University Relations and Communications

Top MSU Billings graduates honored for academics, activism, inspiration

April 23, 2014 



Carmen Price, University Relations, 657-2243


MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES —  They represent Montana State University Billings’ highest ideals in academics, leadership, community service and campus engagement. Five MSUB graduates have the distinction of holding the university’s most prestigious honor for undergraduates.


The recipients of the Outstanding Graduate Award are Cory Lovec, Thomas Staffileno, Jennifer Larsen, Harrison “Jack” Hepp and Tarah Jurenka. Recipients will receive special recognition at the Montana State University Billings 87th annual commencement on May 3, 2014.


Awards are given to students who have exemplified both personal and academic achievement at MSU Billings including their citizenship in support of the university’s goals and values and their potential for future success and achievement.


A selection committee represented by faculty from each college reviewed the finalists for the award.


Outstanding graduates will be recognized at each of their respective college’s convocation.




JenniferJennifer Larsen

Jennifer Larsen is a prime example of a student who has gone above and beyond during her time at Montana State University Billings.


The Mesa, Ariz., native was a center-back starter for the Yellowjackets women¹s soccer team for her entire college career and was the team¹s captain during her junior and senior years. Among her many athletic accolades received during her time at MSUB, Jennifer was named the 2012 First Team Academic All American, Most Valuable Player and the NSCAA Scholar All-Region.


While she may be best known to most in Billings and the campus community as an athletic leader, Jennifer also excelled as a scholar. She will graduate May 3 with a double major in health education and Spanish—all while maintaining a 3.94 grade point.


That kind of drive and commitment earned her the honor of being selected as one of five recipients of the Outstanding Graduate Award for 2013-2014.


Not only is Jennifer graduating with two degrees and high honors, she also carries a lifetime of community service packed into her college career. 


“Volunteering has become an important part of my life,” Jennifer said. “It’s opened my eyes to a lot and helps keep me balanced.” She has volunteered countless hours to the Special Olympics, Eagle Mount, animal shelters, the Women and Family Shelter and the Billings Food Bank.


“As talented and academically gifted as she is, I believe her best quality is her winning personality,” MSUB lecturer and advisor Loretta Morgan said. “She is always more than willing to lend a hand for a cause, always sees the good in people and circumstances and always has a smile.”


Setting her sights on playing soccer professionally, Larsen recently landed a spot on the Sedona FC Strikers—a semi-professional women’s soccer team in Arizona of which she will begin playing in May. The opportunity she says is a dream come true.

“Even if you do not know where you are going, always have faith that everything will work out,” Jennifer says. “And remember there is no traffic on the extra mile.”


CoreyCory Lovec

While undertaking a difficult academic load, Cory Lovec’s perfect 4.0 grade point average is an accurate reflection of his abilities and dedication to success.


An Ekalaka native, Cory will graduate in May with a degree in chemistry and minors in physics and mathematics. He has continuously been involved with research, earning him a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship Honorable Mention in 2013. 


Cory graduates as the 48th University Honors Scholar and as one of five recipients of the Outstanding Graduate Award for 2013-2014.


“In my 39 years of post-Ph.D. teaching, I have met comparatively few students who have come so far or have so much promise as Cory Lovec,” Dr. David Craig, director of the University Honors Program, said. “He possesses a record of extraordinary achievement as an undergraduate, the kind that foretells a distinguished career.”


Cory served as a teaching assistant for Dr. Matthew Marlow for his entire academic career. He also worked with faculty as a research assistant, resulting in a publication with Cory listed as co-author.


“MSUB has been the perfect school for me and I feel blessed with such outstanding faculty in the science department,” Cory said.

Cory’s colleagues and professors say that he possesses remarkable work ethic and drive. He spends countless hours in the lab each week while remaining active and engaged in several extracurricular activities—sports editor for the school newspaper, a variety of intramural sports, volunteer service within the community and has participated in the university orchestra and pep band.


Cory was recently accepted into the University of Montana’s School of Pharmacy where he plans to earn both a Pharm.D. and Ph.D. so he can pursue a career in drug synthesis research and teach at the university-level.


ThomasThomas Staffileno

Considered by many as MSU Billings’ golden child, it’s no wonder Thomas Staffileno was named this year’s Golden Merit Award winner and one of five Outstanding Graduates in recognition of outstanding scholarship, leadership and community service.  His supporters say that he exemplifies what is best about MSU Billings students.


