Celebrating Our December 2016 Graduates Northern Kentucky University

NKU graduates put a lot of time and energy into their coursework in pursuit of their dreams for the future. They've overcome roadblocks and climbed mountains.

Now they're becoming nurses and teachers. Business professionals and social workers. Writers and mathematicians and scientists. And that's just a sample.

Here are a only a few of the stories from our December 2016 class…

December 2016 Commencement Details

Breaking the Sound Barrier

Graduating EMB Senior Jacob Meece Pursuing Career in Video Production Despite Severe Hearing Loss

By Amanda Steier, College of Informatics Communications & Events Assistant, Student contributor to Inside NKU

Jacob Meece (right)

When Northern Kentucky University honors more than 1,400 students at Commencement on Saturday, Dec. 17, thousands of guests will both hear – and see – the story of Jacob Meece, a graduating senior who has overcome remarkable obstacles to graduate cum laude with a degree in Electronic Media and Broadcasting.

You see, Jacob’s chosen field – video production – requires careful listening skills, including while conducting interviews and editing footage and sound. But Jacob has severe hearing loss.

He has bilateral sensori-neural hearing loss that ranges from moderate-severe to profound, depending on the frequency of the sound. Although not diagnosed until age 4, he was most likely born hard of hearing.

As valedictorian at the Kentucky School for the Deaf in his hometown of Danville, Jacob always sought out challenges. Specifically, he wanted a college experience that would empower him in the field of EMB.

Jacob will graduate with a B.A. in Electronic Media & Broadcasting and a minor in Media Informatics at NKU. He’ll be the student speaker for the 10 a.m. ceremony, representing the College of Informatics. His Commencement address will be delivered in American Sign Language, with the assistance of a voice interpreter.

During his time at NKU, Jacob was able to receive services that catered to his needs. “The professors really went out of their way to provide closed captions for me,” he says.

One of those professors would emerge as one of his favorites—Tracy Songer. She says as much as she taught Jacob about EMB, she learned a lot from her student as well.

“I was delighted by his communication skills,” says Songer, assistant professor of electronic media and broadcasting. “I was amazed by how well we could communicate. He didn’t need interpreters to talk to me. As a woman that has been in the industry for 25 years, he has helped me realize that I can still grow. It was something I was nervous about, but it has enhanced who I am as a teacher and a professional.”

Last summer, Jacob had the opportunity to work with Professor Songer’s husband, Ron, through an internship with Ron’s production company, Ankle Valley Creations.

“I’ve never had a student want to learn every position the way Jacob did,” Tracy says. “He wasn’t afraid to seek information that he couldn’t typically receive in a classroom.”

During the internship, Jacob traveled to Nashville where he and Ron worked on a video shoot for Cokesbury. The two-day project helped Jacob gain real-world experience shooting and editing footage. Through the process, his hearing loss never slowed him down, Songer says.

“There’s a quote I really like by Nelson Mandela,” Jacob says. “‘It always seems impossible until it is done.’ A lot of things seem impossible for me, because, you know, I’m a deaf guy in an audio-dependent major. I’m doing things a deaf person wouldn’t typically do.”

After college, Jacob says he’ll seek employment in New York, Georgia, or California. “I’m going to be a production assistant or a producer,” he says. “It’s just a matter of where.”

Mandela would be proud.

Want to know more about the 1,400+ students who will be honored at Northern Kentucky University’s 44th Commencement? Here’s how this year’s graduating class breaks down by the numbers.

“Go forth and do good things”: A message – and a mission – from Dr. Missy Jones

By Amanda Nageleisen, University Marketing + Communications

Dr. Missy Jones receiving the 2016 Frank Sinton Milburn Outstanding Professor Award, the most distinguished faculty honor at NKU.

There are the momentous accomplishments in life, such as receiving a diploma after years of hard work. But there are also the small moments, random acts of kindness, and personal connections that, together, can add up to big things.

At Saturday’s Commencement ceremonies, Dr. Missy Jones plans to send NKU’s 1,412 graduating seniors out into the world with one final assignment: celebrate the big moments – but savor the small ones, and use them to change the world one step at a time.

