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Alumni Updates,  
and Alumni Spotlight
 

 

Alumni Updates

(updated January 26, 2021)

Luke  Conners (SCATS 2011, VAMPY 2012) graduated from Rice University in 2019 with a BS in mathematics and a BA in physics. As a student, he played trumpet in the MOB (Marching Owl Band), Rice University Jazz Band, and multiple Houston-based bands including the jazz fusion group Steve Cox's Beard. After graduating, he spent the summer touring with The Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps. He is now a second-year student in the mathematics PhD program at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

 

Chris Copass (SCATS 1997, Travel to London 1998, VAMPY 1998-99) received a BA in biology from Transylvania University in 2006 and a PharmD from Sullivan University College of Pharmacy in 2011. He is a staff pharmacist at Radiopharmacy of Paducah, Inc., in Paducah.

 

Charles Haine (VAMPY 1992-95, Travel to Russia 1996) earned an MFA at the University of Southern California in 2005 and has since worked as a freelance director, cinematographer, and entrepreneur. In 2008, he founded the production company Dirty Robber, which has gone on to success in feature films, shorts, commercials, and music videos. Among his directing highlights is the recent trailer for Chuck Klosterman’s novel The Visible Man. He has wrapped production on his first feature film, Angel’s Perch, and his most recent project, Salty Pirate, debuted on Amazon Prime. Additionally, he is an assistant professor at the Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema at Brooklyn College, published The Urban Cyclist’s Handbook in 2011, and is the tech editor at NoFilmSchool.com.

 

Keeli John Johnson (SCATS 1997) earned a BS in business administration from Appalachian State University in 2005 and an MA in health administration from the Medical University of South Carolina in 2009. She is the director of administrative projects at Emory Healthcare in Atlanta.

 

Mackenzie JohnsonMackenzie Johnson (SCATS 2005) earned a BA in general studies from Eastern Kentucky University and a MA in media arts and production from the University of Technology, Sydney. She is a video producer/editor for Variety in Los Angeles, CA. She says, “I speak fondly of the memories I have of SCATS camp! I loved the idea of being a ‘college kid’ when I was in middle school. Having the freedom to pick my own schedule and walk myself to class are some of my first memories of feeling truly independent.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alexis Krivoshik (VAMPY 2004-07) received a BA from New York University in 2013, majoring in anthropology with a double minor in Chinese language and political science, and a JD from Case Western Reserve School of Law in 2016. She works in the legal department for Sphera Solutions Inc. She recalls, “My family and I moved around a lot (shout out to Corey and Randy for picking up us fly-ins from the airport). That wanderlust hasn't left me, and I’ve been living and traveling all over the U.S. since high school. My time at the Center helped me embrace myself, including my nerdy side. I met my significant other doing historical recreation and historical European martial arts (fighting with swords! Yes, swords.). We like to travel to tournaments, test our mettle, and meet new friends. VAMPY taught me never to be afraid to try new things, with a healthy dose of humility and the self-confidence to rise to challenges. I think of summers very fondly and cannot hear ‘The 1812 Overture,’ ‘Iris,’ or ‘The End of the World’ without getting a little misty.”

 

Lesley Mann Lynch (Super Saturdays 1997-99, VAMPY 2004-05) graduated from the University of Kentucky with a BS in agricultural biotechnology in 2010 and received an MS in bioscience enterprise from the University of Cambridge, St. John's College, in 2011. She writes, “I'm currently between jobs so that I may support my girls (three-years-old and one-year-old) during the pandemic. Prior to this, I led the implementation team at a tech start-up in San Francisco. Although I look forward to returning to work, 2020 was an incredible opportunity for self-reflection and learning.”

 

Gordon McKemie (VAMPY 1997, 1999) graduated from Emory University with a BBA in 2007. He is a portfolio manager for The Blackstone Group in New York City.

