6/17/2019 | Updated: 6/17/2019 4:44 AM
Contact: Jeff Johnston
By Robin Miner-Swartz
Adapted from Centralight Summer 2019
Young alumni use what they learned at Central Michigan University to build their careers and uplift their communities.
Each year, the 10 Within 10 alumni awards program honors exceptional achievements within a decade of CMU graduation. This year’s honorees are putting their stamp on the world in meteorology, special education, entrepreneurship, graphic design and more.
Here's an introduction to this year's honorees and their CMU experiences:
Ann Marie LaFlamme, 2009
LaFlamme is an anchor at WXYZ ABC 7 in Detroit. She graduated in 2009, having majored in integrative
public relations, journalism, and broadcast and cinematic arts. She lives in Detroit.
What has been your coolest moment since graduation?
Landing a job at WXYZ. It’s the station I grew up watching and worked my whole career to get to.
Being able to share the stories of my community and connect with people in my hometown is a dream
What advice would you give new graduates?
Accept help and don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. I wish I could whisper to my 21-year-old self as I
walked across the stage to accept my diploma, “You don’t have to be so tough.” We’re meant to live
as a community and lean on each other through successes and failures. Life is so much easier when
you accept that sometimes things are hard and you open yourself up to learn from others.
What has your work life taught you?
Never let anyone else determine your value. As long as you work hard, stay true to what you believe
in and do the right thing, you define who you are and what your success is.
What about CMU helped you succeed?
When I started college, I was an insecure, anxiety-ridden teen whose high school English teacher had
told me “some people are just average.” But my college professors believed in me, and the university
invested in me, providing every opportunity to grow and succeed, and I did. Sure, being on TV is
cool, but it’s that spark the CMU community lit inside of me that made me believe I could actually
make an impact through my work. When people ask me about CMU, I always say it’s the place where
people believed in me and poured love and confidence into me when I had no love and confidence in
What has been your biggest accomplishment since graduation?
Winning my first Emmy!
Kyle Bazzy, 2010
Bazzy, of Detroit, is chief growth officer for Grand Circus, Michigan’s largest coding bootcamp. He’s also a founding partner in Venture Catalyst, an entrepreneurial ecosystem development, and co-founder of Detroit Startup Week, the largest entrepreneurial conference in Michigan. He majored in pre-law and economics, graduating in 2010.
What is your favorite memory of CMU?
Writing business plans and building businesses at CMURC with Cason Thorsby.
I partnered with Techstars, one of the premier technology accelerators in the world, to bring Startup Week to Detroit.
What are you proudest of?
Marrying the strongest and smartest woman I’ve ever met — Katelynn.
Never stop learning. Be the boss of your own life. If “it” scares you, that usually means you’re onto something.
Several people took an interest in my success at CMU. Business information systems faculty member Robert Miller is the reason I believed in myself enough to get started on this journey. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know if I’d be here. I also found my first-ever investor for my first technology startup at CMU. Overall, connections!
Jesi Parker Ekonen, 2010
Ekonen, of Mount Pleasant, is associate director of the Sarah R. Opperman Leadership Institute at CMU, overseeing a comprehensive four-year leadership development program and scholarship cohort. She majored in interpersonal communication with an organizational communication concentration and graduated in 2010.
I absolutely loved serving as an academic orientation mentor. Guiding a team of diverse student leaders made me a better person. My favorite part was assisting new students during their transition to CMU.
During graduate school, Leadership Institute Director Dan Gaken asked me to be a facilitator for LeaderShape, a program offered through the institute. I worked closely with college student leaders to develop their vision for a better world. LeaderShape was a powerful experience personally and professionally. Not only did it fuel my commitment to student development, but I also reconnected with another CMU alumni facilitator, who I eventually married. LeaderShape was truly life-changing.
Keep yourself open to learning and unlearning. Education doesn’t stop once you receive a degree. We have more access to information than any generation before us, and we have an obligation to use this information to make positive change in our communities.
Stress is not a badge of honor. Everyone you work with is handling major personal and professional challenges. Work life has taught me the importance of remembering we are all human beings, not human doings.
I was drawn to CMU because of my older brother, but I love that we were able to pursue unique paths during our time on campus. CMU helps because it is large enough for me to meet a new connection each day, yet small enough to feel like my voice matters.
Scott George, 2011
George, of Washington, D.C., is manager of university engagement for Unified Champion Schools, supporting the 52 Special Olympics state programs at colleges and universities. He graduated in 2011 with a master’s degree in sports administration.
