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Alumni Updates,  
Alumni Spotlight,
and Camper Voices

Alumni Updates

(posted December 10, 2019)

Jeff Carlyle (SCATS 1991)graduated from the University of Evansville with a BS in computer science engineering in 2001. He is a senior software engineer for Google and lives in Sunnyvale, CA. He is active on Twitter at @jeffcarlyle and on Instagram at @realjeffcarlyle. 

Erin Cox (SCATS 2007, VAMPY 2008) received her BS in architectural engineering with a focus on mechanical, electrical, and plumbing system design from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. She now works for PEDCO E&A Services in Cincinnati. She says, “I work on a variety of projects for such clients as P&G, GE, Fidelity Investments, and many more. My tasks and jobs vary day to day, and I am constantly working towards our goal of helping our clients achieve beyond what they can do by themselves and ensure that all of their needs are met. The Center's emphasis on both academic and social development was crucial. I gained both fond memories and important lessons there. I fully intend to send any children I have to the program.”

James DetwilerJames Detwiler (SCATS 1989) is a chaplain in the US Air Force. He received a BS in political science from the University of Kentucky in 1999, a Master of Divinity from Gateway Seminary in 2008, and a PhD from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2015. He writes, “I currently serve over 1,000 Airmen and their families within the 90th Maintenance Group and 90th Operations Group at F. E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, WY. I provide pastoral leadership and care, advise squadron and group leadership, offer confidential counseling, and ensure the free exercise of religion. I have many fond memories of camp.” He is on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @JamesDetwiler.

Chelsea Douglas (SCATS 2001-02) received her BA in economics from Centre College in 2010 and a certificate in accounting from University of Louisville in 2012. She works for Crowe in Louisville as an audit manager: “In 2016, I transferred to Crowe's London office for a six-month secondment. I was recently selected for a two-year fellowship within Crowe to develop firm methodology regarding technology and the future of the auditing profession, including the use of data analytics, artificial intelligence, and other technologies. I am recently engaged and looking forward to celebrating our wedding in 2020.” She is on Instagram at @chelli_beanz.

Katherine Steinbock Dyke (VAMPY 1998-99) is a manufacturing project manager at Whip Mix Corporation in Louisville, which manufactures and sells dental supplies and lab equipment. A graduate of American University with a degree in International Studies, she says about camp, “I remember having an absolute blast! I loved being on a college campus and making new friends.”

Matt Flanagan (SCATS 1986) of Bardstown graduated from Center College in 1994 with a BS in mathematics and physics and from Campbellsville University in 2012 with Masters of Theology in pastoral leadership. Since 2018, he has served as the children and student ministry consultant for the Kentucky Baptist Convention in Louisville. He is on Facebook as Matt Flanagan.

Austyn Gaffney (Super Saturdays 1999) graduated from Transylvania University in 2012 with a BA in political science and from the University of Kentucky in 2018 with an MFA in creative writing. She is an editorial fellow at Sierra Magazine in Oakland, CA, and lives in Berkley. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @austyngaffney.

Joseph Groom (SCATS 2002-03, VAMPY 2005, Gatton 2007-08, Counselor 2012, TA 2019)  is a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Washington. He graduated from Vanderbilt University in 2012 with degrees in molecular and cellular Joseph Groombiology and in German and from the University of Georgia in 2017 with a PhD in genetics. He writes, “I do research on prominent environmental bacteria that consume methane, with the applications of mitigating greenhouse gases and the industrial production of valuable chemicals from waste. Currently I am focusing on how metals and nitrogen oxides impact methane metabolism. I love living in Seattle with my dog, Dizzy. Going to VAMPY and SCATS prepared me academically and socially.” (Pictured with Nilesh Sahi (left; SCATS 2001, Gatton 2007-08, Counselor 2012) and Emily Peeler (center; Super Saturdays 2000-01, SCATS 2003, VAMPY 2004-06, Gatton 2007-08)).

Wei-Shin Lai (VAMPY 1990-91), who graduated from the University of Michigan in 2005 with a BA 2005 in cellular and molecular biology and received her MD from the University of Virginia-Charlottesville in 2005, is the CEO of AcousticSheep, which makes headphones “so comfortable you can wear them in bed.” In October, she was invited to Washington, DC, to participate in a panel held by Google and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to discuss small businesses and digital innovation.

