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Focus Extra: Spring 2019

Full story: Michelle Millben

Michelle MillbenMichelle Millben in Washington, D.C. Photo by Eli Turner

When Michelle Millben’s role as White House liaison to the U.S. House of Representatives neared its end, she knew that her next endeavor would be in a “right-brain field.” The musician-turned-lawyer spent her career in public service during the Obama administration feeling challenged to be creative and entrepreneurial in her work on behalf of the people.

Millben has since launched Explanation Kids LLC. Like several other major life decisions for Millben, she founded her company as a response to great tragedy and injustice in America. After watching the violent events unfold in Charlottesville in 2017, Millben began doing one of the things she does best… developing a plan to change the world. Explanation Kids officially launched in November 2018 with the goal of providing resources for parents and teachers to answer tough policy questions from kids about racism, violence, immigration, war, and more.

“I wouldn’t be an entrepreneur if I wasn’t part of the creative class,” Millben reflected, “and my time in the White House working under President Obama’s leadership got me back in the entrepreneurial spirit.”

The incident that spurred Millben’s decision to attend law school 13 years ago also was born of a deep desire to see change. As a youth pastor, she led several mission trips to Los Angeles’ Skid Row, interacting with homeless individuals and youth in crisis. In one particular case, Millben became acquainted with an African American youth who was working to turn his life around, but ultimately received a harsh prison sentence for a first-time drug offense. The sentence was drastically harsher than punishments she had seen white classmates in her Oklahoma high school receive for the same offense.

“His life was ruined over a first-time offense. I was angry; it seemed so unjust,” she said. “I decided that I could try to be famous (as a musician) or try to go help people.”

It was at that point, for the first time since the age of 8, that Millben set aside her dreams of a career in musical performance and enrolled in law school. She studied law at the University of Oklahoma and Georgetown University, graduating in 2009. At Georgetown, Millben was able to delve deep into poverty law and policy, and her interest in politics grew.

“When I saw a way to change lives for the better by making necessary changes to some of our laws, my heart lit up and I was able to be myself,” Millben reflected. “It was then I knew a career in public service was where I wanted to go. Billable hours in a law firm were not going to be my cup of tea.”

Shortly after graduation, Millben extraordinarily entered her career on Capitol Hill as an advisor and counsel to the House Judiciary Committee. She covered voting rights as well as a range of other subjects. She went on to serve as the Congressional Director for the White House’s Presidential Personnel Office, attorney advisor for the U.S. Department of Justice, and Special Assistant to the President in the White House. At the White House, Michelle advised the President on all hiring throughout the administration, and also served as President Obama’s liaison to the U.S. House of Representatives where she advanced President Obama’s policy priorities. At the Justice Department, Millben worked on oversight investigations and communicated the Department’s positions on litigation and legislation to Congress. In particular, she served at the forefront of policy discussions during the Department’s continued oversight of the deaths of Michael Brown in 2014 and Freddie Gray in 2015 as race relations and 21st Century policing became more of a national focus, and as Congressional inquiries around the nation’s immigration crisis increased.

“The work was intense,” Millben noted, “yet it was a time to be inspired. The president believed in us and challenged us look through an innovative lens at the needs of the country, and find ways to be responsive to the pressing issues.”

Millben has long found inspiration in challenging times and has found that creativity lends itself to perseverance.

“Creativity lifts the claustrophobic sense that boundaries give you,” she said. “To me, creativity means looking over boundaries for the betterment of other people. When your goals are noble, and higher than you, and about others, then creativity becomes quite instinctive. Our creativity and our imagination can be catalysts for change.”

During her time in Washington, D.C., Millben has kept up with her love for music, practicing the violin and piano regularly, playing in her local church’s worship band, and performing with the American Family Singers for the Kennedy Center Honors. Her choir involvement led her to sing background vocals for Diana Ross, Bruce Springsteen, Beyonce, Garth Brooks, and others.

Millben has now found herself in another time of change. After receiving full and nearly-full scholarship offers to divinity schools at Harvard, Yale, Columbia’s Union Theological Seminary, and Boston University, Millben accepted a full-tuition scholarship to Harvard Divinity School last April. However, she ultimately decided to put her next higher educational pursuit on hold to care for her mother, who recently fell ill.

“God has a timing for all things in our lives, and this just wasn’t the season for me to blend my company, my educational pursuits, and caring for my mom. Making the decision in August to not attend was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made in my career. However, it was important for me to be a good kid, and my mother deserved my focus and support during this time,” she said. “The administration at Harvard Divinity School is amazing. They were incredibly understanding and helpful to me during this difficult decision, and thankfully Harvard will still be there when my mom is back to 100 percent. My mom is a force of nature and I thank God for her, as all of my outcomes are a result of her upbringing and her lessons on focus, devoting yourself to doing your very best, and serving others.”

