Barrett Shares Value of GI Bill with Fellow Military Members

By Dan Silvia

Col. William “Buzz” Barrett (ret., United States Air Force) came to Bellevue University on the recommendation of a fellow service member. Now, with two Bellevue University degrees under his belt, he does not hesitate to steer folks toward his alma mater.

Barrett actually already had two master’s degrees to his name before taking his first classes at Bellevue University, but with the Post 9/11 GI Bill benefit, he could not turn down the opportunity to learn more. He completed the Master of Science in Organizational Performance (MSOP) in March of 2018. Then, as a small business owner who wanted to learn more about a variety of business topics, and with GI Bill education benefits still available, he enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in Business program.

Currently, Barrett is a government civilian working for the Air Force in United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM). He’s also a resource to others who are considering continuing their education at Bellevue University.

“It’s actually a pretty easy conversation. I tell prospective students about the ease of registering, just one time, when using the Bellevue University cohort design, which can yield a bachelor’s or master’s degree in 18 months without needing to register every few weeks,” he said.

Barrett points out the flexibility that Bellevue University offers without sacrificing quality, and its experience in dealing with the needs of military members. “Once registered, it is truly simple to begin the process to obtain a degree,” he said.

He is originally from Equality, Illinois, a town of 550 people.  Being from a small town he could see the value education played in creating opportunities for the future. He graduated from junior college, and then attended Southern Illinois University at Carbondale where he received a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering Technology.  He then served in the United States Air Force for 20 years, before retiring from active duty as a full colonel in 2005. During his time in the military, he flew the B-2 stealth bomber, the B-1B, and the B-52. Today, though, his missions are more likely to involve being of service to his co-workers who have GI Bill education benefits at their disposal.

“I wanted to serve my country and become a pilot. Both of my grandpas, my father, and my brother all served in the military as well,” he said. “I truly enjoy sharing my Bellevue experience with my fellow veterans, as well as active military personnel, and anyone else. I want people to be able to take advantage of everything Bellevue University has to offer.”

Diop is Linchpin at LinkedIn

Hussein Diop was the anchor of the Bellevue University defense when he played center for the men’s basketball squad in 2008-2012. At 6-feet, 10-inches, he’s now the tallest link in the chain at LinkedIn, one of the world’s largest social networks for business professionals. Diop brings the lessons that he learned on and off the court at Bellevue University to his new role.

As a Small Business Account Manager, Diop sells and supports LinkedIn Talent Solutions, a product that supplies users with recruiting tools aimed at helping them improve their talent acquisition process. Diop handles a book of about 400 clients, introducing them to the product and assisting with its functionality.

“My job is to help them with everything and anything – getting them started, helping them maximize its potential, and offering different strategies,” Diop said. “We want to make sure that they are getting as much out of the product as possible.”

Maximizing His Potential

Maximizing potential is a particular area of expertise for Diop. He has been doing that ever since he walked into the men’s basketball office as a project with very little basketball experience. But he worked with Head Coach Shane Paben and his staff to polish his game.

As a freshman in the 2008-09 season, he averaged 2.2 points per game along with 2.0 rebounds. Maybe most importantly, he contributed 35 blocked shots over 23 games. He appeared in all 32 games as a sophomore upping his averages to 6.6 points, 5.4 rebounds with 67 blocked shots. His game continued to evolve, capped by a senior campaign in which he averaged 9.0 points per game, 8.1 rebounds and blocked 81 shots.

The Bruins enjoyed a great deal of success during Diop’s time with the program, including a trip to the NAIA Final Four in 2009. Diop credits Paben’s tough practices with helping him sharpen his focus and hone his time management skills. Assistant coaches Bob Ludwig, Jason Isaacson, and Jack Nelson were also invaluable mentors for Diop, he said.

“Between practice, class, games, and travel, you have to be able to manage your time very well,” Diop said. “It also helped with handling pressure. You’re trying to get that win as the clock winds down toward the end of the game. You have to be very mentally sharp,” Diop said. “I don’t get ruffled by pressure. Every time it comes in I’m calm and I can think through it. I think that comes from my basketball background.”

In addition to support from his coaches, Diop enjoyed a supportive and engaged faculty during his time at Bellevue University. He singled out Dr. Dan Warren, former professor in the College of Business, and Dr. Karen Robinson, Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, as being particularly influential.

