Nominees for the 2022 Ablah awards share their stories

By: Madeline Schnieders, Managing Editor

Sixteen Newman seniors have been nominated for the Ablah Award, which is Newman’s most prestigious award and is given to one graduating male student and one graduating female student at the graduation ceremony every year.

To be eligible, students must have completed a minimum of 62 residential hours at Newman, have maintained a 3.0 GPA and have exemplified the mission of Newman through leadership, service and scholarship.

The women nominees are Kayla Garvert, Jaqueline Lari, Kelly Mai, Hannah Millershaski, Julia Myers, Patti Rolf, Paige Roubideaux, Margaret Sweeney and Allison Williams.

The men nominees are Matthew Clark, Tejay Cleland, McGrew Foley, Marcus Gonzales, Daniel Knolla, Ian Lecki and Steven Nguyen.

The winners will be announced at the commencement ceremony, which will begin at 1 p.m. on May 6 at Hartman Arena.

The Vantage reached out to all Ablah nominees and asked them to share more about themselves. The following are stories about those who responded:

Tejay Cleland

Cleland, a communication major, has worn many hats during his time at Newman, including current editor-in-chief of The Vantage and former Jets baseball team member and assistant coach.

He also created and hosted JetsInsider, a weekly video update on NU athletics.

Cleland has already landed a full-time job as a news reporter for KWCH-12 Eyewitness News and will continue his career in TV journalism post graduation.

Cleland said he couldn’t believe it when he learned he was nominated for the Ablah Award.

“It is definitely an honor to be nominated for an award of such magnitude,” he said. “Newman definitely gave me opportunities that I don’t believe I would have gotten if I went to another school.”

Paige Roubideaux

Roubideaux will graduate with both a psychology and a criminal justice degree and a minor in sociology.

She has been involved in the Social Science Honors Society Pi Gamma Mu and is serving as president this year. She has also been a part of the cheer team and dance team.

Off campus, Roubideaux completed 180 hours with the Wichita Police Department, spending time with the detectives, sitting in on the recruit class and going on a few ride alongs. She also works at Home Bank and Trust.

Roubideaux said she feels very honored and blessed to be an Ablah nominee.

“Newman has always felt like home to me,” she said. “The environment is very positive and welcoming to new students and current students, which I absolutely love.”

After graduation, Roubideaux will attend graduate school at WSU for a Master’s in criminal justice and will work as a graduate teaching assistant. Ultimately, she said, she wants to work in a law enforcement agency or become a professor and teach criminal justice classes.

Daniel Knolla

Knolla, a biochemistry major, said he felt surprised to learn he was an Ablah Award nominee.

“I knew a few of my fellow nominees were more than worthy of the award, but I didn't really expect to see my name among them,” he said. “I think that I have to thank my friends and family who pushed me to be the best that I can. This nomination, in a way, is their nomination as well. I am forever grateful to them.”

Knolla described his time at Newman as a “roller coaster.”

“I think Newman has helped shape me through the diversity of the opportunities it provided throughout my college career,” he said. “It has provided me with intellectually challenging classes, fun and relaxing activities, opportunities to lead and opportunities to learn outside the scope of my field, which is science. All of these things have put me through the grinder and churned out who I am today … much more diligent, compassionate, and confident than who I was before.”

While Knolla participated in many clubs and organizations during his time at Newman, he said, the most memorable has been his time as a member of the Sloppy Joe Improv Troupe and his involvement with the theatre department.

Knolla hopes to take a trip or two after graduation. But two months after commencement, he will start school at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

Julia Myers

Business data analytics major Myers said she feels honored to be nominated for the Ablah Award.

“I don't really know what to say except it is a testament to all of the amazing people I have had around me my entire life and in college who have given me so much love, support, and encouragement,” she said.

She has loved her time at Newman, she said.

“I have found so many supportive communities, whether that be the triathlon team, campus ministry, or the honors program. It is going to be hard to say goodbye,” she said.

She said the people at Newman have had a big role in shaping who she is and that she has learned how to lead and serve others through their example.

During her time at Newman, Myers has been a member of the triathlon team and honors program, has been actively involved in Campus Ministry, and was a student ambassador for three years.

She is an ASC scholar and a student representative for the Bishop Gerber Board.

Off campus, she has been involved in volunteering with local organizations like Ronald McDonald House and ICT Food Rescue. She also has an internship with Textron Aviation.

After graduation, she plans to step into a full-time role as a Business/Data Analyst in Aftermarket Defense at Textron.

Patti Rolf

Rolf is a non-traditional outreach student who graduated with a degree in elementary education in December. She describes herself as a happily married, proud mom of six children.

Rolf said she was shocked when she learned of her nomination.

