Great Minds

Great Minds Inspire - Tammy Kernodle

A spirit in song: connecting with others through music

When she enters the room, you know – Tammy Kernodle has it. Charisma. Joy. Talent. She has a lot of other things too, like warmth, empathy, and compassion. Professor of musicology at Miami University and president of the Society of American Music, Tammy has worked as a scholarly consultant for the Smithsonian’s National African-American Museum of History and Cultures, published and edited several works on the music of women and African- Americans, and spoken across the country. She’s an accomplished musician, but equally skilled in another art: meeting people where they are and leaving them with something to think about.

“Because others cared for me and helped me to find my dreams, I want to help others achieve their dreams.” Tammy Kernodle
Miami University professor of musicology
Great Minds Empower - Sara Al-Zubi

Putting people first

It began with a news article that gave her pause. In the summer of 2015, Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian refugee, was found dead on the shore of the Mediterranean. Sara Al-Zubi knew in that moment she could no longer remain an observer of the crisis. She founded Peace of Mail in response – an organization that has sent more than 700 letters of encouragement to Syrian children forced away from their homes. But she didn’t stop there. Sara is the founder and president of the Refugee Advisory Council at Miami, the executive director of 3Sisters Foundation, and a member of other local and international refugee councils. This spring, she was selected as one of the nation’s 59 Truman Scholars.

“I want to be remembered for restructuring the refugee resettlement program in a way that values people first.” Sara Al-Zubi `19
Human Capital Management and Leadership majorPre-medical co-majorTruman Scholar
Great Minds Disrupt - Wayne Speer

Sustaining innovation

Wayne Speer doesn’t claim to be a scientist or an engineer. But he does understand what happens when new technologies and innovations disrupt the marketplace. One of only two external entrepreneurs working with Procter & Gamble, Speer helps the company find and embrace the innovations that could put them out of business. Most recently, he’s using his business expertise to guide Miami students in investigating and tiering nearly 1,000 patents from the Air Force Research Lab patent portfolio.

“I believe there is relevant application in both personal and professional life when you think and act like an entrepreneur. We’ll adapt better. We’ll know how to hustle. We’re more forward thinking and we can carve our own path.” Wayne SpeerMiami University Markley visiting professor of entrepreneurial studies
Great Minds Lead - Chet Mason

More than a game: changing lives through basketball

He may be known as “The Jet” to basketball players and fans around the world, but through the halls of Brush High School in suburban Cleveland, Chet Mason takes easy, deliberate steps. Tomfoolery stills in his wake and around him, an aura of calm pervades. A respectful nod. A fist bump. A high five. To these young people, he is revered. But Chet wouldn’t be where he is today without the influence of someone he revered – Miami University basketball coach Charlie Coles. As an inner-city kid, Chet had been through it all. Coach Coles took an interest in him and mentored him as a player and as a man. Today, he pays it forward through the Chet Mason Foundation, hosting free inner city youth basketball camps, summer reading, and other programs. The kids he’s worked with have gone on to colleges across the country, and some are now professional NBA players.

“It’s more than just coaching basketball. It’s coaching lives.” Chet Mason `05Head Basketball Coach, Charles F. Brush High SchoolFormer NBA basketball playerFounder, Chet Mason FoundationHealth & Sports Studies major
Great Minds Grow - Kristen Stoehr

Food reimagined

Have you ever thought about your relationship with food? For Nestlé associate brand manager Kristen Stoehr, nutrition is always on her mind. It all started in Miami University’s nutrition program thanks to a conversation with a professor who told her she’d be the perfect fit. Four years and a stint in Luxembourg later, she knew her food science training was exceptional preparation for any career in the industry. Today, Kristen’s background as a dietitian allows her to translate hot topics and critical nutrition information to packaging and ingredient choices. Through her work with Nestlé and advocacy in their Gender Balance Leadership Board, Kristen is determined to make a positive mark on America’s food culture.

“Building a multidisciplinary style in terms of your approach and who you surround yourself with enables effective and efficient problem solving by being able to take a broader vision and pull from diversity of thought.” Kristen Stoehr `10Associate brand manager, NestléHealth & Sports Studies and Dietetics
Great Minds Visualize - David Sobecki

Translating the language of math

The sound of heavy metal music greets you at the threshold of professor Dave Sobecki’s office on the fifth floor of Mosler Hall. Behind him, a Blade Runner movie poster hangs proudly over most of the wall. It’s not every day that you meet a creative writer who teaches math. But Dave is not most guys. His journey to math education didn’t even begin with an interest in math. He simply realized he excelled at explaining complex topics in an accessible way. One Ph.D later, Dave makes math easier for Miami University students to digest with experiments like calculating the speed of light by melting a chocolate bar in a microwave. He hasn’t forgotten his roots as a writer. In fact, he’s published 19 textbooks and aspires to become the best math textbook author in North America. Most importantly, he wants to know that there are a handful of people whose lives he’s changed through new ways of thinking.

