With Commencement approaching on June 1, Spalding is publishing a series of stories and Q&A’s that highlight students from a range of degree programs who are set to graduate. First to be featured is Madison Ezell, a candidate for a bachelor of fine arts in studio art degree, who is also a Spalding residence hall advisor and social media ambassador.  

What is your favorite Spalding memory?
My favorite Spalding memory is when I got the opportunity to go to New York with a group of art students. On that trip I was able to see so much cool art, eat some really unique food and made so many fun memories with my friends. This trip gave me the opportunity to see so much art in real life, and I loved being able to get inspiration from everywhere I looked. Having the opportunity through Spalding to travel helped me develop my work and expand my understanding of art and art history.

What accomplishments are you most proud of during your time at Spalding?
I am most proud of the work I have put into my job as an RA. I feel like I have had the opportunity to constantly learn and grow through doing, and I have been able to develop leadership and organizational skills that I will take with me into my future career. I value the work I have been doing to help residents and to make their campus living experience better.

What’s your favorite spot on campus?
My favorite spot on campus is the main gathering area of the Egan Leadership Center. I have spent so much time with my friends there eating lunch and hanging out. It’s always a good meeting spot for us, and of course the POD is very close by if we want to grab something to eat.

At Spalding, we like to say that, “Today is a great day to change the world.” For many of our students, Commencement is a world-changing experience. After graduation, how do you plan to change the world, big or small, and who inspires you to be a #spaldingworldchanger?
I want to be able to bring art to people. I hope that once I graduate I will have the opportunity to expose people to art that will inspire them. I also want to keep making art that communicates ideas and makes people think about important issues. I am inspired by my group of friends because we help one another to create and encourage one another to pursue ideas. I think having a good network of supportive and creative people in my life has greatly contributed to my development as an artist and as a person.

Literature has always held a special place in Taylor Riley’s psyche. Maybe she developed it from her mother, who read books to Taylor while she was still in the womb. Or maybe it was her grandmother, who told her she knew her granddaughter’s name would be in the paper someday. Whatever the cause, Taylor’s passion for reading and writing was evident from childhood, as she watched and reported on things she witnessed in her neighborhood.

On June 1, Taylor will graduate from Spalding University with her Master of Fine Arts in Writing degree. And in addition to serving as a 2019 class representative and receiving an Eileen Egan Graduate Award, she is already making changes in her community.

Taylor, who earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism at the University of Kentucky, is currently using Spalding’s MFA education, along with her writing talent, as a voice for those living in small-town America. Working as the editor of the Henry County Local has given her the opportunity to shine a light on important local stories and issues that might otherwise go unheard and unnoticed.

“We need to be able to keep our government accountable for its actions,” she said. “Keeping the public informed, asking questions and always seeking the truth is the most effective way I know how to do that.”

While studying for her MFA at Spalding, Taylor’s desire to pursue narrative journalism became a need. She began working on a book of essays, Fearful Female, which is currently in the publishing process. The essays focus on her personal fears and how she’s overcome them, as well as broader fears she feels that many women can relate to. She hopes her book will help other women identify and overcome their own fears.

“The MFA program at Spalding really helped me sharpen and hone my writing,” Taylor said. “But it also helped me come out of my personal shell, make new connections and network with others in the industry.”

Spalding’s MFA program also left Taylor with a new passion. She will begin teaching monthly writing workshops at a local library and classes at Bellarmine University. Taylor believes today’s journalists need to begin thinking differently about their field. The internet and social media have revolutionized the news industry, and learning to adapt to new communication technologies is crucial. She wants to share her wealth of literary and journalistic knowledge with others eager to join the field.

“Spalding is the best thing that ever happened to me,” she said.

For those with cancer or other acute medical concerns, a diagnosis comes with a whole new vocabulary. Medical jargon can feel like a different language even for native English speakers, and for those who immigrated from elsewhere, understanding treatment options can be downright overwhelming.

Spalding University senior nursing student Valentina Nikic experienced these cultural challenges firsthand when her father, who fled Bosnia in the 1990s, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2015. She said her parents often struggled to understand what the doctors and nurses were trying to tell them, and that they sometimes felt disrespected due to their cultural differences. Though her father is now cancer-free, the experience stayed with her.

