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Class of 2014 profiles

June 25, 2014

Every graduate has taken their own unique path toward moving their tassel. Here are just a few of their stories. The Liberty Journal congratulates all 2014 graduates who have now entered the world as true Champions for Christ.

Home away from home

Eleni Belay

Eleni Belay

For many of Liberty University’s international students, the opportunity to attend college and have so many potential career paths is a dream come true. Nearly 1,000 students come to Liberty’s campus from outside the U.S. every academic year, representing 75 countries.

Eleni Belay of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, recently earned a bachelor’s degree from the School of Business, specializing in finance, economics, and international business. Belay was only 17 when she arrived in the U.S., but said she immediately found support through the International Students Office and faculty who became her mentors.

“As far away as it is from home, it definitely feels like home to be here,” Belay said. “Being away from my family, I could have been exposed to many different things, but because I was at Liberty I had people who cared about me and protected me from being involved in things that weren’t to my advantage.”

Belay is currently working at Volkswagen Credit, Inc. (VCI) at Volkswagen Group of America in Herdon, Va., where she completed her internship last summer.

She said the real-life experience and instruction she received will prove invaluable as a Christian in the workplace.

“Especially in a field like business, where it’s mostly secular, it’s really important to be able to understand business from Christian principles, and at Liberty I was able to learn that from my professors,” Belay said. “They all tie it back to Christianity, God, and our belief in Him.”

Maureen Mutisya of Nairobi, Kenya, recently graduated with her M.B.A. in accounting, after already earning her undergraduate degrees in business management and aeronautics from Liberty.

Maureen Mutisya

“I started my aviation training back home where there was a lot of gender discrimination, so it was very difficult for me to complete it. That’s why I came to Liberty because I knew here I wouldn’t be faced with such kinds of challenges, and I would be able to complete my program effectively,” Mutisya said.

With the M.B.A. under her belt, Mutisya hopes to use her versatile skills in the airline industry, and will complete the requirements for her commercial pilot license in July. Like so many international students, she would like to use what she has learned to impact her own country, which is a vital part of Liberty’s goal in training international students.

“Knowing in the long term that I can carry (what I’ve learned) home, I think that’s the best thing ever because if I hadn’t gotten the opportunity to come here, I don’t think my spiritual growth would be where it is. I’d really like to give back at home and help others.”

Mutisya said that international students have a responsibility when they return home to take with them the lessons they learned here and be missionaries of a sort in their own country.

“When you go home, you appreciate so much the experience you got here, and you want your fellow people back home to just get something — even if it’s something little — from you. But that ‘little’ can really transform life, especially with spiritual growth,” Mutisya said. “(As international students), we come here, and we adjust to this culture. We understand it, and we know it’s totally different from where we’re from, but we are able to connect and know how to effectively apply it when we go home to the people who really connect with us.”


Christine and Nathan Bowen

Christine and Nathan Bowen

The moment Christine Bowen of Houston, Texas, stepped onto Liberty University’s campus for the first time in May, she was overwhelmed. She said there were no words to describe it. Arriving on campus was a defining moment on a journey that began with enrolling in Liberty’s online program in 2009 and ended with earning both a bachelor’s and master’s degree, despite being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010.

“When you go through something and don’t know whether or not you are going to live, and God gives you a second chance, there is no greater thing, no greater blessing than to be here and graduate,” she said through tears as she prepared to take part in Liberty’s 41st Commencement.

It was especially meaningful for her to graduate with her stepson, Nathan Bowen, who earned a B.A. residentially from the Department of Studio & Digital Arts. In fact, it was Nathan who told her about Liberty.

Looking back, Bowen said there is nowhere else she could have gone to school and made it through. “It is important when you go to school that you have encouragement and motivation. You never know what you will go through.”

After being diagnosed, and throughout her radiation and chemotherapy, Bowen found overwhelming support from Liberty, including her instructors and fellow students. As a mother who works full time, Bowen found the online format ideal for her lifestyle. It gave her the flexibility to complete her coursework on time. She also found the spiritual foundation exceptional. Bowen is currently in remission.

With her M.A. in Human Services Counseling – Marriage and Family, Bowen hopes to counsel other women who have been diagnosed with life-threatening diseases. She wants to encourage them, letting them know they are not alone and ultimately pointing them to Christ.

She also recommends Liberty to anyone looking to further their education: “They will be blessed if they come to this school. Residentially or online, they will be blessed.”

Public Relations standout

Sarah Corder

Sarah Corder

Communication studies graduate Sarah Corder was named Student of the Year at the annual PRWeek Awards in New York City in March, making her the second winner from Liberty in the last two years. The awards ceremony is the Oscars of the public relations industry and is attended by representatives from the nation’s most successful firms.

Corder received a cash prize and a paid internship with PRWeek. She was one of five finalists, along with fellow Liberty senior Courtney Garrett. Corder was one of two students to receive a free trip to the awards ceremony, where she was announced as the overall winner.

Right before starting her last semester of college and learning that she was a finalist for the award, Corder’s mother passed away. Despite this trial, Corder continued to make the most of the opportunities God had given her.

“(Winning) was confirmation that I am doing what I’m supposed to be doing, and no matter what happens around me, God is going to take care of me,” Corder said.

