Scholar Biographies

First-Year Cohort


Jesse Bruce

I am a junior majoring in Psychology and minoring in Cognitive Neuroscience. For a while I wasn't sure of what I wanted to go to school for. I took generals at Anoka Ramsey Community College near my home town of Andover, Minnesota, and after taking a couple psych classes I realized that psychology really intrigued me. I transferred to UW-Stout in the fall of 2011. When I first transferred here I was still unsure of my exact career path, but I was thinking I'd like to become a marriage and family therapist. After taking some biology classes, and joining C-NERVE and getting involved in psychophysiological research I discovered I had a deep interest in the biological basis of psychology. I am involved with a few different research projects at UW-Stout, which has led me to realize counseling isn't the field for me. I love doing research because I'm always thinking about why things are the way they are. Why do we dream? What is consciousness, and where does it come from? Do we have free will? These are just a few of the questions I wonder about, and would like to investigate further. When I was a kid, to my mother's dismay, I would get up out of bed numerous times a night to ask my mom questions that were racing through my mind. I guess I'm still the same way, but my questions aren't as easily answered.  

After I leave UW-Stout I plan to peruse a PhD and become a Neuropsychologist, combining my love of psychology and biology. I feel very fortunate that I transferred to UW-Stout, and became a McNair Scholar because the real world research experience and career guidance I've received has been indispensable in helping me to achieve my goal of going on to a PhD program.

Over this past summer I had a very unique work experience; I worked on dissecting a cadaver to preserve the brain, spinal cord and spinal nerves for class demonstrational purposes. In my free time I like to go out fishing in my kayak on Lake Menomin and the Red Cedar River, as well as go biking. I also enjoy reading (Game of Thrones is one of my favorite series), gaming, and watching Survivor. If I had to sum myself up in one sentence I would have to borrow a quote from one of my inspirations: "I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious."

Lara Dodge

Lara Dodge

My name is Lara Dodge. I am starting my fourth year here at UW-Stout. My major is Psychology with a minor in history. I was raised near the town of Prairie Farm, WI, and decided to attend Stout because of the wonderful psychology department. My plan is to get my Ph.D in clinical psychology and work in the field with people who have severe mental disorders and possibly do research on how to better integrate them into society.

People have often asked me why my minor is history. Honestly, it is because I am passionately interested in finding out why people did what they did in history. Anyone that knows anything about history knows that it is not and never will be a lineup of names and dates like some sort of binary coding that maps the past. It is an erratic mess of events created by how people thought at the time and how they acted on those thoughts. I want to understand the psychology of the past to help me understand the psychology of the present and attempt to apply it to the future.

I applied to become a McNair Scholar to help me reach my long term goal to become a graduate student. I feel it will challenge me to reach my full potential. I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the McNair community and to have the chance to contribute to it.


Bao Lee

My name is Bao Lee. I am 21 years old and just transferred to UW-Stout in the fall of 2011. My major is Vocational Rehabilitation with a concentration in Substance Abuse Counseling. Before coming to UW-Stout I was at UW-Lacrosse majoring in Sociology and Pre-Physical Therapy. However, throughout my year there I found that I was more passionate about counseling, and hungered to understand the dynamics of addictions. The latter sparked an interest for me because I had to deal with a person I love go through many addictions. Therefore, I wanted to learn more and help others like myself, who have a loved one struggling. My career goals are to get my doctorate in Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counseling. I am interested in researching about what makes people addicted to substance abuse and how mental illness is a factor too. Furthermore, I would like to research and understand more about how socioeconomic statuses affect substance abuse users. I am from a family of eight children and came to the United States as an immigrant in 1995. My ethnicity is Hmong and I’ve lived in Wausau, Wisconsin all my life.         


Mary Marchiafava

My name is Mary Marchiafava. Honestly, it’s not as hard to pronounce the last name as you think-it is exactly how it looks: the month of March-ia-fava, and yes, its origin is from Italy.  I was raised in Mounds View, MN, and I am a first generation college student.  I am nineteen years old; my birthday is March 24, 1992.  I come from humble backgrounds: my mother was the daughter of a dairy farmer, who only attended college for a semester, and she is currently book keeper of our public middle school, and my father is a home delivery milkman that never finished his second year associates degree. I live in a family of six, and I am the second oldest out of my siblings.  I feel honored in contributing and being a part of the McNair Scholars Legacy. My major is Applied Science, and I’d like to continue my studies by either pursuing Library Science and becoming a Specialty Librarian, or learning more about botany and continuing to graduate school learning about plant sciences research.  I would like to make a positive impact with my time by contributing to society with the best of my talents. My research interests currently involve developing ways to use tissue culture extracts to form Callus Tissues from the plant Sarracinea Purpurea (common name: Purple Pitcher plant).

