IOWA Magazine | 06-02-2023

Class Notes Summer 2023

12 minute read
The latest University of Iowa alumni and faculty achievements, including spotlights on honorary degree recipient Shirley Schermer and recent REACH program graduate Cooper Reaves.


Kevin Drahos (22BA) has been awarded a 2023 Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship, which supports his pursuit of a career in the Foreign Service of the U.S. Department of State.

Daniel Arinze Ifeakandu (20MFA), a fiction writer, received the Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize and the 2022 Republic of Consciousness prize for his short story collection God’s Children are Little Broken Things.

Cindy Juyoung Ok (21MFA), a poet and instructor, received the 2023 Yale Younger Poets Prize for her poetry collection Ward Toward, which will be published by Yale University Press in 2024.

Hype Man

Cooper Reaves photo collage PHOTOS: BRIAN RAY/HAWKEYESPORTS.COM CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: Cooper Reaves with Coach Lisa Bluder, at practice, and with Hawkeye basketball guard and UI REACH volunteer Kylie Feuerbach.

A May graduate of the University of Iowa REACH program, Cooper Reaves spent the past year living out his passion for sports as a student manager for one of his favorite teams—the Iowa women’s basketball squad.

UI REACH (Realizing Educational and Career Hopes) is a comprehensive transition program for college-age students with intellectual, cognitive, and learning disabilities nested in the College of Education. In addition to educational opportunities, UI REACH partners with more than 80 campus and community organizations to give students internship experience.

Through his internship with the Hawkeyes, Reaves ran the game clock and shot clock during practices, helped with drills, and, most importantly, kept the team energized.

“I’ve been told my main role is the hype guy,” says the Center Point, Iowa, native. “I love this team, and I love to celebrate and pump them up.”

Now that his internship and time at Iowa is over, Reaves would like to learn more about coaching and eventually pursue a sports career.

“I have learned a lot about coaching,” he says, “and it helps to have the best to learn from.”



Aamina Ahmad (13MFA), a writer and assistant professor of English at the University of Minnesota, won Best First Novel at the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Awards for her novel The Return of Faraz Ali.

Doug Blake (19PhD) and his wife, Christine, are the new owners of the Brown Street Inn in Iowa City.

Mitch Boe (19BS) is a volunteer assistant coach for the University of Iowa baseball program.

Lakiesha Carr (15MFA), a writer and journalist, released her debut novel, An Autobiography of Skin, this past spring.

Emily Green Daub (11BA), a kindergarten teacher in Rockford, Illinois, received a 2023 Golden Apple teacher award, which recognizes her commitment to educational excellence.

Emily Duffy (12BA) is an associate attorney at the Ahlers & Cooney law firm in Des Moines, where she focuses on government law practice.

Lorin Fisher (18PhR), a clinical assistant professor in the UI College of Pharmacy, has been named a 2022-23 National Association of Chain Drug Stores Foundation Faculty Scholar.

Hannah Gruenwald (18BA, 22PhD) is a postdoctoral researcher at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Nicholas Gulig (10MFA), an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin- Whitewater, is the 2023-24 state poet laureate of Wisconsin.

Matt Hawkins (12MFA), director of musical theatre and an associate professor of film, television, and theatre at the University of Notre Dame, directed and choreographed Peter and the Starcatcher this past winter for Penobscot Theatre Company in Bangor, Maine.

Jamil Kochai (19MFA), a Hodder fellow at Princeton University, received the Aspen Words 2023 Literary Prize for his work The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories.

Sarah Thankam Mathews (19MFA), an author, received the Aspen Words 2023 Literary Prize for her novel All This Could Be Different.

Okwiri Oduor (17MFA), a writer, received the Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize for her novel Things They Lost.

Chinelo Okparanta (11MFA), an associate professor of English and director of the creative writing program at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, received the Aspen Words 2023 Literary Prize for her novel Harry Sylvester Bird.

Alexandra Pratt Sorenson (15JD) is a partner at the Shook, Hardy & Bacon law firm in Kansas City, where she focuses on product liability.

Kristen Steenbeeke (18MFA) is a copy editor at Texas Monthly, a magazine and online publication for Texas news and culture.

Brian Quijada (11BA), a playwright, actor, and composer, is a cast member in the off-Broadway return of Hansol Jung’s Wolf Play.


Emily Buckel Ellingson (06BS, 09JD) joined the Ahlers & Cooney law firm in Des Moines as special counsel, where she focuses in education law.

Jeff Houghton (00BA) is the creator of The Mystery Hour, a late-night live talk show that ran for 10 seasons on FOX, ABC, NBC, and CW affiliates and continues to run pop-up shows across the country.