“They were both fantastic with me,” Diop said. “They challenged me. The faculty is very supportive of the athletic department, but they don’t take it easy on you.”

Diop also said Erin Officer and her family, Omaha residents at the time, played a key role in his success at Bellevue University.

“Her and her family just took me in and were like ‘Hey, your family isn’t here. We’ve got you.’ They brought me over for Christmas and the family would come to games,” Diop said.

Setting His Sights on Success

Diop is a native of Dakar, Senegal. While many of his schoolmates in Senegal sought additional education in France, Diop had his sights set on the United States. He knew only one person in the U.S., his cousin, Fatou, who was living in some place called “Nebraska.”

“She was the person that helped me apply at Bellevue (University) and helped with the translations,” Diop said. “I barely spoke any English when I came here.”

Today, Diop is focused on his career at LinkedIn and doing as much travelling as possible. He’s checked off quite a few cities within the United States including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, and Dallas. He recently visited Washington D.C. with his mother and was back in Senegal with a group of LinkedIn employees to help build a school. While Diop has been back to Senegal many times since first coming to the United States, he said this trip was special.

“It was an amazing experience. I didn’t know about this project until late. They had already done a lot of fundraising for it. My team got together and raised the funds necessary for me to go in about a week,” Diop said. “That’s just the LinkedIn culture. I work for some amazing people that will not hesitate to do that type of thing.

“I spoke to the villagers that we were building the school for and told them, ‘Listen, I am here because there are literally a hundred people who supported me.’ That’s the kind of heart and passion that is going into this school.”

Student Speaker Zopoula Reaches Milestone in Educational Journey

By Dan Silvia

Earning an education takes a lot of legwork. Nathan Zopoula, the student speaker for Bellevue University’s Winter Commencement ceremony, knows that better than most. Growing up outside of Boura, Burkina Faso, a landlocked West African country, he trekked 10 miles to school every morning.

“I was very fortunate to go to school,” Zopoula said. “My parents did all they could to help me and my siblings go as far as we could in school.”

He’d journey even further when he traveled almost 6,000 miles to pursue his college education in the United States. He started at Northeast Community College in Norfolk, Nebraska, where he earned an Associate of Arts and Sciences in Agronomy and Crop Science in 2013. He continued on to earn his Bachelor of Technology in Agronomy from Northwest Missouri State in 2015.

Zopoula began his Bellevue University quest in 2016 around the same time he began working for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. At DHS, Zopoula helps “provide the right immigration benefits to the right people in the right amount of time, while making sure that no beneficiary is a threat to national security.”

The flexibility that Bellevue University offered would allow Zopoula to balance that job and other responsibilities and was a key point in Zopoula’s decision to attend the University.

“With a busy life, Bellevue University made it possible for me to still get my degree. The faculty is always available to help. They are ready to listen and provide solutions,” Zopoula said. “Everyone is working for your success. One day, a classmate from an online class that I never met emailed me to check to see why I hadn’t posted throughout the week on an online discussion. That really helped me. I was going to forget that week’s discussion and get a reduced grade. Even students look out for each other at Bellevue University.”

Zopoula also praised his adopted country, the United States, for the opportunities it has provided him.

“After looking at schools around the world, I found that the best education is here in the United States,” he said. “I came here to get a degree and the more I studied and learned, the more my love for the country grew.”

That love for his adopted country manifested itself when he joined the United States Army Reserve shortly before he began studying at Bellevue University.

“I’ll be there as long as I can,” Zopoula said. “I have been waiting for my security clearance to go to Officer Candidate School.”

While Zopoula has completed his Master’s Degree in Security Management, he is not done juggling work, school, and other responsibilities. He is giving back through The Promise Farm, a philanthropic endeavor he launched in 2014 that is dedicated to enhancing agricultural development in Burkina Faso. The Promise Farm provides agricultural education, resource management, fertilizer and soil management to the country’s farmers.

“The Promise Farm was created to help small scale farmers gain knowledge about soils, seed, and best farming practices,” Zopoula said. “We are currently working only in the country of Burkina Faso. Our goal is to bring agricultural education to farmers. I believe that with the urbanization of Africa, it is wiser to invest in agriculture than any other area because when people eat well, they will be healthy and they will be educated. Instead of giving food to people, help them farm better.”

