Senior spotlight: Shyanne Milne ’21 (criminal justice)

Get to know the newest members of the University of Indianapolis Alumni Association!

Shyanne Milne, UIndy 2021Shyanne Milne, Class of May 2021

What are your plans after graduation?

I plan to keep working at my current job as a correctional officer and eventually down the line I hope to work my way into being an evidence technician. That is really my end goal.

How did you decide on your career path?

I decided to work in the criminal justice field because of my prior life experiences as well as I have always had an interest in crime scene investigation. I have been interested in Criminal Justice for as long as I can remember.

How has your experience in the criminal justice program prepared you for the next steps in your career? 

While focusing on crime scene investigation I got to work a lot in the crime lab which helped me really narrow in on what I wanted to do with my major. The criminal justice program allows you to explore many different focuses without wasting any time.

Where do you work now and how does it tie into your major?

I work at a jail in Hancock County. I started as an intern at the jail and was hired on full-time. It has been an amazing experience and I have been fortunate enough to meet a lot of amazing people. The jail has helped me with my criminal justice major as well as my psychology minor. You really encounter a lot of different scenarios that test your knowledge and help you learn more about not only that individual but yourself as well.

How did you balance everything during college?

Balancing my responsibilities throughout college has really been difficult for me. I have to balance my time between my family, my school work, and my full-time job (I work night shift). There hasn’t been a year of my college career where I didn’t have to figure out a way to balance my responsibilities. However, I always managed to get it done.

What’s a favorite thing about UIndy?

I think my favorite thing is all of the workshops and extra activities that are offered. It helps everyone on campus be able to connect with one another. I have met some lifelong friends here at UIndy that I am very grateful for.

What advice do you have for incoming freshmen? 

Do not procrastinate. Don’t blow off your freshman year. Keep on top of things and keep your GPA up. Also, if your major requires you to take a biology or chemistry class take it your freshman year. Coming right from high school makes the class go much easier because you are still familiar with the basic information.

Senior Spotlight: Tori Akles ’21 (Biology, Spanish)

UIndy 360 recently had the chance to talk to graduating senior Tori Akles ’21 (Biology, Spanish, Chemistry minor) about her experience at UIndy, participation in the Roche Academy, and her plans after graduation.

What advice do you have for incoming freshmen?

Learn to pace yourself in your work. If an assignment is going to take an extended amount of time, don’t be afraid to put it down and take a break or work on something else. You don’t want to burn yourself out. Basically, know your limits of studying, know when to take breaks, and leave time for fun too. 


What is the most significant way UIndy has had an impact on you?

I have made lifelong friendships here, and I have really grown as a person. Through UIndy, I have also found my future career at Roche Diagnostics that I never would have found on my own. Through an internship, I received a job offer and I start working a month after graduation!


Do you have any faculty mentors? If so, who are they and how have they helped you? 

All of the professors that I have had have helped me further my knowledge and experience. However, I think that both Dr. Mary Gobbett and Dr. Daniel Scholes have helped me the most. I have worked with both of these professors for about two years, and the experience I got from this was able to get me the Roche internship in the first place. They have helped me get experience in lab work and prep, as well as tutoring others as they work through their courses. 


Have you done any internships, and if so, where were they? What skills did you gain?

I did my internship with the Roche Support Network in Roche Diagnostics. From this, I gained a career for after I graduate as well as skills I are useful for many different fields of work. My internship consisted of a lot of computer work as we were unfortunately under quarantine at the time. But the start of my career will consist of the fieldwork I didn’t have the opportunity to do during the internship. 


What would you like to do following graduation? What are your long-term career goals? 

After graduation, I have planned about a month off for traveling before I begin working for Roche. I am traveling with friends and with family. After this, I begin my life in a new career and a new apartment. Tip- if you get a career in Roche or other healthcare careers, ask about preferred employer programs at apartment complexes. If you work for the right company, you could get discounts on move in and rent.


What’s your favorite thing about UIndy?