“I feel so fortunate to be in the company of the fellow nominees,” she said. “Receiving a nomination for the Ablah Award was unexpected but a true honor and a humbling accompaniment to earning my degree, which I undoubtedly consider ‘A Degree of Difference.’"

On campus, Rolf was a peer mentor in the College of Education Outreach Program and served as a student representative on the panel for Newman University's College of Education accreditation meeting.

Off-campus, she serves as a Down Syndrome Society of Wichita volunteer, is a Moms of Children with Special Needs community member and a volunteer at Saint Peter the Apostle Catholic Church and school.

Rolf said that, as a mother of a child with special needs, Newman’s mission to transform society, relates directly to her life.

“Life experiences and the education I received at Newman University have prepared me to go forth confidently as a teacher to educate and transform society,” she said.

Since completing student teaching in the fall, Rolf has spent this semester substitute teaching at several Catholic schools in the Wichita area. She has accepted a teaching position for next school year at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School, where she did student teaching. She will teach 5th grade English language arts and social studies.

Margaret Sweeney

Sweeney, a healthcare science major, said it was a surprise and an honor to be nominated.

She was involved in Newman's Occupational Therapy Student Association as a member and co-ran its social media page.

“I loved my time at Newman. I felt like a valued student throughout my time here and feel very lucky to have been a student here,” she said.

Sweeney said Newman provided her with core values of academic excellence and helped further her Catholic faith, global perspective, and service.

“From the different classes relating to my major to the different Newman Studies Program classes I took, I gained the knowledge necessary for my career and the personal satisfaction of attending a school that caters to my needs as a student,” she said.

Sweeney graduated in December and is working as a certified occupational therapy assistant in a nursing facility.

Steven Nguyen

Secondary education and English major Nguyen said that being told about his nomination was surreal.

“I remember being the nerdy unpopular kid in high school, and in many ways, I still am that kid because I haven’t changed at my core,” he said. “I’ve definitely grown and forced myself outside of my comfort zone, and I’m glad that it’s paid off.”

Nguyen has spent the past few years at Newman as a campus minister in Campus Ministry and is a member of the triathlon team. He is the founder and president of Disc Golf Club and spearheaded the initiative to get the disc golf course installed on campus.

Nguyen has accepted a full-time teaching position at Kapaun Mount Carmel High School and will begin teaching freshmen and sophomores English in the fall.

Marcus Gonzales

Gonzales said he is happy to be nominated for the Ablah Award.

“I feel touched with joy that I have exemplified high achieving academic scores throughout my coursework as an undergraduate and have been viewed as a role model to fellow peers and classmates,” he said.

At Newman, he was involved in study groups designed by peers in the education program.

Outside NU, he volunteered as a teacher for the children’s program at The Midwest Catholic Family Conference in 2021. He was the announcer at the Kansas High School Girls State Basketball Championship at the United Wireless Arena in Dodge City this year.

Gonzales is an elementary education major, and he plans to continue being a science teacher at Comanche Middle School in Dodge City and to obtain his Master of Science in Curriculum and Instruction at Newman University.

Kelly Mai

Mai is double majoring in psychology and criminal justice and minoring in art.

She said she hardly has words to describe her feelings at being nominated.

“I am very humbled and incredibly blessed that the Newman community has found faith in me, even during times when I couldn’t find it in myself,” she said. “This nomination itself is already such an award to me.”

Mai has served as an ASC Community Leadership Scholar, a student graphic designer and photographer for University Relations, the public relations person for Pi Gamma Mu Honor Society, the vice president and public relations person for Gardening Club, a campus security intern for Security Director Mo Floyd, a Member of Psi Chi Honor Society and an active member of Multicultural Leadership Organization, Asian Student Association and Campus Ministry. She has also been on the Campus Activities Board.

Off-campus, she has volunteered for Operation Holiday, Friends of Friends, and Footprints ICT. She is also a volunteer tax preparer for United Way.

Mai plans to take a gap year before pursuing a master’s degree in social work at Newman. This summer, she will assist non-profit organizations through service work and marketing. She will also be working with special needs programs and may also gain more experience with juveniles in correctional facilities. She will also offer freelance photography and graphic design.

Mai said she is grateful for her time at Newman.

“Through my Catholic faith, I’ve continued to grow in my love of serving others and viewing others through the eyes of God. As with campus involvement, I’ve learned to embrace who I am as a Vietnamese-American and to also keep an open mind and heart towards others who don’t share the same beliefs as I do. Most importantly, what has helped shape me into the person that I am today is the importance of friendship and the amazing people that I have crossed paths with,” she said.

PHOTO: Tejay Cleland, Editor-In-Chief