TULANE UNIVERSITY CLASS OF 2021

The Tulane University Class of 2021 includes many individuals who have had extraordinary experiences at Tulane and who are ready to embark on exciting post-college chapters. Here are a few remarkable graduates who have been featured in the university’s daily news email, Tulane Today.
Juan Olarte
Student journalist Juan Olarte-Cortes earned an internship with CNN after he launched his own news website to tell personal stories that were left out of the mainstream media. (Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano)

Telling the untold stories

“I love talking to people and learning their stories,” explained graduating senior Juan Alejandro Olarte-Cortes. “Highlighting stories of underrepresented communities is not just fulfilling to me, but it creates visibility, which is integral to understanding each other.”

At the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown, Olarte-Cortes created Just News With Juan, a website that focuses on the personal stories often left out of mainstream media. Soon after creating his website, the major news outlet CNN recognized his important work and offered him an internship. Throughout the spring of 2021, Olarte-Cortes worked with CNN’s Atlanta News Bureau, assisting producers and correspondents with breaking news.

From his coursework to his community involvement and dedication to leading diversity efforts across media outlets and within the university, Olarte-Cortes reflects humbly on his work: “It is so important to create space for individuals who feel like they don’t fit in, to create spaces to share a similar culture, and to create opportunities for raising visibility. I’m glad I’ve been able to contribute to my Tulane community and beyond over the past four years here.”

Read Olarte-Cortes’ full profile

Jacob McCarty (L'21)
After graduating, Jacob McCarty (L’21) will clerk for Chief Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown (L’88) of the Eastern District of Louisiana. Eventually, he hopes to return to the Orleans Public Defenders, the place that led him to law school.

First he survived cancer, now this Law School grad is giving back

Looking back, Jacob McCarty still gets a little choked up about where he began: A kid from Wrightsville, Ark., population 2,000.

Despite his humble upbringings, his teachers noticed his love of learning early on. One of his teachers encouraged him to apply to be a magnet student at the larger and better-resourced school district in Little Rock, so he could be challenged.

That move landed him at Tulane for his undergraduate career, and the start of his love affair with New Orleans, a city “I’ll probably never leave again,” he says.

Today, he is ranked at the top of his law class, is a cancer survivor, an advocate for the LGBTQ community, a student leader and mentor, and is an editor of one of the oldest student-run law journals in the country, the Tulane Law Review. Recently,  he received one of Tulane’s most prestigious student honors, the Tulane 34 Award, and was voted by the law school faculty as his class’ John Minor Wisdom Award recipient, given to the student who is an outstanding JD candidate, has demonstrated excellence in academic work and in writing ability, and has contributed selflessly to the law school community, and who has accepted a federal or state judicial clerkship after graduation.

Read McCarty’s full profile 

PhD candidate Laura Scott
PhD candidate Laura Scott traveled to 13 different national parks to study antibiotic resistant bacteria in the soil and water. Her degree will be in Environmental Health Sciences from the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. (Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano)

The paths less traveled

The pursuit of a doctoral degree is academically rigorous and requires dedication and focus, but for Laura Scott, who graduated this spring with a PhD in Environmental Health Sciences from the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, the resolve required to achieve her goals went well beyond the norm.

For her Master of Science thesis project, Scott traveled to 13 different national parks to study antibiotic resistant bacteria in the soil and water. Her preliminary data was so compelling that she decided to delve deeper and focused her doctoral research on a single national park, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, and the impact that visitors have on the incidence of resistant bacteria. In order to collect samples, Scott had to visit the most isolated locations in the wilderness, miles from a trail.

“To get this PhD I really had to go through the wringer. I was oftentimes by myself in these really remote locations, and that got dangerous and dicey on a lot of occasions. Quite literally, my life was on the line to collect this data,” recalled Scott.

Read Scott’s profile

LaKia Williams
LaKia Williams, a Newcomb Scholar, is active with reproductive justice efforts and also hosts a podcast called “Black Feminist Rants.” (Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano)

Newcomb Scholar is an activist and a podcast host

Neuroscience was an unlikely major for LaKia Williams, a Newcomb Scholar who originally came to Tulane because of her interest in studying public relations. Communication, especially surrounding issues of social activism and reproductive justice, is important to the graduating senior, who also has a podcast called “Black Feminist Rants.”

Even after she decided to go with a science major, the extracurricular activities that Williams chose shaped her experience at Tulane. She worked as a Community Engagement Advocate (CEA) and a trainer at student orientations. As president of Students United for Reproductive Justice, she arranged for students to have access to free emergency contraception, pregnancy tests and condoms, garnering the support of Campus Health. She worked as an intern in the Reproductive Rights and Reproductive Health Program and as a research assistant at the School of Medicine.

Williams said Tulane and Newcomb Institute faculty greatly influenced her college activism and career path, including Clare Daniel, administrative assistant professor of women’s leadership at the Newcomb Institute, who mentored her over four years. “That definitely made a very big difference, being able to come here and then find a space on campus that I identified with heavily and then finding someone within that space that has also helped me develop,” Williams said.

