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Five women to watch

Five women to watch

By Nicole Sweeney Etter and Jay Sanders

They fill a 24-hour day with 25 hours of activities. They’re smart, entrepreneurial and focused on the future. Marquette Magazine asked faculty to nominate their female superstars, the students who are sure to go places, and here are just five of their picks. The next time you hear these women’s names, remember you read about them here first.

Abigail Kassulke

Abigail Kassulke, Nurs ’10

Whether racing through an ROTC obstacle course or taking charge in her nursing clinicals, Abigail Kassulke inspires everyone around her.

A natural leader all her life (she was captain of her high school basketball, volleyball and track teams),  Kassulke is the the top Army ROTC cadet in the senior class and company commander for 65 cadets.

“I think the best thing you can do when you’re a leader is to be a follower and learn from peers,” Kassulke says. “You have to be focused on the people...and I’m going to carry that on as an Army officer.”

She’s also a leader in the Student Nurses’ Association, WELS Campus Ministry and club basketball team. “If I have a lot to do, I tend to do it better than if I have a little to do,” she says with a laugh.

Kassulke captains the ROTC Ranger Challenge team, which competes against other programs in physical and technical skills and took first place in the brigade championship the past two years. She is most proud of having represented her entire brigade—which included nearly 700 cadets from various schools—in a physically grueling competition sophomore year.

But her professors rave about her spirit as much as her accomplishments.

“One of the most remarkable things about Abby is her heart and the love emanating from it. She puts love into everything she does,” says clinical instructor Robin Poedel. “She is going to be an amazing nurse one day.”

After graduation, Kassulke will start active duty in the Army Nursing Corps. She dreams of being stationed in Germany so she can “see a bit of the world” and hopes to be deployed to an area where she can help soldiers on the front lines.

Elizabeth Fincher

Elizabeth Fincher, Ed and Arts ’11

Elizabeth Fincher planned to spend her life overseas. Then she found a mission much closer to home.

“I can’t imagine doing anything other than teaching in an urban school,” she says. “That’s what my heart beats for. My role as a teacher is to believe in them, challenge them and watch them grow into history-makers.”

Fincher has always been passionate about working with young people. After high school she worked with at-risk youth on the Mediterranean island of Malta, then with young addicts, dropouts and others “no one else would take in” in Cleveland, Tenn.

Feeling called to teach, she enrolled at a community college and balanced 12 hours of courses with 40 to 60 hours of work. Then, at age 28, she transferred to Marquette.

“I was a little intimidated, being surrounded by so many young people,” she says.

It doesn’t show. She made the Dean’s List, volunteers at a local elementary school and established a Marquette chapter of Step Up!, which aids female survivors of the Rwandan genocide.

“Rwandan women weren’t educated,” she says, “but now they make up 70 percent of the society. They’re struggling to provide for their families.”

For Fincher, helping others is a way to bring glory to God. Of herself, she says, “I don’t want people to say, ‘Wow, what a great Christian she was.’ I want them to be inspired to pick up where I left off.”

Lydia White

Lydia White, Bus Ad ’09

As a high school junior, Lydia White used her savings of $1,100 to buy a dozen designer prom dresses and set up shop in her mother’s basement in Waukesha, Wis. The Prom Spot—which earned a reputation for its policy of not selling the same dress to any two girls at the same school—turned a profit.

“I had no intention of expanding my business,” says White, who graduated in August. “It was just a way of paying for college.”

She hired employees the next year and moved into a storefront a few years later. This past spring she sold 470 dresses to customers from several states. In January, she plans to open Bliss Bridal and house the Prom Spot under the same roof.

A teenage entrepreneur who managed a payroll and trolled Chicago trade shows for inventory, White dealt with her share of skepticism. She also juggled a grueling schedule of full-time course work at Marquette while working nearly 50 hours a week during the January–June prom season. Her passion for retail spurred her to switch her major from biomedical engineering to business.

“I knew I could do it as a career,” she says. “I’ve been practicing this for six years, built connections and a reputation.”

Her long-term goal: to open a second store in another mid-sized market and eventually expand to a larger market. Wherever she lands, she’s sure to be a force in the retail scene.

“I’m proud that I got this far and that I’m as successful as I am,” she says. “A lot of people said it was impossible ... but that kind of drives me.”

Jennifer Cossyleon

Jennifer Cossyleon, Arts ’10

Jennifer Cossyleon has pored over cold case police files, researched public policy, worked in the Milwaukee District Attorney’s Office and trained in how to win political office. This young woman is passionate about law—enforcing it, creating it and challenging it.

Cossyleon is double-majoring in criminology and law studies and social welfare and justice. She planned to become a social worker before deciding on law school. “Although social workers do an extremely important job, I thought I could affect people on a deeper level as a lawyer,” she says.

