Below the Earth’s surface

Nathan Bashir, a graduate student in both geology and geophysics, and geological engineering, studies limestone formations, for which he says Missouri, is an ideal location.

Nathan Bashir, a graduate student in both geology and geophysics, and geological engineering, studies limestone formations, for which he says Missouri, is an ideal location. Photo by Sam O’Keefe/Missouri S&T

Nathainail “Nathan” Bashir is more at home in the field than in the classroom. The graduate student, who is earning a master’s degree in both geology and geophysics and geological engineering, constantly travels around the state studying bedrock variations and perfecting ways to find their depth.

Bashir is studying the Burlington and Keokuk limestone formations in the southwest Missouri town of Brookline. “Missouri is a great place to be for my studies. All around the area are caves, limestone deposits and other surface data to help me find bedrock.”

Bashir uses two main mapping techniques to find bedrock’s depth: multichannel analysis of surface waves and electrical resistivity tomography. After performing these tests, he combines the results. This process helps Bashir cut through the “clutter” of false readings that can be caused by caves and sinkholes, and identifies the differing levels of bedrock depth.

The geology of the area he studies is quite different from that of his hometown. A native of Nonar, Pakistan, Bashir studied at the Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, Pakistan, prior to moving to the United States.

“I love being in the field and seeing what we actually study in classes,” Bashir says. “There are so many interesting places that are close by, you have to go see them.”

Last summer, Bashir was on co-op at Engineering Consulting Services (ECS) in Virginia. His work dealt mainly with structural geology and included analyzing a construction site for a new National Science Foundation facility.

Besides his research, Bashir serves on the International Student Council at Missouri S&T, sings in the choir at the Campus Christian Ministry and is a part-time clothing model.

“I starting modeling back in Pakistan to help out a friend who had designed clothes for a university event,” says Bashir. “After that, I would occasionally be asked by others who saw the photos to model. It is a fun hobby and something that lets me see a whole new industry.”

By Peter Ehrhard

Rethinking thinking

Bekah Davis observes students at John F. Hodge High School in St. James, Missouri.

Bekah Davis observes students at John F. Hodge High School in St. James, Missouri. Photo by Sam O’Keefe

For many Missouri S&T freshmen, Chemistry 1310, General Chemistry, is a tough hurdle in their academic careers. Many students struggle with the academically rigorous and demanding course. When the faculty who teach General Chemistry approached Daniel Reardon, assistant professor of English and technical communication at S&T, about testing the effectiveness of the course, he had the perfect student in mind to complete the research.

Reardon chose Bekah Davis, then a senior in English education, to help complete the project. As part of an Opportunities for Undergraduate Research Experience (OURE) project, Davis aligned Chemistry 1310 exam questions with Norman L. Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK) Levels to study how well S&T students performed on each type of question. Webb’s four knowledge levels range in difficulty from recall and reproduction questions, DOK level 1, to extended thinking questions, DOK level 4.

“After aligning the scores of exams, I looked at the average scores on a problem-by-problem basis,” says Davis. “I discovered a large drop in the average student score when the questions required critical and strategic thinking, DOK level 3, or extended thinking.”

Based on her work, Davis concluded that many of the students in General Chemistry are not equipped to answer level 3 and level 4 questions – and Davis thinks she knows why.

“This problem may be caused in part by standardized testing because those tests do not ask level 3 and 4 questions, so students never learn how to approach them,” she says. “This is an important topic in need of further study to bring about needed and effective changes to education.”

Davis completed her student teaching this past spring before graduating in May. She currently works as an editor at the U.S. Geological Survey.

“I hope that my research will spur my colleagues and peers to continue this research and encourage other scholars to contribute to this discussion on standardized testing,” she says. “I want to continue this research and I’m excited to see where it goes in the coming years.”

By Arielle Bodine

 

Having a blast at summer camp

Students participate in a demolition during Explosives Camp at S&T's Experimental Mine.

