Jayhawks in the News | Oct. 12

Posted on Oct 12, 2018 in News

Jayhawks in the News

Find out what fellow Jayhawks are up to in our weekly edition of “In the News.” It’s like an online version of Class Notes. If you’ve seen Jayhawks in the news who should be featured, email us at share@kualumni.org.

 

Artist brings ephemeral ‘Red Dirt Rug’ installation to KU | The University of Kansas

Creating contemplative work that combines repetitive process and collected materials, Rena Detrixhe, c’13, produces meticulous, large-scale objects and installations. She’s woven carpets from dust, transformed seeds into lace and suspended a fleeting moment of rain droplets into a solid cast form to explore the relationship between humans and nature.
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Son of former Kansas governor designing cleats for the Chiefs | The University Daily Kansan

John Sebelius’ mother is the former governor of Kansas and the Health and Human Secretary of the United States. Sebelius’ paternal grandfather was a congressman; his maternal grandfather was the governor of Ohio and his father was a federal judge. Sebelius, g’12, however, took a different career path than that of his family: he became an artist.
Read full article.

 

Peter Landon, FAIA, To Receive AIA Chicago’s 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award | American Institute of Architects Chicago

In his 44 years of practice, Peter Landon, a’71, is recognized as an advocate for excellence and equity in design, particularly in under-resourced communities. “Pete’s career has been dedicated to bringing good design to everyone,” commented Zurich Esposito, Hon. AIA, Executive Vice President of AIA Chicago. “The pursuit of justice is a constant in all he does—from the projects he designs, to the firm’s community engagement activities.”
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KU to honor Rob Riggle with Distinguished Alumni award | The University of Kansas

Rob Riggle, c’93, one of the most recognizable Jayhawk alumni, will be honored this year with the 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award from the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at the University of Kansas. He will visit Lawrence in November to accept the award.
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Lawrence restauranteur creates ‘Moonfluf,’ allergy-free cotton candy | The University Daily Kansan

Cotton candy’s swirled pink and blue clouds — and the consequential sugar rush — are a part of growing up. But harmful food dyes can prevent some people from enjoying this delicious treat, including Lawrence resident Shantel Grace’s son. To fix this, Grace, c’02, decided to make her own cotton candy. “It’s such a nostalgic food,” Grace said. “It’s as nostalgic to me as hot dogs and hamburgers.”
Read full article.

Have you heard news about a fellow Jayhawk, or maybe you have news of your own to share? Email us at share@kualumni.org, or fill out our Class Notes form to be included in a future issue of Kansas Alumni magazine. Read more about newsworthy Jayhawks.

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KU Mentoring connects neuroscience student with surgeon

Posted on Oct 11, 2018 in News

Thomas Angel took the long road to the University of Kansas, but he’s making sure his time here counts. Thanks to the power of the KU Mentoring platform, Angel connected with a practicing surgeon who he will shadow over winter break.

Coming to KU

After nearly a decade deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait, Angel tore his PCL and had microfracture surgery. He chose to be “med boarded out” and  applied to the University of Kansas on his girlfriend’s recommendation.

Angel is pursuing a double major in Latin and behavioral neuroscience, the latter of which requires an extensive amount of shadowing to be accepted into medical school. After studying abroad in Italy last summer, he was looking for a mentorship with someone in his dream career of neurosurgery.

Thomas Angel in KuwaitThomas Angel at an Italian hospital

Making a Connection

After learning about the KU Alumni Mentoring platform through the Student Alumni Leadership Board, Angel jumped at the opportunity. “I don’t think people realize how hard it is to find doctors who are willing to let students shadow,” he said.

One of the recommended mentors was Dr. John Aucar, c’82, MD’86, an acute care surgeon and KU alumnus. Angel connected with him through the platform and they set up a meeting that Saturday.

“When I met Dr. Aucar we immediately made a connection. My first duty station was in El Paso, Texas, and he practices in the area. Over winter break he’ll be in El Paso, and he invited me to join him. To be able to meet a mentor that you instantly click with, can have a successful relationship with and both benefit in different ways from the experience is a dream come true.”

Angel wants to be a neurosurgeon, a goal that comes with seven to eight years of residency. With that much preparation required, he strives to make his experiences count.