 

Kaitlin Woodrow Morris (VAMPY 2010-12) earned a BS from WKU in 2018 with dual certification in elementary education (K-5) and special education: learning and behavioral disorders (K-12) and a minor in American Sign Language. She is a special education teacher in Warren County Public Schools in Bowling Green. She says, “I have been teaching at North Warren Elementary for three years, primarily working with fifth and sixth graders. I love my job and wouldn’t choose to do anything else! I was married in 2018, and my husband and I have two dogs named Curtis and Jack. My future plans include obtaining an MA from WKU while I continue to teach. The classes I took at VAMPY challenged me, and the friendships I made extended through high school. I grew both personally and academically, and my experiences were very instrumental in choosing my career path.”

 

Cutler Phillippe (SCATS 2011, VAMPY 2012) graduated from the University of Kentucky with a BS in mechanical engineering in 2020 and is now working on a PhD in aerospace engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He says, “I have had the opportunity to work on a wide range of exciting projects, from a hydrogen fuel cell test chamber to a shark cage project with the Georgia Aquarium, and, now, materials testing for NASA. My plan is to complete my doctorate and continue doing research that will help drive space exploration. As for memories from camp, the best ones are the friends I made there and still count as friends to this day. I also remember getting to play the piano in the lobby, playing Capture the Flag on top of the hill, learning how to play Magic: The Gathering, and the dances. I also distinctly remember getting into a heated debate with another kid about what the composition of Jupiter's core was.”

 

Jacob Price (SCATS 2001-02) graduated from Georgetown College in 2010 with a BA in political science and from the University of Denver in 2013 with an MA in international human rights. He is a program manager for the Center for Civilians in Conflict in Washington, DC.

 

Lisa Cameron Schuster (SCATS 1996) earned a BS from Nazareth College in 2006, majoring in business administration and minoring in French. She is the Director of Programs for the non-profit Men Having Babies: “Our mission is to educate, advocate, and help lower financial barriers facing gay men who want to become fathers through surrogacy. Through this grant program, we've helped hundreds of gay men become fathers. We also host conferences worldwide where I help coordinate and speak about ethics and budgeting, and share my experience as a surrogate for a gay couple.”

 

 

Late Fall/Early Winter 2020

Spotlight on: Khotso Libe (Super Saturdays 1999-2000, SCATS 2000-01, VAMPY 2003-04, Travel to London 2002, Travel to Paris 2003) 

Khotso LibeKhotso Libe

Khotso Libe is a systems analyst in the Division of Strategic Enrollment Management and Student Success at the University of Louisville. He earned a BA from Louisville in 2010 with a double major in Pan-African studies and psychology, a Master of Education in college student personnel in 2013, and a MBA with a focus on data analytics in 2019. Prior to his current position, he was a senior academic counselor for the College of Arts and Sciences at Louisville.

We interviewed Khotso as part of our article “Closing the Excellence Gap: Friends of The Center Share Their Stories” in the Fall 2020 issue of The Challenge and wanted to share the full interview here.

Where did you grow up and go to school?

I grew up in Bowling Green. I went to Natcher Elementary and Drakes Creek Middle School and graduated from Greenwood High School.

Did the schools you went to have many other African American students, or were they vastly white?

Vastly white. Even now they don’t have that many students of color.

Did you have any Black teachers?

I had Mr. Stokes in elementary school — he was the PE teacher. At Drake's there was a Black man who was a guidance counselor and taught some classes. At Greenwood, I had two Black women, Ms. Townsend for freshman year English and Ms. Butz, who taught a keyboarding class. That was it. I can count them all.

Do you feel like at any point going through elementary, middle, or high school that you were underestimated?

Sometimes, yes. But being involved with The Center, starting in elementary school with Super Saturdays, gave me some internal “Oh, I can do this. I'm capable.”

One of the things that was upsetting for me was at Drakes Creek I was placed in Pre-algebra in eighth grade when I should have been in Algebra One. But then VAMPY gave me the opportunity to get my Algebra One credit: I took Math at VAMPY the summer before ninth grade, and it put me on a trajectory to complete AP calculus my junior year in high school. It meant a lot to me that I got to do that because math was my favorite subject throughout high school, and I started college as a math major.

What were your friendships like in school?

I was unique from my peers because I was living a couple of different lives, especially as a student of color at this predominantly white high school. There was a handful of Black males in my class, so I hung out with that group. I also hung out with the other Honors kids and had great friendships with them. I did track and field as well. I happen to be pretty friendly, so I had friends in a lot of the corners of the school — I was our student council president. My friend group was mostly from my school until about sophomore or junior year when I started branching out and had a good amount of friends at Bowling Green High — some folks of color, some not. 