Millben said that eventually, earning a divinity degree will advance her policy focus and will further her continued lifestyle of servant leadership — one that has remained part pulpit and part public service.

Class Notes

1950s

Wynona Carol (McMillin) Brooks (BS Business Accounting ’59), the first woman graduate from OCU to pass the Certified Public Accountant exam, received the Pathmaker Award from the Oklahoma City/County Historical Society.

1960s

Roger L. Liles (BA ’63) published his first novel, “The Berlin Tunnel,” which was listed on Amazon’s top 20 bestsellers.

The Oklahoman ran photos of Jane Jayroe (BM ’69) from 1966 and Susan Powell (BM ’81) from 1980 in its “Faces of the Past” photo series highlighting the Miss America pageant.

1970s

Leona Mitchell (BM ’71, Hon. DM ’79) was featured in Opera Wire.

Becky Switzer (BS ’76) and her husband, former University of Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer, hosted a Passing of the Leash ceremony for trained rescue dogs at the Oklahoma City Memorial. The Passing of the Leash is a ceremony for Ground Zero-trained rescue dogs as they are matched with first responders in Oklahoma City and other communities across the nation.

Ron Kreiter (JD ’77) returned to the Oklahoma Insurance Department as deputy general counsel.

The Odessa Music Study Club in Texas highlighted the works of Glenn Burleigh (MM ’77) in November.

John Frederick “Fred” Kempf (JD ’77) was named a shareholder in the Hall Estill law firm’s Oklahoma City office.

M. Franklin Keel (JD ’78), who served as eastern regional director for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was inducted into the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma Hall of Fame.

1980s

Julie Ballou (BA English ’80) became executive director of the Metropolitan Library System.

Charles Gass (JD ’81) was appointed special judge for Canadian County.

Noel White (MBA ’82) was named president and chief executive officer of Tyson Foods.

Teri Bibb (BM ’82) played Abigail Adams in a California production of the Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone musical "1776."

Several OCU students and alumni were involved in CityRep Theatre’s “The Music Man” production, including music professor and alumna Molly Cason Johnson (’83) as Eulalie Shinn, Jeana Gering (BM Vocal Performance ’11) as Ethel Toffelmier; Barbara Fox DeMaio (BM ’76) as Mrs. Paroo, Marcellus Hankins (BM ’85) as the Conductor, Terri Bibb (BM ’82) as Marian, Jack Boyd (BM ’18), and Jon-Philip Olson (BM Musical Theater ’93, MM ’97).

OCU alumni who won elections last year include Paul Woodward (JD ’84), who retained his judgeship for District 4 Office 2 in Garfield, Blaine, Grant and Kingfisher counties; Scott Rowland (JD ’94), who retained his judgeship on the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals; Carri Hicks (BA Broadcasting and Political Science ’05, MLA ’09) won the District 40 Oklahoma Senate seat; Natalie Mai (JD ’09) won the District 7 Office 5 judge seat for Oklahoma County; Brett Butner (JD ‘11) for associate district judge in Seminole County; and Kassie McCoy (JD ’12) won the position of associate district judge in Rogers County. Alumnus and film studies professor James Cooper (MFA Creative Writing ’15) won the most recent municipal election for Oklahoma City’s Ward 2 city council seat.

John David Luton (JD ’85) was sworn in as the new special judge in Wagoner County.

[Must use – pic available] Barbara Gellman-Danley (MBA ’85), president of the Higher Learning Commission in Chicago, Illinois, was named an International Honorary Member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.

Jerry Steichen (BM ’86) was named conductor of the Longview Symphony in Texas.

Lt. Col. Jason E. McNully (BA’87) graduated from the United States Air Force Air War College.

Agnelo Fernandes (MBA ’89) was named chief strategy officer and executive vice president of revenue for Terranea Resort, a 102-acre oceanfront resort near Los Angeles.

LaVonda Jones (MBA ’89), executive vice president and chief operations officer at Vision Bank; Cindy Truong (JD ’01), Oklahoma County District Court Judge Office 7; and Brandy Semore (MBA ’12), president and co-founder of Oklahoma Women In Technology; were among the Journal Record’s “Fifty Making a Difference” list recognized during the 2018 Woman of the Year ceremony.

1990s

Paul Kapsner (MBA ’90) was named global vice president of sales for CathWorks, a medical technology company.