Read Williams’ full profile

Kaiyu Wang
Kaiyu Wang, a triple major in chemistry, mathematics and economics, stayed connected to his professors and classmates despite a 13-hour time difference. Wang remotely finished his coursework at Tulane while living in his home country of China because of COVID-19 restrictions. He received the Outstanding Senior Award from the American Chemical Society, was invited to join Phi Beta Kappa and was accepted into the 2021 Newcomb-Tulane College William Wallace Peery Society. (Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano)

A triple major and a 13-hour time difference

One need only peruse his resumé to recognize just how demanding the past four years at Tulane University have been for Kaiyu Wang, a graduating senior from China.

A triple major in chemistry, mathematics and economics, Wang boasts numerous awards, honor society memberships, published research, scholarships and leadership experience. He also played trombone in the Tulane University Marching Band, served as a freshman orientation leader and tutored students in the Tulane Asian Studies program.

But perhaps his most impressive accomplishment was completing his coursework during the COVID-19 pandemic, all while quarantining alone in a hotel room in China, where he returned when campus shut down in March 2020.

Read Wang’s profile

“The sacrifices my parents made to put my sister and I through private schools were definitely part of my motivation to keep going.”  

Derick Houston
Derick Houston Jr., who will receive his Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences with a minor in small business development, is the 2021 Commencement speaker for SoPA’s diploma ceremony and a recipient of the prestigious Tulane 34 Award. Houston volunteers with local organizations to teach financial literacy at high schools and universities in the Greater New Orleans area. (Photo by Rusty Constanza)

Overcoming great odds

Derick Houston Jr. not only received his Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences with a minor in small business development, he was also the 2021 Commencement speaker for the School of Professional Advancement’s diploma ceremony and a recipient of the prestigious Tulane 34 Award.

“I came from humble beginnings,” said Houston of his upbringing on the West Bank of New Orleans. “The sacrifices my parents made to put my sister and I through private schools were definitely part of my motivation to keep going.” 

He currently works as a private client adviser and vice president of investments at JP Morgan.

“I’ve overcome great odds as a Black man in this country, at Tulane, and in my profession,” said Houston. “I’m truly honored and humbled to be living in this moment and I’m so thankful to everyone at SoPA who has helped me along the way.” 

Read Houston’s full profile 

Andrea Ewalefo and her son, Elijah, and AsheLee Singleton, with her toddler, Marquez
Tulane Class of 2021 graduates Andrea Ewalefo and her son, Elijah, and AsheLee Singleton, with her toddler, Marquez, whom everyone calls “Junior.” The mothers’ friendship and a long list of friends and supporters helped them balance three years of law school and mothering. “This journey represents so much more than the degree itself,” said Singleton. (Photo credit: VCB Photography)

An inspiring journey for two mothers

If law school is hard for the average student, it is doubly difficult for anyone who is a parent. Yet, single-mom Andrea Ewalefo and brand-new mom AsheLee Singleton, took the leap into their first year of law school (the year that can only be described as drinking from a firehose) hopeful their support system would hold up.

The mothers’ friendship and a long list of friends and supporters helped them balance three years of law school and mothering.

Throughout their law school careers, despite juggling being law students and mothers, both women managed to be incredibly active. At Tulane’s Unified Commencement, Ewafelo was honored to be selected as one of the student speakers.

Ewalefo will join the New Orleans office of Proskauer Rose, which focuses on labor and employment law. Singleton this summer joins Gieger, Laborde, Laperouse in New Orleans, which focuses on insurance defense.

Ewalefo called her 14-year-old son, Elijah, her “reason” for pursuing her joint JD/MBA degree and Singleton says her toddler, Marquez, whom everyone calls “Junior,” is her “motivation.”

“This journey represents so much more than the degree itself,” said Singleton.

Read their full profile

Laurel Anne Kessler
Laurel Anne Kessler, graduating with a degree from the A. B. Freeman School of Business, and a team of three other business students won first place in the inaugural Business School Case Competition. Kessler earned the prize for best speaker. (Photo by Rusty Costanza)

Pandemic is an ‘opportunity to grow’

Laurel Anne Kessler takes opportunities where she finds them. She graduated from the A. B. Freeman School of Business with a Bachelor of Science in Management and a minor in social innovation and social entrepreneurship.

Learning throughout the pandemic has been “an opportunity to grow,” she said. In her business classes, “we related our learning in the classroom to the pandemic and how it affects the world of business. I think it kind of set me up for future success, knowing how to deal with something as large and as global as a pandemic.”

Her goal now is to look for work in the nonprofit realm, but before she settles into a job, she’s taking the next few months to finish writing a novel that she started years ago.

“I’ve loved my experience at Tulane,” said Kessler. “I am so glad that I was able to come here. It was a great opportunity and blessing for me. I’m looking forward to hopefully giving back to this community in the future. I love this city. And I am thankful for everyone who’s been part of my experience in college.”

Read Kessler’s full profile

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