Did your family expect you to excel?

I was mainly raised by my mom, and she had high expectations for me. She gave me the opportunity to participate in The Center’s programs, which were things that I wanted to do as well. She expected me to have high grades: Cs weren't acceptable for her. I guess she saw something in me. It was huge to have my mom expect a lot and help me have opportunities, like to go abroad with The Center.

I started realizing that having my mom was a difference-maker in high school, especially when my pocket of black male friends didn't have parents who had those same levels of expectations, who didn’t take them on trips to go visit colleges and look up scholarships and things like that. I wasn't doing that stuff on my own: it was definitely my mom, exposing me to these programs, pushing me to do these programs, encouraging me, and giving me these opportunities to continue on with my education. Out of my black male friends whom I'm still friends with today, I was the only one who went off to college. I had unique opportunities, and I attribute all of that to the environment my mom put me in and how she helped me outside of school. 

What was college like for you?

A lot of my cultural development journey happened at Louisville. For the first time, I was at school with a significant amount of Black folks with whom I could be entrenched in a community. I knew I wanted to at least minor in Pan African studies, after taking a class and being with Black teachers with an almost all-Black classroom — something that I'd never been exposed to before. We were studying some of the proudest moments of Black history and culture. Also, in freshman year I was involved in starting a group called the Student African American Brotherhood (SAAB). We promoted student success and the image of the Black man, combated negative stereotypes, and talked about what it means to be a Black man in society. We met every Wednesday dressed in professional business attire — shirt, tie, jacket — if you had to borrow something from another member, we made it happen. We were young Black men learning together how to be professionals.

I ended up double majoring in psychology and Pan African studies, and I was heavily involved in the Black community at Louisville. Not only did I end up being president of SAAB, but I was a peer mentor for Connect, a mentoring group where African American upperclassmen mentored first-year African American students. I was also involved with the Association of Black Students as vice president. Louisville created an environment where I could thrive and grow in a safe space with other students of color. Something that we talked in SAAB was being a leader not only in the Black community but on the whole campus, so I did some things with student council and student government as well.

Overall, I’d say college is where things really started to change for me. I grew a lot culturally. Even as I declared Pan African studies as a major, I was starting to grow locs — I just cut them last year, so I had them about ten years. I also was able to go to South Africa for the first time to see my family when I was in undergrad. I was culturally immersed, and that helped me to find who I am.

Did you feel pressure to succeed when you were in high school or in college?

Absolutely, especially in the AP classes where I was the only Black student — I felt like I had to represent the culture. If people were thinking about how Black kids did in that class, I was going to be the face that popped up. I didn’t have the language for the pressure I felt until later: stereotype threat. People did not always expect for me to do well. I felt it even when it was not real.

In college, we were presented with the numbers of how students of color were graduating at much smaller rates than white students, and the numbers for Black males were even lower. The six-year graduation rate was 35-40% university-wide, but for black males it was 10-12%. When we started SAAB, we knew it was not likely all of us were going to graduate together or graduate in six years. We used that knowledge to stick together, help each other out, have study sessions, and check on each other. And that was huge.

So I had a great support system in college, but the pressure to succeed was persistent. I saw students drop out every semester. I felt the constant pressure that “you're not done until you're done.” There’s a track reference I used: you have to run all the way through the finish line.

Given your own experiences, are there any things that you think that schools, from elementary all the way to college, could do better or differently to better support gifted African American students?

My teachers and classmates were all supportive, saying “You belong here.” When I didn't feel like I belonged there, it was imp to have those extra voices saying, “You don't see what I'm seeing here. You do have the potential.” Students of color can get imposter syndrome early, so being able to recognize it is helpful. It’s not unique to students of color, so that message could be for anyone in a high level classroom —  that you are here for a reason — it can encourage students even when they may not have that pull in themselves.

