Wall of Honor 2009

Sobia Azhar Khan
Sobia Azhar Khan

Sobia Azhar Khan was working as a graphic designer when she realized that wasn’t what she wanted to do with her life. She longed to write.

She started classes at Richland in 2002 and returned to her love of literature and writing. Between literature classes with Scott Shepard and writing classes with Rica Garcia, Sobia says her love for the written word "increased many folds. Rica nurtured, and encouraged me as a writer that would not have been possible elsewhere."

Sobia joined the award-winning campus newspaper, the Richland Chronicle, where she worked with students from all ethnicities and backgrounds – as valuable experience for the international student who was unfamiliar with America and its diverse culture. Sobia ultimately was the Chronicle’s news editor.

It wasn’t long before Sobia had enough credits to transfer to the University of Texas at Dallas, where she graduated magna cum laude in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in literary studies. Convinced there was more to be learned and explored, Sobia pursued a master’s in literary studies, which she completed in 2008.

Sobia’s not through yet. She’s halfway through a doctorate degree and hopes to take qualifying exams next year. She’s teaching sophomore-level Introductory Creative Writing. In addition, her stories have been published and she will present her scholarly work at the South Atlantic Modern Language Association conference this year.

"Creative writing, teaching, and further exploring the parameters of literature found their roots in my work at Richland," she said. "My willingness to keep going, and being competitive, stems from my experiences working at the Richland Chronicle. I truly am indebted to Richland College for making who I am today."

While Sobia has been pursuing higher education, she and her husband have been raising three children. Their eldest son is almost 15, their middle boy is 13, and their little girl is 8.

"With my older boys I know they are also equally motivated to go into higher education because that is all they’ve seen growing up," Sobia said. "They have inherited my love for books, the eagerness to know more, and to work hard."

Francis Lubuulwa
Francis Lubuulwa

Francis Lubuulwa is well acquainted with loss. His childhood in AIDS-ravaged Uganda taught harsh lessons. But through the tragedies he’s endured, Francis has learned hope.

When he was 10 years old, Francis’ father died of AIDS. Two years later the disease claimed the lives of his stepmother and stepsister. Not long after that, Francis’ mother revealed that she too was HIV positive. Francis was sent to an orphanage in the Rakai District of southern Uganda, the epicenter of the AIDS pandemic.

"While in the orphanage, I got a whole different perspective on coping with loss," Francis said. "The orphanage was so comforting, as every child had a different story to tell. We gave each other hope and strength to go on."

At the orphanage Francis also discovered his talent for music and performance. And in 2002, when he was 15, he was selected to travel with a troupe to perform traditional Ugandan dancing, singing and drumming on an American fundraising tour.

In his last two years of high school, Francis was elected president of the student body. In 2007 he received his school’s Most Outstanding Leadership Award and the Most Outstanding Academic Achievement Award. In 2008 Francis volunteered to travel again to America with a dance company called "Spirit of Uganda" as a spokesperson and chaperone.

Francis won a college scholarship through Empower African Children, a Dallas-based nonprofit organization. The scholarship made it possible for Francis to come to Richland College.

At Richland, his academic performance and his engagement in extracurricular activities has won him a Sharon Conine Scholarship for International Students for Spring 2010. This scholarship is for international students with clear financial need and whose academic performance is excellent. Winners must also have shown a commitment to making the world a better place.

Francis shares his hope for the future as a leader in Richland’s Peace and Justice Club and African Student Union. He recently spoke as part of the Macy’s Passport Fashion Show activities to raises funds for AIDS work in Africa. Through the show, Francis shared with more than 4,000 young people in San Francisco and Los Angeles the story of his family and how the AIDS pandemic has affected them.

Francis plans to return to Uganda to establish his own human resources consulting company after finishing his studies at Richland. Armed with a 4.0 GPA Francis is sure to be successful in his mission to spread hope in his homeland.

Gerald Napoles
Gerald Napoles

Gerald Napoles discovered his love of higher education at Richland College – first, as a student, then as an employee.

Gerald attended Richland from 1996 to 1997, and was touched by the teaching of professors Kay Coder and John Trickle.

"I had many great professors. Two in particular, Kay Coder and John Trickle, made learning fun," Gerald said. "Their style of leadership encouraged me to study, meet new people, and learn new things. Their positive attitudes and words of encouragement helped me along the way."

