Melanie May ’77 accepts the 2017 Alumnae Achievement Award from Stephens President Dianne Lynch.
Every year during Stephens Alumnae Reunion weekend, the Alumnae Association Board (AAB) honors alumnae who represent the best of Stephens College and who have helped the College achieve its greatest potential.
Here are two awards that were presented during Celebrate Stephens 2017:
Alumnae Achievement Award
Melanie May ’77 is the recipient of the 2017 Alumnae Achievement Award, which is given each year to recognize alumnae who have distinguished themselves in their chosen field and community, and have shown steadfast commitment to the Ten Ideals of Stephens. This award is the highest honor bestowed on our alumnae.
“I was truly honored to receive this award, and to do so in the company of other fellow alumnae and Stephens College staff made it even more special and memorable,” said May, who is a physical scientist at the United States Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Environment, Health, Safety and Security (AU) in Washington, D.C. “I am pleased to carry on the Stephens tradition to ‘make a difference’ and have tried to do so over the years, personally and professionally.”
May provides expert advice and assistance to DOE headquarters’ programs, field offices and sites. She also develops DOE safeguards and security policy and is a technical expert in departmental, interagency, national and international meetings that could impact those safeguards and security policies.
Before moving to Washington, D.C., May worked for the DOE in Oak Ridge, Tenn., as a nuclear analytical research chemist with expertise in Radiochemical Neutron Activation Analysis (RNAA), Thermal Ionization Mass Spectrometry (TIMS), and Low-Level Radiochemical Analysis.
After receiving a B.S. (Cum Laude) from Stephens, she earned an M.A. in Chemistry (Nuclear Analytical) from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
While at Stephens, May said wonderful teachers and a supportive learning environment surrounded her.
“I was encouraged at each step along the way toward finding and pursuing an educational goal,” she said. “And to always have an inquisitive mind, ask questions, and keep on learning throughout my lifetime.”
May lives in Boyds, Md., where she is a member of the Stephens College Alumnae Club of Greater Washington and the local chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution and The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America.
Alumnae Service Award
Kerry Brocker ’82 (pictured far right with Diane Hunter Robertson ’86) is the 2017 winner of the Jean Clinton Roeschlaub ’44 Alumnae Service Award, which recognizes alumnae who have promoted Stephens College locally and nationally, and served as a leader of the College.
Brocker, who is a part-time brand ambassador for Randa Accessories, a division of Market Connect Group based in Bloomfield, N.J., has been a steadfast volunteer for the Stephens College Office of Institutional Advancement and Initiatives. A resident of Parkville, Mo., Brocker has been involved in both the Kansas City Luncheon Club and the KC 1833 Network and is a member of the Alumnae Association Board.
“Receiving the award was an unexpected surprise and true honor,” she said. “The award signifies that others have appreciated my contributions and that they have been meaningful to our alumnae and student groups and the office team.
“It is truly special to have this award from the institution that means so much to me. I know I have much more to contribute.”
After majoring in business with a minor in psychology from Stephens, Brocker’s professional career began with an 11-year stint as regional sales director for Lane Bryant. She later served as regional sales director for Fashion Bug and district manager for Talbots.
Brocker said her experience at Stephens gave her the confidence to develop professionally and take risks.
“The educational and life lessons I learned at Stephens have resonated through my professional career path and my personal life,” she said. “Stephens gave me early alumnae experience when I served as a student representative on the Alumnae Association Board and spent time working in the development office. Both experiences helped me realize the many opportunities available as an alumna.”
Anne Murphy ’78, president of the Alumnae Association Board, said Brocker is always available to help with alumnae activities.
“Kerry is one of those people who I can always call on and ask to help at a moment’s notice,” she said. “Kerry has assisted the office through helping organize alumnae events in several different states. Even when things didn’t turn out exactly as we hoped, Kerry was still right there being a strong supporter and a tireless advocate for the College. We are most grateful for her service to the institution.”