Students participate in a demolition during Explosives Camp at S&T’s Experimental Mine. Photo by Aimee Whitmire/Missouri S&T

Who needs the campfires and bugs that traditional summer camps offer when you can learn how to detonate dynamite instead? [Read more…]

Miner munchies

Alumna Catherine Swift, pictured in front of the Frito-Lay display at the Spring Career Fair, is just one of a handful of Miners who work in the company’s Topeka, Kansas, plant.

Alumna Catherine Swift, pictured in front of the Frito-Lay display at the S&T Spring Career Fair, is one of a handful of Miners who work in the company’s Topeka, Kansas, plant. Photo by Sam O’Keefe

Frito-Lay’s Topeka, Kansas, plant operates 24 hours a day, so while most of us are sleeping, Catherine Swift is monitoring 10 production lines and 59 automated packaging tubes that take raw ingredients and turn them into bagged snack foods, ready for supermarket shelves.

“As a core plant, we produce major products like Doritos, Lays, Sunchips, Tostitos and Fritos,” says Swift, who earned a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering at Missouri S&T in 2010. Each year the Topeka plant produces over 175 million pounds of snacks.

Swift, who has been with Frito-Lay for almost five years, started out as an undergraduate intern. Now she is a manager on the plant’s third shift.

Swift helps closely monitor the plant’s production process for moisture and oil levels, and each shift compares its batches to a reference product for appearance, flavor and texture. Swift ensures that the snacks that leave the Topeka plant are the same quality as the ones made in other locations.

“We ship directly to stores, so our warehouse operation is very similar to large delivery companies,” Swift explains. “For our process, shuttle robots run through our aisles finding products and getting them ready for shipping to stores throughout the country.”

When Swift isn’t working, she coaches a local high school girls’ soccer team, making use of skills she honed as a Lady Miner goalkeeper for four years at Missouri S&T. She also frequently makes trips back to Rolla.

“Since graduating, I haven’t missed a career fair yet,” says Swift. “I return every spring and fall to recruit other Miners.”

No matter where she goes, Swift says she is always asked about her favorite snack. “I used to like the nacho cheese Doritos best, but something about working third shift has me really starting to like Funyuns.”

Several other Missouri S&T alumni work in the Topeka plant with Swift, including:

  • Chris Emesih, who earned a bachelor of science degree in engineering management in 2014
  • Kori Louvall, who earned a bachelor of science degree in engineering management in 2013
  • Everett Moore, who earned a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering in 1986
  • Ryan Schmidt, who earned a bachelor of science degree in engineering management in 2013
  • Aimee Snell, who earned a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering in 2013
  • Brooke Ryan, who earned a bachelor of science degree in architectural engineering in 2011
  • Amiel Weerasinghe, who earned a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering in 2010 and an MBA in 2012.

By Peter Ehrhard

Adapted from the Spring 2015 issue of Missouri S&T Magazine

Close-knit S&T lures, launches Lampe to success

Missouri S&T graduate Kyle Lampe, now an assistant professor at the University of Virginia, is conducting research that may one day lead to treatments for multiple sclerosis and other diseases.

Missouri S&T graduate Kyle Lampe, now an assistant professor at the University of Virginia, is conducting research that may one day lead to treatments for multiple sclerosis and other diseases. Photo contributed by the University of Virginia

Twenty-one thousand, three-hundred ninety-five. That’s the difference between Kyle Lampe, the English literature scholar and Kyle Lampe, the chemical engineer. That number is the difference in enrollment between Iowa State University (26,110) and Missouri S&T (4,715) when Lampe started college in 1999.

Bigger was not better for Lampe, who earned a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering at Missouri S&T in 2004, and now is an assistant professor of chemical engineering at the University of Virginia.

“I didn’t want to go to Iowa State because it was just too big,” says Lampe, who grew up in Clarinda, Iowa – a town of 5,806. “I felt like I would get lost there.

“When I went to Rolla, it was the right size school. I didn’t know anybody, but I got to know a lot of people, and the professors knew your name. When I got to Rolla … everybody was on equal footing. Nerdy was cool.”