Some inspiring words I enjoy recalling: “you don’t have to see the whole staircase, just the first step.”  I have grown up not fully understanding what I would like to do with my life, or where my life was heading (I still don’t know all the details), so for everyone out there that still does not know where they’re headed, that’s ok!  Honesty, loyalty, and hard work are the three most important qualities that I’d like to keep consistent in my life.  I am involved in some groups on campus including The University Honors Program, Stout MTG, Stout Swim Club, Sustainable Agriculture Education Association. I also contribute with volunteer research work in the Greenhouse. During my free time I enjoy watching anime, reading manga, reading in general; writing creative stories, watching TV (Sports included), video games, listening to classical rock, and especially enjoy socializing.


Justin Nelson

My name is Justin Nelson. I am a first generation college student. I'm majoring in Applied Mathematics and Computer Science and Game Design and Development. I've always had a love for computers and how they work; when I was younger I would take them apart and try to put them back together, never getting it quite right though. After graduating from Rhinelander High School in 2010, I discovered how much I actually enjoyed academia, I was never the student who disliked school, quite the contrary I enjoyed it. After going to Arizona for a semester and then transferring back home and finally then to Stout, I am a traditional student who goes to school, hangs out with friends, worked a college job over the summer, watches TV, plays video games, swims, goes jetskiing, and just enjoy being a young adult. 

I've always had big dreams for myself, I want to own my own company and I want to help other people have greater access to higher education. I was lucky that in summer 2012 I was able to work as a Research Associate at NASA Langley in Hampton, VA. I worked with some of the most amazing people who inspired me to push for even greater things than I could have imaged for myself. It was an experience of a lifetime that has shaped my future forever. I was honored when Dr. Tafalla asked me to join the McNair program. McNair is giving me all the tools to achieve my dreams and help make my life and hopefully others better. The McNair program has given me a sense of belonging, humbled me, and supported me through the scary process that is applying to graduate school. If you see me around please say "hi", I love meeting new people!


Kaitlyn Olson

My name is Kaitlyn Olson. I was born and raised in Saint Paul, Minnesota. I have one sister who just began her freshman year at University of North Dakota. I am proud to say that I am the first in my family to successfully make it through more than one year of college. I am a junior at UW-Stout and my major is psychology with a minor in cognitive neuroscience. I absolutely love being a psychology major. I have always had a passion for helping people and after having a rough start to my life, my passion is to be able to help children suffering from mental disorders. Although I am still trying to decide where my research interests lie, I am interested in psychological disorders. Once I graduate, I would love to be accepted into a doctorate program for clinical psychology. With the support of the McNair Program I am sure that dream can come true.


Katye Todd

My name is Katye Todd and I am currently a senior here at UW-Stout studying graphic design. I grew up just South of Menomonie in a small town called Elmwood.  To experience a different culture outside of Wisconsin I decided to take a full year and study abroad in Australia. While in the land down under, I was able to meet and learn a lot about not only people I would have never met in Wisconsin, but also myself. I hope to take what I learned during my study abroad and apply it to my college career and soon grad school. I am so lucky to be apart of the McNair scholars program. Had I not been given this opportunity I am not sure if I would have pursued school further after graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration in graphic design. 

After graduation, I hope to pursue an MFA in Design or a degree in architecture.  My research interests include typography, architecture, art history, and studio art.
I am truly inspired by all the McNair Scholars with such varying majors and research curiosities and hope to be a contribution to the group.


Samantha Wieczorek

I have a passion for innovation.  The desire to create positive change all around me is overwhelming. I am a strong believer that change is beneficial and that there are always opportunities for you, you just have to find them. My name is Samantha Wieczorek and I am a double major in Supply Chain Management and Business Administration with a minor in Economics. Since leaving my hometown of Mora, Minnesota and coming here to Stout I have found what makes me passionate about life. This new found love led me to start my own research project regarding the manufacturing sector within the U.S. and researching the effect of it upon Gross State Product. I have expanded upon this by looking into the variables of whether our economy will ever see the outsourced jobs again. My academic desire to excel and my passion to research is what led me to the McNair Scholar program. The McNair Scholar program is the perfect push I needed to continue my education after my undergraduate degree. It is also a wonderful opportunity to meet talented students who share a passion about researching. I am very active outside of academics as well. I am Co-Chair on the UW-Stout Dance Ensemble Executive Board, as well as a choreographer and dancer. I also am a member of the Academic Honor Society where I get the opportunity to volunteer at the Dunn County Animal Humane Society. I have also recently become the Secretary for the Stout Sport Clubs. I'm looking forward to being involved in the McNair program and furthering my education.