“My number one goal for job shadowing is to make a personal connection with the person I’m shadowing. Beyond that, it’s about making sure you understand what’s actually happening. A lot of times, especially with medical, the doctors aren’t teachers. You have to work to get answers from them. It’s easy to just stand and watch, but understanding why they’re doing it is my key to shadowing.”

Thomas AngelHelping Students Succeed

Since arriving at KU, Angel has taken advantage of the many opportunities provided to him, including joining the Student Alumni Leadership Board to add a voice for students like him. “I wanted to find a niche on campus for non-traditional students to be in leadership positions. I saw it as a place for me where my opinion matters and where I can help create and shape [Student Alumni Network] events.”

Angel draws from a completely different set of experiences compared to traditional students, but he wants those in his shoes to know that they belong on this campus.

“The KU community is completely different than how you think it would be from the outside looking in. I am involved in several different clubs and boards around campus and fit in just fine. I’m 12 years older than my average peer at this stage in my academic career and I learn things from them daily, and I hope that they learn from me just as well. Non-traditional students have life experiences and stories of their own that can positively impact this campus.”

–Ryan Camenzind

Stay tuned for more about Angel’s job-shadowing experience during winter break. For more information on how the Jayhawk Career Network can help you connect with KU alumni, visit kualumni.org/jayhawkcareernetwork.

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Jayhawks in the News | Oct. 5

Posted on Oct 5, 2018 in News

Jayhawks in the News

Find out what fellow Jayhawks are up to in our weekly edition of “In the News.” It’s like an online version of Class Notes. If you’ve seen Jayhawks in the news who should be featured, email us at share@kualumni.org.

 

KU Endowment board elects new chair, trustees | The University of Kansas

At the Sept. 28 annual meeting of the KU Endowment board of trustees, the board elected David Dillon, b’73, as chair, William Docking, c’73 l’77 g’77, as vice chair and two other KU alumni as trustees. Dillon succeeds Deanell Reece Tacha, who served as chair since 2014.
Read full article.

 

Alumni Spotlight: Keeleigh Smith | KU Center for Undergraduate Research

Keeleigh Smith, c’16, explains how her undergraduate research experience help her prepare for role as a behavior analyst and gives advice to current students looking for research opportunities.
Read full article.

 

School of Architecture & Design announces 2018 Distinguished Alumni Awards | The University of Kansas

The School of Architecture & Design (Arc/D) at the University of Kansas has announced the recipients of the 2018 Distinguished Alumni Awards. This year’s honorees are architect John Guenther, a’76 a’77, Distinguished Alumnus; designer and executive David Hill, f’82, Distinguished Alumnus; and architect Laura Eder, g’10, Young Architect/Designer.
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Black Stag Brewery to open on Mass Street | The University Daily Kansan

John Hampton, c’92, started brewing beers in his kitchen a few years ago. But what started out as a hobby is about to become the family business. Hampton, his wife Kathryn Myers, j’85 l’91 g’05, and her father William Myers, c’62, are opening The Black Stag, a brewery and restaurant at 623 Massachusetts St.
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Monikur app sets boundaries for clients | Missouri Lawyers Weekly

A cellphone, for many small-firm and solo practitioners, is both an excellent servant and a terrible master. Texting and messaging apps enable attorneys to coordi- nate with current clients and chat with potential ones, but they also permit late-night pings from those same contacts, plus numbers unknown. The problem, according to Richard Lozano, l’93, a criminal defense attorney in St. Louis, is that texting and messaging apps today don’t offer a middle ground. Their underlying as- sumption is that people want to be reached by cell.
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On the Job with J-School Graduates | William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications

Alana Flinn, j’18, is now working and living in Chicago, Illinois. As a news & information major, Alana received 13 official job offers by May graduation, including positions as marketing manager, producer, digital coordinator, anchor, reporter. She planned to work in sports broadcast after an ESPN internship her junior year, but ultimately accepted a position as an account manager on the Sitefinity team at AmericanEagle.com Inc.
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Gift to Dole Institute launches Edward F. Reilly Lecture | The University of Kansas

The Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas announced this week a gift from Edward F. Reilly Jr., c’61, to establish and endow the Edward F. Reilly Lecture. The inaugural lecture will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 4, at the institute. The Edward F. Reilly Lecture will be a public program exploring the role of civil discourse and bipartisanship in contemporary politics. The lecture will take place in two- to three-year intervals.
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Have you heard news about a fellow Jayhawk, or maybe you have news of your own to share? Email us at share@kualumni.org, or fill out our Class Notes form to be included in a future issue of Kansas Alumni magazine. Read more about newsworthy Jayhawks.

