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Meet the Grads: May 2017

Alex Clune

Communication studies senior Alex Clune shows that it is OK to change your major a few times before finding your dream career. 

“I had previously switched my major four times before I found something I truly enjoyed. I decided to give communication studies a try, and it was the best decision of my college career,” said Clune, a native of Mount Airy, Md. “The department’s faculty are all experts in their field, and they truly care about the success and development of their students. Any department with faculty and staff that’s willing to take time out of their days to help students is a department I want to be a part of.”

While a WVU student, Clune has played for the WVU Rugby Team and was the battalion executive officer for Army ROTC. He has also volunteered as an Eberly College Student Ambassador.

“The community and feeling of belonging here at WVU is truly unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced,” Clune said. “Whether it is the eagerness of faculty and staff to engage students in the curriculum or the picturesque arm over shoulder singing of Country Roads with thousands of strangers at the end of football and basketball games, I will always feel like Morgantown is my home.”

As he reflects back on his time at WVU, the place Clune will miss most is his favorite place to study on campus—the Mountainlair Games Area.

“The best kept secret study spot on campus is definitely the bowling alley in the bottom of the Mountainlair,” Clune said. “They have tons of outlets, and it’s surprisingly quiet during most of the day. It's one of the only places during finals week where you can get a table.” 


After graduation, Clune will commission in the United States Army as an infantry officer. He was also named a Distinguished Military Graduate, a distinction awarded to the top 20 percent of ROTC seniors.

“Communication is the bedrock of effective leadership, and majoring in communication studies has enabled me to become a confident communicator,” Clune said. “I now have a greater understanding of what it means to be competent in my social abilities, and I look forward to extrapolating all that I’ve learned in my Army career and traveling to a lot of different places in the world where I can sport the flying WV.”

YouTube Interview

Samantha Shimer

There is true beauty in art, and a sense of accomplishment that comes from transforming creative energy into a finished work. But for Parkersburg, W.Va. native Samantha Shimer, what started as a path toward a degree in the arts shifted once she began to chip away at what meaning lay beneath the surface.

“During my freshman year, I felt most inspired by the conversations in my intro to art history course,” she said. “We discussed the politics of society that were conveyed in the works of art, and I quickly realized that I needed to change my major. I needed to be in an environment where I could talk about the social and political issues that inspired so many creative masterpieces.”

The International Studies Department became that space for her.

While a major in international studies helps students develop transferrable skills that are valued by employers, such as analysis, writing and knowledge of other cultures and languages, Shimer found herself intrigued by the opportunity to work in the fields of national security, international development, diplomacy, and environmental conservations, just to name a few.

“An awareness that women and girls are often most affected by faulty policies and laws” focused Shimer’s interests in human rights and development. “A major in women’s and gender studies means challenging all of the social constructs around you and learning about the intersections of gender, race, class, sexuality and expression,” she said.

From doing research about stereotypes in social media to creating a short documentary on gender segregation in schools, the “opportunities provided me with a foundation to build upon in my graduate studies.”  

As she wraps up her time at WVU, Shimer reflected fondly on all the memories she made and experiences she had as chapter secretary of the Model United Nations Club, an Eberly College Student Ambassador and chapter vice president of the WVU Chapter of Young Democrats of America, among other student activities.

“My college experience has instilled an increased amount of confidence in myself and my abilities,” she said. “I attribute this confidence boost to being challenged within the classroom. Because my professors have pushed me to understand complex concepts, I’m now more confident conveying my thoughts and problem solving.”


Her one regret? Not participating in intramural sports.  

“Team sports were a central part of my childhood and teenage years, and I think participating in intramural sports in college would have been a nice way to make friends outside my major or social circle.  

Shimer will next head to graduate school at the University of Maryland and she hopes to work for the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development. 

YouTube Interview

Sundus Lateef

Bridgeport, W.Va. native Sundus Lateef arrived at West Virginia University as a shy, hesitant freshman. Getting involved in research has since helped the WVU Foundation Scholar and Eberly Scholar break out of her shell. 

“I was very hesitant to try new things, to step outside of my comfort zone during my first year of college. I stuck to the script: go to class, eat meals, do homework, rinse and repeat! While I was a successful student, I wasn't fulfilling my curiosity for new ideas,” said Lateef, a biology and chemistry student. “That's where undergraduate research really helped. I led research projects, taught my skills to others and traveled to present my work. Then I also pushed myself to practice public speaking skills. I knew that I needed to become more confident in public speaking, especially to large crowds, so I spoke at events like Meet WVU, WVU Distinguished Scholars and Mountaineer Talks.”

Also an Honors College member, Lateef’s experiences in Jeffrey Petersen’s Honors CHEM 117/118 course motivated her to pursue undergraduate research as a freshman. Now, she conducts laboratory research on genetic and infectious diseases, having published three journal articles and presented 10 research talks.

“I’ve been fortunate to publish my work in peer-reviewed journals and travel to present and compete at poster presentations,” Lateef said. “The scientific community at WVU is thriving. My mentors have always had their office doors open to me.”