These days, Lampe leads his own “nerdy” engineering students in cutting-edge research that may one day lead to cures or treatments for diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and people who have suffered a stroke or a spinal cord injury. The work is done through the Lampe Biomaterials Group, which launched at U.Va. in 2014.

There, Lampe is using synthetic polymer materials to encapsulate oligodendrocytes in a 3-D hydrogel that simulates properties of the brain. Oligodendrocytes are cells with many branches that support and insulate axons in the central nervous system by wrapping the axons in a myelin sheath. In people with MS, Lampe says, the oligodendrocytes go haywire. Finding a way to target or replace the malfunctioning oligodendrocytes could lead to a treatment.

For people who have suffered a stroke — the second-leading cause of death worldwide — treatments such as transplanting neural stem cells are ineffective, Lampe says, because 95 percent of those cells die within a week. Using a new biodegradable polymer hydrogel might be more effective because as they erode, they scavenge free radicals, thus acting like an antioxidant in the brain. Being able to place the slowly released antioxidants in a specific site of injury could help limit a stroke’s damage, Lampe says.

It’s the kind of work Lampe was — well, maybe not born to do, but it’s his life’s work now.

“I knew I was interested in engineering and science, the STEM disciplines,” says Lampe, who saw one of his older brothers, Paul, graduate from S&T in 1990 with an electrical engineering degree.

Kyle credits his advisor, Oliver Sitton, associate professor of chemical and biochemical engineering, with igniting his spark for research. With Dave Westenberg, associate professor of biological sciences, he dove into research.

“When you meet him, you know he’s going to be successful,” says Westenberg while leafing through Lampe’s old research notebook. “He picks up what he learned, and he works hard to put his own stamp on it.”

From Rolla, Lampe went to the University of Colorado Boulder for his Ph.D. in chemical engineering. After five years at Colorado, Lampe worked as a post-doctoral fellow at Stanford University for three years to prepare for a research-intensive faculty position.

He has no problem with motivation.

“The thing I’m most excited about … the thing that gets me up is working with students,” Lampe says. “The fun part is, it’s different every day. There’s always something new and exciting.”

At S&T, he kept busy, not just with coursework. He was a resident assistant for two years at Thomas Jefferson Residence Hall, and then was the head RA at the Quad. He also acted in nine plays and musicals, including My Three Angels, The Foreigner, My Fair Lady, Guys and Dolls, and Camelot.

And he met his wife of eight years, Lisa Hartman Lampe, who earned her bachelor of science degree in applied mathematics from S&T in 2004. Lampe also works at Virginia as the director of undergraduate success in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

For Kyle, everything that has followed started at S&T.

“Obviously, I got my initial training in how to approach research not from a lecture course, but with an approach toward getting the students to ask the questions,” Lampe said. “Moreover, I found this trait in many of the leaders at (S&T); students were really imbued with the authority to do things. We got the direction and support we needed and often failed. But that was part of it. As an RA, we had a lot of training, but the learning was a process, never complete.

“Honestly, though, I would say the most lasting impact of my time in Rolla was that I met and wooed my wife, who is my partner in intellectual, social and personal challenges every day.”

By Joe McCune

 

One last dip in the deep end

Justin Levy, who recently graduated with his bachelor’s degree in geology, waves to the camera while snorkeling off the coast of San Salvador Island in the Bahamas while on a nine-day field study trip.

Justin Levy, who recently graduated with his bachelor’s degree in geology, waves to the camera while snorkeling off the coast of San Salvador Island in the Bahamas while on a nine-day field study trip.

Justin Levy completed his collegiate career at Missouri S&T doing what he enjoys most – traveling.

Levy was one of eight geology and geophysics students to join Dr. David Wronkiewicz, associate professor of geology and geophysics, on a nine-day field study trip to San Salvador Island in the Bahamas in May. The group left just days after Levy crossed the stage at commencement with his bachelor’s degree in geology.