My favorite thing is the small class sizes. Because of this, I have been able to get to know my professors well, and I have been able to take advantage of many opportunities they have provided me with, including the Roche Diagnostics internship. I’m so glad I decided to attend the University of Indianapolis.


Senior spotlight: Samantha Mundt (4+1 public health)

UIndy 360 had a chance to talk with 4+1 Public Health student Samantha Mundt, who is currently in her first year of a Master of Public Health degree and final year of a Public Health Education and Promotion undergraduate degree.  


How is the public health program preparing you for the next steps in your career?

“The public health program has done so much to prepare me for the next steps in my career. This program has given me the opportunity to implement real interventions within my community. I have had the opportunity to work with organizations such as the Indiana Minority Health Coalition, the Hoosier Environmental Council, the YMCA, the South Indy Quality of Life Project, and so many others. Additionally, I have been able to speak at national conferences relevant to my field and hold leadership positions within state and national professional organizations.”

Have any UIndy faculty mentored you? 

“Mentorship from UIndy faculty members such as Dr. Heidi Hancher-Rauch and Dr. Angelitta Britt-Spells has led me to earn two internship positions. Dr. Kara Cecil has led me to compete in multiple case study competitions. My professors have given me all the skills necessary to ensure that I am well prepared to not only enter the workforce but also to be a leader in my field.”

Are you involved in any extracurricular activities? 

“As a UIndy student, I am president of our Eta Sigma Gamma chapter, a health education honorary. I am the Collegiate Champion for the National Society for Public Health Education at UIndy as well as the Student Representative for InSOPHE.  In addition to this, I am a Contact Tracer, Graduate Assistant, Writing Lab Tutor, and former Greyhound Ambassador for the university. This is just a few of an even longer list of all the ways in which I have been able to be involved while a student at UIndy. Each of these experiences has heightened how much I value being in a program that pushed me to do more than just work towards my degree. Because of the public health program at UIndy, I am constantly striving to reach new heights and often finding myself at the top.”

Have you had any internships? 

“In my time at UIndy, I have had two internships. The first was with the Indiana Minority Health Coalition and our work was focused on maternal & child health and minority health. The second internship was with the Hoosier Environmental Council and we worked on the topic of instances of childhood lead poising in rental situations. Each of these internships emphasized utilizing policy and advocacy to tackle these issues. I have gained important skills from these internships such as professional communication and writing as well as research.”

Can you talk about your experience on the contract tracing team?

“Communication and empathy have been a big part of my role as a contact tracer. Every day that I go in I speak with countless UIndy students and employees. Not only do I need to be able to share and gather important information but I also need to show empathy when discussing a topic which often leads to feelings of vulnerability. My biggest takeaway from my role as a contact tracer is the importance of open communication and transparency during crisis situations.”

Have you had any academic research opportunities at UIndy? 

“As a student at UIndy, I have had many research opportunities within my curriculum. I have researched and carried out studies on topics from hepatitis vaccination uptake among college students to the impacts of maternal age on infant birth weight. Alongside public health faculty, I am working on four additional research projects outside of my curriculum.”

What would you like to do following graduation? What are your long-term career goals? 

“Following graduation, I hope to work in health administration, health education, or health policy & advocacy. While working in one of these fields, I hope to freelance as a writer and editor for nonprofit organizations. After a few years, I hope to go back to school and earn a doctorate in public health so that I can eventually become a college professor.”

What’s your favorite thing about UIndy?

“My favorite thing about UIndy is the support which I receive from university faculty as well as the friendships I have made both within and outside of my program. UIndy has done so much to support me in my education, and it has allowed me to accomplish more in the past three years than I could ever have imagined doing in such a short period of time.”

What advice do you have for incoming freshmen?

“My advice for incoming freshmen is to jump at every opportunity that comes their way and to seek out those that don’t. College flies by quicker than you can imagine so it’s important that you use this time to the fullest. Make sure you’re nourishing all the realms of your health; physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and intellectual because each one is important in supporting you through the next four years.”

