Alumni: Spring 2019
Author: Alumni
Posted: June 4, 2019

Award-winning words

AT FIRST, Chelsea Bieker MFA ’12 thought the email was spam. It said she’d been nominated to receive a 2018 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, an honor that supports women writers whose work contributes to culture and society with a $30,000 gift.

She got over her initial suspicion and submitted additional writing as requested. Months later came the call: She was one of only six national recipients to win the prestigious award. To this day, she does not know who nominated her for the prize.

“It’s really amazing,” she says. “It makes me feel like all of the time and sacrifice I’ve put into my passion was worth it.”

Even though it is early in her career, which is a criteria of the Jaffe award, Bieker had numerous published writings for the judges to consider. Her work has appeared in Granta, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, The Cincinnati Review and many other publications. Her nonfiction essay Why We Must Believe Women: My Family’s Legacy of Violence and Murder, published by Catapult, made the New York Times’ What We’re Reading list.

THE PASSION to become a writer started for Bieker in high school with a teacher’s encouragement. She went on to earn a bachelor’s in journalism from California Polytechnic State University, and there she discovered her passion for creative writing.

Another teacher suggested she pursue a Master of Fine Arts and advised her to follow the writers she loved. “I was a real fan of Charles D’Ambrosio’s work and he taught at PSU, so I was drawn to the program,” Bieker recalls. D’Ambrosio was her thesis advisor and two other highly respected authors—Leni Zumas and Tom Bissell—formed her thesis committee. “It was a magical time,” she says.

NOW, Bieker is the one influencing students. She works part-time as an online adjunct writing instructor for Pennsylvania’s Harrisburg Area Community College. She also takes on freelance projects and writes online dating profiles, which expose her to “a lot of interesting ways of being and looking at the world,” she says.

“I pick up writing inspiration all the time, but the seeds of the fictional world that I designed in graduate school carry through my creative work today.” Bieker’s first novel, Godshot, is slated for publication in 2020 and her story collection, Cowboys and Angels, will come out in 2021.

The Jaffe award puts an emphasis on providing emerging women writers time to write. It is helping Bieker and her husband with child care costs for their two young children as she completes her books from their Portland home. 

“There are a lot of rejections that come with being a writer,” she says. “I’m so grateful for this award. It makes me feel like I’m on the right track.” 

Kelli Fields is a Portland freelance writer.

Alumni in the news

Richard Devlin ’76, a former Oregon state senator, is now vice chair of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, which plans to develop a new Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Program and a new Power Plan this year.

Jean Rosenbaum MS ’76 is founder and executive director of Gifted Wishes in Portland, a nonprofit that grants the wishes of patients who are in hospice.

Wayne Schertler ’89 was hired as chief operating officer for the Larkin Hoffman law firm in Minneapolis earlier this year. He has over 25 years of law firm management experience.

Mary Bokovoy ’95 recently joined the Hasson Company Realtors in Hood River as a home stager. She is also owner of Hood River reDesign, an interior design company.

John Brown ’98 appeared in the ensemble for a production of the musical Fiorello playing at 42nd Street Moon in San Francisco during February and March. He has been performing with companies around the Bay Area since 2001 and when not singing, he is a clinical psychologist.

Lee Hedgmon ’03 helped start the Portland SheBrew festival in 2017. A former women’s studies instructor at PSU, she is now a distiller and brewer at McMenamins’ Cornelius Pass Roadhouse in Hillsboro.

Jessica (Tyner) Mehta ’05, MS ’07 is the visiting poet at Chemeketa Community College for the 2018–19 academic year. A member of the Cherokee Nation, Mehta has written numerous books, leads writing workshops, and is a poetry editor for journals and a local press. She also teaches yoga.

Kevin Byrne MBA ’10 is raising money to assist the National Multiple Sclerosis Society through his book series, Never Stop Never Quit. Byrne, who was diagnosed with MS while a commander in the U.S. Army, has raised more than $700,000 for the society. 

Lisa Nico ’10 joined KPNX 12 News in Phoenix, Arizona, as a reporter in February. She began her reporting career at KVAL in Eugene. As a communication major, Nico underwent major hip surgery and remembers PSU fondly for the accommodations she received from faculty and students.

Adam Kleffner ’12 was hired in February by the Dallas Cowboys as an assistant offensive line coach. He most recently coached at the University of Missouri and Portland State. 

Haidn Foster ’15, a second-year medical student at University of Cincinnati, recently launched the online publication Pride in Practice to offer best practices information in LGBT health care to medical students, residents, physicians and other health care workers.

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