I attended the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle and saw the impact Special Olympics Unified Sports is having. It was the first national games I attended, and meeting partners and athletes from all over who were so similar to those in Mount Pleasant was great. This spring, I attended and worked the 2019 Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Pursue experiences you love, and enjoy your career. There can be a lot of pressure as you enter that next stage in life, and it can be challenging to avoid getting caught up in the stresses and activities of life. Figure out what experiences fill your bucket, and make sure you have opportunities to experience those as a part of your job. This will hopefully lead you to a career full of purpose and joy.
Be yourself, and be genuine toward others. That’s something I learned from my teammates during my time at CMU, and it’s something I learn from every interaction I have with a Special Olympics athlete.
The social and emotional learning experiences I had outside of the classroom. The faculty and staff members who had the biggest impact were the ones who pushed me to participate in extracurricular work and activities, whether it was intramural sports, student organizations, or internships and employment. I spent so much more time in the Student Activity Center than I did in my apartment that I felt like I should have been paying rent to university recreation. But those are the times when you’re interacting with people and building relationships, and that is so much of what my career has been to this point.
Eric Reed, 2012
Reed, of Westland, Michigan, is director of TRiO Student Support Services at Eastern Michigan University. TRiO SSS is a federally funded college support program for first-generation college students from economically challenged backgrounds. He majored in health administration and public administration, receiving his Master of Science in Administration degree in 2012.
I met some of my closest friends at CMU, and we reflect almost daily on residence hall and apartment life, going to the gym, and just hanging out and having fun. I’m glad I stayed at CMU for graduate school, because I established lifelong friendships with international students from Nigeria, Kenya, China, India and many other countries.
Traveling to almost every major city in the U.S. and to a few countries. I really value learning about different cultures and making new connections. I love attending sporting events or concerts when I visit other cities.
I’d like to sincerely thank Kevin Williams, Traci Guinn, Sean Novak, Dale Sanders, Wallace Weiss and Tim Pletcher for helping me get through the challenges of college life. During my first year, I struggled academically and could have been dismissed if it wasn’t for their help. MAC Scholars helped me graduate within four years and provided the cultural awareness I needed for the work I do now. Also, these people helped me earn the King-Chavez-Parks fellowship, which allowed me to continue my graduate studies at CMU.
Earning a Ph.D. while running two of my own businesses, a real estate company and college tour company; working full time; making career advancements; getting married; being an active community member; and still making time for family, friends and fun.
Zach Roszczewski, 2012
Roszczewski, of Encinitas, California, is a freelance icon and illustration designer, specializing in creating large iconography systems for major brands such as Airbnb, Bose, GoPro and Turbotax. He majored in graphic design and graduated in 2012.
Because of the flexibility of my work-from-home schedule, my wife and I have traveled to Tahiti, Mo’orea and Bora Bora. Jet skiing around the French Polynesian islands to an area where we got to feed sharks and swim with the stingrays is something I will never forget.
Working with the fine folks at GoPro to design the entire icon system for the GoPro camera, and then being able to use that camera in real life and engage with something that I had a hand in crafting was very rewarding.
Work really hard right when you get out of college, even if it means working on passion projects outside of work, because that’s when you will have some of your greatest ideas, energy and time to do so. If you work hard enough in the beginning, you can set yourself up to work more efficiently and less often when you’re in your late 20s and early 30s, and your older self will thank you for it.
Work-life balance is essential for longevity and productivity. Every morning, I try and go out for a surf or do something outdoors, even when the waves are flat, to get inspired for the work day.
I have CMU to thank for guiding me to the right career path. I was originally going to study coding, and I quickly realized it wasn’t the right match for me. Luckily, I was in the library one day and found myself at a booth advertising the graphic design major. I was amazed I could create fun stuff and get paid for it. Ever since that day, I had my eyes set on graphic design and never looked back.
Ahmad Bajjey, 2015
Bajjey, of Clio, Michigan, is morning meteorologist for WEYI NBC 25 and WSMH FOX 66 newscasts. He graduated in 2015 with a major in meteorology and a minor in mathematics.
Running out onto the football field as part of the Marching Chips. There is no better feeling than hearing the crowd and knowing those around you are excited to be a part of something bigger than themselves.
Working more than 40 hours straight without sleep covering destructive tornadoes. I got to see the damage they can do firsthand, and I gained a new understanding of what viewers need from me to have the safest information possible.
What may seem insignificant to you could be astronomically important to someone else. The truth is important to tell, even when it’s sometimes hard to hear, and earning someone’s respect and trust is the highest honor they can give you.
I made connections with professors and students that led me to finding an extremely important internship and eventually to my first job.
I was hired to teach the first-ever broadcast meteorology course CMU has offered. It’s a new way to help students prepare for a career as a broadcast meteorologist. It’s an honor that cannot be put into words, and one that means a lot to a person who struggled and persevered to graduate and succeed in their career path.
