Luther Alumni Magazine

Snapshots from the class of 2018

Devin Hedlund: Redefining the term “go-getter”

Devin Hedlund
Devin Hedlund

At age four, Devin Hedlund insisted on learning the violin after hearing a classmate play Bach during show-and-tell. “I thought it was the coolest thing ever,” she recalls, “so I told my mom I wanted to play violin.” Luckily, the Preucil School of Music was close by, and it was there that Hedlund began studying violin and, two years later, piano (in addition to the slate of classes she took at Iowa City public schools). Her musical talent was undeniable—at age 13, she was the youngest student to tour Austria with the Preucil School’s premier ensemble.

But as much as she adored music, Hedlund also felt the pull of science. During high school, after inquiring about research opportunities at the University of Iowa, she began to conduct research on metastatic melanoma—the most aggressive and lethal form of skin cancer—through the university’s Department of Radiology and Radiation Oncology. That research, recalls Hedlund, “focused on a specific drug compound that had been designed by the lab to take advantage of the metabolic differences between cancer cells and normal cells to see if the cancer cells could be targeted.”

Long aware of Luther’s top-notch biology and music programs, Hedlund decided to follow in the footsteps of her mother, Diane (Gruenhaupt) Hedlund ‘87, and sister, Bryn Hedlund ’16. From the start, she knew she wanted to continue to participate in music (and she did, as a member of Symphony Orchestra and Collegiate Chorale) but did not want to major in it. Instead, Hedlund mapped out an academic plan that allowed her to double major in biology and English while minoring in Spanish. And she so excelled in all her classes that she graduated Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude. “I feel like I made the most of my college experience,” Hedlund says, noting that her majors were the perfect complement: English allowed her to discuss novels, which brought her joy, and her love of science put her on track for medical school at the University of Iowa, where she started classes in August.

“What most interests me about medicine is that I know I will always be learning—each patient presents his or her own unique set of challenges,” says Hedlund, who has shadowed physicians in many specialties but is keeping an open mind about her career path. “I also like the idea of working hard to resolve those challenges, as I typically do better when I have more on my plate.”

 And what else would one would expect from this multitalented go-getter?

—Sara Friedl-Putnam

Tapiwa Manjengwa: A rising star in accounting

Numbers have inspired Tapiwa Manjengwa since he was a youngster in Zimbabwe, Africa.

Tapiwa Manjengwa
Tapiwa Manjengwa

But those numbers weren’t the ones he found in times tables or, later, mathematical computations for algebra, geometry, or trigonometry. Instead, Manjengwa, an accounting prodigy, was drawn to tabulating assets and liabilities, credits and debits—a passion so deep it steered his decision to travel from Africa to Decorah, Iowa, to pursue a bachelor’s degree in accounting and management.

“I have always loved accounting and business,” he says. “I was good at math, but to me that felt like just calculating numbers. With accounting, I felt there were other variables involved, like the ability to link the numbers to business practices.”

Manjengwa arrived at Luther in 2014 by way of Waterford Kamhlaba United World College, Southern Africa (Swaziland), where he studied mathematics, business, and management, as well as played soccer. “Luther had a pure accounting program, and I already knew people here who spoke highly of it,” he recalls. “I thought Decorah was beautiful, and I appreciated the small size of my accounting classes.” He also felt an immediate connection with his host family, Carol and Dennis Tack. “We still keep in touch,” he says.

By senior year, Manjengwa had completed two successful internships with Ernst and Young in Minneapolis. The first, designed for underrepresented minorities, allowed him to spend the summer of his sophomore year rotating through different operations, including audit, tax, and advisory. During the second, the following summer, he spent more time learning the nuts and bolts of the audit process.

But it wasn’t all computers and spreadsheets for this hardworking student. While at Luther, Manjengwa mentored students back home in Zimbabwe via Skype and took on leadership roles in the college’s International Students and Allies Association, Entrepreneurship Club, and Student Senate. To top it all off, this year the Iowa Society of CPAs recognized him with its Outstanding Accounting Student Award.

Manjengwa’s future seems equally bright. This September he joined the audit staff at Ernst and Young in Minneapolis, where he will audit client accounts and test controls. He has also begun studying for the CPA exam, with hopes to stay in the U.S. and focus on public accounting.