Spotlight: Seth Ward ’23

SethWardSeth Ward ’23 is a software engineering major at the R.B. Annis School of Engineering. A New Zealand citizen, he also is a Strain Honors College student with minors in mathematics and computer science.


What has your experience in the engineering program been like so far?

“So far I think I’ve set a good basis of knowledge from my courses. Having a lot of contact with my professors has helped me learn more than I think I would have in huge classes based upon how I learn. The DesignSpine is great for incorporating knowledge from multiple different disciplines and bringing it together on one project. This is great because it gives you a lot of experience on what jobs will be like after college.”

Could you talk about your experience as an international student and how the pandemic affected you?

“During the Fall semester of 2020 I stayed at home in New Zealand due to the nature of the pandemic in the United States. All of my professors were very understanding and many went out of their way to help me throughout the semester. Most of the time they would record their Zoom lectures to the rest of the class and upload the footage to the Google Drive where I would be able to view them at a time which better suited me; this is because due to the 16-hour time difference the live classes were between midnight and 7 a.m. for me, which wouldn’t have been possible to complete my studies. I also worked with my professors to organize times to take tests which were different than the class times so that it would work for me.”

Have any faculty members mentored you?

“I work a lot with Dr. [Steve] Spicklemire over a wide range of my courses. He’s my point faculty on our Engineering Design spine project. Also has taken me for SWEN and Physics classes, I have regular contact with him and he helps and advises on anything I need.”

Seth Ward

Seth Ward (UIndy Athletics file photo)

Are you involved in any extracurricular activities?

“I’m part of the men’s soccer team here for the university. It’s the reason I’m here at the university; as an international student I was scouted to come play for the school. I think getting to play at the collegiate level is a great experience. Mainly just getting to be around the boys on the team is great.”

What advice would you give to incoming freshmen at UIndy?

“Don’t specialise too early; explore what’s on offer to find what you enjoy.”

What’s your favorite thing about UIndy?

“The small class sizes. You’re able to specialize and get a lot more one on one time with your professors. You also are able to create better working relationships with them which in turn helps out throughout your courses.”

DHSc alum takes top billing at national PT conference

SuzanneO'NealThe Academy of Neurologic Physical Therapy (ANPT) Degenerative Diseases Special Interest Group recently awarded “Best Platform Presentation” to Dr. Suzanne O’Neal, a 2020 UIndy Doctor of Health Science (DHSc) alumna. O’Neal’s platform presentation at the APTA Combined Sections Meeting, “The effects of backward cycling on posterior protective stepping responses in people with Parkinson disease,” was based on her DHSc doctoral project at UIndy. 

It was O’Neal’s interest in physical therapy for the treatment and management of Parkinson disease that led her to UIndy’s DHSc program. 

I chose UIndy because of their organized curriculum and because a faculty member — Dr. Stephanie Miller — had similar research interests,” O’Neal said. “I thought it would be a great match in terms of a doctoral project. Turns out, I was right!”

The award of Best Platform earned O’Neal, an associate professor at Midwestern University in Glendale, Arizona, a spot on the Academy of Neurologic Physical Therapy’s Degenerative Diseases Special Interest Group’s podcast “4D: Deep Dive Into Degenerative Diseases.” She said that it was the support of the DHSc faculty at UIndy that helped her to succeed. 

“My UIndy Doctoral Committee was such an integral part of the success of my project,” O’Neal said. “They were all so responsive and helpful. Also, each had their own expertise to bring to the table, which brought a variety of perspectives to my project.” Notably, O’Neal said it is Miller, chair of the UIndy Krannert School of Physical Therapy, who was O’Neal’s doctoral project mentor, who stands out as a key influence. 

“From the moment I met her at the UIndy program orientation, I knew our research interests would click! She was always so approachable and responsive. Even though I know she wears many hats and is so  busy, she never made me feel like I was bothering her or taking away time.” 

