Newsletter, February 2017


Programs and PlacesFaculty and Student SpotlightAlumni and FriendsUpcoming Events

College of Science December 2016 Commencement

College of Science December 2016 Commencement Ceremony.“Today, we become one. If you have never believed in the power of maroon before today, I assure you it is alive and doing quite well,” said Raniesha Wassman at the Commencement exercise held on December 16, 2016. Wassman, a Forensic Science major and McNair Scholar from Cincinnati, Ohio, delivered a heart-felt and passionate speech as the student speaker for the first-ever College of Science Commencement. 

“I came to Eastern specifically because I was attracted to its nationally prominent forensic science program. As a first-geRaniesha Wassman delivers commencement speechneration student, the transition from high school to a nationally ranked STEM program came with much adversity and many setbacks…within this adversity lies a thank you to my classmates…we carried this load together.” These sentiments by Ms. Wassman hold true for many students who come to Eastern.

The College of Science came into existence on July 1, 2016 after the restructuring of the former College of Arts and Sciences. Over 100 students obtained graduate or undergraduate degrees from the departments of Biological Sciences, Chemistry, Computer Science, Geosciences, Mathematics and Statistics, and Physics and Astronomy.

The beautiful ceremony was a culmination of years of hard work by the students, sacrifices made by their families, and incredible support by dedicated faculty and staff.  It was a day to celebrate the graduates as they embark on a new chapter in their lives.

“Seeing the smiles on the students’ faces as they walked across the stage and feeling their firm handshakes made me incredibly proud.  It reminded me why we all do what we do.  It is all about the students,” said Dr. Tom Otieno, the interim dean of the college.

‚ÄčDr. Paul Cupp, from the Department of Biological Sciences, served as the college’s faculty marshal.  Faculty marshals are senior members of the faculty who are nominated by the academic deans based on their outstanding service to the institution, excellence in teaching, and respect by their faculty colleagues. Dr. Cupp started teaching at EKU in 1974.

The next College of Science graduation ceremony will be held on May 13, 2017.


Hummel Planetarium

Hummel Planetarium during one of the many full-dome shows.

Would you like to travel through space, learn about celestial objects, and eventually end at the edge of the observable Universe? You can do that at the EKU Hummel Planetarium.

Astronomical data, such as planets, exoplanets, planetary nebulae and galaxies can be displayed with unparalleled details.  The system also has the capability of showing pre-produced, immersive, full-dome shows.

The Department of Physics and Astronomy faculty use the planetarium as an instructional tool in several astronomy course offerings.  Each year, over 300 students experience astronomy in an immersive environment.  The goal of the faculty is to increase the use of the planetarium by developing new content so as to provide this exciting experience to a larger number of students.

The Department of Physics and Astronomy has also been using the planetarium for community outreach. For example, they hosted a “Pluto Party,” during homecoming week, conducted a workshop on next generation science standards for K-12 teachers, and presented interactive planetarium shows to groups from K-12 schools.

The planetarium was recently modernized with the help of two external grants awarded to Drs. Jessica Lair and Jing Wang of the Department of Physics and Astronomy and Dr. Donghui Quan from the Department of Chemistry. The Department of Physics and Astronomy plans to enhance their services by implementing a new public lecture series and conducting education research within the facility.

A special attraction for 2017 will be a planetarium presentation related to the solar eclipse that will be visible in Kentucky in August 2017!

To learn about the public shows presented by the Hummel Planetarium, please visit the website or contact Dr. Anthony Blose ( or Dr. Jessica Lair (

Forensic Science Program

When you walk through the front door of the house at 110 University Drive, Staged crime scene.on EKU’s main campus, you find a scene in the upstairs bedroom that may take your breath away. A victim lies on the floor with a plastic bag over his head and appears to be deceased. Clearly you have walked into a crime scene.  Fortunately, it is only a mock crime scene.