“One thing I provide is comic relief. But I think what’s valuable that I provide is ideas and creative thinking. As a mathematician and a writer, a lot of what I do is based on coming up with creative and interesting ways to portray mathematical ideas and problem solving.” Dave SobeckiMiami University associate professor of mathematics
Great Minds Imagine - Matt Dopkiss

Embracing the unexpected

Some people want to climb a mountain for the thrill of saying they did it. Matt Dopkiss has a different idea – growing out his hair. In the moodily lit “conservatory”, a conference room in his office, he holds up a lock of shoulder-length brown hair with pride and a mischievous grin: “This is my mountain.” Matt is a managing partner who knows how to break molds. Dynamit, the web and mobile app company he founded while a student at Miami, is all about honoring experimentation and creativity. Take the Clue-themed workspace, for example. Toward the rear of the office is a room with floor to ceiling bookshelves fully stocked with titles on every topic under the sun. But push the shelf in just the right place and it begins to turn, and a secret conference room is revealed. It’s this bend toward the unexpected that’s helped Dynamit surpass the $10 million revenue mark and attract clients like the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the Associated Press, and Hilton Hotels.

“I’m never content to look for the obvious answer. There’s fun in breaking the rules and in finding a new way to do things.” Matt Dopkiss `07Managing Partner, Dynamit TechnologiesPhysics and Engineering Physics majors
Great Minds Pursue - Jacob Bruggeman

Living and learning through the humanities

Jacob Bruggeman is the kind of student who doesn’t let a single opportunity sneak by. He’s worked as a resident assistant. Ohio Public Leader Fellow. Founder of a political and cultural journal. Brand ambassador. Gilder Lehrman History Scholar. United States Senate intern. Author of more than 16 publications and recipient of 17 awards – and he’s only a Miami University junior. One word comes to mind: powerhouse. He applies his relentless curiosity to research as well. From exploring the history of homelessness to analyzing how science fiction literature can inform urban planning, Jacob uses a humanistic approach to address public policy questions.

“I want my legacy to be one of advocating for the humanities, the liberal arts, and the disciplines therein because of the solutions they provide for the most critical problems facing contemporary America.” Jacob Bruggeman `19Political Science and History double major2017 Gilder Lehrman History Scholar award winner
Jacob studying and looking through books in a library
Great Minds Invest - Katie Tomasic

Setting up for success

There’s no doubt about it: Katie Tomasic attacks life with passion. From the volleyball court to the classroom, this graduating senior demands the best of herself. She helped lead Miami’s women’s varsity volleyball team to two MAC championship titles in 2016 and 2017. But she’s also a hard-hitting academic. A student athlete and Finance major, Katie will finish her college career with a perfect 4.0 and a job offer from Eli Lilly and Company. She was also named to the Academic All-America Second Team – prestigious academic honors awarded by the College Sports Information Directors of America to high-achieving college athletes. Katie is the sixth athlete in Miami’s history to receive these honors.

“The analytical side of finance allows me to use that part of my brain that wants a solution and wants an answer.” Katie Tomasic `18Finance major
Great Minds Change - Rithvik Venna

Ripple Effects

Rithvik Venna is a connector. He met fellow OROS co-founder Michael Markesbery `15 through Miami. He met other successful alumni entrepreneurs like Joe Flannery `93, current global president of Marmot, and Sean Lane `02, founder of CrossChx, who advised him in growing the business. He met people at Miami that he considers his friends and mentors for life. While undergraduates, Rithvik and Michael devised a way to use spacesuit technology to make jackets warmer and less bulky. Today, Rithvik’s ability to connect with others and empathize with different perspectives is a key driver of OROS’s growth strategy. He’s a calm and deliberate voice driving a vibrant company forward. Creative solutions and planning on his part helped the company grow 300% in 2017 alone. As a COO and businessman, he wants to be known as ethical and fair. Tough but reasonable. And above all, he wants to impact people’s lives for the better.

“Ultimately in life, the best thing you can do is build solid relationships that are lasting and that really allow you to connect with other people.” Rithvik Venna `15Co-founder and COO, OROS ApparelForbes 30 Under 30Zoology major
Great Minds Invent - Dr. Michael Markesbery

Ideas that ignite

Stepping into the OROS headquarters in downtown Cincinnati is like stepping into a family room. Warm light, exposed brick, comfortable chairs, lots of laughter. It’s the kind of environment that is cultivated out of great love and passion – two things Michael Markesbery `15 possesses in abundance. When he began studying at Miami as a freshman, he never imagined he’d find himself co-leading a company alongside fellow alumnus Rithvik Venna `15 and disrupting the apparel industry. In fact, he was originally on a pre-medical track to become a doctor when a series of undergraduate research discoveries led him and Rithvik to uncover the market potential of aerogel technology to make outerwear more efficient. Since the initial prototypes born out of the prestigious Astronaut Scholarship and a Kickstarter campaign, Michael has connected with notable business leaders, collaborated with NASA and the U.S. military, spoken at the Kennedy Center, and formed partnerships with organizations around the world.