“I’m so fortunate to have found the UIndy DHSc program,” O’Neal continued. “For a working professional, it was the absolute perfect choice. I received quality education regardless of being online.”  She found the research methods and statistics courses to be particularly valuable. 

“I loved how I went through the program with a cohort as it allowed me to get to know people, have a support system and who I still remain in contact to this day!”

Senior spotlight: Zachary Smith ’21

ZachSmith Class of 2021, SOEZachary Smith is the president of the Catholic Student Association at the University of Indianapolis. He’s also the creator and leader of the young adult community at Holy Name Parish in Beech Grove.

After graduating this May with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education (concentrations in mild interventions and reading), he looks forward to a future that combines these skills and passions.

“I intend to enter the field of ministry with a focus on explaining the teachings of the Catholic Church to young adults and children, and in whatever capacity I can. Youth ministry is my first step, though!”

UIndy’s School of Education prepared Smith for his career by training him to teach and simultaneously learn from others. 

“Regardless of the role I go into, the ability to listen to other people and communicate a concept to someone who doesn’t quite grasp it will be beneficial. I’m lucky enough to have been taught how to do that from the School of Education,” he said. 

When Smith needed help affording the cost of college expenses, he received financial assistance through UIndy to continue his education. 

“I’ve been blessed and deeply honored to receive scholarships that sustain me financially, especially during this difficult time. Without these immensely beneficial packages, college, as I know it now, would not be possible.” 

Smith, who is also a member of the executive board for the Student Education Association, enjoys UIndy’s small campus, where “the students know the faculty on a deep, personal level and that makes the educational experience so much better.”

“Each and every professor that I’ve had the pleasure of studying under has been a tremendous help in my development, but I particularly want to thank Dr. Angelia Ridgway,” he said. “She was so incredibly kind to everyone who entered her door. As a transfer student, she was one of the first professors I had and was just such a welcoming, kind individual.”

His advice to incoming freshmen?

“Be yourself. One of the most difficult parts of being a freshman is figuring out where you fit in or belong. Don’t worry about that. Eventually, you’ll find your place, but you’ll only find the right place by staying true to what makes you unique. Grow, develop, and become a better person, but don’t ever pretend to be something you’re not because you want people to like you.”

Miyah Grant ’21 (PsyD) receives postdoctoral fellowship at Brown University

Miyah Grant '21 (PsyD)

Miyah Grant ’21 (PsyD)

Miyah Grant ’21 (PsyD) has accepted a position with Brown University for her clinical psychology postdoctoral fellowship in the Adolescent Forensic and Addiction Psychology program. The fellowship includes two primary training opportunities at the Rhode Island Family Court Mental Health Clinic (RIFC) and Bradley Hospital.

“I am incredibly excited about this opportunity as it provides the ideal training experience to prepare me for a career in adolescent forensic psychology,” Grant said. “I hope to dedicate my career to the treatment and assessment of court-involved youth whose emotional and behavioral disorders have been complicated by family, social, legal, and developmental factors while also working to address disproportionate minority contact within the juvenile justice system.” 

At RIFC, Grant will conduct forensic assessments for juveniles who have been court-ordered to receive mental health evaluations and/or psychological evaluations (including competency to stand trial) in addition to conducting emergency risk assessments. She will also gain competency in providing testimony and clinical consultations related to submitted forensic reports. 

At Bradley Hospital, Grant will be working with adolescents who present with substance use and co-occurring mental health disorders (dual diagnosis) in an intensive outpatient setting and a standard outpatient level of care. This rotation provides training and exposure to individual, group, and family-based substance abuse treatment. She also will participate in research involving adolescent psychopathology, substance use, and adolescent risk prevention. 