“Reflect on ways you have been supported during your life and your time at NKU, and how people helped you along the way. Then make a commitment to pay it forward, spreading kindness to others who may be struggling with their own challenges and barriers,” she said. “One by one, action by action, paying it forward, I truly believe we can change the world. Go forth and do good things.”

For Dr. Jones, professor of Special Education at NKU since 2001, that message has also been a lifelong mission.

Growing up with a brother with a disability, she saw firsthand how individuals with disabilities are often stigmatized and made to believe they aren’t capable of accomplishing things many others take for granted. After her brother passed away at the age of 29, it became her life’s work to create inclusive communities for everyone.

That work eventually led to NKU, where Dr. Jones created the Supported Higher Education Project (SHEP) in 2007. The program carries on her brother’s legacy by providing students with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to show the world what they are capable of achieving – and showing all students and faculty the value of making even a small difference in another person’s life.

The program creates academic, social, and volunteer work opportunities for NKU students with intellectual disabilities and emphasizes recognizing the “ability,” rather than disability, in everyone. Students in the SHEP program are paired with volunteer peer mentors, who help them develop skills such as problem solving, decision-making, collaboration, communication, and self-advocacy.

Dr. Jones’ passion for making a difference extends into the classroom, where she embeds service learning into her courses and creates opportunities for students to put theory into practice through engaging activities, research, and classroom instruction.

She has received several awards for this innovative approach to teaching, including NKU’s highest faculty honor, the Frank Sinton Milburn Outstanding Professor Award for excellence in teaching. And every year since she arrived at NKU, at least one student names Dr. Jones as someone who had a positive impact upon his or her personal or academic development.

Her research in the area of postsecondary inclusion has also earned national attention: Dr. Jones recently co-authored a policy brief that provides guidelines for colleges and universities for creating inclusive campus communities. The brief has become a national standard for how such programs can be assessed.

As the co-facilitator for a national group, Building Inclusive Campus Communities, through Think College, the national coordinating center for postsecondary inclusion, Dr. Jones has also developed and implemented national webinars, presentations, research, and publications in this emerging field of study.

Dr. Jones has put into practice the words she will share with NKU graduates on Saturday:

“We can change the world, at least our small section of it. And when my sphere of influence connects to your sphere of influence, and on and on, we can eventually blanket the earth with kindness.”

Graduating A&S Senior Kylie Stigar-Burke Faces Her Fears One Last Time

By Jayna Morris, University Marketing + Communications

When Kylie Stigar-Burke stepped foot on Northern Kentucky University’s campus four years ago, she had no idea her college career would take her far beyond her comfort zone—and Highland Heights. During her time here, the 22-year-old English literature major and criminal justice minor from Cincinnati made small decisions over time that permanently changed her trajectory.

It all started when Kylie, a self-proclaimed introvert, joined the Kappa Delta sorority during her freshman year. A year later, Kylie joined many other students and Dr. Ryan Salzman on a two-week trip to Washington D.C. through NKU’s Study Away Program in May 2014.

She traveled even farther in fall 2015 to Caen, France, where she spent 18 weeks exploring European countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium, and England, and making lifelong friends with students from all across the globe. Kylie’s travels and experiences inspired her to begin blogging for sites such as Thought Catalog, Unwritten, The Huffington Post, and Elite Daily.

On Saturday, as she graduates magna cum laude, Kylie will again put herself in a position where she would normally be uncomfortable—as the afternoon speaker for NKU’s Commencement ceremony. It will be the first time in her life that she has spoken to a large crowd. But if there’s one thing that NKU has taught her, it’s to embrace change and face it head on.

“I’m doing the one thing that NKU has instilled in me, and that is to face my fears,” Kylie says. “Everything you do falls back on this university. I got to travel the world, meet politicians in D.C., and find my roommates and best friends. I would have never done any of that on my own had NKU not pushed me. You always have a team of people who are behind you, and I’m really grateful for that.”

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