Something that was surprising to me when I was mentoring first-year Black students was their reluctance to try the Honors program. Some of my mentees were great and had the GPA they needed for Honors, so I’d tell them they should apply, but they would say, “No, no. I'm not an Honors student. I don't belong there.” I’d say, “Yes, you do,” but there would be something in them where they'd already made up their minds that they weren’t. So it’s essential to have those messages echo throughout your schooling that acknowledge your strengths and say you can succeed.

Also, what made college different from elementary, middle school, and high school was that it had a critical mass, so we could pull Black students together. That's important — we see that with Black fraternities and sororities in higher ed — that's how they got started, and that's how they sustain themselves, getting a group of people together who share a mission that that mission should be succeeding. Some Black fraternities and sororities were formed at predominately white institutions, so it’s important to get those folks together to build that community so they can succeed together and support each other at the same endeavor. It would be great to have a critical mass of Black gifted students at elementary, middle, or high schools to support each other.

Anything else you want to say about The Center programs?

SCATS and VAMPY were memorable, life-changing experiences. It was a great community with engaging classes that kept you stimulated, and of course the fun activities like the dances and Capture the Flag. I got a college experience early. Also, the trips to England and France were my first opportunities traveling abroad and opened my eyes to things outside of America for the first time.

I'm thankful for the programs. I think about those experiences regularly, and about some of those friends I made. My last year at VAMPY, there were four of us who were Black males. We called each other One, Two, Three, and Four, referring to how many Black men were there the year each of us came to camp for the first time. Fark Tari (VAMPY 2001-4, Counselor 2007) was One because he was the only Black male at one point, I came in the next year so I was Two, Mzee Bw'Ogega (VAMPY 2003-04) was Three because he came the following year, and Dexter Heyman (SCATS 2003, VAMPY 2004) was Four the next year. Dexter’s year was the first time that there were four of us, and that made it special. I have a picture of us where we're holding up the numbers one, two, three, and four. Through that comradery, we ended up being friends for years.
 Khotso and his friends from VAMPY

 Fark Tari, Khotso Libe, Mzee Bw'Ogega, and Dexter Heyman at VAMPY in 2004.

Past interviews can be found in our Alumni Spotlight Archive. 

 

 

Alumni Updates

(posted September 17, 2020)

Carter Adler (VAMPY 1992) lives in Copley, OH, and is second vice president at Mutual of America. He graduated from WKU with a BA in music in 2000 and from Michigan State in 2005 with an MBA in integrative management. He is on Facebook at Carter Adler.

 

LukeConners (SCATS 2011, VAMPY 2012) graduated from Rice University in 2019 with a BS in mathematics and a BA in physics. As a student, he played trumpet in the MOB (Marching Owl Band), Rice University Jazz Band, and multiple Houston-based bands including the jazz fusion group Steve Cox's Beard. After graduating, he spent the summer touring with The Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps. He is now a second-year student in the mathematics PhD program at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

 

Chris Copass (SCATS 1997, Travel to London 1998, VAMPY 1998-99) received a BA in biology from Transylvania University in 2006 and a PharmD from Sullivan University College of Pharmacy in 2011. He is a staff pharmacist at Radiopharmacy of Paducah, Inc., in Paducah.

 

Charles Haine (VAMPY 1992-95, Travel to Russia 1996) earned an MFA at the University of Southern California in 2005 and has since worked as a freelance director, cinematographer, and entrepreneur. In 2008, he founded the production company Dirty Robber, which has gone on to success in feature films, shorts, commercials, and music videos. Among his directing highlights is the recent trailer for Chuck Klosterman’s novel The Visible Man. He has wrapped production on his first feature film, Angel’s Perch, and his most recent project, Salty Pirate, debuted on Amazon Prime. Additionally, he is an assistant professor at the Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema at Brooklyn College, published The Urban Cyclist’s Handbook in 2011, and is the tech editor at NoFilmSchool.com.

 

Keeli John Johnson (SCATS 1997) earned a BS in business administration from Appalachian State University in 2005 and an MA in health administration from the Medical University of South Carolina in 2009. She is the director of administrative projects at Emory Healthcare in Atlanta.