Second-Year Cohort



Jessica Boone

I am in my third year at Stout. I am also a second year as a resident advisor. I have lived in Wisconsin for seven years in Marshfield. As a freshman at UW-Stout, I received the WiscAMP Fellowship. At that time I started researching the effects of Hmong medicinal plant compounds on endothelial cells, which are the cells that line your blood vessels. So far in my research I have not gotten to the point of adding medicinal compounds to the cells. I have just been enhancing my cell culture skills, but this year I will hopefully get to try out some compounds. 

I have always wanted to get my PhD. I hope to go to graduate school near my family in Iowa or Nebraska.  McNair will help me with this by providing opportunities I probably wouldn't have otherwise had. Also, the McNair Scholars program will give me a solid idea of what graduate school is like before I get there and by preparing me thoroughly.


Alexa Levie

As an undergraduate obtaining a bachelors degree in Applied Science with a concentration in Biotechnology, I am extremely excited for what the future has to hold in my field of study. I am passionate about helping people, the community, and the environment. I hope to apply the knowledge that I learn at UW-Stout to my future student career in a PhD program and make a difference as female scientist. I am taking advantage of every opportunity that crosses my path to better myself as a student and am inspired everyday by the world around me. With the guidance of the fantastic faculty at UW-Stout, I feel that I am taking the right steps in preparing myself for the next educational journey!


Hassan Mire

I was born in Somalia, but I spent most of my early years in Kenya. I moved to the United States at the age of seventeen. Because of the war and suffering I experienced at a young age I became quite aware of the power of education. Education has become my priority. I am now majoring in Applied Social Science with a concentration in Economics and Political Science and History. Upon finishing my undergraduate degree, I plan to pursue a graduate degree in either Economics or International Relations.

During my high school years, I founded a Diversity Club and I became the club's president. This organization advocated multiculturalism and student rights. I also became a member of the student senate and organized different youth activities at my school and local community and played soccer for the high school. Currently, at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, I am involved in a variety of student clubs both athletic and academic.

During my free time, I enjoy cooking, writing, traveling, watching documentaries, running, soccer, tennis, playing acoustic guitar or the African drums. I also have a prodigious appetite for reading non-fiction books. I am shaping my life to be a professor, a father, an author, a philanthropist, an activist and possibly politician. I hope to leave behind a positive living legacy long after I am gone.


Tanya Stoeklen

Being a first generation college student who has an associate degree in Cosmetology; going back for a bachelor degree was a big decision.  Growing up in a small town, there were not many people who had college aspirations.  My mother could not afford to send me, and although it was an ambition, it was a door I was afraid to open. When I finally decided I would try for my associates I was very nervous and not confident that I could make it through the program; but once I started, I kicked myself for not finding a way sooner. After my son was diagnosed with autism I decided to go back for my bachelor's degree. I started out at Chippewa Valley Technical College and transferred to UW-Stout after one semester. I am double majoring in Vocational Rehabilitation and Special Education cross- categorical. I am very interested in autism research and would like to be a future advocate for this incredible community. I always had intentions on getting my Master's Degree, but a PhD seemed unattainable until I became a McNair scholar. With the guidance the program provides, the road to a good graduate school looks well paved and I am grateful for this opportunity. 


Kang Vang

My parents are Hmong immigrants that came to the United States in 1980. They came with the hope of freedom and the chance to dream. I admire and appreciate the courage and determination that my parents possess. I am currently a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. I am majoring in Applied Science with a concentration in Biotechnology. Following the same determination my parents have, I plan to go on to graduate school and become a forensic science technician. My family is my most significant motivation to pursue a PhD. Being a part of the McNair Scholars Program is valuable to me because it will challenge me and prepare me for graduate school.


Pang Vang

As a child growing up in a family of seven sons and three daughters my parents amazingly have never allowed us to feel financial strain.  My father and mother came to America with my two older brothers, leaving behind their homeland in hopes that their children could live a better life.  Once in a while my father takes my hands, and I feel the coarse texture of his palms.  He tells me that I am his hope, and that I must succeed so I will not have to live by labor. Despite moments of difficulty I go on because of my father and realizing that every human being deserves an education. Through education lives are changed and eyes opened to see—unclouded by ignorance.  As an Art Education major I hope to bring education to students of all backgrounds, cultures, and countries, because Art is universal.  I hope that through my pursuit of a PhD in my field I will be able to accomplish all this and more. 


Tanner Tomesh

My name is Tanner Tomesh. I am currently enrolled at UW-Stout, studying for a Bachelor of Science in Game Design and Development with a concentration in Computer Science and a minor in mathematics.  For as long as I can remember, I have always enjoyed playing video games. Over the years my respect for the industry has grown immensely. I’ve done research about the history of the industry, and have learned that it has had a massive impact on the improvement of computer-based technologies, and has shaped its own culture of gamers.