Samuel D. Hunter (07MFA), a playwright, wrote A Case for the Existence of God, which was included on the New York Times’ Best Theatre of 2022 list.

Mike Johnson (07BSE, 12MBA) is chief executive officer of Infinant Health, a California-based company that works to improve infant health through the gut microbiome.

Yiyun Li (00MS, 05MFA) received the 2023 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for her novel The Book of Goose.

Dora Malech (05MFA), an associate professor in the writing seminars at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, and the editor-in-chief of The Hopkins Review, co-edited The American Sonnet: An Anthology of Poems and Essays.

Shane McCrae (04MFA, 12MA), an associate professor at Columbia University, received the 2023 Arthur Rense Poetry Prize.

Rebecca McKanna (07BA), an assistant professor of English at the University of Indianapolis, will release her debut thriller novel, Don’t Forget the Girl, on June 20.

Alexander Rubinow (01BA) was nominated last year for an Emmy award for Outstanding Picture Editing for an Unstructured Reality Program for Deadliest Catch, which he has worked on for 14 seasons.

Melissa Meng Whisler (04BBA, 06MBA, 06MHA) is the interim chief administrative officer of UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

Duane Wilson (08BA) received an Alumni Entrepreneurial Leadership Award from the UI John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center for his work as executive director of strategic partnerships for Junior Achievement of Northern California, which provides educational and leadership support to students.

Jill M. Johnson Wilson (02BA) is senior director of brand management at Agency Habitat, a branding agency in Fort Worth, Texas.

Hawk Night at the Oscars

Photo of Lisa Dondlinger at Oscars PHOTO COURTESY LISA DONDLINGER Oscar concertmaster Lisa Dondlinger has played on the soundtracks to many popular films, including The Help and WALL-E.

Brendan Fraser held up an Academy Award for best actor this past spring, giving his heartfelt thanks to a University of Iowa screenwriter who helped make the moment possible.

“It was written by Samuel D. Hunter [07MFA], who is our lighthouse,” said Fraser, accepting an Oscar for his performance in The Whale as the camera panned to the Iowa Playwrights Workshop graduate in the audience.

Hunter was one of a few Hawkeyes in supporting roles on Hollywood’s biggest night. Blockbuster movie director Joe Russo (92BA) helped produce the top-winning film, Everything Everywhere All at Once, which captured seven awards including best picture and the remaining acting honors. Violinist Lisa Dondlinger (96BM) also acted as concertmaster for the onstage strings as Diane Warren and Sofia Carson performed their nominated song, “Applause,” from the film Tell It Like a Woman.



Mary Carlson Bis (98BBA), senior director of emergency management at Amtrak, has been named a 2022 Women in Rail honoree by Railway Age magazine.

Steven Cermak (98PhD), research leader of the Bio-Oil Research Unit with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Peoria, Illinois, recently received the USDA Secretary of Agriculture Honor Award from USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, the Agricultural Research Service Midwest Area Senior Research Scientist of the Year Award, and the Chemist of the Year by the Illinois Heartland Section of the American Chemical Society for his pioneering research promoting sustainability and expanded markets for agricultural commodities.

Gina Arquilla DeBoni (97BA), a managing and senior partner at Romanucci & Blandin law firm in Chicago, has been named to the Illinois 2023 Leading Lawyer list.

Kirsten Vaughan Fitzgerald (94MFA), an artistic director and member of the ensemble at A Red Orchid Theatre in Chicago, received the Joseph Jefferson Award for direction of a play for her 2022 production of The Moors.

Heather Willard Johnson (94BA), creator of The Food Hussy food and travel blog, released her new cookbook, The “I Love My Air Fryer” Cooking for One Recipe Book.

Cindy Lovell (99PhD), director of education for Epic Flight Academy in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, co-authored a new textbook titled The Big Book of ESOL Activities: Preparation for Educators, Administrators, and School Counselors.

Kristin Illian Mateja (92BBA) is a director at Relativity, a data management software company based in Chicago.

Julie Orringer (96MFA) is author of a 2019 book, The Flight Portfolio, about a journalist who helped refugees escape Nazi-occupied France, which has been adapted into the Netflix miniseries Transatlantic.

John Schmidt (94BSPh), a pharmacist with Graves Pharmacy in Emporia, Kansas, received the Sunflower Health Plan Medication Therapy Management Champion Award during the Kansas Pharmacists Association Annual Meeting.