 

 

Mackenzie Johnson (SCATS 2005) earned a BA in general studies from Eastern Kentucky University and a MA in media arts and production from the University of Technology, Sydney. She is a video producer/editor for Variety in Los Angeles, CA. She says, “I speak fondly of the memories I have of SCATS camp! I loved the idea of being a ‘college kid’ when I was in middle school. Having the freedom to pick my own schedule and walk myself to class are some of my first memories of feeling truly independent.” [PHOTO]

 

Alexis Krivoshik (VAMPY 2004-7) received a BA from New York University in 2013, majoring in anthropology with a double minor in Chinese language and political science, and a JD from Case Western Reserve School of Law in 2016. She works in the legal department for Sphera Solutions Inc. She recalls, “My family and I moved around a lot (shout out to Corey and Randy for picking up us fly-ins from the airport). That wanderlust hasn't left me, and I’ve been living and traveling all over the U.S. since high school. My time at the Center helped me embrace myself, including my nerdy side. I met my significant other doing historical recreation and historical European martial arts (fighting with swords! Yes, swords.). We like to travel to tournaments, test our mettle, and meet new friends. VAMPY taught me never to be afraid to try new things, with a healthy dose of humility and the self-confidence to rise to challenges. I think of summers very fondly and cannot hear ‘The 1812 Overture,’ ‘Iris,’ or ‘The End of the World’ without getting a little misty.”

 

Lesley Mann Lynch (Super Saturdays 1997-99, VAMPY 2004-05) graduated from the University of Kentucky with a BS in agricultural biotechnology in 2010 and received an MS in bioscience enterprise from the University of Cambridge, St. John's College, in 2011. She writes, “I'm currently between jobs so that I may support my girls (three-years-old and one-year-old) during the pandemic. Prior to this, I led the implementation team at a tech start-up in San Francisco. Although I look forward to returning to work, 2020 was an incredible opportunity for self-reflection and learning.”

 

Gordon McKemie (VAMPY 1997, 1999) graduated from Emory University with a BBA in 2007. He is a portfolio manager for The Blackstone Group in New York City.

 

 

Kaitlin Woodrow Morris (VAMPY 2010-12) earned a BS from WKU in 2018 with dual certification in elementary education (K-5) and special education: learning and behavioral disorders (K-12) and a minor in American Sign Language. She is a special education teacher in Warren County Public Schools in Bowling Green. She says, “I have been teaching at North Warren Elementary for three years, primarily working with fifth and sixth graders. I love my job and wouldn’t choose to do anything else! I was married in 2018, and my husband and I have two dogs named Curtis and Jack. My future plans include obtaining an MA from WKU while I continue to teach. The classes I took at VAMPY challenged me, and the friendships I made extended through high school. I grew both personally and academically, and my experiences were very instrumental in choosing my career path.”

 

Cutler Phillippe (SCATS 2011, VAMPY 2012) graduated from the University of Kentucky with a BS in mechanical engineering in 2020 and is now working on a PhD in aerospace engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He says, “I have had the opportunity to work on a wide range of exciting projects, from a hydrogen fuel cell test chamber to a shark cage project with the Georgia Aquarium, and, now, materials testing for NASA. My plan is to complete my doctorate and continue doing research that will help drive space exploration. As for memories from camp, the best ones are the friends I made there and still count as friends to this day. I also remember getting to play the piano in the lobby, playing Capture the Flag on top of the hill, learning how to play Magic: The Gathering, and the dances. I also distinctly remember getting into a heated debate with another kid about what the composition of Jupiter's core was.”

 

Jacob Price (SCATS 2001-02) graduated from Georgetown College in 2010 with a BA in political science and from the University of Denver in 2013 with an MA in international human rights. He is a program manager for the Center for Civilians in Conflict in Washington, DC.

 

Lisa Cameron Schuster (SCATS 1996) earned a BS from Nazareth College in 2006, majoring in business administration and minoring in French. She is the Director of Programs for the non-profit Men Having Babies: “Our mission is to educate, advocate, and help lower financial barriers facing gay men who want to become fathers through surrogacy. Through this grant program, we've helped hundreds of gay men become fathers. We also host conferences worldwide where I help coordinate and speak about ethics and budgeting, and share my experience as a surrogate for a gay couple.”

 

 

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 Last Modified 1/29/21