“At a very young age, I noticed that doctor’s appointments and hospital visits were scarier for my parents because of the lack of translators, knowledge and comfort,” she said.

Sadly, this was not the first time Valentina endured the cancer diagnosis of a loved one. In late 2011, when Valentina was a junior at Presentation Academy in Louisville, a man who had been instrumental in helping the family get settled in Louisville after fleeing Bosnia—and had since become something of a father figure to Valentina and her three older siblings—was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. He passed away within months.

“It was the first person I had lost in that way, and it happened so fast,” she said.

But through that dark time, Valentina once again found a bright spot in the nurses who cared for her friend. She recalls their boundless compassion and small acts of kindness that helped ease some suffering—not just for their patient, but for his loved ones as well.

“They were here for his close friends and family members too,” Valentina said. “They turned something that was sad and scary into something a little better.”

Now, Valentina is using those difficult experiences to change the world for patients and their families by offering them the same kindness, support, and understanding that she appreciated.

“I want to be that person that reminds patients that they can overcome what they are going through, or, if they are coming to the end of their life, make their last few weeks a little better,” Valentina said.

Valentina, who will continue her job as a telemetry nurse at Norton Children’s Hospital upon graduation this spring, said that she credits her Spalding professors for not only teaching her the technical skills to provide expert nursing care, but also for reinforcing the importance of connecting with patients as well. As a transfer student from a larger nursing program, Valentina said she appreciates Spalding’s smaller class sizes, and the personal attention she has received from her professors.

“My professors have put an emphasis on the fact that compassion encompasses nursing,” Valentina said. “I want to fully acknowledge patients’ cultural differences and include their translators so that they completely understand their medical diagnosis and recommended courses of treatment. And if they don’t, I want them to feel comfortable enough to ask questions.”


Kasim Alsalman doesn’t like to wait.

When faced with an obstacle, his first instinct is to run head-long into it, knocking out one stumbling block after another until his goal is achieved. So two years ago when a severe ankle sprain playing soccer led to a frustratingly long ER wait, the then-freshman at Spalding University quickly focused his major on health science and healthcare administration with a minor in business.

“I want to find a way to impact the hospital system and make it as efficient as possible,” he said.

Now 20 and finishing his junior year at Spalding, Alsalman says that his vision for his own future hasn’t always been so clear. He’s the second-oldest of five sons, born to a pair of Iraqi immigrants who worked tirelessly to ensure their children had more opportunities than they had.

“They gave us everything they could,” he said. “It gives you that motivation that you don’t want to go through what they went through.”

Still, Alsalman said that his high school experience didn’t properly prepare him for college, and that Spalding was able to meet him where he was to ensure success. He credits the block schedule, which allows students to focus on a limited number of classes for six-week periods, to helping him get acclimated to a more rigorous academic setting, and the support of both faculty and classmates for cheering him on.

“Coming from the school I came from—my first semester was rough,” said Alsalman. “Spalding gave me a chance to improve my study skills first.”

Now thriving academically, Alsalman also maintains a full-time job and plays soccer for Spalding—last year he was named Spring Captain.

Alsalman knows he’s changing the world for his family: He, along with two of his brothers—his oldest brother is currently pursuing his law degree at Northern Kentucky University, and his younger brother is a sophomore at University of Louisville—are the first in his generation to attend college, and he’s intent that his two youngest brothers, aged 14 and 15, will follow in their big brothers’ footsteps as well.

“We’re setting a better standard for my family,” he said. “My little brothers all know now that there’s a standard for them. We want to push them to be better.”

He also knows he’s destined to change the world beyond his family—he’s just not sure how it’s going to happen yet. Alsalman knows he wants to continue his education beyond his bachelor’s degree and dreams of living and working abroad one day. The rest of the details, he knows, will work themselves out.

“I haven’t really figured everything out yet,” he said. “But I feel like Spalding can help you find that opportunity (to change the world). I feel fully prepared and ready to take on whatever life throws my way.”