If you are one of over 170 Forensic Science majors in EKU’s Forensic Science program, you will walk into one of several crime scenes staged by the program’s faculty as part of the Forensic Science Capstone course (FOR 499).

Students collect evidence“The Crime Scene House allows students to become skilled in evidence collection, handling, and following chain of custody,” said Dr. Lori Wilson, the Forensic Science program director.

Next, the students analyze the evidence in EKU’s state-of-the-art forensic laboratories located in the university’s new science building. According to Dr. Wilson, “The students design analysis schemes and analyze the evidence using what they have learned in their foundational courses.”

The capstone experience concludes with mock expert witness testimony in front of the forensic faculty in the program’s expert witness room. Expert witness testimonyThe experience, Dr. Wilson added, “Is just one example of the practical, hands-on experiential learning that is the hallmark of EKU’s forensic program.  Faculty evaluate student’s performance in the capstone experience to ensure the students meet the broad learning objectives of the program.”

The forensic science program, housed in the Department of Chemistry, is one of the largest programs in the College of Science.  The program includes a large number of out-of-state students, 75% of whom are female.  The Bachelor of Science degree offers two concentrations. The forensic chemistry concentration provides a strong foundation in chemistry and laboratory techniques and prepares students for a career in crime labs in both the public and private sector.  The forensic biology concentration offers a strong core academic curriculum in chemistry, but also offers a sound background in the biological sciences, making it the perfect concentration for those interested in DNA and biology work.

Students in the program have the option of living with their peers in a Living and Learning Community for forensic science majors.  This arrangement  promotes a community of individuals with similar interests, provides an environment for students to build relationships with their peers, and develops their interpersonal and intrapersonal skills. Forensic-oriented events are held every month in order to engage students in the field of forensic science. Events are academic and social in nature, including forensic movie nights, tours of the forensic facilities in Frankfort, and events held at the EKU Crime Scene House.

Students are also encouraged to attend the “Sherlock” lecture series. This series invites alumni to present lectures, meet with our current forensic science students, and discuss what life as a forensic scientist is about.

Graduates of the program continue on to graduate school or find employment across the country in both the public and private sectors.

Students featuredThe Forensic Science program is accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) and EKU students are featured prominently on the website



Staff Spotlight: Ms. Jennifer Miller and Dr. James Luba, Academic Advisors

Academic Advising is critical for student success. What courses should I take? What if a class I need is full? What if I want to change my academic program? These are some of the many questions students ask. In addition to faculty advisors, the College of Science has two full-time academic advisors, Mrs. Jennifer Miller and Dr. James (Jim) Luba. Staff advisors also represent the college at various recruiting events such as open houses, Saturday spotlight events for prospective students, and out of town college fairs.

Jennifer MillerJennifer is the primary advisor for all first-year students in the Department of Biological Sciences as well as General Studies students in the College of Science. Jennifer is a “loyal colonel” who holds 3 degrees from EKU: an A.A. in Office Systems/Technologies; a B.A. in Sociology; and a M.A. in Human Services. She has been employed by EKU for over 19 years, starting out as a student worker in the Registrar’s Office, while going to school full time. Since 2003, Jennifer has worked in various roles in the dean’s office, first for the former College of Arts and Sciences and now for the newly-formed College of Science. During that time, all of her positions have involved duties related to advising, recruiting, graduation, and curriculum.

In addition to her advising and recruiting responsibilities, Jennifer teaches the student success course, SCO 100. Teaching allows her to develop a more personal relationship with her advisees both in and out of the classroom during their critical first year. “My primary goal is to make sure students get the information they need or know exactly who to see to take care of a problem. My other goal is to make sure that my advisees, as well as the students in my class, can express themselves openly and honestly and feel like they are truly a part of the EKU family."

Jennifer said the rewarding part of her job is when students acknowledge how grateful they are for the help and advice. She also enjoys the sense of family at EKU. “Having had three children while working in the dean’s office, there was always someone to step in and take care of things while I was out on maternity leave. That’s what a family does for you and that’s how it feels to work at EKU - you are part of a family.”