Charles Gordon McKemie (VAMPY 1997, 1999), received his Bachelor of Business Administration with a concentration in finance from Emory University in 2007. After working as an analyst at Lehman Bothers, as an assistant vice president in high yield research at Barclays Capital, and an associate in leveraged finance at Citigroup, he became a principal at GSO Capital Partners in New York, NY, in 2012. He is also a U.S. credit research analyst involved with the ongoing analysis and evaluation of primary and secondary fixed income investments and sits on LCS’s U.S. Syndicated Credit Investment Committee.

Kathleen Overly (SCATS 1995) is the director of judicial programs at the University of Texas School of Law. She received her BA in political science from Wake Forest University in 2003, her JD from the University of Michigan Law School in 2005, and her EdD in higher education from the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of education in 2012. She lives in Pflugerville, TX.

Justin Penny (SCATS 2004-05, VAMPY 2006-07, Counselor 2010) doubled majored in biology and classics at the University of Kentucky, graduating in 2013. He received a DO and an MA in bioethics from Kansas City University in 2017. He now is a resident physician at the University of Minnesota’s Smiley's Family Medicine Residency Program in Minneapolis. You can follow him on Twitter at @JPennyDO.

Morgan Stone (SCATS 2003-04) received a BA in sociology from WKU in 2013, and an MA in criminal justice from Eastern Kentucky University in 2016. She was a member of the United States Peace Corps from June 2016-July 2018, serving in the Republic of Morgan StoneMoldova as an English Education Volunteer where she worked alongside Moldovan English teachers in teaching students from grades 5-12. She began a PhD program in sociology at the University of Kentucky in 2018 and is studying education and crime in rural spaces, with a focus on school discipline in rural schools. She is on Facebook at Morgan Stone and Instagram at @morganstone485.




Spotlight on: Melissa Scruggs 
(VAMPY 1998-2001) 

Kirstin Squint

Melissa Scruggs has achieved the dream of many a science-minded gifted student: she studies volcanoes. A Ph.D. candidate in geology with an emphasis on magma dynamics and petrochemistry at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) where she is part of the Magma Dynamics Group at the UCSB Department of Earth Sciences. She has published in American Mineralogist and the Encyclopedia of Geochemistry, and presented at the Goldschmidt International Conference in Geochemistry and the American Geophysical Union’s Annual Fall Meeting. She received an MS in geology with an emphasis on volcanology from California State University, Fresno, and a BS in geology from University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Melissa also achieved internet fame last January, when she tweeted (as @VolcanoDoc) about exacting revenge on her hard-partying neighbors who rolled “a giant sandstone boulder” in front of her car. The young men had overlooked the fact the she was “a tiny #geologist who has access to a VERY loud auto-chipper at 7:30 am,” and Melissa posted four pictures of her dismantling the rock in a most effective and noisy fashion. The post went viral, receiving 53.5 thousand likes.

We spoke with Melissa this fall about her time at VAMPY, her path to becoming a volcanologist, and how her lifelong curiosity occasionally allows her to destroy stuff in the name of science.

What was school was like for you as a kid?

I was really bored and frustrated. I went to Lincoln College Prep in Kansas City, Missouri, for middle school. It's one of the best schools in the state — the base classes are AP, and upper classes are IB — and I was still just bored. Everything was easy, and I hated it.

What do you remember about VAMPY?

I remember VAMPY quite vividly. I loved it. VAMPY felt more like a family than my family. I still talk to some of the people that I met my first year. They’re some of my best friends, and even though they live across the country, we send each other Christmas cards, talk, and Skype.

I took Physics my first year. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I struggled a bit with the math because math is hard for me, but I loved being able to drop stuff off the top of the building. That seems to be a recurring theme for me — I like when I get to drop things off the tops of buildings or blow things up. VAMPY contributed to me realizing that being a scientist was a thing. I had watched Bill Nye the Science Guy and Beakman's World, but they were on TV — I never thought that that could be real.

Later I took Genetics, Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, and Medieval Literature. Whatever I happened to be into at the time, I obsessed over it. My dad says I'd do that even as a little kid — I'd find whatever I was interested in and never stop until I could get to the bottom of things. They found it incredibly annoying — VAMPY was their solution because they got rid of me for a month!