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Jayhawks in the News | Sept. 28

Posted on Sep 28, 2018 in News

Jayhawks in the News

Find out what fellow Jayhawks are up to in our weekly edition of “In the News.” It’s like an online version of Class Notes. If you’ve seen Jayhawks in the news who should be featured, email us at share@kualumni.org.

 

Crowe & Dunlevy Attorney Named Chair of Texas Bar Antitrust and Business Litigation Section | Crowe & Dunlevy

Crowe & Dunlevy attorney Luke Wohlford has been named chair of the Texas Bar’s Antitrust and Business Litigation Section for a one-year term. In this role, Wohlford, c’06 l’09, will lead and organize professional development opportunities for member attorneys whose practices focus on antitrust or complex business litigation.
Read full article.

 

McDonald retires as head of Kansas Lawyers Assistance Program | State of Kansas Office of Judicial Administration

Anne McDonald is retiring as executive director of the Kansas Lawyers Assistance Program, created by the Kansas Supreme Court to help lawyers seek treatment for physical or mental illness, substance abuse, or emotional distress. McDonald, l’82, was named interim director of KALAP in 2009, then hired as its executive director. Her affiliation with the program, however, began in 2001 as a founding member of its board. “A privilege, a pleasure, and an honor sum up my feelings about the opportunity to serve as the KALAP executive director these last nine years,” she said.
Read full article.

 

Best Lawyers in America 2019 Recognizes Dan Monnat and Trevor Riddle for Criminal Defense Practices | Monnat & Spurrier

Trevor Riddle was recognized for a second consecutive year in the area of Criminal Defense-General Practice. Riddle, l’05, has earned a statewide reputation for deftly handling scientific witnesses such as forensic laboratory technicians, doctors, biomechanical engineers and other expert witnesses in an array of important cases. He was the first attorney in Kansas to argue the admissibility of polygraph evidence under Kansas’ recently amended rules of evidence.
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Five Joseph, Hollander & Craft Attorneys Recognized in Multiple Practice Areas as Best Lawyers in America 2019; Two Receive “Lawyer of the Year” Honor | Joseph Hollander & Craft

Five attorneys from the Wichita, Topeka and Lawrence offices of Joseph, Hollander & Craft LLC have been honored by the highly regarded Best Lawyers in America® – 2019 Edition, with two of them receiving “Lawyer of the Year” honors in their respective markets. This list includes Ross A. Hollander, l’76; Christopher M. Joseph, l’00; and Casey Y. Meek, c’05 l’09.
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The 2018 Ingram’s 250 | Ingram’s

46 KU alumni have been included in the 2018 “Ingram’s 250,” a compiled list of the most influential business executives in Kansas City, a market of nearly 3 million people.
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New throwing axe-perience comes to Mass Street | The University Daily Kansan

Blade & Timber Axe Throwing hopes to attract students to its recently-opened Lawrence outlet on 8th and Massachusetts Street with a business that combines axe-throwing and traditional retail. Co-founders and University alumni Matt Baysinger, c’09, and Ryan Henrich,’09, opened in Kansas City last year and plan to open more stores all across the country.
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KU alumni’s band reaches more than 200,000 Spotify plays | The University Daily Kansan

From late-night jam sessions to a Major League Baseball stadium, the members of Lawrence-born indie rock band Jean Claude and the Eclairs said they didn’t expect the success they’re seeing now. The band is made up of KU graduates Cooper Scott, j’18; Steve Seyfarth; Garrison Krotz, b’18; and Quinn Maetzold, c’18. “We kind of just wanted to play to play,” said Scott, lead singer of the band. “Then we realized that it’s a lot of fun just to play with your best friends and not really do anything else, but play with your bros.”
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The National Center Announces 2018 Native American 40 Under 40 Award Recipients | The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development

The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (the National Center) is pleased to announced its 2018 class of “Native American 40 Under 40” award recipients. Nominated by members of their communities, this prestigious award is bestowed to individuals under the age of 40 who have demonstrated leadership, initiative, and dedication and have made significant contributions in business and their community. Winners include Sharice Davids, ’06, and Jacob Wamego, l’14.
Read full article.