The love of sociology Gerald learned from Kay led him to earn a bachelor’s degree in the field from Sam Houston State University in 2000. Later, while working for Eastfield College, Gerald started his graduate studies. He completed earned a master’s degree in general studies in aging from the University of North Texas in 2004, while working at Richland. Gerald said, "The Thunderducks were there to encourage me to succeed in school as an undergrad, and once again as a graduate student."

Gerald’s thirst for knowledge wasn’t quenched: He wanted to earn a Ph.D. in Educational Administration with an emphasis in community college leadership. He reached that impressive milestone in 2009 from the University of Texas at Austin.

"Dr. Mittelstet was one of the key people that wrote a recommendation letter on my behalf," Gerald said. "I was honored to attend and graduate from the same program as Dr. Mittelstet."

At every institution Gerald attended, he was a model student – serving in student government and organizations, earning multiple scholarships and awards, and volunteering in the wider community. His service to the community has included work with the Philippine Community Center Incorporated, Greater Dallas Asian American Chamber of Commerce, Multi-Ethnic Education and Economic Development Center, Organization of Chinese Americans – DFW Chapter, Richardson Chamber of Commerce, The Bradfield House, and The Network of Community Ministries.

Today, Gerald is the dean of Learner Outreach and assistant to the president at Hazard Community and Technical College in Kentucky. He credits Richland College with helping him develop a love of learning and a passion for education.

"I am committed to the mission of the comprehensive community college," he said. "That commitment started through the doors in Crockett Hall."

Uyen Vo
Uyen Vo

Uyen Vo’s eagerness to learn served her well as a student at Richland College and continues today in her career as a interactive designer.

Uyen began courses at Richland College in 2002 immediately after completing high school. A highly motivated student, she excelled and maintained an excellent GPA while studying multimedia at Richland and serving as a volunteer student assistant. While at RLC, Uyen was well liked by her classmates and helped students with programming problems and animation.

"She showed talent as both a programmer and as an artist – a highly regarded feat," said her nominator, Professor Dwayne Carter. "Uyen also maintained a positive attitude. Her good disposition made it a pleasure to work with her."

In 2005, Uyen earned an Associate Degree in Multimedia Developer, with Level I and II certificates in Visual Design from RLC. With these successes under her belt, Uyen transferred to the University of Texas at Dallas, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in arts and technology.

Today Uyen is an interactive designer at imc2, an Internet marketing company in Dallas whose clients include The Coca-Cola Company, Pizza Hut and Pfizer. Uyen is responsible for creating media campaigns and flash Web sites for imc2. She also works on 3-D modeling and animation, video editing, and special effects.

Because of her high level of academic and professional achievement, Uyen was invited to be a member of the Richland’s Multimedia Advisory Board. This advisory board makes recommendations on curriculum for RLC’s Multimedia Program.

Sara Weiss
Sara Weiss

You might say that dual credit is a passion for Sara Weiss. Her relationship with Richland College began as a dual-credit student in 1988 but has carried forward to her work with the college’s dual-credit programs today.

Sara contracted mono her junior year of high school and because of her illness, wasn’t able to graduate. Instead of being defeated, Sara enrolled at RLC as a dual credit student, taking classes that counted toward her high school diploma and toward college credit. She took as many classes as she could afford – sometimes only a class or two a semester. During that time, she worked at least one job and sometimes several.

Over the course of 10 years, Sara accumulated enough credits to transfer to the University of Texas at Dallas, where she earned a bachelor of science degree with a double major in mathematics and statistics and a minor in literature. Sara’s quest for knowledge continued and she went on to earn a master’s degree in mathematics from UTD.

Today, Sara is heavily involved in Richland’s dual credit process. She’s the math lab coordinator for Richland Collegiate High School (Richland’s charter dual-credit high school). As one who understands the unique situation of being a dual credit student, Sara helps give students opportunities and works with them to overcome challenges.

Sara designs curriculum for the TNLZ 1000 math labs and advanced math labs and she teaches in both the continuing education and credit departments at RLC. Sara is also an adjunct mathematics faculty member for Collin County Community College District.

Besides her academic and professional achievements, Sara volunteers for Temple Emanuel in Dallas and is a member of the WRJ.

Cynthia Anderson
Cynthia Anderson

Understatement of the year: Cynthia Anderson is determined, and she won’t give up.

She’s had cancer, a brain injury, two strokes, diabetes, cataracts and is confined to a wheelchair. In spite of all this, she’s a Richland College honor student, Phi Theta Kappa member, poet, mentor and inspiration to others.

