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Clarke Celebrates Success of McElroy Trust Graduate Fellowship Winners 

By Clarke News  |  August 23, 2021

Thanks to the efforts of our dedicated faculty and facility investments like the Marie Miske Center for Science Inquiry, Clarke University has established itself as a regional leader for excellence in the sciences. These efforts have positively impacted students such as Rachel Crawford, who earned the prestigious McElroy Trust Fellowship in 2021.  

Crawford is the eighth Clarke student to be awarded a fellowship since the McElroy Trust was established in 1983 to encourage persons of accomplishment, intelligence, integrity, and leadership ability to pursue challenging academic careers. Each winner receives a stipend of up to $36,000 paid over three years to pursue their Ph.D.  

With Crawford’s recent award, we wanted to take a moment to acknowledge Clarke alumni who have previously won the fellowship and celebrate their accomplishments. We were able to reconnect with six of the past winners to see where their careers have taken them. 


2021 winner Rachel Crawford, originally from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, graduated from Clarke in May 2021 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry. Crawford will pursue a Ph.D. in Human Toxicology from the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa.

I was extremely honored to be awarded the McElroy Fellowship because it is such a competitive award. I was already really grateful for the application process and getting to work with the committee at Clarke because they gave me a lot of real-world experience and feedback on how to prepare for interviews and make myself stand out in a positive way, and those are lessons that I will use throughout my life,” Crawford said. 

Josh Prindle ’18 won the McElroy Trust Fellowship in 2018 and is completing his Ph.D. in Chemistry at the University of Virginia. As a double major in Biochemistry and English at Clarke, he has been able to build on his expertise through research and writing. For example, Prindle currently serves on the Chemistry Science Communication Committee, which focuses on helping scientists improve their communication skills. 

Clarke equipped me with the necessary skills to understand complex biochemical and biophysical concepts, to think as an independent researcher, and to communicate my data and ideas in an effective and clear manner,” Prindle said. “Most importantly, Clarke helped me realize that my personal and professional success are interconnected, as it is my personal goal to one day improve science communication in this country.

Upon completion of his Ph.D., Prindle plans to enter the field of science communication to promote research in this country and help re-establish trust between the science community and the general public. 

2008 winner Holly Feser Stessman ’08 attended graduate school at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities and studied the pharmacogenomics of multiple myeloma. Her work then took her to Seattle and the University of Washington before beginning her current role as an Assistant Professor with Creighton University Medical School in Omaha, Nebraska. Since then, Stessman has received numerous institutional, collaborative, and state awards, as well as an early career award from the Simons Foundation for Autism Research. 

Performing research with Professor Sunil Malapati as part of her biology and biochemistry coursework at Clarke prepared Stessman for success in the lab, but her interest in drama and choir has also benefitted her in unexpected ways. 

Through my minor in Theatre at Clarke, I learned so much about teamwork and performing under pressure. These are skills that still serve me today,” Stessman said. “I entered graduate school more confident and able to advocate for myself and drive my thesis work forward independently.

While her primary focus has been on Autism research, Stessman and her team at Creighton University also served their community during the COVID-19 pandemic by helping with sequencing and variant tracking for the region. 

Emily Duehr ’01 may have grown up in Dubuque, but it wasn’t until she attended Clarke that she understood the power of the institution. Duehr transferred to Clarke shortly after giving birth to her son, Sam, and started classes when he was just three weeks old. There, under the guidance of faculty members  like Katie Fischer, Candace Croft, Graciela Caneiro-Livingston, and Sara McAlpin, BVM, she discovered a passion for Psychology and English. 

After earning the McElroy Trust Fellowship and graduating as co-valedictorian in 2001, Duehr attended the University of Minnesota to earn her Ph.D. in Industrial-Organizational Psychology. Her work focused on gender and subgroup differences in personality assessment and leadership. Over the next ten years, she provided training and leadership development to Fortune 100 companies and public sector organizations. In 2016, Duehr and her family returned to the Dubuque area, and though she left consulting professionally, she still applies her skills as a volunteer with Holy Family Catholic Schools, as the Communications Coordinator for the Dubuque City Youth Ballet, and as Vice President of the Board for the Dubuque Museum of Art.  

My path keeps changing. I didn’t originally plan on Clarke, but it was just the right place for me at the time. I didn’t plan to move back to Dubuque after ten years in the Twin Cities, but it is the right place for me and my family now. I didn’t plan to complete my Ph.D. then stop working in the field of Industrial-Organizational Psychology, but I’ve learned not to narrowly define my career,” Duehr said. “There are many paths if you are open to opportunities and challenges. Consider what makes you happy and brings you balance in your personal and professional life. Consider how you can fuel yourself, your loved ones, and your community.

When Christina (Hosch) Hacker ’97 won the McElroy Trust Fellowship in 1997, it was rare for women to earn a Ph.D. in Chemistry, but she was not deterred. Her time as a chemistry major at Clarke had given her the research and analytical experience to succeed, as well as a network of support thanks to classmates and the personal attention of faculty and staff.  

Yet when she got married and later became pregnant during her graduate studies, Hacker was put to the test. However, her Ph.D. advisor and fellow graduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison came together to support her, and Hacker has taken that sense of camaraderie and teamwork into her career with the National Institute of Standards and Technology. As a Nanoscale Spectroscopy Group Leader, she works on spectroscopic methods to gain understanding of fundamental light matter interactions on the nanoscale for advanced electronic and quantum applications. 

Reflecting on her triumphs and challenges, Hacker would encourage anyone considering a career in the sciences to go for it. 

A career in the sciences is extremely rewarding! I get to use my creativity, problem solve, look at hard problems in detail to understand root causes, invent, work with people, write manuscripts, present at technical conferences, build multidisciplinary teams of researchers, and so much more,” Hacker said. “A career in the sciences is also highly versatile. I work at a national lab, while graduate school friends have gone to industry and academia. Don’t worry about having your long-range career goals defined now; you can figure it out as you learn and grow and adjust as you go.

After winning the McElroy Trust Fellowship in 1991, Aliston Thomas ’91 earned a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, as well as an MBA from Cornell University and a Master of Divinity degree from Payne Theological Seminary. His combination of business and chemistry training helped him excel in several technology roles, and he is currently the Director for Sales Enablement for the Americas with Agilent Technologies. He also serves as pastor of Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church in Oxford, Pennsylvania. 

While fondly remembering the food, friends, and some of his first experiences with snow after growing up in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Thomas also credits his time at Clarke for giving him the foundation to pursue his personal and professional goals. As current Clarkies consider their future, he advises them to let their passions guide them.  

I believe that our passions, as well as talents and gifts, are connected to our divine purpose. Passion, combined with a strong work ethic and values, are key ingredients for success,” Thomas said. “As someone who has coached, mentored, and taught others, one of the greatest rewards of doing so is seeing them do what they love.

Fellowship recipients Leo Kueper III ’89 and Renee Herber ’86 could not be reached for comment.  

About the McElroy Trust Fellowships 

The McElroy Trust Fellowships were established to support students seeking higher education. The Trust benefactor, R. J. McElroy was a pioneer broadcaster who started the Black Hawk Broadcasting Company in 1947.  Learn more about the award at