Her résumé includes stints in U.S. Congresswoman Gwen Moore’s office, the Milwaukee Police Department’s Cold Case Homicide Unit and the Homicide Task Force. She was recently one of the few college students chosen nationwide for the Congressional Black Caucus Institute’s elite Political Training Boot Camp, an intense seminar on campaign management and other skills for aspiring political leaders.

“Public policy affects everyone, and politics surround us all,” Cossyleon says. “I always thought that I might like to run for office, but the experience with Congresswoman Moore gave me a better understanding and made it more feasible for me.”

Through the McNair Scholars summer research program, she studied electronic monitoring of sex offenders and its effect on recidivism and the collateral consequences of female felony convictions. She hopes to continue research and believes a joint juris doctorate/doctoral program is the best way to do it. “It would be a tremendous aid to affect public policy,” she says of the dual degrees. She also stays busy through the Educational Opportunity Program and the Global Village living community, which houses international students and promotes diversity.

Her ultimate dream: to one day own the title of U.S. Congresswoman or Supreme Court judge.

Cheryl Perich

Cheryl Perich, Eng ’10

How’s this for a school project: Build a system that recycles human wastewater—sweat, soapy shower run-off, you name it—into purified drinking water for astronauts at a lunar outpost.

That’s what Cheryl Perich did this summer. And when she wasn’t transforming the stuff of science fiction into actual things, she was traveling to space centers across the country, meeting NASA bigwigs and hobnobbing with the heads of giant aerospace corporations. It was all part of an elite program called the NASA Academy.

“It was the greatest experience of my life,” she says.

Perich has worked in mission support for space shuttle flights, monitoring the environment control and life-support systems that keep astronauts comfortable, functioning and, well, alive in the forbidding environment of outer space.

“Basically, you’re staring at a screen making sure nothing turns red,” she says.

How does it compare to school? (Yes, she’s still a student.) “It’s a totally different kind of pressure,” she says. “At school you’re staying up all hours studying. Here, you’re working to make sure everything’s safe for the astronauts and the shuttle. It really puts things into perspective.”

Perich got where she is by, one, being very smart, two, working very hard, and, three, taking advantage of the College of Engineering Co-op Program, which allowed her to alternate terms at school with terms at Boeing and, now, NASA.

Future plans? First a doctorate, then the commercial space industry, where she’d like to help harness the productive capacity of NASA discoveries. “Also, it’s always been a goal in the back of my mind to become an astronaut,” Perich says.


Comment by Mary E. (Pihringer) Weingart '76 & '81 at Oct 12 2009 10:31 am
Wow! Not only was this article inspirational, it was also very well written and readable. Kudos to the subjects and the authors.
Comment by Desiree Valentine at Oct 12 2009 05:32 pm
I'm honored to go to school with these women! (and know one of them personally!--shout out to Jenny C.!)
Comment by andrew lewis, Engineering 2003 at Oct 12 2009 06:13 pm
Very innovative people! I especially admire the efforts to help pay through school by setting up a successful prom dress business! Thats how you find a way to make it!
Comment by Raymond Garro '77 at Oct 13 2009 09:18 am
My daughter is a freshman at Trinity ,an all girls Catholic HS....I plan on forewarding the stories of these amazing women to her school.WHAT INSPIRATION! Go Marquette!
Comment by Michael Mollerus Eng62 at Oct 13 2009 11:20 am
Thank you for the stories of these terrific women. They should be proud of what they have accomplished, and keep inspiring others to follow their example.
Comment by Lee Jauss at Oct 28 2009 12:02 am
Let me compliment the college's site----excellent layout---and let me say these five remarkable women are progressing at an astounding rate. In an era where people lay back and tire quickly, its a relief to see younglings spurred onward by ambition.
Comment by Alyssa Peschke at Nov 05 2009 01:06 am
It's neat that the University took the time to find these women and acknowledge their efforts. Also each woman being so unique helps portray the variety of opportunities for growth and new experiences. I liked how Ms. Perich's article included how it was sparked from a class and how she followed her experiment past just the 'deadline.' Ms. Kassulke ambition is inspiring to another fellow human living in the USA! Keep celebrating and encouraging everyone: let's see even more women and students honored! "Well Done!"
Comment by Lauren at Nov 13 2009 12:08 pm
I really enjoy the article and I am proud to go to school with these girls. But what about Communication majors? Kids who work all summer long in internships at ESPN, ABC Chicago, Disney, etc. They work hard and do a ton of different internships to get ahead. Many of which have other endeavors outside of school and the communication world.
Comment by Patrick Wolf at Nov 16 2009 07:24 pm
Dr. Perich is my hero!
Comment by Nicole Sweeney Etter at Nov 13 2009 01:11 pm
Thanks for your comment, Lauren, and you are right that many of our College of Communication students are doing remarkable things. However, we only had room to spotlight five students, and I think you'll also be proud to see that several College of Comm alums are featured in Centennial-related features elsewhere in the magazine.
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