“I am thankful for the UIndy PsyD program for supporting me throughout my graduate school career,” Grant said. “My advisor, Dr. Katie Kivisto, has consistently provided guidance along the way. The variety of learning and training opportunities truly helped me find my passion within the field of psychology. Collaboration between the PsyD program and training sites within the community provided me with amazing supervisors who helped shape me into the clinician I am today. In addition, I am thankful for the mentorship of Dr. Zachary Adams at IUSM as he has, and continues to, inspire me each day.”


International students find network of support at UIndy

Hounds from around the worldInternational students at the University of Indianapolis faced significant hurdles when the COVID-19 pandemic halted global travel in 2020. As the world slowly adjusted to the new reality, students proved to be resilient and resourceful as they found ways to continue their education with help from faculty and staff.

Some 286 international students are enrolled at UIndy during the spring 2021 semester, with 201 on campus and 85 studying remotely. These students hail from a total of 64 countries, with China, Saudi Arabia, Canada and India as the most highly represented.

The Center for Global Engagement coordinates the University’s study abroad programs and connects international students with the resources they need to succeed. At the onset of the pandemic, staff at the Center for Global Engagement moved quickly to adapt their services to the online environment.  Mimi Chase offered a weekly online Open House, inviting international students to join in weekly to discuss concerns or just to stay connected with their fellow students.

Mamitiana "Jenny" Rakotoarisoa

Mamitiana “Jenny” Rakotoarisoa

Mamitiana “Jenny” Rakotoarisoa, a community and non-profit leadership major from Madagascar, explained how Kathy Hancher, the academic advisor for Adult Learning Programs, was of great support.

“When ICE announced that ‘international students who are pursuing degrees in the United States will have to leave the country or risk deportation if their universities switch to online-only courses,’ [Hancher] immediately reached out to me to help me arrange my class schedule so that I would have no problem staying in the U.S. She also encouraged me to go back home this summer and worked with me to ensure that my schedule allows me to do so without delaying my graduation. She really made me feel like I was not alone and that someone at UIndy cared about my situation,” Rakotaorisoa said.

Adam Fernandes ’22, a visual communication design major and a math and computer science minor, faced a similar situation in Fall 2020. He needed to enroll in an in-person class in order to comply with the now rescinded ICE policy.

“Rhonda Wolverton from the UIndy Art & Design Department was one professor who really

Adam Fernandes

Adam Fernandes

put in the effort to change her class from an online-only to a hybrid class so that I would be able to stay in the country. I am ever grateful to her,” Fernandes said.

Samreen Khondker, a Canadian doctoral student in clinical psychology, appreciates the support she received from her advisor.

“I have always been immensely supported by my graduate advisor, Dr. [Michael] Poulakis, and I continued to be supported by him during the pandemic. Anything from discussing living arrangements to program requirements, to just discussing my mental health in response to all the changes, he was there to talk it through,” Khondker said.

Samreen Khondker

Samreen Khondker

She also acknowledged the work of the Center for Global Engagement, which stayed “on top of getting international students like me all the information we needed, which was very helpful. Lastly, I had several friends and my clinical supervisors who provided support during the pandemic as well.”

Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, students found many silver linings.

“After over a year here, I learned something very important about U.S. culture: one can always reach out and ask for help when faced with difficulties. I always keep that in mind,” said Rakotoarisoa.

While international students faced additional challenges during the pandemic, they also found ways to cope. John Phan, a computer science major and mathematics minor, kept in regular contact with his mother in Vietnam.

John Phan, second from right, with his family in Vietnam.

John Phan, second from right, with his family in Vietnam.

“When the pandemic hit and the lockdown was in effect, the only thing that worried me was my family and friends’ health. I was pretty worried at first, but Vietnam was one of the countries that had the least number of deaths caused by COVID, so I was relieved. Furthermore, I chatted with my mom every day so I would know something is wrong immediately if there is one day’s gone by without talking to her,” Phan said.

Rakotaorisoa stayed connected to family through social media and instant messenger.

“I always make sure to communicate with them once a day, even just for a few minutes,” she said. “The truth is, with or without this pandemic, being far away from my family is very difficult. But fortunately, with advanced technologies, we can find ways to stay close and stay involved in each other’s lives on a daily basis.” 