“Cynthia struggles but she has not let these monumental health issues affect her learning or positive attitude,” says nominator Carol Faulkner. “Cynthia is one of the most memorable and admirable students that I have encountered.” 

A survivor of Hurricane Katrina, Cynthia lost everything in New Orleans. She moved to Dallas and even though she had been out of school for 30 years, she decided to attend Richland as part of the Total Re-Integration (TRI) Program, which is especially designed for people with brain injuries.

“She never complains about her circumstances, even on the darkest days when her physical condition prevents her from coming to school,” says another nominator, Martha Timberlake. “Instead, she focuses her energy on getting stronger and getting back to campus where she can catch up on her work.”

According to her instructors, Cynthia urges other students to do their best and encourages them to work hard in their classes. If someone arrives without a pencil, she lends one, along with this gentle admonition: “If I can be prepared with all my challenges to participate in class, so can you!”

Nominator Terri Nelson says Cynthia has an insatiable desire to learn and grow and that “she is not satisfied with meeting the minimum requirements to pass a class, but works to make the best grade possible in all of her courses.”

In addition to trying to realize her lifelong goal of getting a college degree, Cynthia also offers encouragement to others who are struggling with difficulties. Through her church, she helps adults and children. She also has written articles for the Richland Chronicle sharing the challenges students with disabilities face on campus and to advocate for changes that will improve their chances of success.

“She models the importance of accepting personal responsibility for one’s success, even in the face of overwhelming hardships,” Ms. Timberlake says. “As a result, Cynthia is an inspiration to all who know her.”

Earlene Bond
Earlene Bond

For almost 25 years, Earlene Bond and Richland College have been making a difference in each other’s lives.

The journey began in 1985 when Earlene started a part-time job in Continuing Education. She later held a full-time job in the Business Division for many years. While working in the Information Center of the real estate program, Earlene began taking classes toward her associate’s degree in real estate, which she finished in 1992. She earned the distinction of Certified Professional Secretary in 1993 and a Bachelor’s of Business Administration, magna cum laude, from Northwood University in 1995.

She went on to work in the Career Center, Organizational Learning and Service, and helped to start the Thunderwater Organizational Learning Institute. In 2001 she moved to the District Office as a founding member of the Center for Formation in the Community College, where she remained active in community and support staff activities.

Earlene retired from the DCCCD on April 1, 2004. Four years later she came out of retirement to work part time for the Center for Formation in Higher Education and moved with the Center (now the Center for Renewal and Wholeness in Higher Education) to Richland in August 2008.

Although she is a part-time employee, today Earlene remains active supporting many professional support staff and activities on campus.

Earlene is a member of the Rho Epsilon Real Estate Fraternity, Richland chapter; she was the Richland PSS Employee of the Year for 1997-98; and was named Innovator of the Year for the Richland ThunderSTAR Program in 2001-02.

Earlene’s dedication and participation in so many cornerstone programs at Richland continues to inspire those who know her.

“She earned her associate’s degree at the age of 50 and went on to earn her baccalaureate degree with high distinction,” says her nominator, Sue Jones. “Both degrees and her CPS credential were earned while working full-time, raising three daughters and making significant contributions to the community.”

Don Bratton
Don Bratton

Don Bratton shouldn’t be alive.

He should have died in 1980 when his motorcycle broke apart while he was riding it. He should have died in 1983 when an armed robber shot him in the face at point-blank range. He should have died in 1994 when he sustained a brain injury from a freak car accident.

He should have died, but he didn’t. And Don’s done more than simply survive these near-tragedies – any one of which would have crushed the spirit of a lesser person. He’s found a purpose in life: Helping others.

Today, Don’s a personal trainer at the Downtown Dallas YMCA and he helps others strengthen their bodies and believe in themselves – something he knows a lot about.

Don was 16 years old when he had the motorcycle accident in 1980. It left him with five fractures in his left leg. He battled back from the injury and was able to walk unassisted across the stage to graduate from Dallas’ Bryan Adams High School in 1982.

The next year, Don was shot after being robbed in a restaurant parking lot. The bullet went through his nose and into his spinal cord on the left side. The injury numbed his right side and partially paralyzed his left arm and leg. Within five months of the shooting, Don was walking without a cane.