However, Lateef can’t pick just one favorite professor.

“I am extremely fond of my research mentors and chemistry and biology professors. They taught me how to become a better scientist and citizen of the world. But I am also very passionate about learning new languages,” Lateef said. “I didn't realize that my favorite language of all might be a dead language! Dr. Robert Tallaksen, my Latin professor, taught me the intricacies of Latin. We translated myths, the Pope's speeches and ancient records from Latin to English. We even made Latin memes in class! Dr. Tallaksen inspires me to continue studying my passions beyond the world of science.”

Outside the classroom, Lateef can be found volunteering with many organizations, including Scotts Run Settlement House and the Sundale Care Center Nursing Home. Since 2013, she has volunteered as a chemistry peer mentor, totaling 200 hours tutoring freshman chemistry and organic chemistry students in exam preparation and laboratory exercises. She has also moderated West Virginia Quiz Bowl and officiated West Virginia Science Bowl tournaments for the last four years.

Sundus Community service makes me feel connected to WVU. When I'm at my busiest is when I have to take time away from my studies and do something for the University,” Lateef said. “I might make a mistake on an exam, but if I can make someone's day brighter byy tutoring them or bringing them happiness, all of my little worries seem to melt away.”

Lateef plans to attend medical school in the fall, and she hopes to eventually teach and conduct research at an academic institution. 

“As a student at WVU, you can change the University to make it better. The faculty want you to innovate, to create new programs and to add your talents to the existing organizations at WVU,” Lateef said. “At WVU, you are supported and listened to, no matter how ambitious your goals are. Professors notice you and want you to succeed. It's a very nurturing environment!”

YouTube Interview

Colin Lopez

International studies major Colin Lopez is a Mountaineer through and through—and so are the members of his family. 

The Lancaster, Penn., native’s younger brother Ryan is a sophomore international business and Chinese dual-major, his other brother Scott is transferring to WVU this fall after a year-long internship with NASA and his father moved to Morgantown a few years ago.

“We are a family of Mountaineers. I have also been extremely fortunate to extend my family through developing lasting relationships with some exceptional people at WVU,” Lopez said. 

While at WVU, Lopez has served as the captain of the WVU men’s lacrosse team, a member of the Global Medical Brigades, a research assistant for the WVU Food Justice Lab and he spent nine months studying Arabic in Jordan on a Boren Scholarship. 

He also worked as an anesthesia extern and perioperative care associate at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, which helped shape his passion for increasing global healthcare accessibility and influenced his decision to major in international studies.

“During my time [at Ruby Memorial Hospital], I had the opportunity to speak with physicians and read a lot of work by Paul Farmer,” Lopez said. “They exposed me to the fact that the health of patients is heavily influenced by various social, political and economic factors outside of the hospital.” 

In fact, while he studied Arabic in Jordan as a Boren Scholar, Lopez learned that the country’s distribution of information on healthcare is lacking. Now as a Fulbright Scholar, he plans to collect information on every healthcare provider in Jordan and map them using geographic information systems. With the data he gathers from his research, he will assess Jordan’s healthcare and make information widely accessible to Jordanians.

Lopez adviseslopezfreshmen to jump at all opportunities that come their way.

“If there’s something you want—or any goals you have—you just really have to go for them. WVU will offer you every opportunity to succeed, but it’s up to you to make the most of it.”

YouTube Interview 

Phillip Irion

After Philip Irion was accepted into his dream school ---West Virginia University, of course ---he knew he wanted to pursue a degree in science. But which science? Unsure of what science degree he wanted to pursue, Irion ultimately declared a major in forensic and investigative science with an emphasis in forensic biology.

He hasn’t looked back since.

“It’s definitely not an easy major,” Irion said. “But it’s a great interdisciplinary major that involved biology, chemistry and physics.”

His passion for science grew after his experience in Associate Professor of Biochemistry Kimberly Barnes’ Biochemistry 1 course. In fact, Irion admitted that had he realized his interest in the interdisciplinary science sooner, he would have double majored in forensic and investigative science and biochemistry.

Irion enjoyed expanding his knowledge of science, even in his hardest classes. One of the hardest classes he took was Assistant Professor of Biology Dana Huebert-Lima’s Introduction to Recombinant DNA.  This class required he learn the basics of recombinant DNA lab techniques and then create an experiment that could be used in lower-level courses.

Although her courses were difficult, Huebert-Lima is Irion’s favorite professor on campus. 

“Before taking her class, I was originally just on the examiner emphasis for my major,” he said. “She inspired me to become a biologist. She was a great professor that genuinely cared that her students were learning.”

As Irion a member of the Honors College, Irion’s most memorable experience at WVU was working as a peer tutor for fellow Honors students.

“I tutored students from varying ages and backgrounds in biology, organic chemistry and biochemistry,” he said. “I felt that I was making a difference to students that I worked with. I liked that I was able to give back to my community through my love and knowledge of science.” 

After graduation, Irion looks forward to pursuing his Master’s of Science in forensic and investigative science degree at WVU. His research will focus on forensic biology.