Catalysts for Change
While their time on the Hilltop is focused on gaining a quality education, many Bradley students achieve far more than a degree. Whether it is founding a new campus organization, pioneering advances in their fields, or reaching beyond themselves and their comfort zones to help others, these individuals strive to make a difference. Here, we profile some of these remarkable students and their impact on the world today … and for years to come.
Feras Altwal, MS ’14
Last April, Feras Altwal, MS ’14 was part of a team that supported the first trachea transplant in the United States — on 2-year-old Hannah Warren. “I had previously spent three years in Jordan assisting with around 300 stem cell surgeries for numerous diseases,” he noted. “However, this surgery completely stands out from all the rest, both in terms of work experience and the emotional aspect.”
A 2009 graduate of Philadelphia University in Amman, Jordan, Altwal moved to the U.S. in April 2012, after Dr. Mark Holterman recruited him to assist with stem cell research and clinical trials, specifically Warren’s case. Three months later, he met Dr. Craig Cady, associate professor of biology, during discussions about collaborating on the procedure. Cady then suggested he pursue a master’s in biology at Bradley.
“Working in Dr. Cady’s lab incredibly facilitated the process and prepared me even more for the work I did during the surgery,” Altwal explained.
While he had been helping with preparations for nearly a year, he also participated directly in the operation. In addition to transporting and evaluating samples from the bioartificial trachea prior to the surgery, he “collected blood samples from Hannah every other day for three weeks after the procedure for further confirmatory testing.”
Altwal plans to enroll in a doctoral program next fall, a goal he attributes to Warren: “Hannah motivated all those involved to have high hopes and remain positive through any encountered obstacles. It is because of the lasting impact this surgery made on me that I became certain of my will to incorporate clinical work in my future career.”
Stephanie Copeland ’13
The Internet helped connect Stephanie Copeland ’13 with the international organization 1000 Shillings, which helps women in Uganda.
“I was the social entrepreneur,” explained Copeland, who was among the first eight U.S. college students selected by the group for a fellowship and spent two months working in the African nation. “I looked at some different programs, and this excited me because it was the first time 1000 Shillings offered fellowships.”
The nonprofit started in November 2012, and its name comes from the average amount a person lives on daily in Uganda — which equals about 40 U.S. cents. It gives Ugandan women a chance to develop business and leadership skills by creating and selling handmade products such as scarves, bracelets and purses online.
A human resource management major, Copeland wrote business plans for the women and case studies to be used by future participants. She also taught business basics such as pricing products. “I definitely used what I learned in my business classes,” she said. “The biggest takeaway is it’s hard to get anywhere without support; that’s what we provide these women.”
She would like to eventually work with an organization helping and empowering women in the Peoria area.
Copeland said the Smith Career Center was instrumental in obtaining the fellowship, even contacting 1000 Shillings to ensure its legitimacy. She also cited the interpersonal and leadership skills she developed at Bradley. “Anyone could have utilized the resources here to make it possible,” she said. “If it’s something you really want to do, you can make it happen.”
Anthony Isherwood ’14 MSA ’14
Stepping onto campus in 2009, Anthony Isherwood ’14 MSA ’14 pledged Sigma Nu fraternity, became the pledge class treasurer, and dove into the finances of Greek life. Active in special events for the Interfraternity Council, three years ago, he discovered an opportunity to be a sales representative for Gainlight Studios, a branding, apparel, and design company owned by Derek Oddo ’09 and Matt Lakics ’09. After the November 17 tornadoes swept through the Midwest, Isherwood found himself helping with relief efforts when the company decided to create “Central Illinois Strong” T-shirts to build awareness and raise funds.
“A week after the devastation, I was involved in sending T-shirts to people from Maine to Guam. It is just unbelievable to see the support the world has for central Illinois,” Isherwood said. “By the end of 2013, we had sold more than 1,700 shirts and donated $11,056.35 to the American Red Cross to show community support.”
During his junior year, Isherwood — a major in the University’s 3:2 accounting program — was invited to join Bradley’s chapter of Beta Alpha Psi, an honorary organization for financial information students and professionals. He soon became a member of the executive board and vice president of professional events, and has had numerous opportunities to connect with successful alumni. In fact, he has accepted an external audit position at Deloitte in Chicago, a company employing many Bradley alumni.
“Bradley has an amazing alumni network; they reach out to us and ask how they can help,” he said. “We are able to compete, and I have benefited from Bradley’s small classroom feel and worldwide presence.”
Rasheed Habler ’16
As co-captain of Bradley’s mock trial team, Rasheed Habler ’16 is gaining valuable leadership and communication skills he can use in the classroom and beyond. “You learn how to talk to people and adapt to situations you would never imagine,” he said.
Habler has participated in mock trial since his freshman year of high school. While the activity is a natural precursor to his planned career as a lawyer, the double major in public relations and English is still weighing his options. “Whatever I decide, God will pave the path for me, and I’ll follow it,” he explained.