Although the students did group research on the geological formations and processes occurring on the island and their interdependency on biologic processes, each student also had the opportunity to do individual research.

The group spends some time studying the Cockburn Town fossilized reef.

The group spends some time studying the Cockburn Town fossilized reef.

With a passion for paleontology, Levy focused his research on the types of fossils found on the island. He studied a section of the island called the Cockburn Town fossil reef, which is made up of fossilized coral and shell fragments. He also tried to find fossilized decapods such as crabs, shrimps and lobsters.

“I wanted to compare the evolution of them (the decapods), and see if any evolution had taken place in the last million years,” says Levy. “If it had, it could signify a drastic increase or decrease in the food supply. Say, if one species had gotten much bigger, it could mean there was an increased food supply to allow them to grow to that size.”

Unfortunately, Levy didn’t find any decapod fossils, but he still learned a great deal about the nature of field studies.

“I found out that field research never goes the way you want it to go,” he says. “I thought I had an idea of what I was going to do. I thought it would be fairly easy; that everything would go my way. But I learned that you plan, plan, plan, and when you get to the field, you modify, modify, modify.”

Dr. David Wronkiewicz, associate professor of geosciences and geological and petroleum engineering, holds some organic material pulled from the hypersaline water of Storr’s Lake while researching the shallow lake on San Salvador Island.

Dr. David Wronkiewicz, associate professor of geology and geophysics, holds some organic material pulled from the hypersaline water of Storr’s Lake while researching the shallow lake on San Salvador Island.

In addition to studying the fossilized reefs of Cockburn Town, the students studied modern reefs, hypersaline lakes and cave systems. Much of their research was conducted in the water, either snorkeling on offshore coral reefs or wading in the shallow water of inland Storr’s Lake. They even did several snorkeling dives at night, encountering sea turtles and a shark.

“James Hutton, the father of modern geology, said that the present is the key to the past,” says Wronkiewicz. “The diversity of geology on the island allowed the students to see Hutton’s concept of past and present geologic processes adjacent to one another in only a few hours of time.”

Levy and other students on the trip wrote about their experiences on S&T’s Miners Abroad Blog. Levy wrote about the striking lack of fresh water on the island. A Club Med resort was built on the island in 1994, he wrote, which increased the island’s freshwater pump rate by some 400 percent. By the early 2000s, the island’s fresh water had dried up. Nowadays, locals use rain collection systems to collect freshwater, then purify it.

The group poses for a picture on San Salvador Island.

The group poses for a picture on San Salvador Island.

The group explored a “blue hole” that used to pump fresh water from beneath the island, but now it pumps salt water. Blue holes are inland caves or underwater sinkholes sometimes called vertical caves. These types of studies using blue holes as well as sea-level proxies can tell researchers about the past environment and help to predict the future, according to Levy.

Levy says he’s thankful for his time at S&T, and the many opportunities he had to travel as a geology student, which included three weeks of field camp in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico; three weeks of advanced field camp in Utah and Arizona; a summer trip to Bolivia with Engineers Without Borders; and a semester as an exchange student in Hong Kong.

“This school has allowed me to find my passion, and that is travel,” he says.

Story by Greg Katski

Photos by Justin Levy

Straight outta Bombay

Sid Panchal works the window and serves authentic Indian street food out of his St. Louis-area food truck, Bombay Food Junkies.

Sid Panchal works the window and serves authentic Indian street food out of his St. Louis-area food truck, Bombay Food Junkies.

Inspired by a reality television show and missing the foods from his homeland, Siddharth “Sid” Panchal, who earned a master’s degree in computer science from Missouri S&T in 2003, opened Bombay Food Junkies in 2013. The Mumbai, India, native and his wife, Krupa, serve vegan and vegetarian meals from their food truck at St. Louis-area hospitals, industrial parks and college campuses, dishing out authentic Indian street food.

The business idea started when the couple watched “The Great Food Truck Race” on the Food Network. That was enough to spark the idea of delivering authentic street food to the people of St. Louis.