 

Have you heard news about a fellow Jayhawk, or maybe you have news of your own to share? Email us at share@kualumni.org, or fill out our Class Notes form to be included in a future issue of Kansas Alumni magazine. Read more about newsworthy Jayhawks.

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Jayhawks in the News | Sept. 21

Posted on Sep 21, 2018 in News

Jayhawks in the News

Find out what fellow Jayhawks are up to in our weekly edition of “In the News.” It’s like an online version of Class Notes. If you’ve seen Jayhawks in the news who should be featured, email us at share@kualumni.org.

 

Thomas L. Creel, Esq. Joins JAMS in New York | JAMS

JAMS, the largest private provider of mediation and arbitration services worldwide, today announced the addition of Thomas L. Creel, Esq. to its panel in New York. Mr. Creel, E’60, will serve as an arbitrator, special master and mediator with a specialty in intellectual property and technology disputes
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Q&A with KU alumna author, journalist Sarah Smarsh | The University Daily Kansan

Sarah Smarsh, c’03 j’03, begins her latest book “Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth,” by detailing her family’s farm. Smarsh comes from five generations of farmers on her father’s side. Her family was poor. Smarsh’s experiences as a member of the rural, white working-class have defined her career thus far.
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Have you heard news about a fellow Jayhawk, or maybe you have news of your own to share? Email us at share@kualumni.org, or fill out our Class Notes form to be included in a future issue of Kansas Alumni magazine. Read more about newsworthy Jayhawks.

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Jayhawks in the News | Sept. 14

Posted on Sep 14, 2018 in News

Jayhawks in the News

Find out what fellow Jayhawks are up to in our weekly edition of “In the News.” It’s like an online version of Class Notes. If you’ve seen Jayhawks in the news who should be featured, email us at share@kualumni.org.

 

Brown fills two Riverside County judicial vacancies | Idyllwild Town Crier

On July 20, Gov. Edmund G. Brown announced the appointment of Timothy J. Hollenhorst, l’02, to the vacant judgeship in the Superior Court of California, County of Riverside. Hollenhorst, 41, of Riverside, has received an interim appointment for a judgeship. In June, he was elected to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge James A. Cox. This appointment allows him to immediately assume the position to which he was elected.
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Rex Walters joins Nevada coaching staff | KUSports.com

Former KU guard Rex Walters, d’93, now a veteran of NBA and college coaching ranks, has been named to the staff at the University of Nevada Reno. Walters will operate as a special assistant to Nevada coach Eric Musselman.
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The Top 100 Most Influential People in Accounting | Accounting Today

Terry Putney, b’78, CEO of Transition Advisors and Diane Yetter, b’85, president of Yetter Tax have been named two of the most influential people in accounting.
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KU film grad earns distribution rights for Western Kansas murder mystery | The University Daily Kansan

Josh Doke, c’12, spent three years on his first film. After the film, titled “Goodland,” was completed in 2017, he secured distribution rights for the murder mystery set in rural west Kansas. The film takes place in the titular town — Doke’s hometown — after a dead body shows up on a local farmer’s land the same day a mysterious photographer comes to town.
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Have you heard news about a fellow Jayhawk, or maybe you have news of your own to share? Email us at share@kualumni.org, or fill out our Class Notes form to be included in a future issue of Kansas Alumni magazine. Read more about newsworthy Jayhawks.

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Jayhawks in the News | Sep. 7

Posted on Sep 7, 2018 in News

Jayhawks in the News

Find out what fellow Jayhawks are up to in our weekly edition of “In the News.” It’s like an online version of Class Notes. If you’ve seen Jayhawks in the news who should be featured, email us at share@kualumni.org.