Proud Stephens M.F.A. graduates outside Lela Raney Wood Hall. Photo credit: Scott Schaefer
Stephens College believes in the power of women’s voices.
That’s why Stephens launched its Master of Fine Arts in Television and Screenwriting in 2015. It is the first M.F.A. program in the country specifically designed to amplify the voices and impact of women in television and film.
Earlier this month, the program's first cohort of students graduated during an emotional ceremony in Kimball Ballroom of Lela Raney Wood Hall on the Stephens campus. Seventeen women and three men accepted their diplomas, knowing they could potentially change the country’s entertainment narrative and become part of something bigger than themselves.
“It’s been an amazing journey,” said Sarah Whorton ’08 B.S., ’17 M.F.A., the student commencement speaker and member of the inaugural class. “You think you’re going to school, but you end up transforming yourself. I think that was something none of us anticipated, that we would come out different people.”
The M.F.A. is a low-residency program that brings students together twice a year for an intensive 10-day workshop at the Jim Henson Studios in Los Angeles. While there, students learn about the business of Hollywood and have access to prominent show-runners, writers from the film world, development executives, agents and managers.
The rest of the year students are paired with professional working writers, each of whom are members of the Writer’s Guild of America and work with the students to develop their vision, voice and career as a screenwriter. Over the course of two years, students are paired with a new mentor for each new project, which includes one screenplay a semester, a spec script (also known as a speculative screenplay), an original hour-long television project and a final thesis project of their choice.
Ken LaZebnik, a longtime screenwriter from Los Angles whose father taught creative writing at Stephens, directs the program. LaZebnik, whose credits include writing for “Prairie Home Companion” and the television series “Touched by an Angel,” has fond memories of wandering the Stephens campus when he was a boy.
So when he decided to start a low-residency M.F.A. program with a mission of getting more women writing for television and film, LaZebnik knew Stephens was the perfect home. Though the program accepts men, the emphasis is on increasing the number of women writers in Hollywood.
“Media delivers stories that tell America what our lives are like and forms how we view the world,” he said. “When half the population doesn’t get a chance to have their voices heard, it diminishes our culture.”
According to the Celluloid Ceiling Report, women comprised 17 percent of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films in 2016.
LaZebnik said the writing community in L.A. has been very supportive of the program, which is evident in the impressive list of guest speakers. Among those who have visited the program are Nell Scovell, creator of “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” and co-executive producer of “The Muppet Show”; Alexa Junge, Emmy Award-winning writer of “Friends,” “The West Wing” and “Grace and Frankie”; and Winnie Holzman, award-winning creator of “My So-Called Life” and author of the book for the Broadway musical “Wicked.”
Whorton, who is a senior media producer for Mizzou Online at the University of Missouri, said having the opportunity to interact with working writers in the industry was invaluable.
“Every time we had guest speakers, we would see their incredible resume, and I would expect them to tell us some secret to their success,” she said. “But there was no secret. Everyone said the secret was you have to work really hard.”
She also learned that no matter how long a writer has been in the business, she still struggles from time to time.
“For me, it was encouraging to see someone who has achieved so much and still struggles and to hear how she works through those moments,” Whorton said. “That solidified for me that I was doing the right thing and that just because I was struggling with a script didn’t mean I wasn’t a good writer.”
Toni Anita Hull ’04 B.F.A., ’17 M.F.A., who graduated from Stephens’ theatre program, said participating in the program built her confidence in ways she never imagined.
“I feel more myself than I have in a long time,” she said.
Hull, who lives in L.A. and works for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, hopes to one day write for a television comedy series. In the meantime, she plans to revive her stand-up comedy routine and continue writing.
“I plan to keep networking and reaching out to the contacts I have made through the program,” she said.
An administrative assistant in the Stephens College School of Performing Arts, Chelsea Andes ’17 had spent the better part of her 20s starting and stopping a novel. When a friend asked her to collaborate on a screenplay, a new form of writing opened up to her.