Jenna Betka-Pope, 2015
Betka-Pope, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, is a middle school resource room teacher at Excel Charter Academy, working with sixth through eighth graders in a full-inclusion model. She’s also coordinator for Grand Rapids Civic Theatre’s summer camp and low-sensory night. The 2015 graduate majored in special education with a concentration in cognitive impairments, English education (grades 6-12) and Spanish language.
The first low-sensory night at Grand Rapids Civic Theatre. It’s the first theater in our region that has sponsored an event of this sort, and I was honored to coordinate it. It was incredibly humbling to see so many people with various sensory needs attend live theater for the first time and get to experience its magic.
I am proudest of coming out as the person I truly am and getting married to the love of my life. She constantly inspires me to follow my passions, work as hard as I can, and challenge myself professionally and personally.
Take time to find a job you love. It’s easy to take one of the first that’s offered to you because you’re afraid you won’t get another. It’s so important to take risks and find a job you are truly passionate about, even if it isn’t a full-time job with benefits yet. I would also highly recommend traveling as much as you can to explore other people and cultures.
I am capable, and I should trust myself and my training. I am much more willing to speak up to my colleagues and advocate for myself and my students based on my work experiences. I have realized I should use my intuition and my knowledge to assist others.
I have become the coordinator for multiple and major events at Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, developed schoolwide procedures at Excel Charter Academy, and I’m vice president of a comedy collective called Funny Girls. I’m very proud of making change in all these fields.
Jessica Sevecke-Hanrahan, 2012, 2015
Sevecke-Hanrahan, of Scranton, Pennsylvania, is an associate psychologist at Geisinger Health System, Behavioral Health Primary Care Pediatrics. She is lead pediatric psychologist in Geisinger’s first integrated pediatric primary care location in northeastern Pennsylvania. She studied school psychology and received her Master of Arts degree in 2012 and doctorate in 2015.
I enjoyed participating in department-led community service like the Mobile Food Pantry and a variety of summer programs for youth, as well as serving as an advisor for the Delta Iota chapter of Phi Sigma Sigma. I also enjoyed volunteering at Camp Michitanki Transplant Camp for Kids.
This past Thanksgiving, I had the opportunity to be a balloon handler in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.
Last year, I was honored to co-direct Geisinger’s first systemwide Transgender Health and Wellness Conference. We partnered with members of the transgender community and care agencies across the state to increase knowledge, awareness, advocacy and affirmative health care for transgender patients in Pennsylvania.
Learn as much as you can and teach as much as you can. If you have an opportunity to be a trainee or a trainer at the internship, apprenticeship or postdoctoral level, take it. Be a lifelong learner and give back. It is so rewarding to take the knowledge you learn, share it with others and better someone’s life.
It’s all about balance. As an early career professional, it’s tempting to take on the world. Although that’s exciting, it’s important to take care of yourself and balance your personal values with your work life.
I completed a postdoctoral fellowship and was offered the chance to be the lead clinician in my first-ever professional position. It has been an honor to be a mentor to my trainees and provide care to children and families in our community.
Sharon R. Elefant, 2017
Elefant, of Los Angeles, is executive director of Engage The Vision. ETV provides consistent weekly mentoring to fourth and fifth grade boys from inner cities. She is an adjunct instructor at Florida International University for undergraduate health administration and the online Master of Health Administration program. She received her Doctor of Health Administration degree in 2017, having studied health administration and international health.
Hearing “Dr. Elefant, we love you!” yelled by 30 fourth and fifth grade boys at an Engage the Vision mentoring session melted my heart. They inspire me.
While in the health administration doctoral program, I directed an outreach program for military veterans, competed in a body-building competition (placed!) and maintained my high GPA. Now, I’m a self-employed consultant and instructor. I travel the world, see my family and have a professional life wherever the adventure takes me.
Stay connected with your colleagues and professors. Be a mentor to new and current students. Be involved in your network and alumni associations. Find a way to stay connected to the academic community through continuing education. During your academic program, go on every single international immersion you possibly can.
The relationships I built with the other D.H.A. students and professors tremendously helped me succeed. Their encouragement, their instructing, their mentoring and their friendships helped me complete my D.H.A., stay positive and constantly learn from a variety of global perspectives.
I’ve helped several nonprofit organizations fundraise over $1 million. I have helped more than 4,000 homeless veterans receive housing in Southern California. And I have helped sustain a mentoring program for young boys in Los Angeles, where over 90% don’t have a positive male role model.
Know a recent grad who’s doing amazing things? Fill out a nomination form for next year’s 10 Within 10 awards.
If the 10 Within 10 honorees have you thinking about your future, explore their CMU academic programs and more than 200 others.
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