For the competition, all entrants created a campaign and conducted a journalist pitch to a PRWeek news editor. This year’s assignment was to create a partnership between a fictitious airline and the 2016 Summer Olympics by using its sponsorship to increase the airline’s frequent flyer program. Corder produced a five-page campaign and a 20-page plan book, including photos and infographics. The project was a requirement for her public relations strategies class.

According to PRWeek, Corder won the award for her “sound research, professionalism, creativity, and social media savvy.”

“Representing Liberty University is an absolute honor. I believe in the school and I feel like I promote it wherever I go. So being able to advance my own career while giving credit to Liberty, and foremost to God, is the ultimate reward,” she said.

Corder said she was supported by several professors in the School of Communication & Creative Arts and by staff at the Career Center, where she worked.

“Liberty University has a great community of professors and staff who are very helpful in and out of the classrooms,” she said. “It’s been a roller coaster, but God has been good. Even though there are some things, such as this tragedy, you can’t control, I know that God is still building my testimony every day.”

A portable education

 Paul Lupton, an operations officer in the U.S. Army currently stationed in the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Greece, and members of his family have taken full advantage of Liberty’s online and residential courses wherever they’ve been based.

Paul Lupton

Military family life is often managed on the move, which makes Liberty University’s online programs such an attractive option for those on the go.

In recent years, Paul Lupton, an operations officer in the U.S. Army currently stationed in the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Greece, and members of his family have taken full advantage of Liberty’s online and residential courses wherever they’ve been based.

“The online format was fantastic for my schedule because I live overseas and the time difference is significant,” said Paul Lupton, whose wife, Donna, homeschooled their children through high school. “Liberty is a family-friendly place and is very friendly toward the military. The ease with which my family was able to transition into the online learning format was a very positive experience for all of us.”

The Luptons have lived in five countries in the past 10 years — Uzbekistan, Australia, Ghana, the United States, and now Greece — after relocating around the United States every two years when he was on active duty.

Lupton first attended Liberty’s Commencement in 2011, when he and his oldest son, Devon, received their associate degrees. In May, he returned to Williams Stadium to pick up his B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies with a minor in business, accompanied by both of his sons — Devon (B.A. in History, minor in music), and Dylan (Associate of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies). In addition to father and sons graduating together, Devon’s fiancée, Katie Harkins (B.A. in English), who he met in his first residential class in the fall of 2011,  graduated with them. Devon and Katie will marry this September in Philadelphia.

“I’m very honored to graduate with my dad,” said Devon, who has applied to teach English at a school in Seoul, South Korea, or to work for the U.S. government in the State Department. “It’s pretty fun that we both have this experience to share together.”

Additionally, Paul and Donna Lupton’s daughter, Addison, is studying through Liberty University Online Academy’s dual-enrollment EDGE program. She plans to begin residential classes as a sophomore in 2015, majoring in Family & Child Development through the Department of Family & Consumer Sciences and minoring in performance vocals through the School of Music.

“One of the best things Liberty offers is the program where you can get college credit while you’re still in high school,” said Dylan, who will move to South Africa in January to begin certification as a safari guide.

Strength to succeed

Chelsi Figley (right) with her trainer Brian Raneri

Chelsi Figley (right) with her trainer Brian Raneri

Chelsi Figley, who graduated with a B.S. in Psychology, is utilizing Liberty University’s online programs to further her education while pursuing her dream of becoming a Paralympic weightlifting champion.

Figley was born with spina bifida but does not allow her condition to keep her from achieving success in competition or in everyday life. She drives and lives alone, two tasks she believes many physically disabled people would love to accomplish. She hopes to be a counselor for others with physical disabilities and help them overcome the social stigma of having a disability.

“I see a big need for people with physical disabilities to be pushed a little more,” she said. “A lot of them are really held back because of the mainstream societal view of what it means to have a disability.”

Figley will begin working toward her Master of Arts in Human Services Counseling this August while continuing to train for and compete in tournaments to qualify for the 2016 Paralympic games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Weightlifting was originally just a tool that Figley used to stay in shape, but she was encouraged to pursue it competitively when her previous trainer saw her rapid progress in the benchpress.

Although she only began lifting in 2008, Figley nearly qualified for the London 2012 Paralympics. After an outstanding performance at the International Paralympic Committee Powerlifting World Championships in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in early April, her dreams of making it to Rio are quickly becoming a reality.

Before her trip to Dubai, Figley was ranked 19th in the world for her weight class. Although only three of the 27 lifts performed by Team U.S.A. were counted due to the strict attention judges paid to technique, Figley put up a clean 165-pound lift and advanced to finish in 11th place.

To qualify for the Rio games, Figley will have to climb the ladder to No. 6 globally by the beginning of 2016. She will have a chance to advance in the August 2015 ParaPan-Am Games in Toronto, Canada, for athletes from North and South America.

Figley attributes her success to the support of her parents, her trainer Brian Raneri, and God. She posts a status to Facebook daily to remind herself of her priorities:

“Lord help me remember that nothing is going to happen today that you and I cannot handle together.” The motto is an encouraging prayer that her mother shared with her when she was younger and she hopes it will likewise be an encouragement to others.

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