“I have always strived to be inquisitive, stay open-minded, and work well with others,” he says. “I felt Luther promoted and supported all those things. In short, the college has been good, very good to me.”

—Sara Friedl-Putnam

Kevin Honz: Understanding the world through physics

Kevin Honz
Kevin Honz

If you want to see Kevin Honz light up, ask him about physics. By eighth grade, he was heading in to school early to talk math with his teacher and two other students. By high school, he was well down the YouTube rabbit hole, watching physics educators explain things like how a Slinky moves. Even at that young age, he started to realize the interesting applications of math and physics to understand our world.

The Barnhart, Mo., native entered college knowing he wanted to study physics but, he says, “At Luther, my interest evolved into a passion.” When his academic advisor, physics professor Jeff Wilkerson, approached him about participating in a summer research project, Honz admits that he hadn’t considered research before. But, he says, “It turned out I loved the open-endedness of it and getting to ask my own questions and trying to find solutions to difficult problems that other people hadn’t quite solved yet.” Honz, Wilkerson, and Erik Floden ’18 spent Honz’s first two summers at Luther researching the variation in brightness of a particular stellar field from the rooftop-observatory telescopes in Valders Hall of Science.

The summer after his junior year, Honz secured a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at Penn State and turned his attention to condensed matter and materials physics. He spent the summer studying the semiconductive properties of a device made of just a few layers of atoms. The physics of very thin materials, he says, get pretty wacky and have lots of unknown but potentially very useful applications. “If we can better understand the physics of these materials,” he says, “in the future engineers might use them to build better solar panels or faster computers, among other things.” Honz will have the opportunity to continue this fascinating research when he enters Penn State’s physics PhD program this fall.

In addition to studying physics, Honz likes teaching it. He did science outreach at the Central Pennsylvania Arts Festival during his REU, and last fall, as president of Luther’s Society of Physics Students, he helped organize the college’s Haunted Lab, which invites community members to experience science in a “spooky” setting.

“Physics outreach is really important because it shows people that physics isn’t this scary, abstract thing,” he says. “It’s something we do together. It’s something we make mistakes at. It should feel accessible.”

Honz, who enters Penn State’s physics PhD program this fall, is also a gifted musician. He completed a “rainbow tour” while at Luther, participating in Norsemen, Cathedral, Collegiate, and Nordic choirs, as well as in the Wind and Percussion Ensemble and the Tuba and Euphonium Ensemble.

—Kate Frentzel

Laila Sahir: Exploring values and intellect through theatre

Laila Sahir
Laila Sahir

Laila Sahir, a theatre and psychology double major from Dyersville, Iowa, is proof that it pays to keep an open mind. She entered Luther sure that she’d become a music educator. But while she loved connecting with students one on one, she disliked being in front of a classroom.

“I had to give up the narrative that I knew since I was little that I would be a teacher,” she says, adding, “But not being a part of a formal education program doesn’t mean you can’t teach in your own life.”

Sahir found her fit at Luther through theatre, where she’s shone not only as an actress but also as a director. Her approach is collaborative. “My go-to way of figuring things out is crowdsourcing. You have to walk into that rehearsal room and be flexible and adaptable and go with what other people are giving to you,” she says, noting that she especially loves getting to a point where even the youngest and least experienced cast members feel ownership and take initiative.

In addition to a work-study job as production manager for the Theatre Department, Sahir was 2017–18 artistic director of the student-led SPIN Theatre Company, through which she codirected the company’s fall musical cabaret and its annual 1,440-minute musical, which allots the cast and crew just 24 hours to rehearse and perform a full-fledged musical production. In addition, she directed the Theatre Department’s spring performance of Marie Antoinette, using the play as a basis for her senior project examining gender and the physical expression of power. She presented her research at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in Oklahoma last April. She has also conducted research in her psychology major, most notably on implicit bias through a project with Michael Barry, codirector—with Luther sociology professor Loren Toussaint—of the Forgiveness Project and liaison between the NAACP and the Grand Rapids, Mich., police force.

Last summer, Sahir returned as an apprentice to the Festival Theatre in St. Croix Falls, Wis., where she performed, acted as house manager, and taught youth campers.

“During my time at Luther I’ve come to realize that what I connect with is less about being on a certain path or in a certain position,” she says. “Rather, I want to be in a company that shares my values. I want to feel that my projects are important no matter what my role is on that team. Learning how to work within that value system has been instrumental.”