Additionally, he is already pursuing his Ph.D. in Global Security at Henley-Putnam School of Strategic Security at National American University. So when Zopoula walks across the stage at Bellevue University’s 2019 winter commencement, he will already have already traveled a great many miles, but his journey will be far from over.

Bellevue University alum named “Teacher of the Year”

Amy Doty, English instructor at Southeast Community College in Lincoln and a Bellevue University alumni, was recently named Teacher of the Year by the Nebraska Developmental Education Consortium in Norfolk.
Doty was chosen for her contributions to student success and professional development. She helped lead the design of an accelerated pathway for students to complete their English requirements and also co-created a professional development resource for her colleagues, allowing them to learning and engage in best teaching practices.
Doty, who earned her Bachelor of Science degree in the Adult and Continuing Education program in 2013, said the University “was the perfect place for me to begin my educational career.” In additiion to her role at SCC, Doty is a doctoral candidate at Walden University.

James Completes Chapter of “Real Learning” Story

By Dan Silvia, Communications Manager

A “Real Learning for Real Life” commercial back in 2002 prompted Jami James to enroll at Bellevue University. Now, in 2018, she’ll be completing her journey with a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting.

“I had heard the commercials when I was employed with Mutual of Omaha. They had advertisements that talked about the accelerated programs Bellevue (University) was offering and that intrigued me to inquire more about going back to school,” James said. “Bellevue was also willing to accept the credits I had already accrued from the University of Northern Iowa and Iowa Western Community College, so I would not have to re-take a bunch of classes.”

As so often happens, real life had a different plan for James and she stopped out in 2005 to start a family. She wouldn’t be back in a Bellevue University classroom until the summer of 2016.

“When I made the decision to return to Bellevue (University) to complete my bachelor’s in Accounting, I had been throwing the idea around for a couple of years,” James said. “I knew in order to gain any further advancement; I would need to finish what I started.”

James credited Monica McElhaney, Professor in the College of Business, with helping her persist throughout the entire process.

“She was my advisor when I started my path in 2002 and provided such an amazing amount of knowledge and guidance during my time here,” James explained. “When I returned in 2016, she provided lots of useful information in deciding what classes to take based on what my career goals were. She is also one of the best professors I have ever known. She not only cares about you as her student, but also as a person. She wants to help you find the best path and provide you with the best tools to accomplish that.”

James chose to walk during the June 2018 commencement ceremony, but is finishing up the Kirkpatrick Signature Series during the fall term. Her degree has already paid off as she recently landed a job as an Accountant II with the City of Council Bluffs, Iowa.

James was nervous about interviewing for the position because while she had 25-years of experience in customer service, her accounting experience was limited to the classroom.

“I am confident that if I had not made that decision to return to Bellevue University in 2016 to finish the courses required to graduate, I would not have been considered for the Accountant II position. Although my life and work experiences had given me lots of knowledge for any job, I believe Bellevue (University) emphasized and helped develop the skills required to land my dream job,” she said.

A 1997 graduate of Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson High School, James credits her family with supporting her in her academic and career endeavors.

“Without my family supporting me, I could not have made it. I could not have been any prouder seeing the smiles on their faces when I walked across the stage and accepted my diploma,” she said. “They saw firsthand the hard work and determination it took to accomplish my goals and now they will be able to see us reap the rewards.”

Now James is ready to continue writing her own “Real Learning for Real Life” story.

“I have met a lot of great people and have some wonderful experiences that will make me a better person both personally and professionally,” she said.

Biology Grad Publishes Two Papers

By Dan Silvia, Communications Manager

Amiera Rayyan, who completed her Bachelor of Science in Biology at Bellevue University in June, has recently had two papers published in Microbiology Resource Announcements. The first paper is entitled Draft Whole-Genome Sequence of the Purple Photosynthetic Bacterium Rhodopseudomonas palustris XCP, while the second is Draft Genome Sequence and Brief History of Rhodovulum sp. Strain BSW8.