Students said it was challenging to make new connections because of pandemic restrictions on socializing. However, as the world emerges from the pandemic, they noted how they’ve changed for the better and are setting their sights on the future.

“After the lockdown was lifted, I talked to a lot more people and became more open to everyone I know. Before, there was no way I would start a conversation with anyone unless they started one first. Now, I will always be the first one to initiate,” Phan reflected.

“Now that I am a junior in my second semester, my focus has been shifting towards gaining an internship, graduation and plans after graduation. Knowing that I am sent all the way here to university in the U.S. to get my degree is what keeps me going. I am grateful for the opportunity,” Fernandes said.

International students infographic

Nursing alum completes White House internship

Jacob Whatley White House internshipJacob Whatley ’19 is one of the first University of Indianapolis graduates to intern at the White House. His career as a nurse was just beginning at Franciscan Health in Indianapolis when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. His experience treating patients in intensive care helped Whatley stand out as an applicant for the sought-after internship position in the Office of the Vice President. 

Whatley grew up in a small town surrounded by cornfields and says he “certainly didn’t have connections to any Washington elites.” Even though it seemed like a longshot, he submitted an application in 2020 after being encouraged by Michael Poulakis, assistant professor in the School of Psychological Sciences.

“Throughout my application, I talked a lot about being an ICU nurse on the frontlines during the COVID-19 pandemic and also addressed what I thought were flaws in our country’s healthcare system,” he said. “I figured this opportunity would give me the chance to observe policy development at the federal level and also witness how the executive branch of government responds to a global crisis.”

Whatley internshipWhen Whatley found out he had been accepted into the program, he was “so excited that I couldn’t even eat for the rest of the day. I felt like Charlie Bucket when he found Wonka’s last golden ticket.”

The four-month position began in September 2020, at the same time the COVID-19 death toll was nearing 200,000 in the United States. (Source: The Covid Tracking Project

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t ready for a break from the ICU. It was a very difficult place to work, especially for a new graduate,” said Whatley. “I can’t say thank you enough to the doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, housekeepers, maintenance workers, and everyone else who have kept hospitals operational during this pandemic. You are not alone. You are appreciated.”

Most of Whatley’s time in DC was spent on the White House Complex, about 18 acres of land that includes the East Wing, the Presidential Residence, the West Wing, and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. 

“I got goosebumps every single day when I walked through the White House gates. It was something that I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to do,” he said. 

Whatley at the White House, 2020

Whatley interacted with several members of the Coronavirus Task Force, including Dr. Deborah Birx, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, and Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar. He prepared materials that were used in the Situation Room during the Coronavirus Task Force meetings and also assisted the Vice President’s policy team by drafting memorandums on topics such as healthcare, vaccines, vaccine hesitancy, cycle thresholds, and previous pandemics. 

“My background as an ICU nurse served as a differentiator at the White House and I believe I brought a unique perspective to the internship program,” he said. “I was able to share insights from my time on the frontlines with Dr. Birx and offer insight into what ICU nurses were facing.”

Whatley said he has always been interested in politics and policy, but hadn’t considered it as a potential career until recently. 

“The COVID pandemic increased my interest in policy, mostly because of the frequent policy changes that I was witnessing at the hospital,” he said. “As an intern at the White House, I found myself at the intersection of healthcare, policy, and government. I enjoy helping people and I want God to put me where I can do the most good, whether that’s at the bedside or working in policy. It’s something I think about and pray about every day.”

The internship was also designed to be a learning opportunity. For example, during the height of the pandemic, Whatley learned about viral mitigation from members of the White House Medical Unit who provide care for the President and the Vice President. 

Whatley in Washington DC

“No day at the White House was the same,” said Whatley. “It is a place where history continually unfolds and I was fortunate enough to be there during a very historic time. The signing of the Abraham Accords, the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the appointment and confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the development and distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine, and a highly contentious presidential election to name a few.” 

