of Dr. Audas with her desire to strengthen the bonds between OU and her native country.
“She is the type of woman I aspire to be,” Mainini points out. “I was lucky to meet her in 2001 and to work for her for two years while working on my M.B.A. She inspired me to create and lead FFSA and now to create and lead OU FAN.
“ I learned so much from my mentors and had the chance to have their entire support and guidance throughout my studies, professional career and life.”
Mainini says since 2002 she has met and kept in contact with French OU students from all over France, especially in Paris, and experienced an incredible connection.
“The bond that we created while studying abroad at OU was so strong that our friendships are very sincere, loyal and forever enriched with the experience of learning a new culture, language and education in the U.S. and at OU” Mainini says.
In September, FAN held its first reunion of French OU alumni and students. Nearly 100 people attended the event, held in the heart of Paris.
As an official Alumni Association club, OU FAN will hold monthly meetings of officers and has three events planned for 2015, including a February 12 meet-and-greet, a June summer gathering and fall event still in the works.
Mainini says the club is gathering information and records related to French alumni back to 1991. In addition, they plan to raise funds to establish scholarships for French students hoping to study at OU.
“The experience and the connections we build abroad are very strong and remain for a lifetime,” Mainini points out. “I truly believe in the importance of building a strong network of OU Alumni in France.”
For some 11 years, University of Oklahoma volleyball coach Santiago Restrepo has dreamed of taking his Sooner team overseas. This past summer that dream came true and for Restrepo and his players, it may still seem a little Oz-like.
From May 22 through June 2, the Sooners spent time in the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovenia and Italy. As the chill of November sets in, the importance of the trip is still as fresh as an April morning in Oklahoma.
“It was definitely a very good experience,” Restrepo recalled as his Sooners were coming off a huge win over then second-ranked Texas the last week of October. “The sightseeing, the learning about different cultures and countries, and at the same time playing a different style of volleyball. It was extremely important.”
The trip, allowed for programs every four years under NCAA rules, came at the perfect time. With the loss of All-Conference hitters, Sallie McLaurin and Keila Rodriguez, and with setter and defensive specialist, Kaitlyn Drawe, as his only senior, Restrepo knew well his team was going to need time to come together on and off the court. Those days trekking across Europe provided that time.
“To me it was a huge benefit,” Restrepo said. “We developed some chemistry before the season started. Once you go into preseason, you have two and a half weeks to prepare for the season. That’s not much time to get in synch.”
Among the more important benefits was time to allow two hitters in sophomore Kimmy Gardiner and freshman Marion Hazelwood to step into the shoes of McLaurin and Rodriguez. Both have done so admirably. However, with the extra practice time and more importantly, the time in Europe, Restrepo and his staff had bigger goals in mind. Namely, ensuring his team developed a healthy appreciation of their home.
“Being able to take it all in and being grateful for the opportunity was so important,” Restrepo stressed with his Sooners. “From the get-go, I told the team not too many people have the opportunity to do this in their lives. I thought our group grew up a lot on the trip. It’s very easy to say, ‘what is this food or I don’t want to try that or what is this.’ It’s easy to get into that habit of being spoiled. But, our kids were very mature about the trip.”
Sophomore Madison Ward agreed with her coach that much of the benefit of the overseas journey came in the form of gratitude.
“The most important thing for myself was coming back and realizing I’m spoiled here,” she admitted. “We have everything at our disposal here. We have water in the buckets when we’re thirsty. We don’t have to bring our own water and towels. To see the passion of the girls we played who don’t have that made me step back and realize how beautiful this is.”
Ward admits playing in the dimly lit, tight fitting gyms the Sooners experienced, traveling for 10 days with each other and having time to explore new lands was pivotal to the growth of a young team.
“You don’t know someone until you’re with them in another country for that many days, traveling together, being in small group settings or together as a whole team,” Ward explained. “We’re close, but whenever you’re on a trip and talking about life, it’s great. You go and travel 10 days in different countries, you get to know someone and where they are at.”
Make no mistake; the Sooners also gained some valuable on the court experience. Restrepo said the service-driven European style his team saw from the Croatian, Italian and Czech junior national teams, as well as a Czech professional team, coupled with nuisances such as a different ball, helped with his Sooners on-the-court development.
“The ball floats a lot more,” he pointed out. “It was really good for our passers. They had to move their feet to be in place and be set to pass the ball accurately.”
Ward agreed, the style of play has made her and her teammates better players.
“There were so many different things they were throwing at us,” she said. “Different ways they communicate, different plays they would run. Everything. It was all about the serving game there, so we had to be better about passing. That was huge for my own game. When we got back I felt like I had gotten a little bit of experience under my belt in overcoming different situations.”