—Kate Frentzel

Shelja Thakur: Working toward sustainability

Shelja Thakur
Shelja Thakur

Shelja Thakur dreams big. An environmental studies major concerned about the pollution affecting her home country of India, she aims to one day address the pervasive issue of pollution through policy at the highest levels.

“According to a recent World Health Organization report, 14 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India, and that’s terrifying,” she says. “Ultimately, I want to facilitate change for the better, and I see holding the post of minister of environment, forests, and water conservation as an ideal way to do that.”

While that might seem like a tall order, consider what Thakur has already achieved in just 22 short years. Raised in a small town (Solan) in the foothills of the Himalayas, at age 11 she caught the eye of a nongovernmental organization that sent highly gifted students to a private school in Dehradun, India. There she excelled in her classes and was tapped to attend high school at Red Cross Nordic, United World College, Norway. Like many UWC students, Luther was her next academic stop—and once on campus, she wasted no time immersing herself in environmental causes.

While completing her major, she worked in the Luther Sustainability Department on the Cafeteria to Community program, which donates food from Luther’s Dining Services to the Decorah Community Food Pantry. During January of her junior year, she interned at Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, where she helped care for the organization’s collection of rare heirloom seeds. When the topic of her senior paper arose, she immediately decided to investigate India’s Ganges River, long plagued by serious pollution problems. “Our new prime minister had started a river cleanup program, and I wanted to see what it had accomplished,” says Thakur, whose cocurriculars included serving as president of the Beta Theta Omega women’s leadership organization. “I concluded that it is just a start—cleaning up a big river like the Ganges will take more time and money as well as better policies and implementation.”

In July, Thakur returned to Seed Savers Exchange as an inventory technician, charged with overseeing the supply of seeds that the organization preserves and shares with gardeners nationwide. She plans to attend graduate school in environmental policy, and from there return to India to do the work she believes she was born to do.

“My dream is to find a way to develop India sustainably,” she says. “I want to help end poverty and improve the environment, and I believe, through policy, I can find a workable balance between the two.”

—Sara Friedl-Putnam

Emily Osborne: Forging a path through literature, medicine, service

Emily Osborne
Emily Osborne

Emily Osborne entered Luther determined to become a physician. “That’s always been the plan for me,” says the Duluth, Minn., native. Her father, also a physician, “is very open about the hardships and rewards of the profession,” she says. “He’s really challenged me to make sure I know what I’m getting into.” But while she felt sure about the what, she felt less sure about the how.

After arriving at Luther as a physics/pre-med student, Osborne says, “I realized that my time here would be all science classes, but I wasn’t ready to give up reading, writing, and discussing. My Paideia instructor, Lindsey Row-Heyveld, brought up the idea of an English major, which got me thinking about what I wanted my four years at Luther to look like.”

It turns out that an English major with biology and chemistry minors perfectly fit the bill, allowing her to study literature before diving into medicine, but also giving her a solid foundation for becoming a well-rounded physician. “I’ve become acquainted with the wide range of human experiences and gotten a lot of diversity training through my English courses,” she says. “Literature and medicine both seek to better understand what it means to be human and to improve the ways we physically, mentally, and emotionally inhabit our world.”

Osborne has found other ways of combining her interests as a Luther student. In summer 2014, shadowing a pediatric oncologist in Duluth, she merged her love of music with her strong service ethic to create a music-enrichment program for children that could be undertaken by volunteers. She wrote a grant proposal that summer and implemented the program during her sophomore year J-term. Today, a music-therapy volunteer is available to pediatric patients whenever the clinic is open.

Osborne loves working with people of all ages. For several summers during college, she held a job as personal care aide for the elderly. It was something she missed during the school year, so, with Alex Carpenter ’18 and Emily Green ’18, she started a student organization called GrandPALS to connect Luther students with residents at local nursing homes. In addition to work with GrandPALS, Osborne, who is passionate about women’s rights, volunteers several times a month for a crisis hotline for victims of sexual assault.

Osborne starts medical school this fall on a full-tuition scholarship at the University of Minnesota–Duluth. While she’ll no doubt be busy, she’s also learned something valuable about structuring her time while at Luther: “I really try be present in whatever I’m doing. I remind myself that I choose to be involved in so many activities because I love them all. ”

—Kate Frentzel