Passion and respect for video games has driven me to want to make a difference in the gaming industry and to give back to the industry after enjoying playing games for so long. My research interests involve conducting research on successful and unsuccessful teaching methods, why some work while others fail, and how they could be incorporated into video games. The challenge would be to create a game that gives players an incentive to play while still being able to teach them as effectively, if not better, than an average textbook would. In doing so, I hope to be able to open new doors for the industry and help it remain as successful as it is today, as well as improve the educational system by offering it technologies that have become embedded in students’ everyday lives. Almost every student is now a digital native having grown up their whole life surrounded by technology. I believe that video games can become a viable teaching method that will allow students to stay focused and give them the hands on experience they need to receive a strong education.

Fall2010-Callie Bernier-web

Callie Bernier

As a second year undergraduate student at UW-Stout, I am majoring in Applied Science with a concentration in Environmental Science and a minor in Sustainable Design and Development.  Growing up in a very artistic family, I have always found design enjoyable and easy.  For this reason, I was originally interested in coming to UW-Stout for design.  However, after working for a landscaping company and greenhouse for five years, I discovered my love for nature and plants.  My goal is to go on to graduate school for landscaping architecture which will combine my two largest passions in life.  Being the person I am though, I want to do more than just design yards and parks.  I would like to make a difference by doing more beneficial endeavors such as environmental restoration.   This is why I chose the major and minor I did.  I believe UW-Stout and the McNair Scholars program will give me the background knowledge necessary to continue my education.  Currently, I am studying abroad at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland and will be at the University of Otago in New Zealand next semester.  I love to travel and learn about other cultures.  The experience is a life altering one which I will never forget.  Upon my return, I look forward to completing my research and undergoing the process of applying to graduate schools with the assistance of the McNair program.  The privilege of being a member is truly an honor which I greatly appreciate.

Linnea Heintz-web

Linnea Heintz

I am a nontraditional student majoring in psychology, with a minor in biology. I aspire to make a difference in the world, pursuing a PhD in psychology with a focus in oncology. Psychoneuroimmunology is also an area of research that intrigues me. I would like to be able to test for a possible correlation between stress and immunity.

I grew up in southern Wisconsin and spent my summers up in Phillips, Wisconsin with my grandparents. I live on a small hobby farm in the rural community of Hawkins, Wisconsin with my three teenagers. We are self-sufficient—raising the foods that we eat. Our pet raccoon, Nermal, who now weighs in at 54 pounds is spoiled rotten. My husband works over the road, getting home about once a month.

I am a 3rd year senior, highly determined to get my degree. I travel 1,000 miles a week—a daily four hour round trip—to and from Stout. I did not have the opportunity to pursue my dream 25 years ago. Life's lessons and present day opportunities have helped me to be where I am today. With the help of the McNair Scholars program, I hope to see my dream come to fruition.

Fall2010-Elizabeth Steans-web

Elizabeth Steans

My name is Elizabeth Steans and I am a fifth year senior enrolled in the online Human Development & Family Studies Program. I grew up in Eau Claire, WI after living in many different cities and states in the US. My father has been a labor worker since I was born and my mother stayed at home with her eight children and dedicated her life to her family and homemaking. I have been very thankful for having the opportunity to always count on my mother being home when I was there, however I am approaching a different take on family life. I am part of the first generation in my family to go to a four year college (five years in my case!) and intend on seeking a Master's Degree beyond my Bachelor of Science. I am a mother of two little girls and I hope to instill the importance of education into their core values. 

I was contacted by the McNair Scholar program in Spring of 2010 and have not looked back since. I've taken on many new experiences due to being a McNair Scholar. I have been able to focus what I am most passionate about in research, that being researching children and families through the perspective of public service in public libraries. The McNair Scholar program has offered me a new perspective on mothers finding the balance of family and work while completing a degree. I've been able to recognize that I have innovative ideas when approaching societal problems. McNair has been the tool for me to construct my curiosities and concerns with social problems and testing potential resolutions through collecting data and research. I'm looking forward to graduating from UW-Stout Spring 2013 so I can begin a graduate program in Fall 2013.


Diana Witcher

I am a junior seeking a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration in Graphic Design and a minor in Environmental Studies. I am excited to be in such a dynamic field. I truly enjoy learning and have found college to be an exciting opportunity. I am a non-traditional, first generation college student.

I have studied diverse subjects including color, life drawing, poetry, medicinal plants, sustainable design and gender studies. Most compelling are the places where these subjects overlap. Art, architecture and the beauty of the natural world continue to inspire me.

I see the arts as the practice of visual communication. Words and images have a profound impact upon both individuals and society. Many of the problems that we experience in society are due to a breakdown in communication. Visual communication is a connection between people and information, and can help to foster true understanding.

The goal of an advanced degree has brought a new focus to my studies and helped me to see that becoming educated can be an act of service. I am interested in studying color, light, typography, sustainable design, art history and the social impact of visual communication. As an artist and designer, I hope to be a leader toward a sustainable future.