The samosa chole - pictured here - is the biggest seller at Bombay Food Junkies.

The samosa chole – pictured here – is the biggest seller at Bombay Food Junkies.

Panchal started scouring Craigslist for vehicles that could be converted into food trucks and called local food truck operators for tips and hints. After finding a truck, the couple launched a Kickstarter campaign and raised the necessary funds to get the truck wrapped in banners and fully modified. Less than two years after opening, Bombay Food Junkies took second place in a Best Vegetarian Food Truck competition sponsored by mobile-cuisine.com.

“The key to our success is finding what foods sell and where,” explains Panchal. “Our samosa chole is the biggest seller, while veggie burgers were a surprise flop. Picking the right location is important too; not all scenes are looking for a vegetarian option.”

The Panchals park their Bombay Food Junkies food truck for lunch, dinner and special occasions at locations throughout the St. Louis metropolitan area, including the corporate headquarters of Wells Fargo Advisors.

The Panchals park their Bombay Food Junkies food truck for lunch, dinner and special occasions at locations throughout the St. Louis metropolitan area, including the corporate headquarters of Wells Fargo Advisors.

Krupa runs the day-to-day operations of the truck, while Sid, a senior consultant for project management at Daugherty Business Solutions in St. Louis, helps out at the truck some weeknights and on weekends.

“My wife was used to driving a Honda Civic, and suddenly she had to learn to drive a 28-foot truck filled with two refrigerators, a three-compartment sink and two pizza ovens,” says Sid. “But we haven’t had any accidents yet and are still going strong. The business is now over two years old.”

Story by Peter Ehrhard

Photos by Sam O’Keefe

Adapted from the Spring 2015 issue of Missouri S&T Magazine.

Dance therapy

Kailea Tilden dances in front of the Millenium Arch on campus.

Kailea Tilden dances in front of the Millenium Arch on campus. Photo by Sam O’Keefe

Everyone has a passion for something. For Kailea Tilden, that passion is dance.

Through dance, Tilden can show off her own uniqueness. Teaching others to dance, she says, helps her draw out their confidence and creativity, too.

“Dancing definitely improves the lives of others,” says Tilden, who graduated cum laude with a bachelor of science degree in biological sciences in May 2015. “It’s fun, it’s exercise, and you get to express yourself and be creative. It’s just a really great experience for everybody that’s involved.”

Tilden taught dance at a Rolla studio for two years before starting her own program at the local health and fitness center.

Tilden performs during a production of "The Little Mermaid" by the S&T Ballet and Dance Club.

Tilden performs during a production of “The Little Mermaid” by the S&T Ballet and Dance Club. Photo by Sam O’Keefe

“I am the coordinator and sole instructor for the program, which has around 25 kids and includes seven different classes,” says Tilden, who has coached and choreographed for competition dancers for three years.

As a student, Tilden served as president of the Missouri S&T Ballet and Dance Club for two years. There, she directed, choreographed and starred in several full-scale dance productions and led a group of over 40 student dancers and children from the community.

“I am in the position to share my love of dance with many people each day – from toddlers to adults,” she says.

Tilden was also a member of the Scrubs Pre-Med Society. She completed over 60 hours of observation with physicians and physical therapists and plans to use that experience as a platform to launch her next endeavor.

Tilden shakes S&T Chancellor Cheryl Schrader's hand as she crosses the stage at commencement in May 2015.

Tilden shakes hands with S&T Chancellor Cheryl B. Schrader’s as she crosses the stage at commencement in May 2015. Photo by Sam O’Keefe

Next year, Tilden plans to enroll in physical therapy school. Her ultimate goal? Becoming a dancer-specialized physical therapist. Tilden believes that through dance, she will be able to help others better express themselves while they improve their physical and mental health.

“Dance is everything that I do,” Tilden says. “It has shaped me physically, mentally and emotionally. Everything I do has been influenced by dance in some way. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t dance. I can’t imagine.”