Suzette Switzer Hinds (JD ’90) published a post on the Texas Bar Blog headlined “4 Tips for Streamlining Your Commercial Title Transaction.”

Timothy Long (BM '90) performed a concert on piano with Brian Mulligan at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in September.

Rev. Alison Phillips Robuck (BA Humanities ’91) led a celebration service for the Central Christian Church 125th anniversary in Enid.

Kristin Chenoweth (BM Musical Theatre ’91, MM ’93, DHL ’13) appeared in the Brilliant Lecture series at the University of Houston. Chenoweth was the featured artist with Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center and narrator at the Christmas concerts by the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square in Salt Lake City.

The Texas governor appointed Christina Melton Crain (JD ’91), founder and president/CEO of Unlocking DOORS, to the Trinity River Authority board of directors.

Brandon Hobson's (BA English ’92) novel “Where the Dead Sit Talking” was long-listed for the National Book Award for Fiction.

The Dallas edition of Attorney at Law Magazine included a feature story about George Milner (JD ’92) and his experience in rodeos.

Richard Hall (BS Mathematics ’93) was named athletic director at Sheridan College in Wyoming.

Nathan Dills (JD ’95) was named president of the Oklahoma-based ACP Sheet Metal Company and managing partner of Midwest Fabricators LLC.

Nona Lee (JD ’95), chief legal officer for the Arizona Diamondbacks, provided advice for a story in the SportsBusiness Journal headlined “Keys to sports law success: Hard work, relationships.”

Arkansas Money & Politics magazine ran a Q&A story with Chad Aduddell (MBA Health Care Administration ‘96), CEO of CHI St. Vincent hospital.

Fort Worth attorney David Sloane (JD ’96) was featured in a Dallas Observer story headlined “Bringing Back Some Pot Edibles from Colorado? Texas Has a Nasty Surprise for You.”

Michelle Ball (BPA Dance ’96) was a choreographer and performer for the New England Ballet Ensemble’s performance of “The Nutcracker” in Marblehead, Massachusetts.

Cherokee Nation citizen Joseph Erb (BFA ’97) was selected as one of nine professional artists to be part of the Travois First Fridays visual art exhibition series in Kansas City, Missouri.

Erica Elliott (MBA ’97) joined the Grace College (Indiana) faculty as instructor of digital marketing.

[pics from Rev. Neff 12.18?] Mark Crenshaw (’97) was named Wimberly School of Religion’s Distinguished Alumnus for 2018. Crenshaw serves as the director of inter-disciplinary training in the School of Public Health at Georgia State University and is a vocal advocate for persons with disabilities.

The Greater Phoenix In Business magazine posted a story about Molly Stockley (BA Broadcasting ’97), vice president of Hospital Growth at Cancer Treatment Centers of America.

Sam John (MBA ’98), president of Innovative Products, was part of the judging panel for the LEAP Awards (Leadership in Engineering Achievement Program).

Kelli O’Hara (BM Vocal Performance ‘98, Honorary DHL ‘15) was named spokesperson of the Children’s Center Rehabilitation Hospital’s inaugural honorary board.

Shawn Jones (BM Instrumental Performance ’99) and the band he fronts, the Lovely Sparrows, released a new album titled “Shake the Shadow.” The band was part of a showcase at the South by Southwest music festival.

Lucas Loh (MBA International Business Finance ’99) was appointed president of the China & Investment Management division of CapitaLand Limited.

Elisabeth Brodt (BM Music Education ’99) was named the first principal of the new Junior High #16 in Katy, Texas, set to open this year.

Tommy Riley (BS Physical Education ‘99) was named head coach of the Rose State College women’s soccer team.

Michael Harker (BA English ’99), a professor at Georgia State University, is co-editor of a new book, “The Archive as Classroom: Pedagogical Approaches to the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives.”

2000s

Jamie Wade (BA Asian Studies ’00) joined the Norman Chamber of Commerce as vice president of membership.

Shakenna K. Williams (MBA ’01) was named director of the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Global Initiative at Babson College.

Rev. Kayla Bonewell (BA Religion ‘02) received an Oklahoma Universal Human Rights Alliance Award at the state Capitol in December. Bonewell is the pastor of Church of the Open Arms UCC and Cathedral of Hope OKC.

Hiram Sasser (JD ’02), general counsel for First Liberty Institute, gave a special presentation titled "First Amendment Pro Bono Opportunities" at the University of Chicago.

Manchu Lakshmi Prasanna (Lakshmi Manchu) (BA Theatre ’02) was interviewed about the #MeToo movement on the Indiaglitz movie news site.

