On to the Next Chapter: A&S Students Reflect on Their Mizzou Memories

2018 A&S commencement
Jordan Yount
News Source: 
College of Arts & Science
Political Science
Truman School of Public Affairs
Biological Sciences

The College of Arts and Science will hold its spring 2019 commencement exercises in Mizzou Arena on May 19. Before seniors and graduate students walk across the stage to accept their degrees, we sat down with five of them to talk about what they learned during their time at Mizzou and what the future holds for them.

The English Major

Mary Spindler was living in Washington, D.C., when she decided to come to Mizzou to major in English. Both of her parents are St. Louis natives and MU alumni, and her father was working at the Pentagon when she was deciding where to go to college. She says her father suggested she check out the University of Missouri, so she attended an MU football game.

Mary Spindler

“I was sold after that,” she says. “I had never seen a college this big. It was different from the East Coast, and I was ready to try something new.”

Spindler then attended Summer Welcome, where she met Mary Moore, an academic adviser in the Department of English who “opened her eyes” to all of the possibilities one could have with a degree in English. Spindler says she and Moore bonded at that meeting, and Spindler has been Moore’s student assistant since her sophomore year.

Spindler says she also befriended Teaching Professor Ray Ronci in the Department of English.

“One of the best things I did is create a mentor relationship with one of my professors,” Spindler says. “During these past three years, Professor Ronci has helped me think about my career and what I want to do in life, and he has helped keep me motivated. I know some of my friends don’t have a faculty mentor, but I think one of the most amazing things you can get from the university is a relationship like that.”

Mary Spindler 2Spindler says one of her favorite Mizzou memories is introducing Ronci and giving brief remarks when he received a William T. Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence in 2018.

“I remember that moment clearly because I felt really involved in the campus community,” she says.

Spindler is now weighing her options. She completed an internship at Edelman Financial in Washington, D.C., last summer and made a very good impression on her colleagues. In fact, the CEO of the firm, Ric Edelman, told her she had potential in a lot of different areas in business because of her writing skills; she has been offered a full-time job after graduation. Spindler says she’ll probably take the job, but first she wants to complete another internship. Since Spindler has a minor in geology, English Professor Noah Heringman suggested she consider an internship at Stratford Hall in Virginia, the ancestral home of Robert E. Lee. Spindler says Stratford Hall plans to open a paleontology exhibit with fossils from the property, so she will spend the summer doing research and writing for the new exhibit.

The Political Science Major

Jorge Soto

Jorge Soto says his dream is to become the U.S. Secretary of Labor, and the MU senior is well on his way to making that dream come true.

“My mom is the reason I wanted to get into politics, and, for me, labor politics is a crucial aspect of our society,” he says. “I believe if you work 40 hours a week—that should be enough to survive. My mom is doing everything she can to put her three children through college, but she is literally killing herself, and I don’t like that.”

Soto will graduate this month with a degree in political science, and he will then make his way to the Windy City, where he will study public policy at the prestigious University of Chicago. He also has been accepted as an inaugural fellow of Govern for America, a new organization “building the next generation of public sector leaders to bridge the talent gap and bring diverse, passionate young people into government.” Soto says Govern for America will allow him to complete his studies in Chicago, and then the organization will find him a staff position.  

Soto is from Perry, Iowa, but spent two years studying in Mexico, where his grandparents operated a small ranch. Both of his grandparents died last year.

“We studied Mexican history, which I didn’t get much of in the U.S., but I was in sixth grade, so it didn’t really gel until I was older,” he says. “Then, taking comparative politics at MU, things started making sense. I got to learn how democracy works in different countries.”

Soto 2Soto was an all-state high school soccer player in Iowa when a soccer coach offered him and a friend scholarships to Wentworth Military Academy in Lexington, Missouri.

“I always struggled with discipline and authority, so I knew this was the place I needed to go to be the person I wanted to be,” he says. After graduating from Wentworth, Soto decided to explore Missouri a bit more and applied to MU. He attended an August orientation and “fell in love with the place.” He has been an active student, participating in the Association of Latin American Students, Phi Alpha Delta, and Mizzou Democrats, where he is currently vice president. Soto also works as a research assistant at the Cambio Center, where he was able to use his bilingualism to interview Latino farmers for a project.

“When you look at these farmers, I see my culture in them,” he says. “I see people trying to make a living and being self-sufficient. I see my grandparents in them.”      

Soto says that in his culture, they do not celebrate accomplishments because those achievements are considered expectations.

“When I got a 25 on my ACT, my mom asked me why I didn’t get 100, and when I told her the highest score was a 36, she asked why I didn’t get a 36,” he says. “Still, if my dad is proud of me, those are all the accolades I need, and that’s been my philosophy for everything.”

The Music Major

Martha Allen 2, photo credit Dale Lloyd

Springfield, Missouri, native Martha Allen had been coming to Columbia for years to participate in the Missouri State High School Activities Association Music Festival held on the MU campus each spring, so she knew she wanted to attend Mizzou after high school. The mezzo-soprano singer has been a member of Professor Paul Crabb’s University Singers during her entire undergrad experience and has performed in numerous operas. Last summer she even tried musical theater.

“I would say my favorite is the opera,” she says. “I love performing. I love the costumes. It’s a really nice community, and the Missouri Theatre is so beautiful.”

Allen says she was not exposed to opera growing up in southern Missouri, but as her voice developed, she was asked about training classically, which she began to do at 16. She also credits Assistant Professor Steven Tharp and Teaching Professor Christine Seitz for helping her to fully develop her vocal talents. Those talents have secured Allen a spot at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City this fall, where she will continue to develop her voice and perform opera as a first-year master of music student in classical voice.