Currently, that path includes reaching out to the community through involvement in his fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha: “We have a lot of different projects, such as Project Alpha,” which is a collaboration between the fraternity and the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation. Its purpose is to educate young men about teen pregnancy prevention, an endeavor that evolved into one of Habler’s future goals.
“I’ve been through many trials and tribulations in my life, and I would never picture myself being at Bradley now,” he noted. “I want to reach out to others, particularly young men, and show them what they can do. I want to move them and inspire them to be well-rounded individuals and show them exactly what this world needs and that they don’t have any excuses — just push them to strive for greatness.”
Jenny Lapke ’14
Jenny Lapke ’14 has taken six trips as part of a medical mission to the African nation of Zambia. When she returns in July, she’ll be able to actually treat patients after earning her nursing degree and license.
“Once you go, you want to keep going,” Lapke explained. “A smile goes a long way. Every interaction with a person is so monumental.”
She became involved with the Zambia Medical Mission through her pediatrician mother, whose colleague is its U.S. medical director. The organization is one of the largest recurring medical mission projects in the world. The three-week annual trips include six days of field work under grueling conditions. “We’ll work as long as we can to make sure everybody is cared for,” Lapke commented.
She recalls working by flashlight in the school bus pharmacy to ensure patients received their medications before the medical personnel left for the next location. “I think my experience over there has helped me in my classes here,” Lapke said. “And my classes have given me confidence and knowledge.”
Lapke’s work extends to canines. A confessed dog lover, she has taken her dog, Maddie, to do therapy work at the Children’s Hospital of Illinois. Currently, she is working with Tilly, an Aussiedoodle rescued from a puppy mill and being trained as a service dog through Paws Giving Independence.
Of her Zambia trips, she noted, “I said it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity after the first trip. I guess it’s six times in a lifetime now.”
Jacob Abou-Hanna ’15
Why is a biology major leading the campus chapter of Engineers Without Borders? Jacob Abou-Hanna ’15 has a perfectly logical answer: “I am a bio major who added a mechanical engineering major because I thought engineering was really interesting. I read about EWB, attended a meeting, and became interested in working alongside professionals, such as Caterpillar engineers.”
Eventually, Abou-Hanna accepted more of the chapter’s leadership responsibilities, becoming captain of the water treatment team and then of the implementation team. He became president in January, just in time to lead 10 of the 30 Bradley engineering majors who have worked for almost two years on the designing and fundraising of a $35,000 potable water system for a community in northern Guatemala this spring.
“EWB is a global organization somewhat like Doctors Without Borders,” he explained. “Instead of treating people here, we make them more efficient in their own environments. For example, we’re building a self-sufficient water treatment system to help the community successfully take care of itself. Self-sufficiency is vital; we want to give them the tools and know-how to enjoy inexpensive, clean water — something we take for granted every day.”
With applying to medical school on his horizon, Abou-Hanna’s interests lie in medicine and technology. He believes many medical problems can be solved at the intersection of engineering and medicine.
As a teen, Abou-Hanna traveled on missionary trips but said his attitude to serve has changed as he’s matured: “Rather than focus on the feel-good aspect of philanthropy, I ask myself, ‘What would be most effective and beneficial for the most people?’ It’s hard to maintain this mindset, but I fortunately am part of an outstanding team of Bradley engineers that makes it easy.”
Grecia Ocampo ’14
With her Twitter profile proclaiming, “Dreaming’s what I do,” Grecia Ocampo ’14 obviously believes in the power of big dreams. Serving as president of Bradley’s Anti-Slavery Coalition and the Association of Latin American Students (ALAS), she recently became a founding member of campus’ new International Humanitarian Law Campaign organization. Sponsored by the American Red Cross, the team starts work this year to help students understand and respect international humanitarian law and principles.
A political science major with minors in Spanish and French, Ocampo first heard about human-trafficking crimes and the Anti-Slavery Coalition two years ago from her roommate, Melissa Zacarias ’14, the coalition’s then-president. Zacarias’ passion intrigued Ocampo, so she began attending related events with her, watching documentaries in disbelief, and coming to the conclusion that “people in the United States aren’t really aware of how far-reaching human trafficking is; some of the documentaries are so intense that students are left shocked and speechless.”
ALAS also educates students on the relationship between immigration and human trafficking. The group screened a documentary last semester, Lives for Sale, that showed how the two issues feed off each other. “We like to open students’ eyes to critical issues,” Ocampo noted. “Perhaps if we solve one problem, we can impact the other.”
The Chicago native acknowledges growing up in a bubble and being unaware of how dangerous the world can be. Since her involvement in the coalition, she has become inspired to reach out to the homeless population: “Ideally, I would like to work with the homeless because human-trafficking crimes occur so much more readily against needy people with no one looking after them.”
Nhi Vo ’13 MS ’14
A native of Vietnam, Nhi Vo ’13 MS ’14 understands the value of quality healthcare: “Having been born in a developing country and experiencing health limitations because of underserved medical care, I always knew I wanted to do something to change that.” She had that chance while on a medical mission trip to Honduras and Nicaragua with Global Medical Training (GMT) during winter break in 2012.