Eleven years later, Don had landed his dream job as a jet engine mechanic with Microturbo in Grand Prairie, and was attending night school at the University of North Texas. A bizarre car accident on the evening of May 10, 1994, left Don in a 21-day coma. He lost 61 pounds and emerged from the coma with a permanent brain injury.
After months of relearning basic skills, physical therapy and psychological counseling, Don was ready for the next challenge. He enrolled in Richland’s Total Re-Integration Program, which is especially designed for people with brain injuries. Don conquered academia and graduated with an associate’s degree in 1998.

He went on to earn a certificate in Physical Fitness Technology from North Lake College and become a Certified Personal Trainer through the American Council on Exercise.

The following is an excerpt from a poem Don wrote during his studies at Richland. Nothing could say it better.

I am a healthy young man with a bright future. I wonder why tragic events happen to good people. I hear the sound of the wind blowing on the earth. I see the little blue planet earth from the cosmos. I want to help people learn how to get stronger. I am a healthy man, with a bright future.

Brittnee Lee Edmonds
Brittnee Lee Edmonds

Even when life hits a low note, RCHS student Brittnee Lee Edmonds keeps on singing.

A talented singer who has recorded two CDs, Brittnee has been living with the possibility of losing her greatest fan – her mother. Mrs. Edmonds has terminal cancer and has been told by her doctors that she’s a walking miracle.

Brittnee’s mom was told last year that she only had a short time left. Even though Mrs. Edmonds has been on hospice care for several months, she still is actively involved in Brittnee’s life.

In spite of this – or maybe because it’s taught her to cherish life – those who know Brittnee say she always has a smile on her face and a song in her heart.

Brittnee takes more than 17 credit hours every semester and maintains above a 3.0 GPA. Like other RCHS students, she’s pursuing a high school diploma and associate’s degree but she’s turned it up a notch by taking additional courses in foreign language, math and science.

She spent many hours during the summer of 2008 helping plan and coordinate a new student-mentoring program. Brittnee has mentored 15 new students through the program. She’s also the RCHS yearbook editor and a student speaker at the RCHS Information Sessions.

Brittnee has completed 15 hours of Service Learning and has more than 45 hours of contributions to the community, including working with the Garland Boys & Girls Club. Brittnee invited the children she worked with as her special guests to her second CD release party.

Besides writing and performing her own music, Brittnee sings “The Star-Spangled Banner” at all RCHS events.

Her nominator, RCHS Principal Kristyn Edney, describes Brittnee as “an amazing young lady who has had to deal with much trauma and has faced it with maturity and a positive attitude. Anyone who meets Brittnee is immediately impressed with her sense of confidence, drive to succeed and big-hearted personality.”

Ijeoma Emenalo Ibeh
Ijeoma Emenalo Ibeh

Ijeoma Emenalo Ibeh can be trusted. Trusted to support her family in Nigeria, trusted with customers’ financial information at her job at Sam’s Club, trusted to passionately pursue her own education, trusted to mentor children.

The death of her father when Ijeoma was 12 years old meant more than the loss of a beloved parent – it meant Ijeoma had to go to work immediately. Ijeoma carried homegrown vegetables long distances to market, to help her mother and the family make ends meet. Even with her efforts, they barely survived. She has written of those days: “We ate poverty, we drank poverty, we slept poverty.”

Ijeoma was given the opportunity for an education in the United States by her uncle and leapt at that chance with open arms, an open mind and a desire to learn.

At Richland, she was named to the President’s Honor Roll for Spring 2008 with a 4.0 GPA. She works hard to find the balance between maintaining her grades while working full-time at Sam’s helping customers open new accounts. With her earnings, Ijeoma supports herself and pays for the education expenses of her six siblings in Nigeria. 

Giving freely to others is not just a family affair for Ijeoma. She volunteered through Service Learning with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a refugee resettlement agency partnering with the U.S. State Department. In her work tutoring refugee children in the after-school program, Ijeoma has made a remarkable difference in the lives of children who are often overlooked.

In her role as organizer of the Richland College African Student Union, Ijeoma has mobilized a large group of other Richland students to tutor and mentor refugee families with the IRC.

Ijeoma’s other activities and honors include participating with SaveDarfur Dallas; being honored with the Student Success Award for leadership; and belonging to Phi Theta Kappa, and the Peace and Justice Club.

Those who know Ijeoma’s radiant smile and genuine love of learning believe her future is bright.

“She will be sought after for her intelligence and her willingness to give of herself in order to benefit others,” says nominator Tara Thompson. “She has applied to Columbia, Cornell, UT and SMU. I believe they will have to fight over her!”