By Sam Ogunmolawa

Human powered

Lucas Parker poses with the Human Powered Vehicle Competition Team’s current vehicle, named “Leviathan,” which recently won the American Society of Mechanical Engineers 2015 Human Powered Vehicle Challenge East Coast Competition in Gainesville, Florida.

Lucas Parker poses with the Human Powered Vehicle Competition Team’s current vehicle, named “Leviathan,” which recently won the American Society of Mechanical Engineers 2015 Human Powered Vehicle Challenge East Coast Competition in Gainesville, Florida. Photo by Sam O’Keefe

Lucas Parker, a sophomore in aerospace engineering, mechanical engineering and engineering management at Missouri S&T, is obsessed with fitness. From lifeguarding to coaching a gym class at The Centre, Rolla’s Health and Recreation Complex, Parker spends a lot of time taking care of his body and encouraging others to do the same. And he’s been this way his whole life.

In high school, Parker rode his bike to school every day. So, when he came to S&T and wanted to join a design team, he found the perfect fit in the Human Powered Vehicle Competition Team.

Each year, the team designs, builds and races an aerodynamically fitted recumbent bicycle or tricycle. This year the team earned first place at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers 2015 Human Powered Vehicle Challenge East Coast Competition in Gainesville, Florida.

“Even though we are serious about performance and begin preparation for the next competition as soon as the last one is done, the atmosphere isn’t stressful,” he says. “It’s a relaxed learning experience. It’s just a bunch of friends building a bike and learning at the same time.”

Parker says the team is more than a learning experience — it’s a life experience.

“As a freshman, I didn’t know anyone, so I would go to the shop every weekend to work on the bike and that’s how I met new friends,” he says. “The team has opened up doors for friendships, networking and travel that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.”

Though he loves being part of the team, Parker says that he enjoys teaching others teamwork just as much. When he coached soccer at Gene Slay’s Boys Club in the Soulard neighborhood in St. Louis, he learned just how much he loved it.

“All of the kids hated soccer because they didn’t understand it,” he says. “I taught them how to pass and how cool it could be if they worked together and slowly it worked. I felt like I had given them a sense of purpose.”

When Parker is not busy encouraging others to stay healthy, he’s focused on keeping himself healthy. In any free time, the Kappa Sigma fraternity member plays sports with friends and lifts weights in order to stay healthy for Air Force ROTC.

Fitness is an important part of his life, sure, but he says it’s not the only thing he’s focused on.

“My motto is to always stay happy,” he says. “I’m not sure what I’m going to do after Missouri S&T, but I do know I’m going to make it a priority to be happy.”

By Arielle Bodine

Trendy tastes

Michael Wuest, Bus’07, MBA’08, is the marketing manager of the University of Missouri-Columbia Campus Dining Services.

Michael Wuest, a Missouri S&T business graduate, is the marketing manager of the University of Missouri-Columbia Campus Dining Services. Photo by Sam O’Keefe

Feeding a college student is hard work. Feeding thousands of them every day is even harder. With various allergies, dietary restrictions and personal preferences, college students are arguably among the pickiest of eaters, says Michael Wuest.

Wuest, who holds a bachelor’s degree in business and an MBA from Missouri S&T, is responsible for pleasing the palates of thousands of college students every day. As the marketing manager of the University of Missouri-Columbia Campus Dining Services, he knows how hard it is to find and implement dining options that students will like.

Wuest and his team serve over 4 million meals a year. They accommodate all the needs and preferences of each student through options — lots of them.

“Every restaurant has at least one vegetarian option, and other dining options have gluten-free meals,” says Wuest, who got his start in the food service business as marketing manager for Chartwells on the S&T campus. “Both standard facilities and specific restaurants have those options.”

When choosing new dining options and locales, Wuest takes everything from student feedback and historical data to traffic flow patterns and upcoming construction into account — all while staying innovative and on top of current trends.

“The biggest component of our success is open communication with our primary customers — the students — and providing the options they want when we know it’s a good fit,” he says.