How did your academic interests progress?

I started getting into science in about fourth or fifth grade. In high school, I took chemistry. I had a great teacher, and she was so excited about it — her personality really drew me to that class. I took chemistry for two and a half years.

I didn't initially graduate high school — I dropped out when I was a senior because I was pregnant. I also still hated school — I showed up to take tests and made As on them, but on report cards I had Fs because of my attendance. I got my GED and worked as a legal secretary. I liked law, so I decided to be a paralegal. I worked full time during the day and went to school part time at night, and I got my Associate degree in paralegal studies.

Then I transferred to the University of Missouri–Kansas City. I thought science was really cool, but I wanted to be a lawyer, so I wanted to combine the two. There was an environmental studies degree in the Department of Urban and Environmental Geosciences. It had a lot of policy-oriented classes, so I decided to major in environmental science and minor in the pre-law track. I would get to do law, but I would get to enjoy science at the same time.

The major required taking environmental science and a couple geology classes. Then I took mineralogy, and they got me with the shiny minerals. That did it: I decided to change to geology. I took a class called the Archeology of Ancient Disasters. The archeologist who taught it, Dr. L. Mark Raab, passed away just this summer — he was really cool. He actually did his PhD dissertation on the Channel Islands offshore here in Santa Barbara, so it's a weird, full circle sort of thing.

The course was cross-listed in geology and classics and was taught by Dr. Raab and by Dr. Tina Niemi, a sedimentologist. The course was awesome because we got to see how geologic events affected the course of human history — like the 1755 earthquake in Lisbon. Most of the churches were destroyed, but the red light district fared fairly well. It was because of the underlying lithology (what rock type is underneath the ground) and how there were different rock types within the city — but people in the area started to question religion — why would God destroy these churches while the red light districts survived? Topics like that got me interested in natural hazards. And like I said before, I always liked throwing things off of buildings

I decided that I wanted to be a volcanologist when Dr. Raab showed a video of a volcanologist in a silver suit next to a lava lake. I said, “How do I get to do that?” They told me I had to get a PhD in volcanology.

What have you researched in your graduate studies?

For my master's degree, I worked on a volcano called Chaos Crags in Lassen Peak, in Northern California. I collected rock samples, crushed them up, melted them — fused them into glass — and then popped them in an x-ray fluorescence spectrometer, which measures the chemical composition of the rock as a whole. I also measured the chemistry of the individual minerals in the rock, so I could compare the two. From that information, I reconstructed the pressures and temperatures (P-T) that the different minerals in the magma crystallized at, before the volcano erupted. From those P-T estimates, I realized that after two different types of magma had mixed, there had to have been ~200 °C of cooling before the volcano erupted. Ultimately, if it wasn't for magma mixing, the eruption wouldn't have happened, but it probably didn’t happen right away.

Why are those findings significant?

The whole point of volcanology in my view is to try to mitigate as many disasters as possible. There's no way to predict a volcanic eruption at all — even a single volcano can have a completely different behavior from one eruption to the next — so by reconstructing what happens before an eruption, you can gain a better understanding of that volcano's behaviors. At Chaos Crags, the initial eruption was very explosive, then it lost some gas, and then it had some lava dome growth. Then it had another explosive eruption, and the rest of it was more lava dome growth. By looking at the differences between the individual eruptions, we can recreate what happened. It doesn't help to forecast future eruptions, but it does help to better understand the past behavior of a volcano.

Part of my PhD builds on my master's work. I have additional geochemistry data. Instead of looking at the minerals in the rocks, I looked at the isotopic signature of the rocks as a whole. I was able to find evidence that as the magma comes up from depth into the base of the chamber to mix with the magma that's already there, it's incorporating some of the upper crustal rock around it as it travels upwards.

The other part of my PhD is looking at the Pu`u `O`o eruption at Kilauea on the island of Hawai’i. I use a computer program called the Magma Chamber Simulator — you can look it up at https://mcs.geol.ucsb.edu/. It's a thermodynamically-based (energy- and mass-constrained phase equilibria modeling) computer program that can model what the chemistry of the rocks should look like if certain processes were to happen. I take the actual chemistry of the lava that has erupted and say, “Okay, I know that this is what came out. Now what had to happen underneath the ground in order to get there?” and that's what I model. It takes a long time because I have to model all these different scenarios, and the natural earth has a ton of variables.