 

UMKC Law School graduate running for Kansas City Mayor | University News, University of Missouri – Kansas City

Five years ago, the East Brookside neighborhood —just a mile from UMKC—was empty office buildings and vacant strip malls. The only business around was a run down 7/11. Scott Taylor, c’91, however, saw East Brookside for what it could be.
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Hannes Zacharias completes river adventure | The Hutchinson News

Kayaker Hannes Zacharias, g’88, will miss the solitude of spending months on the river – “something about the measured pace,” he said – but he won’t seek to repeat the solo adventure he just finished. Zacharias paddled – and partially hiked, drove, and rode – as he followed water flowing east from the Continental Divide in Colorado to the Mississippi River and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico. He began the journey May 2,6 capturing snow from Tennessee Pass in Colorado that he poured into the Mississippi River Over Labor Day weekend.
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New Piano Instructor Brings Global Opportunities to the Community | Heston College

Mei Li, D.M.A., joined the Hesston College community just a few weeks ago at the start of the school year as an adjunct piano instructor, and it seems to be a mutually beneficial employment match. With a Doctor of Musical Arts degree newly minted from the University of Kansas School of Music (Lawrence) in May 2018, Li brings to Hesston a high-level of piano instruction for students of all ages and levels, and a passion for piano pedagogy.
Read full article.

Have you heard news about a fellow Jayhawk, or maybe you have news of your own to share? Email us at share@kualumni.org, or fill out our Class Notes form to be included in a future issue of Kansas Alumni magazine. Read more about newsworthy Jayhawks.

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Jayhawks in the News | Aug. 24

Posted on Aug 24, 2018 in News

KU campus graphics | www.kualumni.org | Jayhawks in the News

Find out what fellow Jayhawks are up to in our weekly edition of “In the News.” It’s like an online version of Class Notes. If you’ve seen Jayhawks in the news who should be featured, email us at share@kualumni.org.

 

Students, faculty lend a hand at Washburn move-in day | The Topeka Capital-Journal

Dozens of Washburn University students, faculty and staff members did some serious heavy lifting on Thursday as they welcomed students to residence halls on the Topeka campus. One of the volunteers, Jackie Ball, 21, a recent graduate of The University of Kansas and a staff member with College YoungLife at Washburn, said some students were surprised to find so many people giving freely of their time to help them move into the residence halls.
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New faculty announced | Chadron State College

Seven new Chadron State College employees will join the faculty this semester. Dr. John Wojcik, DMA’94, an Associate Professor, will direct the Wind Symphony and Campus-Community Band, and teach Brass Studio and Elementary Music Methods.
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Remembering the ‘champion poet of Kansas’ | The Miami County Republic

She’s done it again! Really, she did it before. Lana Wirt Myers, c’74, has written the biography of Osawatomie poet May Williams Ward, c1905, granddaughter of Reuben Smith, whose Civil War Diaries were the topic of this column back in April. The Ward book actually came first, and the author learned about old Reuben from May’s own memoirs.
Read full article.

 

Mentors help female athletes fight sexism | Futurity

Strong mentors can help female athletes combat sexism, a new study shows. “Mentorship and the feeling of mattering is really important to female athletes in dealing with issues of discrimination or bullying that can impede women’s full participation in sports, such as playing on a mostly male team or confronting sexual harassment,” says Kathryn Vaggalis, g’14 g’16, a doctoral candidate in American studies at the University of Kansas.
Read full article.

 

Former KU chancellor remembered for excelling as teacher, scientist, leader | Lawrence Journal-World

At a memorial Saturday for one of his predecessors, University of Kansas Chancellor Douglas Girod said Delbert Shankel earned the trust of the university community through the integrity he brought to the many positions he held during his 50 years on campus.
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Recent graduate joins SIUE as director of external affairs | Advantage

SIUE Director of Athletics Dr. Brad Hewitt announced the appointment of Allie Wielansky to be the director of external affairs for Cougar Athletics. She graduated from the University of Kansas in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in sport management and a minor in business. While at the University of Kansas, Wielansky was involved with the Marketing and Fan Experience Department.
Read full article.

 

McDonald retires as head of Kansas Lawyers Assistance Program | Kansas Office of Judicial Administration

Anne McDonald, l’82, is retiring as executive director of the Kansas Lawyers Assistance Program, created by the Kansas Supreme Court to help lawyers seek treatment for physical or mental illness, substance abuse, or emotional distress.
Read full article.

Have you heard news about a fellow Jayhawk, or maybe you have news of your own to share? Email us at share@kualumni.org, or fill out our Class Notes form to be included in a future issue of Kansas Alumni magazine. Read more about newsworthy Jayhawks.

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Hip-hop artist delivers ‘school is cool’ message

Posted on Aug 18, 2018 in News

MaQuishia "Cue" Wright | photo by Steve Puppe for Kansas Alumni magazine | Cue Wright
Cue Wright hopes to one day retire from a successful music career and return to KU as a hip-hop professor. “Helping people,” she says, “is what I really like to do.” The following profile originally appeared in issue No. 3, 2018, of Kansas Alumni magazine.