An enthusiastic and dedicated student, Thomas will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in business management and a next to perfect grade point average.


The Billings native and Senior High School graduate, Thomas said he quickly became passionate about student life at MSUB and community involvement when he began his college career.


He has, in his time here, been involved in myriad campus and community activities including Student United Way, MSUB Experience Leadership Project, Student Activities Board, Associated Students of MSUB and the student newspaper, just to name a few. He was also an outstanding athlete on the tennis team for three years.


Thomas presently serves as the service project coordinator in the MSUB Office for Community Involvement where he is responsible for planning and leading all Service Saturday projects and other community involvement service projects.


Soft-spoken and easy with a smile, Thomas shies away from basking in his own glory. Instead, he prefers to think about how he can work to serve other people, especially those in need.


“Service is important because it takes the focus off myself while reminding me to be grateful for what I have,” Thomas said. “It’s easy to get caught up in our personal day-to-day activities, but when we get involved in others’ lives, we see that being in this life isn’t about us. It’s about loving and helping others.”


Thomas has plans to eventually obtain a master’s degree in student affairs and continue his work in higher education. In the meantime, he has accepted a job with the MSUB Admissions Office.


Tarah JurenkaTarah Jurenka

Dedication and hard work is what sets Tarah Jurenka apart and led to her being named one of five students to receive an MSU Billings Outstanding Graduate Award for 2013-2014. The award recognizes graduating students for their academic work and contributions to the university and community.


From Rudyard, the standout college student will cross the stage at MetraPark on May 3 with an Associate of Applied Science degree in radiologic technology from MSU Billings City College and a 3.9 grade point average.


“Tarah has been an outstanding student from the beginning,” City College Associate Director of Student Services, Stephanie Cowen, said. “She is a very upbeat, positive and dedicated student with clear goals in mind.”


As a Jackets Student Ambassador, Tarah has been heavily involved in campus and community service projects such as City College Career Expos, City College Preview Day tours, food and supply drives for Tumbleweed Runaway Program and has worked several Salvation Army Nights on the Van distributing food to people in need.


“Volunteering has changed my look on life,” Tarah said. “I've learned to be grateful for what I have, and to still give thanks when things look bad because they can definitely be worse. Overall, volunteering has made me a more positive person.”

Tarah also works as a tutor in the Radiologic Technology Program teaching radiographic anatomy and positioning, patient care and radiation physics.


“She is an excellent tutor and has excellent knowledge of the academic content,” her nominator Milton Ender, the radiologic technology program director, said. “The teaching skills needed to be a tutor comes very naturally to her.”


Tarah will enter the health administration program at MSUB this fall and has plans to study abroad in England in the upcoming semester. In the meantime, she recently accepted a summer job at St. Vincent Healthcare as a radiologic technologist.


JackHarrison “Jack” Hepp

Being a part of university activities while maintaining a 3.91 GPA was not always easy, but Jack Hepp liked the challenges and has made a lasting impression on Montana State University Billings.


Jack will graduate May 3 with a business administration degree, with a focus on marketing management, and will be recognized at commencement as an Outstanding Graduate for his academic work and contributions to the university.


Brenda Dockery, professor of marketing in the MSU Billings College of Business, said Jack “has developed into a confident leader that MSUB College of Business can be proud to call an outstanding graduate.”


The Worland, Wyo. native has been highly involved in several student organizations including the student body government, the Student Activities Board, the Retort—MSUB’s student newspaper—and is a resident assistant for the MSUB Housing and Residential Life. He is also the vice president of the College of Business Student Advisory Board.


Jack has gone above and beyond to create community marketing and business plans, including interfacing with Gov. Steve Bullock for his appearance in the Billings Depot PSA. He presently interns at MasterLube, a position the business owner created just for Jack.


“His presentations to get budget approval with community clients are as good as any professional in the field,” College of Business professor Dr. A.J. Otjen said. She also said Jack is a hard-worker that never seeks fanfare and always looks for the best in people.


While campus engagement has been a valuable experience that taught him a lot about teamwork and leadership, community service and taking time to put others ahead of him has been most important to Jack.


Whether Jack moves on to graduate school or a job after graduation remains to be seen. Regardless he will keep his sense of hard work and giving back.  


“My motto has always been that something isn’t worth doing unless you are going to give it your best,” Jack says.