The Commencement Stage at Graduation

Graduates Who Have Made Their Mark

by Stephanie (Coartney) Dulaney '10



Max Aviles '17

Photo of Max Aviles '17


  • International Relations Major

  • 2017 Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship Recipient

  • Political and Legislative Intern with United Food and Commercial Workers

  • McKendree Alternative Spring Break Service Trip to Jamaica

  • Participant in McKendree Lobby Day Rallies in Springfield, Illinois

  • Named to the President’s List every semester

  • Vice President of Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and member of Pi Eta Sigma Honor Society, Pi Gamma Mu Honor Society, and (soon to be inducted) Pi Sigma Alpha Honor Society

  • Member of Model United Nations

  • Committee Member for the All In Campus Democracy Challenge

  • Peer Tutor in the Student Success Center

  • From San Bernardino, California

Max Aviles '17 is leaving his mark on McKendree University as a recipient of the prestigious and highly competitive 2017 Thomas R. Pickering Fellowship, which will prepare him for a career as a foreign service officer with the U.S. Department of State.  Read his Pickering Fellowship Personal Statement

His internship gave him a front row seat to the inner workings of a political campaign. His alternative spring break trip gave him a heart for helping others. His hard work in the classroom awarded him membership in four prestigious honor societies. Max not only made his mark at McKendree, but the opportunities he received here have also left their imprint on him.

As a political and legislative intern with United Food and Commercial Workers, Max gained firsthand experience working on the political campaign for Illinois State Representative Candidate Katie Stuart. “I walked door-to-door, prepared mailers, and helped phone bank,” he said. “I enjoyed the opportunity to reach out and connect with people, and the experience definitely helped me to feel more comfortable addressing the important issue of politics in our community.” The most memorable part, however, happened on election night when the victory results came in, and Max witnessed the impact his own involvement could have on government.

Since then, Max has used his voice for other causes too, such as lobbying lawmakers at the state capitol for increased support of higher education. “I think it’s imperative that our generation continues to reach out to our representatives at every level of government to advocate for what we believe is fundamental to our future success,” he said.

Max has also represented McKendree at Model United Nations events, served as a Peer Tutor on campus, and participated in the annual Spring Break Service Trip to help needy families in Jamaica. After graduation, he plans to jointly pursue his Master’s degree and Doctorate in International Relations with the goal of one day working for the U.S. Foreign Service.

“McKendree has definitely made its mark on me, and I am so glad that I chose to make it my home for my undergraduate studies,” he said.

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“Aside from the practical and academic skills that I’ll take away, one of the biggest things that I’ll take away from McKendree is the feeling that I am part of this larger Bearcat community.”



Lauren Craft '17

Photo of Lauren Craft '17


  • History Major with Minors in Spanish and Global Studies

  • Winner of the Gilman Scholarship Award

  • Studied Abroad at the Universidad de Granada in Spain

  • Member of Kappa Lambda Iota

  • McKendree Immersion Trips to Nicaragua and Memphis, Tennessee

  • Volunteer with the St. Louis Crisis Nursery

  • From Alhambra, IL

History major Lauren Craft ’17 read books about the experiences of people all over the world, but it wasn’t until she came to McKendree that she saw them for herself and discovered her life’s mission along the way. Lauren’s passion for different cultures led her to such places as Nicaragua and Spain to participate in immersive learning experiences. As she graduates from McKendree, she knows her journey of making a difference on an international scale is just beginning.

Lauren received the trip of a lifetime last year when she applied for the Gilman Scholarship at the encouragement of her professors. Out of thousands of applicants, she was one of only 800 selected to receive the grant to study abroad. She spent the next six months living her dream within a culture she had only read about. “My semester in Spain was without a doubt one of the best experiences of my life,” she said. “My host city of Granada truly became a place I can call home, and someday, I hope to move there.”

The trip also gave Lauren a clearer idea of herself and where she wants her life to go after graduation. “I learned a lot about myself, especially traveling alone as a woman, and how helpful and supportive people around the world can be. I also took classes about Islamic culture and Arabic politics and developed a better understanding of the people within those cultures. Now I can better work with that population within the refugee community.”

Lauren’s next goal is to earn her Master’s degree in Social Work and later work for the United Nations to improve the lives of refugees around the world. That spirit of service was something she first learned at McKendree.

“McKendree has given me the tools and opportunities to better help others and help me grow as an individual,” she said.

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“The best parts were those faculty members who supported and guided me throughout my McKendree career and even through personal struggles.”



AJ Wentland '17

Photo of AJ Wentland '17


  • Exercise Science Major

  • Linebacker on the McKendree Football Team

  • 2016 Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC) Defensive Player of the Year

  • Named GLVC Defensive Player of the Week six times in his career

  • First McKendree football player to reach and surpass the 300 tackle mark with a total of 421 tackles

  • Named 2016 First-Team All-Super Region 4 Honoree by the NCAA Division II Conference Commissioner’s Association

  • First-Team All-GLVC Selection for 2015 and 2014

  • Finalist for the 2016 Cliff Harris Award, presented to the top small college defensive player in the country

  • From Machesney Park, Illinois

Defensive linebacker AJ Wentland ’17 has always been passionate about football, but as a Bearcat, he’s been unstoppable. For three years in a row, he shattered the university’s record for most tackles with 421 total stops during his career on the team. He is one of only two Bearcats ever to receive the title of GLVC Defensive Player of the Year, and he’s been named GLVC Defensive Player of the Week six times. AJ’s success in football has brought him much more than accolades, however. It’s helped him become the leader he always knew he could be.