So when Andes heard Stephens would be offering an M.F.A. in TV and Screenwriting, she jumped at the chance to participate. Her favorite project was a screenplay she wrote about four witches living in an oppressive boarding school in the 1950s. The witches are being groomed to be Stepford wives, but they aren’t interested in that lifestyle and challenge the status quo.
“I found that I wasn’t interested in telling anything with romance in it,” she said. “I was very interested in highlighting female friendships and the importance of those and how they can be the most important relationship in your life.”
Andes’ short-term goal is to become a writer’s assistant on a television show with the hopes of eventually securing a staff writer position. Her plan is to be in L.A. by the time she turns 30 in January 2018.
“My goal is, hell or high water, job or no, I am heading West young woman,” she said.
Pictured above (L-to-R): Maggie Reasbeck ’17 and Sonja Tabb ’17, with their everyday wear piece, inside the Catherine Webb Studios. Pictured right: Design board for “The Lost Diadem” senior collection.
Sonja Tabb ’17 and Maggie Reasbeck ’17 were already putting in long hours preparing their own collections for the 73rd Annual Student Designer Fashion Show: The Collections. The notion of collaborating on a line of clothing together seemed outrageous, at first.
Tabb, 21, was designing a collection of intimates and loungewear; Reasbeck, 22, was creating a series of tailored clothing. The senior fashion design students were inseparable in the workroom, always brainstorming and offering feedback.
Before long, their idea to create a collection together took shape.
Tabb and Reasbeck’s six-piece collaboration, “The Lost Diadem,” emphasizes the young designers’ love for draping and was featured in the April runway show. (Watch the show via Livestream.)
The Collections highlights the best work of fashion design and production development students and this year includes seven senior collections. Not only do students design the collections, but they also produce the show and market the event to the public.
“Fashion design is visual storytelling for the body,” said Dr. Monica Phillippe McMurry ’82, dean of the School of Design. “Whether someone is wearing sport casual or an elegant evening ensemble, the look and feel of the person’s dress evokes a conversation or storyline. The Collections fashion show provides a review of what young fashion designers, communicators and marketers see for the future.
“Student designers create new works that are juried by fashion industry professionals, with only the best-of-the-best making their debut down the catwalk. Fashion marketing and communication students ramp up the looks and create a showcase for public review.”
The Stephens College fashion design program is ranked No. 14 in the world by The Business of Fashion and is among 20 across the nation to be recognized by the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
“Truly, The Collections fashion show is an exploration into creativity that is unparalleled in the region,” McMurry said.
Tabb and Reasbeck said their collaboration, which has a distinctly Grecian feel, was inspired by Star Wars costumes, Greek sculptures and desert landscapes. The muted-color garments are constructed of natural fibers, such as linen, bamboo and silk, and include some color blocking and an occasional pop of color.
“We have a similar eye and taste level,” Tabb said. “When we are designing, we always turn to each other for advice.”
Kirsteen Buchanan ’83, associate professor in the fashion program, said Tabb and Reasbeck were incredible teammates whose strengths complemented each other.
“Their collaboration somehow looks totally different from their individual work, yet perfectly reflects the attitude of the pair,” she said. “As their professor, I was excited to see what they would accomplish and impressed by the way they handled all the work with seeming ease—even though I suspect there were many sleepless nights. They remained the best of friends throughout and continue to crack each other up."
After graduating earlier this month, Tabb plans to spend the summer at home in Chicago before moving to New York City, where she has already landed a job in the sample making room at Shilo Byrd Studio. Reasbeck, who also graduated, hopes to find a job in the Big Apple, too, after spending the summer at home in Lee’s Summit, Mo.
Tabb has been sewing clothes since she was a girl, and Reasbeck always enjoyed the arts, but neither young woman thought a job in their areas of interest was feasible until they learned about the fashion program at Stephens.
“I came here, and they told me there was so much I can do with this degree,” Tabb said. “It’s been amazing.”
When Miranda Carlisle ’17 first arrived at Stephens College, she was homesick and painfully shy.
“I wouldn’t talk to anyone,” she recalled.