Jennifer was born and raised in Richmond, KY and has been married to her high school sweetheart for 17 years. She has three boys that attend Model Laboratory School. She and her family are faithful members of Union City Christian Church and love the outdoors. In their spare time they enjoy boating, traveling, and camping with friends and family.

Dr. James LubaJim advises students interested in attending a professional school that leads to a career in health care. The pre-health professional programs offered at EKU are in the areas of medical, dental, pharmacy, physician assistant, physical therapy, optometry, and veterinary medicine.

Jim has an extensive background in higher education that includes an undergraduate degree in biochemistry from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Geneseo and a Ph.D. in Pharmacology from the University of Massachusetts School of Biomedical Sciences. He completed post-doctoral experiences at Wake Forest University School of Medicine and the University of Florida Medical School. Prior to coming to EKU in 2015, he was an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and a Chemistry instructor at the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts.

Jim said, “I taught in higher education for 12 years before coming to EKU. I encountered a lot of students interested in working in health care so I started focusing on career advising and organizing programs and events so students can learn about health care careers. When my wife accepted a position at the University of Kentucky, I was lucky enough to be hired at EKU to advise students.”

Jim is currently developing a course to help prepare students for their MCAT exam. He will begin offering this course in Fall 2017.

Jim enjoys seeing students achieve their goals, whether they are accepted into their professional school of choice, or find an alternative that will be equally rewarding.

Student Spotlight: Simon Mikulcik

Simon MikulcikSimon Mikulcik, a native of Murray, Kentucky, knew exactly where he wanted to pursue his college education.  “I wanted to be challenged by a computer science program that took quality education seriously.  The Eastern Kentucky University Computer Science program which is ABET accredited, allowed me to double major with Mathematics, was in the same state as my hometown, and was generous enough to aid in funding my higher education costs.” 

Simon developed an interest in computer programming in middle school where he began programming small projects in his free time.  However, his family had no high speed internet at home.  Consequently, he used public internet whenever he could, but coded the majority of his projects offline.  Throughout high school he continued to program on his own and began learning new languages such as Java and C++.  Even though his local high school did not have a computer science teacher, Simon did not hesitate to take the AP Computer Science course as an independent study.

Simon credits his father with instilling in him the virtues of being mindful of others and hard work.  His father, a horticulturist, freely shared the plants he cultivated with people in the community.  “He taught me to do my job, and do it to the best of my ability.  He also never failed to emphasize the importance of helping people and doing work for the sake of others.”

Simon started developing video games for his siblings and friends because it was fun to play these games with others.  When his high school technology teacher and the local 4-H club started the first local robotics team they needed someone to program the robots.  Simon stepped in to help.  In the process, he made many friends, he improved his programming skills, and he helped the community team.

Now a senior at EKU, Simon is a member of the Honors Program and is pursuing a double major in Mathematics and Computer Science and a double minor in Statistics and Physics.  EKU has provided him with opportunities that have challenged him intellectually.  The Honors Program has provided him with countless chances to interact with many people with different viewpoints and from different cultures.  He has also been able to secure three different software engineering internships throughout the United States. "I feel that my experiences with these three companies has enriched my education giving me a broad understanding of the software industry for which EKU's Department of Computer Science is preparing me," said Simon.

EKU has also provided Simon with the means to continue with his love for helping others.  “My freshman year, I began tutoring other students at the Math and Stats Tutoring Center.  There I shared my experience and skills with others so that they could succeed in college.  Soon after, I began helping at the Computer Science Tutoring Center.  There were fewer qualified people who could tutor some of the more challenging computer science subjects at that time.  Semester after semester, I am touched by the feedback that I hear.  I see that my work helps people grasp some concepts that are extremely difficult to understand.”