“I think the best entrepreneurs didn’t go into this to want to be an entrepreneur, they just were passionate about building something. I just want to build something cool. That’s it.” Michael Markesbery `15Co-founder and CEO, OROS ApparelForbes 30 Under 30 Zoology major
Great Minds Resist - Dr. Denise Taliaferro Bazile

The threads that make us

The first thing that catches your eye in Denise Taliaferro Baszile’s office is a quilt. Punctuated by a vibrant blue border, powerful images from the civil rights movement are sewn into twelve box-like shapes that give the illusion of both forward and backward movement across the fabric. A project she completed with her students, the quilt speaks volumes to her character. Denise is both warmth and fierceness. Softness and strength. Her office itself is a curriculum. As she says, curriculum not only represents who we are, it makes us who we are. It requires thinking beyond lesson plans to think about lives. A lot is at stake, and it’s why she disrupts the ways knowledge is produced and represented by looking through the lens of race and gender. Her contributions to the field have not gone unnoticed. In 2017, Denise was elected vice president of the largest research organization in the world, the American Education Research Association.

“I want my legacy to be love. I think we think it doesn’t have anything to do with the things we do in academia, and I actually think it has everything to do with the things we do in academia. So when you think Dr. D., think love.” Denise Taliaferro BaszileMiami University professor of educational leadershipAssociate dean of diversity and student experience in the College of Education, Health and Society
Great Minds Elevate - David Dafoe

Sense of responsibility

Combining a strong science foundation, an entrepreneurial spirit, and a superior ability to taste and smell, Dave Dafoe ’84 finds himself as one of the country’s foremost authorities on flavor. His unique combination of talents led him to found his own beverage development company, Flavorman, in Louisville, KY. His ultimate guiding principle? Helping others. Like the startup beverage entrepreneurs who push the leading edge of a rapidly changing industry. Or the young Flavorman employees who remind Dave of himself when he first got started. Or the college students who receive scholarships derived from Dave’s generosity. In everything he does, Dave strives for more than personal achievement. He fervently works to help others succeed. And many have noticed. Bloomberg Businessweek, Forbes, The New York Times, Travel Channel, and CNN have all featured Dave’s flavor innovations. But he stays humble despite the accolades, knowing that his success rests on the shoulders of those who have helped him along the way.

“If you can find a way to help others succeed, you change somebody’s life and their children’s lives forever. And oftentimes that’s multiplied by one hundred or one thousand times when that same person goes out into the world and makes changes of their own.” Dave Dafoe ’84Owner, FlavormanZoology major
Great Minds Amplify - Brandon Brooks

Aiming the spotlight

Philadelphia Eagles guard Brandon Brooks `11 knows how to fill a room. Not just because he’s a Super Bowl champion. Not just because he’s 6’5” and wearing a vivid blue suit for his commencement speech at Yager Stadium. Brandon Brooks casts an easygoing aura. He warmly invites you into his world and allows you to linger. It is this authenticity that’s garnered the attention and admiration of teammates, fans, and young people around the country. His journey wasn’t an easy one. Struggling with debilitating anxiety, Brandon missed five NFL games in his career before seeking help. Now, he is a voice for mental health awareness, a champion in his battle with anxiety, and a beacon for others to dream big. An athlete and advocate, Brandon is also a scholar continuing his pursuit for excellence with an MBA.

“I didn’t want to use my platform for just playing football, I wanted to use it for more.” Brandon Brooks `11Philadelphia Eagles guardPsychology major
Great Minds Analyze - Dr. Michael Brudzinski

Moving society through science

The lava lamp: relic of the seventies and the nineties? Sure. But for Mike Brudzinski, the lava lamp is something else. Inspiration. As a Miami University geology professor, he often watches the glowing red and orange blobs float inside the lamp to get him thinking about how the Earth’s plates move. The needs of the community are the biggest drivers of his research, so he’s currently focused on uncovering the origins of hazardous earthquakes, including the relationships between fracking and tectonic plate movements. Mike dedicates much of his career to integrating research, teaching, and hands-on learning, and has secured more than $2 million in external funding to support these efforts. But ultimately, his hard work in teaching and research is all for the sake of students and society.

“I want to make sure that folks recognize that I’m not doing this for myself. I’m here to help train students and impact our community.” Michael BrudzinskiMiami University professor of geology
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