Rayyan served as the lead author of the papers. Co-authors are Terry E. Meyer from the University of Arizona and Bellevue University’s own Dr. John Kyndt. Rayyan’s accomplishment stands out beyond the publishing achievement itself:

  • They are the first papers published for Rayyan. Even at larger universities it is rather unusual for an undergraduate student to get a first author publication during his or her undergraduate studies.
  • They are the first papers by an undergraduate science student at Bellevue University where the research was done entirely in the University’s science labs.
  • It marks the first bacterial genome sequenced at Bellevue University.

“This is wonderful news,” said Mary Dobransky, Dean of the College of Science and Technology. “This achievement prompted me to think about the positive influence Bellevue University has on our students and society.  While this is true of higher education in general, it is especially strong in Bellevue University’s student-focused, open-access, innovative environment. I greatly appreciate the work the entire College of Science and Technology team does to help our students succeed. Amiera’s success is our success.”

The papers emerged from Rayyan’s senior thesis project. She relished the opportunity to use the University’s new genome sequencer versus conducting a review of already completed research.

“At that point no one had used the MiniSeq yet,” she said. “I thought that sounded much more fun. It incorporated techniques that I could practice, so I thought that would be the better route.”

Rayyan, a graduate of Bellevue East High School with an undergraduate from Creighton University in Medical Anthropology in addition to her Bellevue University degree, is now weighing her career options.

“Whatever career I end up going toward, I think this is a great motivator,” Rayyan said of her publishing efforts. “It keeps the ball rolling for me. Let’s keep going to see if we can do more of it.”

Commissioner Zuger a Role Model for New Sarpy County Partnership

By Dan Silvia, Communications Manager

Sarpy County employees won’t have to look hard to find an example of how a Bellevue University education can pay off. County Commissioner Brian Zuger holds two degrees from Bellevue, including a Bachelor of Arts in Leadership and a Master of Public Administration.

Sarpy County announces new tuition program in partnership with Bellevue University.

Sarpy County employees can take advantage of a new program, offered in partnership with Bellevue University, which features tuition reimbursement of up to $5,250 for County employees and $2,500 for employees’ immediate family members. The program is available to full-time, degree-seeking students at Bellevue University. There is no cost to the County or taxpayers for the program.

Zuger, who is running unopposed for Sarpy County Treasurer this fall, earned his bachelor’s degree when he was 40 and his master’s at 42. He didn’t let age stand in his way, and others shouldn’t let it stop them either, he said.

“For a lot of people, age is a barrier to entry. They think, ‘I’m an old dog, what am I going to learn in this program?’ or ‘It’s too late for me’.”

But Zuger said being an adult student today makes more sense than ever before.

“There’s less risk for them to go do this now because it’s not as big a financial burden. I think it’s going to be very beneficial for Sarpy County.”

Zuger first enrolled at Bellevue University in 2010, 18 years after he graduated from high school.

“I was looking for an education that that catered to professionals,” he said. “I took both of my degrees online, but it was nice to know that if I ran into an issue I would have a local person to talk to.”

Zuger describes himself as a “leadership junkie” and felt his undergraduate program was a great fit.

“It really challenged my perceptions as to what it meant to be a leader. I think it helped me to find my leadership style,” he said. “I really enjoyed that part. It allowed me to be very introspective and challenged the perceptions that I had.”

Zuger credited longtime University professor Del Stites as being particularly influential during his bachelor’s degree program.

“He taught a logic class and challenged us quite a bit,” Zuger said. “I like to be really challenged to test my thought processes and how I processed information.”

When Zuger decided to pursue a master’s degree, he selected Bellevue’s MPA program with an eye toward a leadership position with a nonprofit organization.

“I wanted to go to that next level with a nonprofit, that’s what the MPA really came into focus for me and I’ve always kind of a public-policy junkie,” he said.

As part of his degree, Zuger liked the style of the MPA cohort program, which puts students into a group that advances through the program together. This allows students to get to know one another and to take advantage of their peers’ expertise and experiences.

The cohort program “really allows you to focus on your passions,” he said.

These days Zuger is passionate about Sarpy County and his upcoming term as County Treasurer.

“I’m going to miss my time on the Board (of Commissioners). I love being a policy maker and having the ability to impact the direction of Sarpy County,” he said. “I think our Treasurer’s Office is run very well. I’m really looking forward using the skills I learned at Bellevue to build on the culture of collaboration.”