I'm working on the Episode 54 eruption, which was in 1997. It was a 23-hour long eruption that occurred just a few months after GPS was first installed in the Pu`u `O`o cone. With GPS, you can calculate the volume of magma that's moved. From using the volumes of magma, where they were located, and the chemistry of the lava that was erupted at the time of the eruption, I was able to figure out that the magma that came in to the system mixed with a pod of leftover magma that was pretty crystalline and had evolved quite a bit. I was able to figure out the composition of that magma, its crystallinity, and its conditions and approximate volume before Episode 54 occurred.

What are your professional goals at this point?

I have officially advanced to PhD candidacy. I’m hoping to defend by the end of the summer. I was selected for the American Geophysical Union conference in December — it's the biggest international geology conference — so I’ll present part of my PhD work there. I really would like to research.

And you've been doing all this as a parent as well?

Yes. My daughter is 16 — she's a great kid. She started taking chemistry this year, and she came home and said, “Mom, I really like chemistry!” and I said, “It's really cool, huh?”

Any final thoughts on VAMPY? Has it had an impact on your life?

Without a doubt. My mom remembers me telling her I liked it better than school because there were people there who were like me. Even though I got to go to a school where the classes were demanding and the people were nice, I still didn't feel I fit in. VAMPY gave me a place to look forward to going to. 24 years later I still talk to some of my friends from camp on a weekly basis. Those are my homies.

My first year — this is how I got roped into this group of friends — there was this rule that we weren't allowed to take the elevators. But there was this thing called the Elevator Record. We crammed 43 people into a 17-person capacity elevator. We went up three feet and got stuck for four hours. We did not make it to class on time.

Things like the dances, mandatory fun, and meeting people from everywhere who were just as into things as I was all helped me so much as a person. VAMPY was such a great experience, and it has really helped me to grow into who I am today.

Past interviews can be found in ourAlumni Spotlight Archive.


Camper Voices

Mac Bettersworth (Super Saturdays 2014-15, Camp Innovate 2015-16, SCATS 2017-19): Instead of being in common core classes, you get to choose classes you enjoy, and you get to meet people who have the same interests as you. It causes you to make friends because all of us are nerds here. 

Eric Eastman (Super Saturdays 2012, SCATS 2015, VAMPY 2016-19):There's no overarching goal at VAMPY besides the betterment of ourselves. We're not preparing for anything. It's “What do we want to learn?” and “What do we want to do?"  

Malachi Ibn-Mohammed (SCATS 2019): I've been learning how to read and write and do math since I was two. And then I've been growing as a reader, as a writer, as a mathematician, but I'm in classes where everybody else's levels are not quite there. So I have to sit back. At SCATS, I'm in classes where everybody is either at my level or above. And I love that.

Hollis Maxon (SCATS 2015, VAMPY 2016-19)One of my favorite parts of being a fourth-year was seeing younger students come into their own. There was a kid in Pop Culture who came into camp incredibly smart but really quiet and not very active because it can be intimidating being in a class with older kids. But VAMPY helped this camper blossom. Eventually, during our breaks, we’d put a Dance Dance game on the screen, and this person would get up and do it. The class atmosphere of “no pressure” and “we’re there to help each other and learn” helps younger students feel accepted. It’s a special part of the camp experience.

Will Sayler (VAMPY 2016-19): The environment at VAMPY makes people willing to make themselves vulnerable, and so they will put themselves out there. They're a lot more willing to make new friends here than they are at school, so you're making deeper connections with campers. You also have a much deeper connection with the teachers and the counselors.

Elias Sierra (Super Saturdays 2012-15, SCATS 2017-19): My two brothers and I have been going to camp at The Center for almost 10 years. My oldest brother told my parents that it was fun, and because of that, brother after brother after brother has come here. It's so much fun, and it's also work. The teachers give us more time to be hands-on. 

Phoebe Wagoner (VAMPY 2016-19): A big part of what influenced me to come back for all four years was the connections I made with campers who had come for four years and told me how much it was worth my time. Also, I wanted to be one of those campers during my fourth year who influenced first years to come back and kept the community alive. 


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 Last Modified 12/11/19