Whatley, who delivered the undergraduate student commencement address in May 2019, said the UIndy School of Nursing prepared him for this “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” 

“UIndy provided me with the tools that I needed to be successful,” he said. “I leveraged many of my UIndy connections to make this opportunity possible and I am so grateful for those who helped out. I am so blessed to have had the opportunity to serve the American people in this capacity.”

In November 2020, Briyana Morrell, assistant professor in the School of Nursing, and her family came to visit Whatley in Washington, DC. 

Nursing visit to DC

“She wrote a letter of recommendation for me when I applied for the program, and she and her daughter, Ali, put together a bake sale fundraiser to help me pay for some of my DC living expenses. I was blown away by their generosity!” said Whatley. 

Whatley returned to Indiana at the end of 2020 with a new passion and deeper appreciation for public health. He took a contract assignment to administer COVID vaccines and is exploring opportunities to get a master’s degree. 

“And after that, who knows? Maybe I’ll run for office someday,” he said. “My internship experience at the White House opened my eyes to many opportunities that I never would have considered before making the trek to Washington.”

Jacob Whatley, DC

“Reflect on UIndy’s motto, ‘Education for Service’, and recognize that we are now equipped to make a difference in our communities. In the last four years, our toolbox has been filling with all sorts of tools and a broken world awaits us.  How can we drive a positive change in this world in the next four years?” – Jacob Whatley ‘19 (nursing) 

Laura Wilson authors book on Lurleen Wallace, former governor of Alabama

When Dr. Laura Wilson, associate professor of political science, was enrolled in graduate school at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, she frequently traveled on Lurleen Wallace Boulevard. Just as often, she found herself wondering why the wife of Governor George Wallace had such a prominent road named after her, even in her home city. After some research she discovered that Wallace had succeeded her husband as governor of Alabama in 1966.

“The motivations behind her decision to run, her election, and her administration were all clouded in scrutiny because of her marriage, and rightly so,” Wilson said. “But nonetheless, I couldn’t believe that I didn’t know about this, as someone who studies women in politics and state government and it became more and more evident to me that most people, even in Alabama, didn’t know either.”

Wilson continued to learn about Wallace throughout her career, eventually culminating in authoring “Lurleen Burns Wallace: The Power of the First Lady Governor.” The book introduces the political landscape of Alabama politics through the 1960s, recognizing the limited role women played in state politics and establishing the historical climate and tenuous politics through which Lurleen would later overcome in her landmark election. 

She served as the first woman elected as governor in Alabama during a tumultuous time in the state and nation’s history as the civil rights issues flared. She was a quiet mother of four and a housewife. Ultimately, she beat nearly two-dozen male candidates to be elected to the highest post in state office. Despite being the most politically powerful woman in the state, she had no personal power over her own body; unknown to her at the time, she was dying from cancer. Her life and legacy are as complicated, as they are critical in understanding the role of white Southern women and their involvement in politics in the 1960s.

“I wanted to study and write about Lurleen Wallace because she represented a series of paradoxes unlike any other woman in politics,” Wilson said. “She was really after the generation of women who ran to fill the seats of their dead/term-limited fathers and husbands and yet that is exactly what she did in so many ways.”  Wallace was elected to the highest office in the state, leading the state during the challenges of integration and federalism. She fought and lost the battle to maintain segregation and, just like the electoral victory in which she often receives no credit, she usually does not get her share of blame in this, either.

According to Wilson, Wallace fought for segregation and did nothing to help thousands of Alabamians who were suffering from the brutal effects of racism that still ravaged the South.  She was open about having no political ambitions of her own, yet was ultimately elected to serve in the highest state office and won her primary without a run-off election. Wilson acknowledges the many critiques that can, and should, follow Wallace. 

“Though her life and legacy were complicated,” she said. “She deserves the same level of analysis that her predecessors and successors earned.”

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