AJ first came to McKendree with his sights set on being a part of the university’s football program. He found a family in the close-knit group of students and coaches, who would later become the most memorable part of his McKendree experience. “The best part about being on the football team is the lifelong connections and friends I’ve made,” he said. “My friends, coaches, and teammates have done nothing but support me, and I hope I left an impact on their lives like they did on mine.”

That supportive team environment is what AJ says helped him garner so many honors, both locally and regionally. It also spurred him on to set new McKendree records in number of career tackles, blasting past the previous record of 295, and tackles per game, earning 22 stops in the 2015 season-opener alone.

His most memorable game was his last one as a Bearcat, in which McKendree dominated Truman State 41-14. It was the perfect way to round out four years of hard work, commitment, and supporting one another on the team. AJ’s stellar performance has garnered the interest of several NFL teams, and he hopes to attend a Regional Pro Day for a chance at the opportunity to play professionally.

“McKendree has made me the man I have grown to be today,” he said.

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“I’ve learned a lot as a leader on the field and in the classroom. I also have made the best friends I could ask for here, and it has definitely made me a better person.”




Safiya Atkinson '17

Photo of Safiya Atkinson '17


  • Psychology Major
  • International Student from Kingston, Jamaica
  • Peer Tutor in the Student Success Center
  • Women’s Soccer Player and Academic All-GLVC Honoree in 2014
  • President of Pi Gamma Mu Honor Society, Secretary/Treasurer of Psi Chi Honor Society, and member of Phi Kappa Phi Honors Society
  • Member of the International Student Organization
  • Named to President’s List and Dean’s List
  • Resident Assistant

For international student and Psychology major Safiya Atkinson ’17, McKendree’s climate may not be as temperate as her native Jamaica, but it has truly proved to be a land of opportunity. Within four years, Safiya has made a name for herself as a star soccer player, outstanding tutor and honors student, and resident assistant on campus. She looks forward to her next journey in graduate school, but will always remember the McKendree community that welcomed her when she was far from home.

Named an Academic All-GLVC (Great Lakes Valley Conference) Honoree in 2014, Safiya has been a force on the field for McKendree women’s soccer. Her experience on the team, as well as her participation with the International Student Organization (ISO) on campus, has enabled her to feel at home as part of the university community.

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“Being on the soccer team has definitely aided in the creation of friendships with people I will never forget.”

“The ISO also played a huge role in making my adjustment easier. It allowed me to meet essentially all of the international students at McKendree, and we look after each other,” she said.

Along with her busy athletic, work, and social schedules, Safiya holds top leadership roles on two honor societies and is a member of a third. Her talent in the classroom has landed her on the President’s and Dean’s List, and she gives back to her fellow students by working as a Tutor in the Student Success Center.

Safiya has already been accepted to a graduate school in California and plans to start pursuing her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology this fall. Eventually, she hopes to practice child and couples therapy as a licensed clinical psychologist. Being a McKendree student has taught her many things, but most importantly, it has shown her just how capable she is of achieving her dreams.



Sarah Goetze '17

Photo of Sarah Goetze '17


  • Double Major in Professional Writing and Rhetoric and Sociology with an Emphasis in Criminal Justice

  • Professional Writing and Rhetoric Student of the Year for 2016-2017

  • Internship in Media and Recruitment with HealthVisions, USA in East St. Louis, Illinois

  • Internship in Probation with the Peoria County Government in Peoria, Illinois

  • Named to the President’s List and Dean’s List

  • Member of Alpha Kappa Delta Honor Society, Pi Gamma Mu Honor Society, and Kappa Sigma Tau

  • New Student Orientation Leader

  • University 101 Peer Mentor

  • McKendree Alternate Spring Break Service Trip to Jamaica

  • From Green Valley, Illinois

Two internships, one life-changing service trip, and countless McKendree memories have made the last four years irreplaceable for Sarah Goetze ’17. So much so that she can’t leave just yet! Learning from McKendree’s experienced, approachable professors has inspired her to return to campus this fall for her Master of Arts degree in Criminal Justice.

Sarah’s accomplishments as an undergraduate student are just as impressive and diverse as she is. Most recently, she put her writing skills to use in the nonprofit sector as an intern with HealthVisions, USA of East St. Louis. She created media and promotional materials while overseeing the recruitment effort of volunteers to carry out services benefitting the public.

Over the summer, Sarah also landed an eye-opening internship working directly with domestic violence officers and their clients at the Peoria County Probation Office. She attended trainings with Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and gained experience writing pre-sentence investigations while observing a variety of court sessions.

“I got to see a little bit of everything that happens,” Sarah said. “Everybody there always turned everything into a learning experience for me, whether it was an officer, supervisor, director, or even a judge. You really learn how to become a professional through internships.” 