Alice Wasson (JD ’03) joined the Gilmore & Bell, P.C., firm as lead compliance counsel for its Kansas City office

Carman Rainbolt (JD ’03) became the assistant district attorney for Okmulgee and McIntosh counties.

[Must run] Rev. Julie Conrady (BA Religion ’03) preached her first sermon as minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham, Alabama, in August.

Ryan Bradley (MBA ’03) was appointed to vice president of contact center operations for Selective Insurance Company of America.

[book cover pic 10.5] Brintha J. Gardner (MBA ’04) recently published a children’s book she wrote titled “The Amazing Adventures of Little Right Sock.” The book is primarily for an audience of ages 3-8.

Michelle Millben (BM Music Performance ’05) was the keynote speaker for the Oklahoma Women Impacting STEM and Entrepreneurship conference.

Three alumni who appeared in Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” touring production were Karilyn Ashley Surrat (BPA “Dance ’05), Richard Yoder (BPA “Dance ’06), and Sarah Fagan (BPA Dance ‘12).

Todd Pauley (JD ’06) was named director of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives.

Trae Gray (MBA & JD ’06), founder of LandownerFirm PLLC in Tulsa and Coal County, was selected by his peers for inclusion in the Best Lawyers in America for 2019 in the practice of energy law.

Adam Maris (BS Exercise and Sport Science ’06), founder of the Spring Valley Rod and Gun Club in Arkansas, opened a new location near Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Andrea Bauer (BS Entertainment Business ’07) was named public information director for Unified School District 428 in Great Bend, Kansas.

Joel Linares (JD ’07) became assistant city manager of Moab, Utah.

[Must run – has pic] Erick Worrell (BA Public Relations ’07) was named vice president of client service and creative strategy for Ghost, an Oklahoma City-based creative agency. Worrell oversees the agency’s client relationships and copywriting, and helps guide the agency’s positioning and presence in the OKC market.

Danielle Estes (BM Musical Theater Perfromance ’07) played Amneris in the Firehouse Theatre production of “AIDA” in Farmers Branch, Texas.

The Las Vegas Weekly did a profile story about Kady Heard (BPA ’08), the “Swiss Army Knife” of the Majestic Repertory Theatre.

[Don’t cut] Matthew Schultz (BA Theatre Performance ’09), a financial adviser with Principal Financial Group, was a float competition judge for the Harvest of Harmony Parade in Grand Island, Nebraska. Schultz was elected as vice president of the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer Foundation board of directors.

Ewa Plonka (MM ’09) made her debut with Finland's Oulu Symphony Orchestra as a soloist singing Richard Wagner's “Wesendonck Lieder” during an Oratorio Society Of New York concert.

Amanda Cochran-McCall (JD ’09) was promoted to division chief of general litigation by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Peyton Crim (BM ’09) played Robert in the Cincinnati Series production of "The Play That Goes Wrong.”

Oklahoma’s Nursing Times ran a profile story on Travis Barnes (BS Nursing ’09 & JD ’09), RN at the Children’s Center Rehabilitation Hospital in Bethany.

2010s

Chaz Wolcott (BPA ’10) joined the faculty at Celebrity Dance and choreographed a production of Disney’s “Newsies” for the Franklin Performing Arts Company in Massachusetts.

J. Warren Mitchell (MM ’10) performed in the Painted Sky Opera Company’s season opening production of “Rigoletto” at the Civic Center Music Hall. Mitchell also gave a special performance at Illinois College.

The Odessa American in Texas ran a feature story about Karli McMurray (JD ’11) and her efforts to provide clean water to villages in Ghana through the One Love Worldwide charity.

Elliot Groves (BS ’12) won the Puttenham Pro-Am golf tournament in England.

Tyson Campbell (BS Economics ’12) became head coach of the Fox High School wrestling team in Arnold, Missouri.

Brian Cowing (BM ’12) was a swing and ensemble member of the national tour of “Something Rotten!”

The New York Times ran a wedding announcement for Molly Anne Rushing (BM Music Theater ’12), who performed as the teenage Anastasia in the Broadhurst Theater production of “Anastasia.”

Nick Palmquist (BPA Dance Performance ’13) was interviewed for a story by a Russian choreography writers project called “No fixed points” while he was in St. Petersburg teaching master classes.

Daniel Gerber (JD ’13), general counsel of Summit Financial, was a finalist for the 2018 Outstanding Corporate Counsel’s General Counsel of the Year Award for a Small Legal Department.