With so many choices, it is hard to ensure quality and consistency and eliminate waste. Wuest says batch cooking solves all three problems.

“We know how many students will come in during a certain time, and we know roughly how much we can make in a certain amount of time,” Wuest says. “During our busiest times, we make 10 to 30 servings of a food item at a time, and when there are only a certain number of servings left, we make more.”

Wuest says that cooking in batches does not involve taking frozen food from a box and putting it in the oven.

“Campus dining is not ‘plop and slop,’” he says. “Dining programs nationwide … are returning to the traditional way of cooking by making the majority of our food in-house from scratch.”

In addition to prioritizing quality, cutting waste and implementing from-scratch cooking, Wuest stays on top of major trends in campus dining systems.

“The big three things on everyone’s radar are regional and ethnic cuisines, sensitivity to special dietary needs and having facilities that allow students to order what they want,” Wuest says. “The all-you-care-to-eat system of the past is going away.”

Wuest and his team are sure they will please the palates of nearly every student.

“People will pay for the food they enjoy,” Wuest says. “So, as long as we have the right quality, service and value, we will accomplish our mission.”

By Arielle Bodine

Adapted from the Spring 2015 issue of Missouri S&T Magazine.

Faith and fitness

Kamaria Blaney exercises at the S&T Fitness Center on a recent morning.

Kamaria Blaney exercises at the S&T Fitness Center on a recent morning. Photo by Sam O’Keefe

By her own account, 2012 was the toughest year of Kamaria Blaney’s life.

She had a baby, lost her father and broke up with her boyfriend. Along the way, she ballooned to 238 pounds.

“I was eating my life away,” Blaney, now a senior in engineering management, says. “I just really relied on food instead of my feelings.”

That is, until she took a long, hard look in the mirror – literally.

“I remember the exact moment: It was Christmas time three years ago,” she says. “I was sitting in one of my favorite stores – Charlotte Russe. My boyfriend had gotten me a jacket and he said, ‘I hope it fits you.’ Because it was the biggest size they had.

“I remember sitting in the chair and looking in the mirror and being so disgusted,” she says. I was just so unhappy.”

Blaney signed up for CoolRunning’s Couch-to-5K Running Plan, in which beginners can ease into a running regimen by running 30 minutes a day, three days a week, for nine weeks. She stopped eating fast food and junk food, she says, and started praying.

Blaney says her faith helped motivate her to improve her health.

“I had a good foundation of faith but never tried to further my relationship with God, I guess,” she says. “I just really started focusing on me and God.”

Tragedy struck Blaney’s life again in March 2013, when a friend and classmate took her own life. Despite her grief, Blaney didn’t turn to food.

“I learned the value of friendship and life,” she says. “I learned that there’s no point in being unhappy.”

That loss inspired Blaney to start a motivational Instagram group called “Fit Friends Last Longer.” Here she and her friends share photos and stories of weight loss, exercise and diet.

She says Internet supporters have been her biggest motivators.

“People Snapchat me; they Instagram me; send me all types of nice messages,” she says. “They watch everything that I’m posting.

“People notice I’m putting in this hard work. They love it, and they respond. That’s what drives me.”

Since March 2013, Blaney has lost over 80 pounds.

Now, she trains fellow students, motivating them through fitness. They meet every day at 6:30 a.m. at the S&T Fitness Center. “Everybody has greatness, especially if they’re here at S&T already.”

One day Blaney hopes to get personal training certification and open a fitness center, but for now she’s focused on completing her engineering management degree. “I love the idea of collaboration, figuring out how things work,” she says. “I feel like I can apply that to anything.

“God has given me a brain, and he’s given me a lot of intelligence. He’s given me vision.”

Blaney, who was nominated for an Inspirational Woman Award in 2014 by the Women’s History Month Planning Committee, hasn’t forgotten where she was three short years ago.

“I still look in the mirror every day because I don’t want to lose sight of who I was,” she says. “I’ve been through it. So I know that you can get through it, too. You just have to have goals and trust the process.”

By Greg Katski

 

 

 

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