Sarah had another opportunity to make her mark and learn what it means to give back during the annual Alternative Spring Break Service Trip to Jamaica. “Being able to spend my spring break helping a family in need and submerging myself in their culture is unforgettable!,” she said.

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“It definitely taught me the importance of volunteer work and how to connect with people from different backgrounds and cultures.”

Back on campus, Sarah put her time and energy into helping her fellow students as a New Student Orientation Leader and Peer Mentor, doing her part to maintain McKendree’s welcoming community. Through her academic talents and ambition to make a difference in the lives of others, Sarah will pursue nonprofit work in the St. Louis area while earning her graduate degree from McKendree this fall.



Jackson MacLean '17

Photo of Jackson MacLean '17


  • Double Majoring in Philosophy and Economics and Finance

  • Internship with U.S. Congressman Lacy Clay in St. Louis, Missouri

  • Setter on McKendree’s Inaugural Men’s Volleyball Team

  • Member of the McKendree Honors Program

  • Named to the Dean’s List

  • Alternate for the 2018 Fulbright Research Grant to Bulgaria and first McKendree student to be named a Semi-Finalist for the award

  • Founded Students Consulting for Nonprofit Organizations, a student service group at McKendree

  • From Lincoln, Nebraska

During his time at McKendree, Jackson MacLean ’17 has been the definition of a trailblazer. Not only was he an athlete on the university’s first men’s volleyball team, but he also started his own student service club providing consulting work to nonprofits. Making university history, he was the first McKendree student ever to make it as a Semi-Finalist and Alternate for the highly competitive Fulbright Research Grant to Bulgaria. In short, Jackson has left his own unique impact on a community that’s better because of him.

Jackson’s desire to affect positive change began to take shape when he interned with U.S. Congressman Lacy Clay. By working with congressional staffers, he discovered how a political office accomplishes tasks for the people in the community. “I got to see how the power and influence of Congressman Clay’s office could really do a lot of good advocating on behalf of his constituents,” he said.

During his junior year, Jackson began his own efforts to improve local nonprofits and give his fellow students real-world experience using their skills. The group, known as Students Consulting for Nonprofit Organizations, first teamed up with Catholic Urban Programs in East St. Louis. They created a database of the nonprofit’s patrons, as well as a presentation for residents who use its services. This year, the students designed and built a community garden and food pantry for New Horizon Community Church in East St. Louis.

Jackson’s senior year was also marked by his selection as a Semi-Finalist and later an Alternate for the Fulbright Research Grant. “I feel the experience of applying changed my life dramatically, as it was an arduous eight-month endeavor,” he said. “The process of researching, formulating my proposal, writing my personal statement, and garnering affiliates in Bulgaria was incredibly rewarding. Just being an alternate is a great honor.”

Jackson hopes to attend law school in the future, but he plans to gain additional work experience first. No matter what, his McKendree experience has demonstrated that making a positive difference for others is in his future.



Kaitlyn Reining '17

Photo of Kaitlyn Reining '17


  • Sociology Major

  • Captain of the McKendree Speech Team: Named National Semi-Finalist in After Dinner Speaking in 2015-2016 and placed fourth in the nation in Informative Speaking in 2014-2015

  • President of the Illinois Theta Chapter of Pi Kappa Delta Honor Society and member of Phi Eta Sigma Honor Society

  • Editor-in-Chief at Odyssey

  • Part-Time Pre-school Teacher

  • Interned for HELP for Mom Preschool and Daycare

  • Named to the Dean’s List

  • From Heyworth, Illinois

Kaitlyn Reining ’17 feels her McKendree experience really began when she joined the university’s nationally-ranked Speech and Debate Team. As a Sociology major, she knew that good communication was key to excelling in her field. Somewhere between winning fourth in the nation at a speech competition and working as Editor-in-Chief for an online news journal, Kaitlyn discovered that she could make her mark with words.

For the last four years, the McKendree Speech Team gave Kaitlyn an incredible opportunity for personal growth and achievement. Not only did she place fourth nationally in Informative Speaking her sophomore year, but she was also named a national Semi-Finalist in After Dinner Speaking during her junior year.

“Speech Team gives students a unique platform to discuss issues that are important to us,” she said. “Our team is so close, and it’s really created a wonderful support system. I’m not afraid to speak in front of a group of people, and it’s made me a better writer and editor. Those skills helped get me into graduate school.”

They also helped her land a leadership role at Odyssey, an online news journal written exclusively by millennials. After initially working as a writer, she interviewed with the journal’s managing editor in New York City to become editor-in-chief. The experience she’s gained there has been invaluable.

Kaitlyn’s communication skills were tested again during her internship as lead teacher in the two-year-old class at HELP for Mom Preschool and Daycare. She discovered a love for teaching and found joy in the “aha moments” of her students.

Kaitlyn is beginning another journey to earn her Master’s degree in Sociology and sees herself one day teaching on the college level.

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“As I leave McKendree, I’ll take with me an incredible number of lessons and memories. I’ve learned to savor the moments that are happening now. You never believe it when people tell you, but these four years go by so fast!”


Make It McKendree