Carlisle has come a long way.
Earlier this month, she took the stage as the class speaker for the undergraduate commencement ceremony.
Believe it or not, this once reluctant young woman from O’Fallon, Mo., enjoyed addressing her classmates.
“I think two years ago, I would have freaked out,” Carlisle confessed. “But being at Stephens and growing as a person here has helped me so much. I used to be terrified of public speaking. Now, I couldn’t wait.”
Carlisle, who graduated a year early with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a minor in Art History, is the senior recipient of the 2017 Alumnae Association Board Scholarship, which comes with a $250 award and the honor of speaking at graduation. Applying for the scholarship two years ago would have been out of the question for Carlisle.
“I might have looked at the application and seen that I would have to speak at graduation and not filled it out,” she said.
Carlisle originally came to Stephens to pitch for the softball team. She credits her teammates with being the first to help her feel comfortable on campus and make friends.
“I don’t know where I’d be without softball,” Carlisle said. “I not only made friends with other players on the team, but those girls introduced me to other people across campus, and that’s what really got me connected with the school.”
Ed Wilkerson, head coach for the Stephens Stars softball team, said Carlisle—whose nickname on the team is “Mac”—is always the first player to volunteer to help a teammate.
“Mac is also very conscientious,” he said. “She always wants to make sure that the end product is the best that it can be.”
Carlisle said faculty and students in the School of Interdisciplinary Studies were also instrumental in encouraging her to try new things and meet new people. She joined the Stephens chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, the international English honor society, which became another source of companionship with classmates.
By her senior year, Carlisle was a member of 16 student organizations, including the biological honor society, Stephens Organized for Service (S.O.S.) and the equestrian Prince of Wales Club.
“I might not advise getting involved in that many organizations, but I would definitely recommend getting out of your comfort zone,” she said. “That has helped me understand different aspects of this college and to make connections with people outside my area of study.”
Carlisle said being at a small college made forging close relationships with her professors much easier because they seemed more accessible.
“The connection I have with my professors is a huge part of why I am where I am today,” she said. “Being able to have that one-on-one connection with them has influenced everything I’ve done here.”
Dr. Tina Parke-Sutherland, a professor of English/Creative Writing at Stephens, said she relied on Carlisle, her advisee, many times to help make programs in her department run smoothly, and Carlisle never let her down.
“Miranda is a selfless leader,” Parke-Sutherland said. “She works for organizations because she believes in them, not because her many accomplishments will look good on her CV. She has a clear vision of her future and has the drive and energy and imagination to make it all happen.”
In the fall, Carlisle will begin the Master of Arts in English degree program at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. Her dream is to be a college professor in ancient and medieval studies. She is also applying for a graduate assistant coaching job at Liberty with the hopes of one day becoming a college softball coach.
Carlisle’s experience at Stephens has been one of overcoming her fears and meeting challenges head on. She realized how far she had come in February, when the softball team traveled to Arkansas for its first tournament of the season. The tournament had been rough, and on Sunday the Stars faced Ecclesia College.
“We were exhausted and wanted the weekend to end, but knew we could rally and beat this team,” Carlisle said.
Stephens won the first game, but the second game was tough. Carlisle was pitching when Ecclesia’s baseball team showed up to cheer on their softball team. Everything was fine until Stephens tied the game and the cheers began to turn ugly.
That’s when Carlisle and her teammate pulled together, closer than ever.
“We fought for each other and ended up winning the second game by one run,” she said.
That’s how Carlisle will remember Stephens College—a place where people come together to help each other and make a difference.
Stephens has launched a Suite Dreams campaign that allows you to adopt a residence hall room for $3,000 and support the purchase of new furniture for a current student. Learn more here or contact the Office of Institutional Advancement and Initiatives at (573) 876-7110 or [email protected].
This summer, Okoboji Summer Theatre is celebrating 60 years of successful professional theatre. We hope you can celebrate with us this summer in Spirit Lake, Iowa.
Check out the season schedule here.
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