Archaeological Honor

Old photo of Shirley and Dale PHOTO COURTESY OFFICE OF THE STATE ARCHAEOLOGIST Shirley Schermer (82MA), pictured in 1986 with archaeologist Dale Henning (60MA)

Shirley Schermer (82MA), retired director of the University of Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist Burials Program, was recognized in May with an honorary Doctor of Science degree from the university for her international leadership in the respectful treatment of human remains, particularly those of the Indigenous people of the region.

As the founder of the program and its director for 27 years until her retirement in 2014, Schermer helped build strong ties with Indigenous representatives involved in repatriation and historical preservation.

Schermer’s career was also marked by a deep commitment to the field of archaeology as a whole. With 16 years of field experience, she taught courses, published papers, and was a principal investigator on more than 20 projects. She has served on organizations such as the board of directors of the Iowa Archaeological Society and chaired the State Preserves advisory board, the anthropology section of the Iowa Academy of Science, and the Association of Iowa Archaeologists.

Says John Doershuk, the director of the Office of the State Archaeologist who collaborated with Schermer for many years: “The honesty, tenacity, and goodwill with which she [worked] remains the foundation on which OSA’s positive relationships with these tribes continues to thrive today.”



Angelica Hernandez (89BA, 93JD), a partner with the Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson law firm in Houston, received a presidential citation from the State Bar of Texas and was co-chair of the State Bar Convention.

Brett Nitzschke (85BA, 88JD) is a special counsel at the Ahlers & Cooney law firm in Des Moines, where he focuses in education law.

Mark Sirett (87MA, 90DMA), founding director of the Cantabile Choirs of Kingston, has been appointed a Member of the Order of Canada, one of the country’s highest distinctions, for his commitment to the field of choral music.


James S. Anderson (72BBA) was on the board of directors of Lionheart Acquisition Corp. III, a special purpose acquisition company that closed on a business combination with SMX, an Israel-based company now trading on Nasdaq that is a leading provider of next-generation supply chain integrity technology.

Daniel Larson (78BA) is the filmmaker for The Power of The River, a documentary about the history of the Lower Fox River in Wisconsin, available on PBS Wisconsin.

Trudy Huskamp Peterson (72MA, 75PhD), an archival consultant and certified archivist who once served as acting archivist of the U.S. at the National Archives, has been named a fellow of the International Council on Archives to honor her distinguished service to the organization.

Michael Welsh (71BS, 74MD, 77R), a professor of internal medicine at the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and director of the Pappajohn Biomedical Institute, received the 21st annual Wiley Prize in Biomedical Sciences for advancements in the treatment of cystic fibrosis.

Sandra Goldberg Wendel (71BA) and Scott Wendel (76BS) received a special giving award from Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds for their family’s donation of 113 acres of Loess Hills prairie in Bronson, Iowa, to the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation.


Carroll Engelhardt (69PhD), an emeritus professor of history at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, published his fifth book, By the Sweat of His Brow: The R.M. Probstfield Family at Oakport Farm, which recounts the lives of a German pioneer family in Minnesota.

Phil Haddy (69BA, 71MA), a former UI sports information director, has been elected to the College Sports Communicators Hall of Fame.

Paul C. Juhl (66BA), a private collector and expert in 19th century photography, has donated his collection of nearly 3,600 images to the State Historical Society of Iowa in Iowa City.

Allan J. Kuethe (62BA), a scholar of Spanish history, has been knighted into the heraldic Hispanic Imperial Order of Charles V in Segovia, Spain.

faculty & friends

Azeez Butali, a professor in the UI College of Dentistry, was named a 2022 fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for his work in craniofacial genetics.

Seth Gutz, an assistant chemist in UI Pharmaceuticals, received a College of Pharmacy Exceptional Performance Award.

Michael Henry, UI professor of molecular physiology and biophysics, became interim director of the UI Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center in April.

Jan Jensen, associate head coach of the UI women’s basketball team, received the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association’s Division I Assistant Coach of the Year award and was named to the 2023 A STEP UP Assistant Coaches Hall of Fame in recognition of her 23 seasons with the Hawkeyes.

Grazyna Kochanska, a UI professor of psychological and brain sciences, has been named a 2022 fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for her work in children’s developmental psychology.

Beth Livingston, a professor in the UI Henry B. Tippie College of Business, co-authored the book Shared Sisterhood, which focuses on creating gender equity in the workplace and was recognized by Forbes as one of the top 10 business books of 2022.

Waltraud Maierhofer, a UI German professor, published a translation of The Child Witches of Lucerne and Buchau by Swiss writer Eveline Hasler.

George Weiner, a UI professor of internal medicine and the Dr. C.E. Block Chair of Cancer Research, recently stepped aside after more than 20 years as director of the UI Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center to focus on research and mentoring.

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