Mount’s newest graduates show determination, dedication

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File Under: biology, commencement, criminology, english, religious studies, rotc

Kelly Burger planting.
Kelly Burger on a peony farm in Alaska doing her senior research.

                 As Gabrielle Bolin walks across the stage in the Harrington Center on Saturday to receive her degrees in Religious Studies and English, she’ll be overlooking the constant pain that has riddled the right side of her body for the past four years.

                “You get used to it. I choose to look positively at this,” Bolin said. “I’m happier when I choose happiness.”

                Bolin is one of more than 400 undergraduates and graduate students who will receive their diplomas during the Commencement ceremony at Mount St. Joseph University. Her path to her degree wasn’t the easiest. In 2013, Bolin was diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, a malfunction of the nervous system which causes chronic pain without a cure. Doctors aren’t sure what triggered it but point to several surgeries that Bolin had as a child, combined with a weakened immune system. Throughout her college years, she endured shooting, burning pain throughout her body; it took a year for doctors to give her the diagnosis. While juggling a full course load for a double major in the honors program, she traveled monthly to treatments in New Jersey and then to Chicago. She’s participating in a clinical trial in Cleveland which keeps her closer to home and her studies at the Mount.

                “This place (the Mount) has become my family,” she said. “My professors have been a tremendous influence in my life. I’d go to my treatments and then I’d come back and have eight professors email me to see how I was.”

                Bolin, a graduate of McAuley High School, will receive the Jane Cuni Armstrong Award, recognizing the challenges she overcame during her time at the Mount. She has accepted a position at a local parochial school.

Senior research project grows career opportunity

                Kelly Burger grew up on a dairy farm in Indiana. Her brother and sister both studied agriculture to help the family farm, but Burger, a biology major and chemistry minor, didn’t realize her homegrown love of horticulture until she started her senior research project.

                “I was in my junior year and I knew I needed to get started on my senior research project,” she said. “Dr. Jill Russell offered me the opportunity to go with them to Alaska to collect data on their peony farm. My parents basically shoved me out the door to take this opportunity.”

                In Alaska, Burger’s job was to collect the data on peonies that were being grown on the Russells’ organic peony farm. From July to September, peonies don’t bloom anywhere but Alaska which has turned peony farming into a cash crop for the Alaskan economy since peonies grown there during that time help sustain the cut flower industry. The peony farm was testing different fertilizer regiments to determine if compost tea would grow more robust and healthier peonies.

                “Every week I would measure 500 plants to record how they were growing and in which soil condition they grew best,” Burger said. “Not only was it really interesting but I also realized that I am meant for outdoor jobs and not being stuck in a lab inside.”

                Burger’s research project didn’t just earn her awards in the biology department, but it also helped her land a job at a very large greenhouse in Indiana where she will be working to grow perennials to supply to local garden centers.

                Burger is a 2012 graduate of Franklin County High School in Indiana.

From football to Army officer

                Jake Hedrick, a criminology major from Athens, Ohio, will celebrate two big milestones in one week: his graduation from the Mount and he’ll also be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Army just a few days later.

                “Ten days after that, I move to Ft. Knox when I’ll be in training,” he said.

                Hedrick said he plans to make his career in the U.S. Army. He received an ROTC scholarship to study at the Mount which paid for everything. He spent several early mornings the past few years in the Mount’s ROTC program which took training around to various college campuses. He came to the Mount to play football, get involved with VIC (Veterans in Communities) and managed to juggle those activities with ROTC and a full load of classes.

                “I transitioned to the Mount from a much larger university,” he said. “But I loved the smaller class sizes the Mount offered and getting to know my professors. I really liked being so close to downtown Cincinnati, too.”

                Hedrick credits the ROTC program as the way to fulfill his wish to help him pay for—and graduate from—college and encourages others to get interested in the program.

                “I still got the full college experience,” he said. “I was able to play football, go to classes and have my education paid for.”

Commencement at the Mount

                More than 400 undergraduate and graduate students will receive their diplomas at Commencement, including the first cohort of Saturday MBA students.

                Commencement for graduate and adult students will be held at 10 a.m. and traditional undergraduate students will receive their diplomas at 2:30 p.m. Sister Jeanne Bessette, the president and CEO of DePaul Cristo Rey High School, will address the graduate candidates and will receive an honorary degree. Jill Meyer ’93, president of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, will address the undergraduate candidates in the afternoon and will be awarded an honorary degree. Donald “Buddy” LaRosa, the CEO and founder of LaRosa’s, will also be awarded an honorary degree in the afternoon Commencement.