UIU celebrates fifth Csomay graduating class

The 2020 Csomay Honor students pose with associate professor of business Chris Kragnes while attending Upper Iowa University’s President’s Fundraising Ball during their sophomore year. Pictured are (l-r) Clayton Lieb, Molly Doran, Sierra Dirksen, Kragnes, Jacob Dale and Julia Szepieniec. Mac Spotts is not pictured.

This year, Upper Iowa University celebrated its fifth graduating class of Csomay Honors Program students. Receiving this year’s Csomay medallions were Jacob Dale, a conservation management major from Hastings, Minnesota; Sierra Dirksen, a secondary education/ all social science major from Plainfield, Iowa; Molly Doran, a double major in accounting and financial management from Wheaton, Illinois; Clayton Lieb, a double major in accounting and financial management from Pearl City, Illinois; Mac Spotts, an agricultural business major from Nora Springs, Iowa; and Julia Szepieniec, a biology major from Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

Bright futures
As an example of the bright futures that await this group of honor students, Doran and Szepieniec have been accepted into the prestigious Mendoza School of Business at Notre Dame — Doran in the Master of Science in Accountancy (MSA) program and Szepieniec in the Master of Science in Management (MSM) program.

The Mendoza College of Business is an AACSB accredited program. Fewer than 5% of business schools worldwide have AACSB international accreditation, representing the highest standard of achievement for business schools worldwide. The University of Notre Dame MSM ranked fourth in the nation in Financial Engineer’s inaugural rating of specialty degree programs for non-business majors. In addition, the Notre Dame MSA is ranked fourth in the country by Public Accounting Report for its quality faculty, rigorous curriculum and focus on ethics.

While attending UIU, Doran served as Zappa Zeta Tau secretary, Best Buddies vice president and president, and Student-Athlete Advisory Committee secretary and president. A a two-year captain of the Peacock women’s soccer team and Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC) Myles Brand Award winner, she was the NSIC representative at the 2019 Student-Athlete Leadership Forum in Orlando, Florida. In addition, Doran served as a UIU athletic peer educator and Peacocks for Progress member.

Doran gained valuable experience as an intern at Molex LLC in Lisle, Illinois, and Ernst & Young in Chicago. As part of her honors project, she investigated the feasibility of bringing renewable energy to Fayette Campus.

“UIU has challenged me academically and provided me valuable knowledge that I will use in graduate school and my future career,”

Doran said. “The entire UIU experience facilitated my personal growth and provided me with the leadership skills that I will use the rest of my life.”

Szepieniec served as Peacocks for Progress secretary and president, Fayette Appreciation Day co-chair and chair, and ENACTUS Nicaragua Service Trip coordinator/project manager. In addition to serving as an athlete peer educator, she was a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, Pre-Professional Club and women’s golf team.

Csomay Honor students Julia Szepieniec (far left) and Sierra Dirksen (second from left), and other Peacocks for Progress members Caitlyn Freese, Larissia Bultman, Alyssa Weber and Laycee Roys, proudly display their winning Homecoming Parade entry.

Szepieniec was one of only 1,200 interns nationwide to be chosen to participate in the 2019 National Institutes of Health summer internship program. Her Csomay project concentrated on increasing sun exposure awareness and improving skin care habits. A survey was presented to a selection of the student body to sample the typical sunscreen usage of Fayette Campus students. The survey asked questions pertaining to the common knowledge of the sun’s effects on skin health. Answers to more scientific-based questions were revealed at the end of the survey with the hope that students would delve deeper into the topic. ‘Scholarship support and Alumni Network open doors for UIU senior’

The second stage of the project incorporated UV photography. The image revealed an individual’s accumulated sun damage. Overall exposure and sunspots become obvious in the photograph. Participating students took headshots with their eyes closed. The results were then shared with the participants and the Honors Committee.

“All of the experiences I have enjoyed as a member of the Csomay Honors Program have been amazing,” Szepieniec said. “I have grown alongside some phenomenal students in the program, and we have become lifelong friends. The program gave me the support to personally develop at a fast pace, and the faculty has been relentlessly supportive of me in all aspects of my Upper Iowa education.”