Snyder Gets Right Answer for MPA Assignment

By Dan Silvia, Communications Manager

Sometimes it just takes one person to say, “yes.”

Anthony Snyder was trying to solve a problem – how to connect at-risk youth with a therapeutic riding center, Hearts & Horses, that could help them develop social skills. But the kids had difficulty lining up reliable transportation to the riding center.

Even though the effort started off as part of white paper he was writing as part of his Master of Public Administration (MPA) program at Bellevue University, Snyder became committed to it personally, too. He spent several weeks researching and making calls. He tried churches, schools, and just about any place he could think of that might have access to transportation. He received some polite “nos” and some less polite ones, as well.

“It was a bummer, but I was not going to give up on these kids and pushed onward,” Snyder said.

Then, finally — someone said “yes.”

“I was researching and came across an organization in town that helps sexually abused women, Sexual Assault Victims Advocate (SAVA). I asked myself, how does their transportation work? I called the organization, and they referred me to a transportation service, heart & Soul Paratransit,” Snyder said. “I called the transportation service and explained what I had told all the other organizations before. Once I finished explaining what I was seeking the transportation service said, ‘yes.’ I kindly asked them to repeat their answer.”

Snyder set up a meeting with the organization to hash out the details and looped the therapeutic riding center into the process. Congratulations and hugs were exchanged all around.

“The feeling of accomplishment from not only completing the project, but to know I was able to help some kids out, was tremendous,” Snyder said.

Snyder earned his first degree at Bellevue University, a Bachelor of Science in Security Management, in 2017. He promptly returned for his MPA and is about halfway through the program.

“I have enjoyed every class of the cohort. I have been able to take what I have learned in class and apply it in the real world. Our first cohort term project was writing a grant proposal,” he said. “Two months later, I was asked to assist in a proposal for an upcoming contract in my career. I was able to hit the ground running. I had a grasp of the framework of the proposal and was comfortable working alongside experienced proposal writers — an enriching experience.”

Snyder is currently a Production Manager with CACI, an information technology company that provides services and solutions in support of national security missions and government transformation for intelligence, defense, and federal civilian customers. Bellevue University partners with CACI to provide educational opportunities to its employees.

“CACI told us of the relationship they have with Bellevue University. I went to Bellevue University’s website, called the school, and enrolled. I have been delighted with the entire experience,” Snyder said.

In addition to support for his academic endeavors at the workplace, Snyder has a support structure at home, as well.

“My wife, Kristin, is my biggest supporter. She has a graduate degree, so she understands of the time I need to spend to achieve success in my pursuit of my MPA. This year was our 10-year anniversary. I told her last fall that I would need to stay home and would not be able to travel over our anniversary,” Snyder said. “My wife, being super supportive understands that we needed to make a sacrifice this year, but will take that nice vacation on our 11th anniversary.”

2008 Graduate Comes Into His Own as Partner at Global Payments Consultancy TSG

By Dan Silvia, Communications Manager

Mike Strawhecker, a 2008 graduate of Bellevue University with a Bachelor of Science in Marketing Management, recently took on a new challenge with The Strawhecker Group, an Omaha-based global payments consultancy that bears his family name.

As the newest Partner at The Strawhecker Group (TSG) and a member of the firm that his father, Kurt Strawhecker, and Jamie Savant founded in 2006, Mike still feels the pull of his entrepreneurial roots. “Both my parents and siblings have played huge roles for me in terms of career support,” he said. “We are a family of entrepreneurs, so we are constantly using each other as sounding boards for ideas or discussing issues we are facing in either TSG or our other businesses.”

Mike Strawhecker came into TSG shortly after they first opened their doors and has seen the company grow exponentially over the last 12 years. “I joined the team about two weeks later at the bottom of the totem pole,” he said.  “I think a key component of our growth and success stems from the fact that we specialize in a niche of a niche that most people don’t even think about existing. It is easier to market to your core constituencies and gain share when you pick one thing or market and get really good at it – especially in a globalized economy.”

TSG’s Acquiring Industry Metrics (AIM) product, which measures the financial performance of payments companies, is one of the pillars of TSG’s success. It’s a product Mike himself spearheaded the launch of in 2010, and today AIM is used by some of the biggest and most influential payments and financial technology companies in the world.