Emma Velez (BA ’13) published an article on the Women in Philosophy blog titled “Why the Decolonial Imaginary Matters for Women in Philosophy.” The article is about her experience of visiting liberal arts universities to encourage students of color to consider graduate study in philosophy.

Eric Waltman (BFA Film Production ’13) was named production operator for the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority (OETA).

Laura Neal (JD ’13) was profiled in an O'Colly student media (Oklahoma State University) story headlined “Voices of citizenship: OSU naturalization ceremony participants share stories.”

Oklahoma’s Nursing Times ran a profile story about Meagan Barker (BS Nursing ’13), an RN in the Integris Baptist Hospital Cardiothoracic ICU.

Steven D. Powell (BS Nursing ‘14) was appointed to the American Nurses Association’s Political Action Committee. Powell was also finalist for the Ed Klein Political Action Award at the national convention for the American Federation of Government Employees in Las Vegas, and he was team captain of the Quizzly Bears, which came in 11th out of 204 teams at the annual Challenge Entertainment National Trivia League finals in New Orleans.

Benjamin Rivera (BPA ’14) made his debut in a major televised production with January’s live broadcast of the musical “Rent.”

Darius Wright (BM ’14) was a guest on the “Not Yet Famous” podcast.

James Marchesani (BBA Marketing ‘14) and Hunghai “Matthew” Cheung (BS Business Administration ’17) played against each other in the Clearwater Bay Open golf tournament in Hong Kong in October. The South China Morning Post ran a feature story about Cheung after he became the only Hong Kong player to make the cut in the Honma Hong Kong Open.

Eryn LeCroy (BM ’14) made her “Phantom of the Opera” and Broadway debut as the Christine alternate in November.

Darius Wright (BM ’14) was in the ensemble in the Broadway musical “Pretty Woman.”

Dan Gatewood (MS Energy Management ’14) was appointed to the board of trustees for Blinn College in Brenham, Texas.

John Willems (BBA Finance ’15) joined the Dallas office of RE/MAX DFW Associates.

Former OCU wrestler Emily Webster (BS Chemistry ’15) was named to the Sedalia Schools Athletic Hall of Fame in Missouri.

Brian McQuade (BS Accounting ’16) was promoted to senior associate for BKD CPAs & Advisors, an Oklahoma City-based audit and assurance practice.

Ariel Richardson (BFA ’16) made her Northlight Theatre debut in January as Sephronia in “Nina Simone: Four Women” in Skokie, Illinois.

Ashton Parrack (BM ’17) was cast in the FunikiJam World Music production of “BABY LIKES TO ROCK!” off-Broadway family musical in New York City. Parrack also played Agent Melody in an Off-Broadway production of "Rhythm Boom Boom” and in the production’s 60-city tour of China.

Michael Hodges (MS Energy Management ‘17) was appointed to senior vice president of finance for Blue Ridge Mountain Resources in Texas.

Cora Grace Winstead (BM Theatre’17) played the lead role in Theatre Three's production of the musical “Once” in Dallas.

Henry Bayless (MM Instrumental Performance ’17) assisted with a Glenwood Springs Elementary School music class in Colorado and was featured in a news story.

Kendra Comstock (BA Music ’17) performed in a charity concert in Vermont for Hartland Community Arts.

Oklahoma State University-Tulsa posted a feature story about OCU alumna Lauren Branum (BS Biology ’17) and her efforts to make the OSU-Tulsa campus into a zero-landfill public university.

Jamison Keefover (BA Mass Communications ‘18) was hired as a TV news producer for KAPP/KVEW, the ABC affiliate in Yakima, Washington. Keefover was a member of the OCU Speech & Debate team.

Melissa Walker (MS PA Studies ’18) joined the urology practice of SSM Health Medical Group of St. Anthony Hospital.

The VINAzine website posted a column by Ashley McCord (JD ’18) headlined “How to Invite a New Vina to Thanksgiving!”

Morgan Haney (BM ’18) starred as Junie B. Jones in the Casa Manana Children’s Theatre production of “Junie B. Jones in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells.”

The Muskogee Phoenix profiled Angela Martindale (PhD Nursing ’18), an assistant professor of nursing at University of Tulsa and founder and CEO at Nurse Nicely, in a story headlined “Okie from Muskogee: Martindale a true success story.”

Casady School teacher Andrea Nesbitt (M Education ’18) was selected for the American Montessori Society Emerging Leaders Fellowship Program. From a national application pool, Nesbitt was one of 14 selected. She will take part in professional development, experience in-depth mentorship, and collaborate monthly with the other fellows through video conferencing and online forums.