“First, I will do the music stuff and opera and see what I can do with that, but I’ve always loved teaching, and my parents suggested I get another degree if I went to college, so my other degree is in secondary English education,” she says. 

Martha Allen, photo credit Dale Lloyd


Allen says she is happy she attended Mizzou before heading to a conservatory because her professors were encouraging and allowed her to develop at her own pace.

“One of the benefits of being a music student at MU is it is a small program with a huge alumni base, so we’ve worked with many great performers and visiting scholars,” she says. “I also feel lucky that I chose to come to Mizzou when I was young because there’s a homey feel to it.”

As she prepares to walk across the stage at Mizzou Arena to receive her degree, Allen offers some advice to the freshmen who will begin their college careers this fall.

“The things that seem like a big deal are not a big deal,” she says. “You will mess up a lot, but everyone does, and this is the perfect place to mess up because Columbia is safe, it’s small, and it’s not too far from home. Be nice to yourself, and be open to learning new things.”

The Biological Sciences Major

Joshua Jones


Joshua Jones says his interest in biology began in high school, where he had great teachers, including his advanced practice biology teacher who had earned her doctorate and talked to him about going to college and doing research.

The St. Louis native says he originally thought he would take biology in college on his path to becoming a doctor, until he heard about opportunities for undergraduate research. During his freshman year at Mizzou, he contacted Associate Professor of Biological Sciences Manuel Leal and told him he was trying to choose between going to medical school or going to graduate school once he completed his undergrad studies. Jones asked Leal if he could join his lab, where the main focus is on behavioral and evolutionary ecology, with a particular interest in lizards. But Jones says he had trouble picking a focus for his research.

“Then last summer, I went to Boston for a Research Experience for Undergraduates program where I did microbial research, and I decided that was a lot more interesting, so I switched my focus from behavioral ecology to microbial ecology,” he says.

Jones will continue studying microbial ecology when he begins graduate school at the University of Indiana Bloomington this fall, where he enrolled in the Evolution, Ecology, and Behavior program under the direction of biology professors Armin Moczek and Irene Newton.

“I was interested in the work of those professors, both of whom do microbiome work,” Jones says. “Moczek has dung beetles, and he has conducted research on how their different body sizes are determined by temperature or the nutrients they consume.”

Jones says reaching out to Leal and establishing a relationship with him during his freshman year has been a key to his success.

“He is invested in what I am interested in, and he helped me decide what I wanted to do in grad school,” Jones says. “Don’t be afraid to talk to your professors—they know their classes and can tell you the best way to study. They don’t want you to fail; they are trying to help you grow and teach you how to learn new things.” He says those relationships come in handy when a student is trying to decide which graduate school to apply to or when they need a letter of recommendation.

Joshua Jones 2

During his sophomore year, Jones joined the Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity (IMSD), a program that helps undergraduates pursue research opportunities. He’s now in the fellows portion of IMSD, which is geared toward students who plan to attend graduate school. If you can’t find Jones in the Leal lab, he might be relaxing near the Baja Café by Schurz and Hatch halls.

“It’s just a bench next to the grills, and there’s a giant tree that blooms with beautiful flowers,” he says. “I remember so many days I’d walk across campus just to sit there and study because it’s quiet and shady.” 


The Public Policy Graduate Student

Michael Gawlick


Michael Gawlick spent a year with the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps in California and Washington, and he has worked in Denver, Colorado, but the Overland Park, Kansas, native is looking forward to returning to Kansas City after receiving his master’s degree in public affairs from the Truman School of Public Affairs (TSPA). Gawlick received a Cookingham-Noll Management Fellowship from Kansas City, a paid, full-time, two-year experience that gives fellows a “360-degree tour of the city.”

“Kansas City is my home and where my family is,” he says. “I think it’s an amazing place, and I really wanted to understand the intricacies of the place. What I love about this fellowship is they allow you to see the city as a whole.”

As a fellow, Gawlick will do rotations with the City Manager’s Office, the Office of Management and Budget, and other departments of his choice. He also will attend and participate in several meetings each week with the city manager and other city leaders.

“I’ve seen a variety of places, and I think Kansas City has a lot to offer,” he says. “I’m a big believer in the communities of Kansas City and what they are able to do for others, and I think that’s what drives me back to this area. The skills I learned at the Truman School helped me feel prepared for this position.”

Michael Gawlick 2Gawlick earned his undergraduate degree in history with a minor in economics at the University of Central Missouri. During his time in Warrensburg, Gawlick visited the Mizzou campus and says he really enjoyed the experience, so he got in contact with the Truman School while doing research on graduate schools. He says he met a number of phenomenal people at TSPA who made him feel accepted and answered all of his questions, so he decided this is where he could continue to grow and learn. Gawlick says there are a lot of people at the Truman School who made an important impact on his graduate studies, but he singles out Kristi Ressel, a policy analyst for the Institute of Public Policy (IPP), for special praise.

“She was a former health inspector for Kansas City, and she helped me grow in terms of working in a professional environment,” he says. Gawlick has worked as an evaluator at IPP and was promoted to lead evaluation coordinator.

As a graduate student, Gawlick’s campus experience was a bit different than the stereotypical undergrad experience of shuffling across campus for classes and participating in clubs and other extracurricular activities.

“I lived in Middlebush Hall,” he says. “I worked in Middlebush, all of my classes are in Middlebush, and I even go to church in Middlebush Auditorium (The Rock). My life has revolved around Middlebush.” He does venture out to Ellis Library and says Memorial Union is the prettiest building on campus. Still, he’s ready to return to Kansas City to begin the next chapter of his career. When the fellowship ends in two years, Gawlick hopes to find a permanent job working in the city he loves.

Share This

Facebook icon