Shortly after he joined his father at TSG, Mike made the decision to take college credits he had earned and complete his degree at Bellevue University. “I learned about Bellevue from a friend who had a great experience there and recommended it to me,” Mike said. “Bellevue’s accelerated program was very attractive to me, especially since I already had a lot of credits. They were willing to work with me on making sure that these credits counted.  It ended up being an excellent program and experience that I took a lot from.”

The Marketing Management program Mike selected is offered in a cohort format where students move from class to class as a group. Mike said the bonds formed with his classmates helped enhance the educational experience. “We got to know each other in the classroom as well as personally, and became friends in the process,” he said. “I think getting to know this one group really helped me excel in my time at Bellevue.”

Mike praised Professor Kristi Lynch as well. “She was the leader of my cohort and was (and I am sure still is) an excellent teacher and advisor,” he said. “She knows more about marketing than anyone I have ever come across and she was also very supportive of me during my time at Bellevue.”

Strawhecker said that though he knew the day was coming where he would take on a larger leadership role within TSG, he still enjoys and expects to continue to work alongside TSG team members to solve difficult challenges for TSG clients, and to continue having fun. Last year, the TSG leadership team, including Mike and his father, purchased a Golden Tee golf arcade game as a Christmas gift for everyone in their office.

But whether he’s competing in a fierce game of online golf or working to address a tough business challenge, Mike understands what really matters. “One thing I have learned,” he said, “is that it doesn’t matter what type of business you own, the key ingredient to sustained success comes from the people you have on your team.”

BU Serves as Spring Board to Law School

By Dan Silvia, Communications Manager

Getting in to law school can be an arduous process. Taking a non-traditional path toward that goal can further complicate matters. McKinley Malbrough III was already in his late 20s when he decided law school was the path he wanted to pursue. The first obstacle he needed to overcome – he had not yet earned his bachelor’s degree.

Malbrough discovered that Bellevue University, located over 1,500 miles from his home in Oakland, California, was the perfect partner to help him past that first hurdle. Malbrough enrolled in the University’s Communication Arts program in the fall of 2015 and earned his degree in the summer of 2017. He’s just completed his first year at the University of San Francisco School Of Law.

“I knew law school would be a huge undertaking, therefore I needed an undergraduate program that was flexible and affordable. I extensively researched schools and Bellevue University was the best option,” Malbrough said. “I could affordably pursue my undergraduate degree while still working to prepare for the financial burden of law school. Looking back, I’m thankful I found Bellevue University.”

He transferred in credits from Merritt College in Oakland, California, and even took additional courses to meet general education requirements, while working on his degree requirements at Bellevue University.

“My counselor at Bellevue, Dawn Novak, was amazing and it was great to meet her in person at graduation. She consistently talked about the scenarios I had to ensure that I was on track to be ready for law school,” Malbrough said. “Oftentimes, I reached out to Bellevue University prior to taking classes at my local community college, while pursuing my degree, to verify course completion requirements. Bellevue was more than helpful in working with me to complete my degree.”

Malbrough found his Health Communication class to be particularly helpful.

“This class helped me be more assertive with my family and medical staff about my health and the health of my loved ones,” he said. “Recently, my father needed to go to the emergency room. Instead of being passive about the process I was open and transparent about talking to the staff and my family about the process of recovery for my father. This was helpful because my father allowed me to take control and trust that I would ask the needed questions to best help him in his process to recovery.”

Dr. Kate Joeckel, Director of the Communications Arts program, played a key role in helping Malbrough navigate through his Bellevue University experience.

“Dr. Joeckel was amazing,” he said. “I completed my degree in reverse with most of my major courses completed first then my general education. Dr. Joeckel believed in me and gave her blessing for me to complete my degree this way.”

Malbrough found his online experience with Bellevue University prepared him well for law school.

“I’m the only student in my section of about 50 students who completed their undergraduate degree entirely online and doing so helped me to have the discipline to complete work on my own,” Malbrough said.

Once he’s completed law school, Malbrough has several options he’s considering including coming back to Bellevue to complete a Master’s Degree, human resource law, or even becoming a sports agent.

“What I realized is that I don’t have to limit myself,” he said. “With my newfound knowledge, I feel I can do anything and everything but it all starts with a single goal.”