Simon plans to graduate in May 2017 and contemplates the future, “I am grateful to my family, school, community, and university as they have all contributed to who I am.  I see my future job as a way not only to provide software to businesses, but also as a means of furthering my skills so that I can provide better help to those who need it.  I hope to continue to give back to the community either through volunteering on a robotics team as a mentor, tutoring computer science students, or just making video games to help people enjoy each other’s company.”

Simon Mikulcik accepted a full-time position in Austin, Texas at IBM’s Cloud division as a Software Engineer.  The job starts soon after he graduates in May 2017.


Fotina Lefta-Hoskins, DMD

Fotina Lefta-Hoskins, DMDEastern Kentucky University (EKU) offers international students, like all other students, the opportunity to excel and achieve their dreams.  The story of Fotina Lefta-Hoskins, DMD, is just one example.

Born and raised in Albania, Dr. Lefta-Hoskins came to the US as a foreign exchange student. She graduated from Madison Central High School and then enrolled at EKU where she majored in Biology (pre-dental) with a minor in Spanish.

While at EKU she received the Regents Scholarship, the International Student Merit Scholarship, and the Phi Kappa Phi EKU Chapter Fellowship.  She also received the Phi Kappa Phi National Fellowship for graduate study, which she was able to apply towards her studies in dental school. She was the first EKU student to ever receive this national award.

Dr. Lefta-Hoskins places very high value to the support she received from EKU.  “The financial support was crucial in completing my undergraduate degree, as my parents had no means of supporting my college education.  However, these scholarships meant a lot more than that.  They gave me the drive I needed to set higher goals, to challenge myself to do better and to succeed.  Others believed in me and I felt it was my responsibility to not let them down.”

After graduating from EKU in 2009, Dr. Lefta-Hoskins enrolled at the University of Kentucky’s College of Dentistry from which she graduated in 2013.  She then completed a one year residency in general dentistry at the University of Kentucky in June 2014.

Dr. Lefta-Hoskins has plenty of fond memories of EKU.  “Those four years at EKU have definitely been some of the best years of my life!  Being a part of the Honors Program as well as the International Student Association made my whole experience even more memorable.  I enjoyed participating at the yearly International Banquets as well as the Honors program State and National Conferences.  EKU’s campus is beautiful! I always enjoyed spending time at the Ravine on a pretty fall or spring day.”

For current students aspiring to go to dental school, Dr. Lefta-Hoskins has these words of advice, “Don’t be afraid to reach out to local dentists and ask to shadow them.  It’s the best way to get an idea of what life as a dentist would be like.  Also reach out to current dental students or recent graduates.  They will be able to tell you more about what to expect while in dental school.  While completing your undergraduate degree, talk to your advisors about your aspirations; they are a great resource to guide you on the right path.  Taking the necessary classes during your first three years will better prepare you to do well on the DAT (Dental Admission Test) as well as increase your chances of getting accepted and succeeding in dental school.”

Dr. Lefta-Hoskins’s relationship with EKU continues.  She was awarded the 2016 EKU Alumni Association Young Alumni Award in October 2016, to which she has this to say: “Receiving the Young Alumni Award was a tremendous honor.  Being among very well accomplished individuals was very humbling.  Like any other award I have received, this one will encourage me to continue on the path I am on and have an even greater impact on the community I serve.  I am very thankful to all who believed in me during my time at EKU as well as those who thought I was worthy of this prestigious award.”

Both of Dr. Lefta-Hoskins’ parents were teachers (math and physics) and she gives them credit for her success, “From when we were young, they encouraged us to study and work very hard and be thankful for any opportunities we are given to accomplish our goals.”  Dr. Lefta-Hoskins has two sisters and, not surprisingly, one is a pharmacist and the other is a physician.

Dr. Lefta-Hoskins got more than just a good education at EKU.  She met her soul mate at EKU, attorney Zachary Hoskins, Esq.  The Hoskins live and work in Virginia Beach, Virginia.  They are expecting their first child, a baby boy, in Jan 2017.