Since their arrival on Fayette Campus, Dale and Lieb have also followed similar paths. Both were AZP fraternity members and Peacock baseball players. The two entrepreneurs also co-own Driftless Quality Wear. The business features outfitting gear emblazoned with artwork created by the two UIU alumni. They also offer seasonal, guided trout fishing and backpacking trips throughout the “driftless” region that stretches from southeastern Minnesota and southwestern Wisconsin, to northeastern and mideastern Iowa, and even into northwestern Illinois. ‘The Driftless finds home in Fayette.’

Dale previously completed a summer internship at Carpenter Nature Center located in Hastings, Minnesota, and decided to seek Bird Friendly Iowa (BFI) certification for Fayette as his honors project. As part of his efforts, he led 2019 and 2020 Great Backyard Bird Count presentations at the Fayette Community Library and took community members out to bird watch. In addition, Dale provided a BFI certification presentation to the Fayette City Council and gathered documentation about the city of Fayette, such as how its Department of Public Works does not use pesticides in public places. ‘Senior leads Bird Friendly Project in Fayette’

“I quickly discovered how much goes into organizing community events and influencing city policy,” Dale said. “Dr. Skrade and I worked with a number of people throughout the project. It gave me a newfound respect for city and community leaders, who lead organizational and planning efforts. This project is an example of how the Csomay program enhanced my time at UIU and opened doors to many opportunities that I wouldn’t have otherwise experienced.”

Lieb interned as a tax assistant with G.W. Bond and Company Inc. He is currently employed as an auditor and tax accountant for the offices of Benning Group LLC in Freeport, Illinois, and Monroe, Wisconsin. As part of his Csomay project, he created Fayette Bucks as an incentive to support Fayette small businesses.

“The challenges provided in being part of the Csomay program have inspired me to strive higher in multiple aspects of my life,” Lieb said. “I have learned so much about small business and how communities are the driving factor in its success. I learn new aspects of the business world every day I operate Driftless Area Guide Company with Jake.”

Future educator

A Peacocks for Progress member, Dirksen joined the Csomay Honors Program to get the most out of all the opportunities UIU has to offer its students and to be further challenged during her educational experience. A native of Dows, Iowa, she hopes to instill the knowledge she gained from her Csomay English as a second language project to best serve her future second language students the best way possible.

“I think I most benefited from the Csomay program by being pushed to do my best and was taught that you never stop learning,” Dirksen said. “My entire UIU education will help me in the future because it showed me how to push myself and think outside the box. My UIU professors were role models in what it takes to be an amazing teacher.”

Extracurricular activities are an integral part of the Csomay Honors Program. In addition to clubs and organizations, many members, such as wrestler Mac Spotts, are active in Peacock athletics.

Friend of the family farm
A UIU wrestler, Spotts is currently pursuing an MBA. He interned with Kerns Homegrown, a local produce business that delivers fresh-picked vegetables to eastern Iowa Hy-Vee and Fareway stores.


“I joined the Honors program because I felt like I needed to be pushed and find out more about myself,” Spotts said. “It ultimately helped me realize that I want to be an agricultural lawyer. My honors project focused on issues ag lawyers currently face and will potentially have in the future. Due to my lifetime connection to the ag industry, I feel like I can make a difference by helping farm families with things like estate planning, taxes and farm succession.”

Spotts now intends to take the LSAT exam and enroll in the Drake University School of Agricultural Law. He hopes to eventually start his own practice near his hometown of Nora Springs, Iowa, while remaining actively involved on his family’s farm, which has been in operation for nearly 150 years.

Csomay Honors Program admittance
Prior to her death at the age of 90 in 2015, Barbara (Rankin) Csomay ’46 established UIU’s Csomay Honors Program. To be accepted into the Honors Program, students must have at least a 26 ACT score and at least a 3.5 high school grade point average. Students admitted to the Honors Program in any given year take the same courses as their fellow honors students. Each course is generally interdisciplinary and team taught, with active, participatory learning. All honors courses require extensive, integrated, advanced writing skills. Seniors complete both an honors project and a thesis in their area of interest. Extracurricular experiences—such as service learning, attending professional conferences and other special events—are an integral part of the program.

1 Comment on UIU celebrates fifth Csomay graduating class

  1. Stuart Dunkel // August 14, 2020 at 9:09 pm // Reply

    Sierra Dirksen is a recipient of the Stuart and Roberta Dunkel scholarship award. Glad she was chosen as our recipient, and we are “proud as a Peacock” of her becoming a Csomay Honors Program student. We are truly honored to be part of her education. We have every confidence of a bright future for this young woman……
    GO SIERRA!!! Stu Dunkel ’64

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