On Feb. 4, 2017, a new Cue Wright was born. Already having earned two KU degrees and in the early days of a promising career in higher education, Wright shed her naturally shy self and stepped onto the outdoor stage at Mass Street’s Replay Lounge as the hip-hop artist Cuee.

And slayed.

“I knew I could write raps,” says Wright, j’15, g’17, “but I didn’t know I could perform as well as I did.”

A Chicago native, Wright was coaxed into a campus visit by her mother’s longtime employer, “Uncle” Gale Sayers, d’75, g’77. Front-row seats to a basketball game didn’t hurt, but it was Mount Oread that stole Wright’s heart.

Memories of that day are valuable tools in her current part-time job as senior coordinator of student ambassadors. When she meets with prospective students, Wright uses her story to help others write their own.

“I always channel that with my out-of-state students,” she says. “They’re thinking, ‘Why am I at Kansas?’ Well, go out on this campus and let it fill you.”

Finding her way

Wright arrived as a civil engineering major, but felt lost. Her mother asked what she was doing outside of class, to which Wright responded, “Nothin’.”

Wright switched her major to journalism, found her way to KJHK and eventually became director of hip-hop programming. Shortly before winter break of her senior year, her J-School adviser noted her “people-person” personality and suggested she consider a student affairs role in higher education. That required a master’s degree, yet another unknown for Wright, but she dove in. Soon her advanced studies were wearing her thin.

“I need an outlet. I need an other. I need something else. And so I started writing rap. Everything I’m doing is self-taught, but luckily I love to learn.”

Encouraged by family and friends, Wright in 2017 released “Master’s Cap,” in which six songs each explore a year of her college experience.

“My thing is,” she says, “school is cool. I love school. I’m a nerd.”

Wright’s current mixtape, “Shameless,” which she’s dropping online throughout 2018, displays her growth as an artist, both in writing skills (My life is a tornado/The haters all around me, everything will be OK, though) and emotional maturity that “lets the world know who I am.” Her success led to a busy summer schedule in Lawrence and Kansas City, including a prominent gig at the Middle of the Map Fest at Crown Center.

“Pursuing hip-hop in Lawrence has been different. They put me on a lot of alternative shows, and the audience sees this hip-hop opener and it’s totally different than what they’ve signed up for. The rewarding part is when they say, ‘Now I’m a hip-hop fan.’

“I take the blank stares as a challenge, and I love challenges.”

—Chris Lazzarino

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Unlikely football star lands in victory lane on NASCAR pit crew

Posted on Aug 13, 2018 in News

Staying competitive after football

At 6-feet-2, 250 pounds, former KU defensive lineman and part-time fullback TJ Semke knew he was just about the perfect size and body type to play fullback in the NFL. He also knew that NFL offenses no longer feature fullbacks, so career prospects were slim at best.

“That dream kind of died out,” Semke, d’16, says from the North Carolina headquarters of Hendrick Motorsports. “But I still wanted to do something that would keep me competitive and have that locker room feel, be around the guys, and NASCAR ended up being a good fit for that.”

Thrill of victory

Now in his second season with Hendrick Motorsports and his first on the pit crew team for Chase Elliott’s No. 9 Napa Auto Parts Chevrolet, Semke on Aug. 5 got to experience the thrill of victory when Elliott held off the determined Martin Truex Jr. on the Watkins Glen International road course.

TJ Semke | Courtesy Hendrick MotorsportsIt was win No. 1 for Elliott, a third-year driver and son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, and the 250th in the illustrious racing history of Hendrick Motorsports, and nobody celebrated more enthusiastically in victory lane than a jackman from Kansas City who just a few years earlier knew next to nothing about auto racing.

“It was pretty special for Chase to get his first win, and it was the 250th for the company, which is a big deal,” Semke says. “All the pieces fell together and it ended up being a big deal. It was definitely good vibes coming back to work on Monday.”

An unusual path

Even before he became a professional athlete in NASCAR, Semke’s route through athletics was unusual and his story unique.

Semke fractured a vertebra during his junior season at Lee’s Summit North High School; he made it through his senior season while constantly fighting through “a lot of issues with my discs.” When his doctors finally told him to stop playing football, Semke complied and turned down offers to play at Division II colleges.