GMT’s mission to provide medical and dental care to remote Central American communities appealed to Vo after she first heard about the program from previous participants. Although she and fellow Bradley undergraduate Allen Ghareeb ’14 could not treat patients directly while on the trip, they were guided by and assisted physicians in evaluations and exams. “We were actively engaged in the diagnostic reasoning process,” she noted. “I also gained exposure to drug dosing regimens and common drug groups.”
Vo, a biology major, said the trip also gave her “a much deeper appreciation for public health, culture, and religion — factors that all shape the health of a region.”
Ghareeb and Vo subsequently established a GMT chapter on the Hilltop. “We wanted to provide other Bradley students with the same opportunity to experience global health firsthand,” she explained. Vo realized that goal when she returned to Nicaragua in January with 15 more students.
After earning her master’s this spring, Vo plans to attend medical school. She hopes one day to continue the pursuit of her passion for health education: “I believe a critical aspect of patient care is providing people with the knowledge and resources to take action to better their own health.”
Allen Ghareeb ’14
Establishing a service organization at his high school presented Allen Ghareeb ’14 with an early lesson in giving back to his community. He has enhanced his service mentality through his years at Bradley.
Starting as a Burger Center Fellow freshman year, the biochemistry and religious studies major helped develop the University’s award-winning Service on Saturday program. He has volunteered for a crisis hotline, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Easter Seals, all while serving as a Student Admissions Representative (STARs), working at the Cullom-Davis Library and the Center for Learning Assistance, and driving the shuttle for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute on campus. Plus, he was named Bradley’s 2013 Homecoming King.
With the goal of medical school and a career in public health, Ghareeb traveled with Global Medical Training (GMT) in December 2012 to provide medical care to outlying villages in Nicaragua and Honduras. He said people lined up outside the clinics before they opened, and crews worked from dawn to dusk or until supplies ran out.
“To me, that was incredible. It really puts things in perspective,” Ghareeb explained, adding he spent the spring 2013 semester in Copenhagen studying worldwide healthcare systems. “It verified what I want to do.”
With fellow GMT volunteer Nhi Vo ’13 MS ’14, Ghareeb started a chapter of Global Medical Training at Bradley. About 15 students participated in a trip to Nicaragua in January.
“Bradley has given me the ability to combine my leadership studies with what I learn in the hard sciences,” Ghareeb noted. “Volunteering has always been my way of stepping away from the pressures of school.”
Jessica Revord ’11 MA ’14
Physical fitness is a major part of life for Jessica Revord ’11 MA ’14. Since helping start Bradley’s Get Fit, Stay Fit program as a health science undergraduate in 2009, she has seen participation nearly double. She also organizes an annual Fit Fair health and wellness event.
“I have discovered what’s most surprising about the program is how much participation has increased and how quickly the numbers have grown,” Revord said, adding 527 participants were involved when Get Fit, Stay Fit started while the fall 2013 program included 1,026 students, faculty and staff. “The part of Get Fit, Stay Fit that brings me the most satisfaction would have to be the Fit Fair that ties into it.”
That event, which sprang from Revord’s attendance at running expos, brings together on- and off-campus groups and vendors. “To see the growth of the fair, from a small idea I had, is most rewarding. So many people have benefited and gained knowledge from it,” she noted about the free fair.
After earning her master’s in clinical mental health counseling, Revord plans to work in corporate wellness, where she can continue to counsel and teach about health and fitness. Her goal is to start a program like Get Fit, Stay Fit at that level.
A graduate assistant with the University’s wellness program, Revord credits the communication and leadership skills she acquired at Bradley for helping her start and build Get Fit, Stay Fit and the Fit Fair. “Bradley University offered me the opportunity to express my ideas and passions and gave me the tools to become the individual I am,” she said.
Jennifer Boakye ’13 MBA ’15
One word perfectly describes Jennifer Boakye ’13 MBA ’15: motivated. A dietetics major with a biology minor in the University’s pre-med program, she also is a founding member of Bradley’s chapter of Students Today Leaders Forever (STLF).
She credits her time on the speech team and as an assistant resident adviser (ARA) for helping prepare her for STLF. “When you’re an ARA, you learn conflict resolution, how to work with different personalities and work ethics, and how to confront people,” she noted, adding that speech gave her the persuasive skills necessary to convince college students to give $450 and their entire spring break with only one promise — “I will change your life.”
STLF is a nonprofit that engages students in service and leadership through nine-day, six-city Pay It Forward Tours during which participants learn about social issues. “Four other girls and I were responsible for starting the chapter,” she explained. “I’m used to having someone to look to for questions and answers; with STLF, I was that person.”
Hoping to become a pediatrician, Boakye knew she needed to stand out on her medical school applications. Dr. Jennifer Robin, assistant professor of management and leadership, suggested she pursue a master’s in business. “Even if I don’t own my own practice, I think having that knowledge will help me talk to my patients,” she said.
Ultimately, her dream is to work at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital: “Even if patients are terminally ill, I want to help them enjoy their last few moments on Earth and help their families.”
— Bradley Hilltopics Staff
Photography by Duane Zehr