2021 Alumni Updates

These updates appeared in the Fall 2021 edition of the annual alumni newsletter.

News from our alumni

Nancy (Hsia) Akerman, PhD 2009, was promoted to senior policy advisor in the Stratospheric Protection Division at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where she works on implementing regulations that phase out ozone-depleting substances. As part of the EPA's Montreal Protocol team, Akerman regularly negotiates on behalf of the United States at international Meetings of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

Xandi Barrett, AB 2017, MSW 2021, earned her MSW from WashU’s Brown School of Social Work and started a position as the Lead for America fellow of the St. Louis Vacancy Collaborative.

Rick Becker, MA 1982, has been retired for nine years and now spends most of his time volunteering as a Texas Master Naturalist. He leads interpretive nature kayak trips at Galveston Island State Park, and he volunteers at the Texas A&M Gulf Center for Sea Turtle Research, helping with their mission to rescue injured sea turtles, care for them until they are nursed back to health, and then release them back into the Gulf of Mexico. Becker won the 2021 Sea Turtle Conservation Hero Award.

Michael Fix, AB 1972, MA 1975, retired from the University of Missouri-St. Louis after 45 years. He has been working as a consultant for the new Sainte Genevieve Museum Learning Center, and he is continuing to collaborate with a group from the Field Museum that is conducting excavations at the Chronister Dinosaur Site in southeast Missouri.

Velma Gentzsch, AB 2000, is now the executive director of Hand In Hand Parenting, a nonprofit organization providing information, support, and community.

Bryné Hadnott, AB 2013, left BlackSky and is now working as a contract astronomical software developer at Carnegie Science Earth and Planets Lab.

Gabrielle Hedrick (nee Coutrot), MA 2014, earned her PhD in aerospace engineering with an emphasis on robotics from West Virginia University. She left NASA and Mars behind, relocating to the Washington, D.C. area for a job at the MITRE Corporation as a senior aerospace engineer, where she will be supporting multiple government agencies, including the FAA, on work involving commercial aviation and commercial space access.

William Jud, MA 1968, is working on exploration for Olympic Dam-type iron oxide, copper, and gold (IOCG) ore deposits in southeast Missouri and other minerals exploration projects in his role as geologist and managing partner at Legend Minerals, LLC.

Zoe Lefebvre, AB 2016, recently returned from a year in Cork, Ireland, where she was opening a new X-ray computed tomography lab for Apple. She is now working on a small organic farm in New Haven, MO, while she prepares to apply to PhD programs this fall.

Yang (Steve) Liu, PhD 2013, is the principal investigator of the Planetary Environment and Evolution Research Group at the National Space Science Center in Beijing, China. He and his group members are actively participating in several planetary missions in China, including Chang'E-4, Chang'E-5, and Tianwen-1 Mars mission.

Kaitlin Mattos, AB 2009, earned her PhD in environmental engineering from the University of Colorado, Boulder, while conducting research on water and sanitation systems in rural Alaska native communities. She has since started as an assistant professor in the Environment and Sustainability Department at Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO.

Emily Park, AB 2008, is now working for 350.org, a global climate activism group, as an organizer for their Fossil Free Fed campaign, trying to get the Federal Reserve System to promote sustainable investments and a green economy.

Max Reams, PhD 1968, released three new books: Waterfalls in Illinois, a guidebook on how varieties of Illinois waterfalls form, and two detective-geologist novels, My Mine or Yours and Diamonds: Friend or Foe.

Jacob Rohter, AB 2011, was promoted to Senior Specialist in the Missouri DNR Brownfields Environmental Remediation Program.

Deia Schlosberg, AB 2003, moved to Schenectady, NY, and is currently working on a docuseries exploring universal basic income. Her documentary film The Story of Plastic (2019) was nominated for an Emmy. Schlosberg plans to do some guest lecturing on film and the environment at local colleges this year.

Joy Schalders-Burton, AB 1995, was selected as the 2021 recipient of the CU Boulder-Community College of Denver Outstanding Educator Award for her work as an adviser, counseling STEM students. She also serves in multiple roles with the Living Earth Church in Denver, CO, including executive director, marriage coach, and interfaith officiant, and she continues to invest in real estate, converting dilapidated homes into affordable community-focused housing for diverse populations.

Brian Shiro, AM 2002, was promoted from Seismic Network Manager at the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory to Deputy Director of the USGS Geologic Hazards Science Center in Golden, CO. He received the 2020 Editors’ Citation Award for Excellence in Refereeing for Geophysical Research Letters and a USGS STAR Award in 2021. Shiro also completed his PhD, after having started it over 20 years ago at WashU and restarted the effort years later at the University of Hawai‘i. His dissertation was titled "Geological and Geophysical Investigations on Kīlauea and Mauna Loa Volcanoes, Hawai‘i."

Hammy Sorkin, AB 2019, is a greenhouse technician in WashU’s Department of Biology where she manages the collection plants, including some living around the buildings on campus, and maintains the plant catalog. She also started her own horticulture business, Widmer Botanicals, a plant source based on accessibility and inclusivity.

Stephanie Spera, AB 2011, welcomed a new baby, Theodore Spera Allen.

Paul Thiel, AB 1959, received an honorary doctorate from the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Maria Valdes, MA 2014, was awarded the John Caldwell Meeker Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Field Museum of Chicago, working under Philipp Heck. She moved to Chicago right before the pandemic lockdown, and has enjoyed continued access to the museum where she studies calcium isotopes in HED meteorites and micrometeorites.

Maggie Weng, AB 2019, is currently a graduate student at Georgetown University, where she has been building her skills in coding and bioinformatics. Last summer, she participated in Caltech’s International Geobiology Course. The monthlong intensive course provides hands-on experience doing fieldwork and learning remote operation of instruments.