He grew up a “big MU guy,” and shocked his family when he came to Lawrence and enrolled at KU as a full-time student.

“Something drew me there,” Semke says. “I liked the school when I went on a visit, so I just went there.”

Ripe for recruitment

An energetic and successful student in high school, Semke likewise threw himself into his studies on the Hill, and even worked part-time for his mother’s boyfriend’s bail bond business, tracking down absconders who skipped court dates.

Although work as a bounty hunter provided the occasional adrenaline rush he still craved, it wasn’t the same as football. After two years away from the sport, Semke was ripe for recruitment when he noticed a University Daily Kansan advertisement announcing open tryouts for football walk-ons.

He tried out during the spring of his sophomore year, made the team, and entered his junior year with sophomore standing in football. A natural fullback in a pro-style offense with little need for fullbacks, Semke fashioned himself a high-energy playmaker on special teams; during practice, though, he moved to the scout team’s defensive line.

Putting in the work

“I was a little bit undersized for that,” he says, “but I was just out there every day, working hard, making plays, and I kind of got noticed. So they thought, why don’t we give this a shot? That whole next spring, my redshirt junior year, they put in a lot of time with me, getting me ready to play, and I ended up starting the first six games of my junior year on the defensive line.”

After being featured in Sports Illustrated thanks to his bounty-hunter background, Semke played defensive end as a senior, along with fullback when necessary—like Turner Gill before him, coach Charlie Weis rarely featured fullbacks—and when his KU playing days were done Semke began focusing on the NFL. He performed well at his Pro Day workouts, earning a workout with the Kansas City Chiefs and a minicamp invitation from the New Orleans Saints.

Leaving football behind

Realistic about his chances, Semke left football behind for good when he was invited to join more than 100 other candidates for pit-crew tryouts at Hendrick headquarters.

Hendrick, it turns out, sends a pit-crew coach out on the road with its race teams, and he spends race weeks visiting collegiate football program near every track, searching for potential recruits. At Kansas Speedway, KU coaches put in a good word for Semke, touting his speed, strength, attitude and energy.

Semke lived up the billing he received from his former football coaches, and in spring 2016 he was introduced as one of five new pit crew recruits at Hendrick’s second Signing Day event.

He spent his first full season learning the jackman’s job on a variety of teams and racing series, and this year was named a full-time member on Elliott’s No. 9 Camaro.

TJ Semke | Courtesy Hendricks Motorsports

Steep learning curve

“TJ is a pretty special guy,” says veteran crew chief Alan Gustafson. “He’s physically gifted, to say the least, to be that big and that fast and strong. He’s a really competitive guy and a fun guy to have on our team. We’ve been really impressed with him and his ability with relatively no experience pitting the car. His learning curve has been amazing. We expect really big things from him in the future.”

Semke’s learning curve got steeper this season when NASCAR announced new pit-lane regulations that allowed for only five crew members over the wall during races, rather than the previous limit of six. That meant double-duty for someone on each crew, and Hendrick’s solution was to make the jackman also responsible for putting on tires, all within the 13-second timeframe of a high-pressure pit stop.

“You have double the work and you’re still trying to be fast,” Semke says. “It presented a lot of challenges, but that’s kind of what’s fun about it. We have a bunch of athletic guys who know how to adapt and change, so it worked out in our favor.”

Brains and brawn

As expected, Semke relishes the vigorous physical environment at Hendrick, where pit crews lift weights under the supervision of a team of trainers, go through full-speed pit training and even spend Mondays doing yoga to improve flexibility.

Perhaps not as expected, though, is the intelligence Semke brings to the team, which pays off in the team’s constant film study. He was named Academic All-Big 12 and graduated with at 3.1 GPA.

“A lot of people might look at me—the tattoos, and I’m a big, strong guy—and they might think, ‘Oh, this guy’s just a meathead, a cave-man type of guy, eats a bunch of meat.’ At a glance you might just think that’s what I am.

“But anything I do I want to be really good at it. I can hit the books and I can hit the weights, both. It definitely feels good to have a degree from the University of Kansas, that’s for sure.”

—Chris Lazzarino


WATCH:

TJ Semke, No. 9 team jackman, gives fans a closer look inside the Hendrick Motorsports heat training program.

 

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