The experience the Sooners gained has resulted in a 16-6 overall record after the beating the Longhorns the last week of October and opening November with a win over West Virginia. At 7-2 and in second place in the Big 12 Conference, the Sooners are ranked 25th in the country. Still, Ward isn’t satisfied.
“We don’t need to focus on the Texas win so much as the games coming up,” Ward said. “We have to put it into perspective as kind of we haven’t really done anything yet. We have to keep pushing forward.”
While still looking for more from the portion of the season that lies ahead, both Ward and Restrepo believe everything was wrung out of the European volleyball adventure.
“When you go into the gyms in others country, it’s incredible the difference,” Restrepo emphasized as he looked around a transformed McCasland Fieldhouse. “We’re more appreciative of what we have. For the most part, we have very down-to-earth kids. But, sometimes you have to bring them back down. You have to say, ‘hey, look at this gym. Did you see a gym like this while you were in Europe?
“It was the right time and the right place to be able to grow and build great chemistry.”
Ward, who has earned Big 12 Player of the Week honors this year, echoed her coach’s sentiments.
“It was beautiful,” she recalled. “We went down to the Adriatic and jumped in. Stuff like that is something I’ll have a memory of forever. Having volleyball as a part of that made it so much sweeter. The fact we were growing as a team.
“We should never take anything for granted. We’re really blessed.”
Ever wondered what it took to make an engineer? In the case of a University of Oklahoma freshman, you can mix in equal parts of the Kansas landscape, two encouraging high school employees, a hard-working mom and a good dose of scholarship assistance.
Marquez Byrd is in his first semester as a petroleum engineering major. The Union High School graduate from Tulsa has thought about an engineering degree since first discovering the rocks that covered his young world in Wichita, where he was born.
“I was always finding these different types of rocks,” Byrd recalls. “I’d go out and mess with them and look at the shapes and colors. It always fascinated me how rocks form in so many different ways. That geology side of it pushed me toward being a petroleum engineering major.”
The youngest of seven children, Byrd would be the first in his family to head to college. In addition to his fascination with rock formations, a few other factors would figure in Byrd landing at OU.
Most of his life he’s watched his mother, Shanita Washington, work long, tiring hours to support her children. Never, Byrd says, did she fail to provide.
“My mom has always made sure we had food on the table, clothes on our backs and a roof over our heads. She really struggled at times to make ends meet, but she’s such a strong woman. She could have easily given up and she never has.”
He also was on the receiving end of encouragement from Union counselor Sandi Franklin and attendance secretary Susan McCoy, both of whom ensured Byrd knew he could accomplish whatever dreams filled his head.
“They really believed in me,” Byrd says of Franklin and McCoy. “They helped me believe in myself and they really pushed me to do what I wanted to do. They encouraged me to believe in myself and my ability to go to college and earn a degree. That was huge.”
Byrd’s approach to his college experience engenders his mother’s spirit. In addition to a full academic load, he’s active in Pi Kappa Phi fraternity, as well as with the Union Programming Board, Class Council and the Multi-Cultural Engineering Program.
“I feel like getting involved in all those organizations has helped me meet new people and expand my horizons,” Byrd says. “It’s helped me become a better leader, working with organizations and the projects I work on. It’s been amazing.”
Byrd is quick to point out it’s the scholarship assistance he receives that has enabled him to tackle academics and a full schedule outside the classroom. His college costs are covered by scholarships from the Robert S. and Helen G. Trippet Foundation of Tulsa, and the OU Club of Tulsa.
“I’m used to working and handling academics at the same time,” Byrd points out. “But, I wouldn’t be able to do as much on campus if I was working. I wouldn’t be able to be as involved as I am. I really appreciate the opportunity to take part in these different organizations.”
Byrd also appreciates the generosity of scholarship supporters for another practical reason.
“I was looking at graduating with a lot of debt,” he says. “It means a lot to me that people have taken in interest in financing an education for those who can’t afford it on their own.
“The scholarships have meant a tremendous amount. They’re really financing my future.”
That future, Byrd hopes includes a stint overseas. Having not had the means to travel much outside of Oklahoma as a kid, Byrd has a strong interest in living and working in France. This summer he hopes to spend a semester in Paris as part of a study abroad program.
“I definitely think it would be a great opportunity to live overseas and work in the oil industry,” Byrd says hopefully. “It’s definitely one of my goals, at least for a year after I graduate, to have that experience.”
Byrd adds that among his other goals is to be on the other end of the scholarship continuum one day.
“I definitely hope to be able to give back,” he stresses. “When somebody asks me to fund their future, I plan to give back. I think it’s necessary for me to return the favor.”