Ronald Pierce

Pierce with 3 generations of studentsRetired faculty are a special subset of the College of Science’s friends and alumni. They support us in many ways including part-time teaching, attendance at our events, sharing stimulating ideas with current faculty and students, as well making financial contributions to the university. In this edition of our Alumni & Friends Newsletter, we are proud to profile Ronald (Ron) Pierce, one of our retired faculty.

Ron Pierce retired from teaching mathematical sciences in 2004, having completed 40 years of full-time teaching at EKU. He didn’t stop there, though; he continued to teach part-time for the Department of Mathematics and Statistics through the fall semester of 2015. Not only did he teach for more than half a century, he also accomplished a rare feat — he taught three generations of women from the same family (Jane Holt Whitis, class of 1967; Lisa Whitis Kay, class of 1991; and Maria Kay, class of 2019).

Jane Whitis recalls how much fun she had in Pierce’s class: “There aren’t many classes for which you can say you learned everything you were supposed to and had a great time.”

Not only did Pierce teach Lisa Kay, but he also taught her husband, Tom Kay. Both are now employed by EKU. “I was blessed to have the opportunity to be both Ron’s student and his colleague,” says Lisa Kay. “Ron was an excellent teacher and is one of the nicest people you would ever want to meet.”

Pierce considered making the spring of 2015 his last semester, but decided to remain for one more term. This additional term allowed him the opportunity to teach Lisa and Tom Kay’s daughter, Maria, in an introductory statistics course.

Born and raised in Osborne, Kansas, Pierce is the ninth of ten children. His father’s work as a carpenter brought them to Morehead, Kentucky, when Ron was a teenager. He later attended Morehead State University and worked at Bishop's Drug Store - an experience he still recalls fondly. This locally owned drug store gained national attention for the nickel Cokes sold at its fountain until it closed in 1986. Pierce enjoyed the job and liked his former boss so much that he would often give up spare time to drive back to Morehead to help take inventory years after leaving the job.

Pierce has been married to his wife, Mary, for 51 years. Mary, who is a graduate of Eastern, was a teacher at Madison Central High School and an instructor for the EKU Department of Mathematics and Statistics. They have two children, Donna and William. Donna is an associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Mississippi State University and William is employed by Target.

An active member of both the White Oak Pond Christian Church (Richmond) and the First Christian Church (Berea), Pierce served in many roles, including Deacon, Elder, Sunday School teacher, Worship Leader, and a member of various church committees. He also enjoys traveling, visiting national parks, riding historical train lines, model railroading, studying church history, and eating jelly beans and Tootsie Rolls.

Pierce made a lasting impact on many people during his time at EKU. He was actively involved in the establishment of the undergraduate statistics program, the first of its kind in Kentucky. According to Patti Costello, who joined the faculty in 1982, “Ron was very helpful to me, especially when I was just starting. He was always easy to work with.” The Ronald E. Pierce Scholarship, established when Ron retired from full-time teaching, is a legacy that will impact students' lives for many years to come.

Pierce’s wisdom and modesty are evident from his relationship with his daughter, Donna. “Having witnessed my father’s instruction several times during my childhood, I developed a good sense of his classroom style, and I have since incorporated some elements of it into my own style at Mississippi State. Over the last ten years, my father and I have shared many classroom experiences with each other—some hilarious, some troubling, and some just simply head-scratching.”

Donna continued, “I knew things had come full-circle when he phoned me one night to ask me for advice on how to handle a problem student. Not only was I happy to help him, but I was proud to see that a person with such seniority and experience had the humility to ask a person far more junior than himself for some fresh advice. In response, he said that no matter how much you have seen or experienced in your life, you still haven’t seen everything.”


March 1 Wednesday
EKU Spring 2017 Job Fair
Keen Johnson Building
1:00-3:00 p.m.


Monday - Friday March 13-17

EKU Spring Break




Friday, March 31

New Science Building
10:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.