The following five Redbirds were featured in the 2016 edition of our annual August series introducing some of our “Newest Redbirds.” With commencement approaching, we decided to catch up with them to see how their Illinois State years passed and what they are up to now.

Beth (Geistlinger) Briggs ’20 knew she wanted to work with athletes, possibly with a sports team at the university or professional level. She’s finishing her master’s in athletic training and works with the University’s dive and swim team, and ISU ROTC.

Griffin Megeff ’19 had a perfect ACT score and could have gone to any university. He chose Illinois State. The computer science major is programming video games for a software development company in his hometown of Champaign.

Enrique Rocha wanted to make his family proud, and he has. He is graduating with his bachelor’s in nursing and is ready to enter health care during a global pandemic.

Kharisma Thomas had planned to become a high school counselor in her Chicago neighborhood of Austin. She is going back to her neighborhood, but hopes to work with younger children in a nonprofit setting or in health care.

Elise Webber ’19 came from Alaska to take advantage of undergraduate research opportunities at Illinois State in the field she loves: science. She wanted to follow in the footsteps of her marine biologist father but also make an imprint of her own. She earned a degree in molecular and cellular biology, and is working on her Ph.D. in biomedical sciences.

Beth (Geistlinger) Briggs

  • Beth (Geistlinger) Briggs

Since her senior year of high school, Beth Briggs knew that she wanted to help people heal from their injuries. Fast forward five years, and her goals are still the same. She graduated from Illinois State with her bachelor’s in athletic training and a minor in sports and rehabilitative psychology in May 2020 and is pursuing her master’s in athletic training at Illinois State.

She spends most of each day in Horton Field House, where she works as the graduate assistant athletic trainer for the swim and dive team. Briggs also teaches first aid and CPR, and serves as an athletic trainer for ISU ROTC, which has inspired her to seek work as an athletic trainer for the military following graduation.

“I was able to have that small–school feel but still had that big school experience,” she said. “I was able to work with the circus and ROTC and D1 sports programs as an athletic trainer, but still had smaller class sizes and more opportunities to work with professors.”

Briggs credits Drs. Justin Stanek and Nikki Hoffman for being instrumental to her experience and success in the athletic training program. Hoffman awarded Briggs with the ISU Graduate Merit Fellowship Award, a grant that is given to only one graduate student in the athletic training program. She also received the Distinguished Senior in Athletic Training Award.

“My professors care about me, teach well, and put the effort in, and I think that’s what’s so awesome about ISU.”

When Briggs isn’t busy with school or work she spends time with her husband, Ian, who is also a Redbird currently studying criminal justice. The newlyweds met during their time at Illinois State and tied the knot during the first weekend in April this year.

Griffin Megeff

  • Griffin Megeff
  • Griffin Megeff, 2019 alum

For longtime technology-lover Griffin Megeff, a degree from the School of Information Technology was a no-brainer. He graduated from Illinois State a semester early in December 2019 with a bachelor’s in computer science.

Since January 2020, Megeff has programmed video games for the software development company Volition in his hometown of Champaign. Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the majority of his career so far has been remote.

“I’m a programmer, and in the video game world there’s programmers, designers, audio engineers, all of the above,” he said. “I’ll get tasks from designers or producers or someone higher up the ladder than I am. They’ll say we have to implement a new feature or do something for a mission in the game. I’ll test it out, and then I submit it.”

Reflecting on his time at Illinois State, he recognized the different ways in which he’s grown not only academically and professionally, but personally and culturally.

“I didn’t move around a lot, so I was in the same area for almost my entire life. When I got to Illinois State, I was exposed to a lot more viewpoints and people from different backgrounds, and new ways of thinking and ideas that have stuck with me. I made a lot of friends and got to know them and their experiences too.”

Megeff is enjoying his job and where he is at the moment but remains open-minded when it comes to the future.

“I like to keep my options open and to explore new opportunities as they come to me,” he said. “I don’t know if I necessarily have any plans to pack up and move across the country, but I guess we’ll see.”

Enrique Rocha

  • Enrique Rocha

Enrique Rocha brought along a stethoscope when he moved to campus in 2016. It was a gift from his aunt in Mexico, who retired from nursing. In August, he’ll graduate from the Mennonite College of Nursing (MCN), with plans to become a surgical nurse, maybe eventually a traveling nurse.

Since he was young, he’s liked science.

“I saw it as a way to help people,” he said. 

Another way he wants to helped is by applying his fluency in Spanish as a nurse.

“There was one time in a clinical where the patient I was assigned to was using their young daughter to translate from English to Spanish. That reminded me of when I was younger, and I would help translate sometimes. I really wanted to become a nurse after that day.”

Rocha is a first-generation college student and appreciated the faculty support he found along the way.

“MCN is filled with professors and clinical instructors who want the best for their students,” he said. “Desha Cobbs, Tracy Heinz, and Kate Peterson pushed us to be better and were always there to help whenever we had questions.”

After finishing his nursing studies during a global pandemic, he feels ready for whatever is next.

“I see it as it can only get better,” he said.

Kharisma Thomas

  • Kharisma Thomas

Kharisma Thomas knows how she’s going to decorate her graduation cap. It’ll read, “I did this for my parents. I did this for my brothers. I did this for my angels, but most of all, I did this for myself.”

The first-generation college student came to Illinois State with the goal of returning to her Chicago neighborhood of Austin. She had big dreams coming in, and she’s taking those home. She earned a degree in university studies with a concentration in business and psychology, and a minor in civic engagement. Although she would like to work with children in a nonprofit setting, she’s also considering health care.

But first, she wants to spend time with her family.

“I’ve been away for five years, and I’m ready to go home,” she said. “I came in very bright, very hopeful, but I will say I’ve been a little humbled by life. I feel like I’ve grown a lot in maturity.”

She became involved in service on campus, joining Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc., which focuses on enhancing lives for women and their families through community service and social action.

“I do have a focus on helping people,” she said. “I want to help my community first. That would make me feel good.”

She has some advice for incoming freshmen and underrepresented students.

“You have to make your own narrative. You have to put your best foot forward and make yourself known. It’s not about keeping up with anybody else. It’s about making sure everything you take on is serving your purpose and your dreams. You’re coming to college for yourself, from beginning to end.”

Elise Webber

  • Elise Webber, 2020 graduate

Elise Webber graduated from Illinois State a semester early in December 2019 with her bachelor’s degree in molecular and cellular biology. She is now working toward her Ph.D. in biomedical sciences at Rosalind Franklin University in North Chicago.

“I’m still a first-year student, so I haven’t formally decided on a degree path yet, but I’ve been getting research done when I can,” she said. “I haven’t narrowed down a specific lab or project, but I’ve rotated in virology lab, and cell biology and anatomy lab. I’m planning to rotate in a neuroscience lab, so you get a pretty good variety of options to see what you enjoy and like to work on.”

Webber has always wanted to earn her Ph.D., and this aspiration pushed her to take on research projects during her undergraduate years. Illinois State provided her with the opportunity to break into research early, which can be difficult to do at other universities.

“I did some research in Dr. Tom Hammond’s lab, which is focused on fungal genetics, and continued there for the remainder of my undergraduate degree,” she said. “It was a great opportunity to figure out what it’s like to work in a lab environment.”

Once Webber has graduated from the Ph.D. program, she hopes to pursue a career in academia or take an industrial route. Her days at Illinois State allowed her to grow both emotionally and academically.

“I look back on my time at ISU and think, ‘Wow, that was a really good experience,’” she said. “It’s a large university, but also a connected community. I loved it and I would go back and do it again if I could.”