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Excellence at the graduate level has been a staple for several East Central University alums in recent years, particularly the foursome of Ashley Huhman, Morgan Mackey, Linzi Thompson-Bhatta and Blake Scott.

The common denominator among these four fairly recent grads is that they were a part of ECU’s Honors Program which is designed to offer an enhanced educational experience to academically talented and highly-motivated students.

Honors Students join a community where they meet some of the brightest and intensely-motivated students at the university. Benefits include one-on-one work with professors on their subject of choice or completing an upper-division research project or thesis. Honors students enroll before other students in order to get the desired and needed courses in a timely manner.

Ashley Huhman

Huhman, who received her bachelor’s degree from ECU as a double-major in both general mathematics and computer science, achieved a master’s degree in computer science and engineering from Penn State University this past spring.

Huhman, who currently resides in Moore, is preparing to enter the workforce full time as a software engineer.

“It was hard, but rewarding,” said Huhman about her Penn State experience. “I made a friends and enjoyed the collaboration with my advisor.”

Through research with her advisor Gang Tan, Huhman was able to complete her master’s thesis. Those research skills were built thanks to her research experiences at ECU.

“The research I got in the honors program was a big help toward my thesis and the involvement in good off-campus summer programs at ECU also proved to be critical,” Huhman said. “Every summer I did something. I did a mathematics REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) at Michigan State and a computer science REU at Washington University in St. Louis.”

At ECU, Huhman was part of ECU’s Presidential Leadership Class. As a Dickson High School graduate, she ranked first in her senior class of 96.

Morgan Mackey

Mackey, a 2017 ECU graduate, is a second-year medical student at Dartmouth University’s Geisel School of Medicine. The school is named after Theodor Geisel, more commonly known as Dr. Seuss.

While at ECU, Mackey was not only part of the Honors Program but was involved in the Presidential Leadership Program as well as the McNair Scholars Program. She also did work at the Kerr EPA Lab in Ada, did a NASA Fellowship in Houston and spent a semester studying at Swansea University in Wales, United Kingdom.

She anticipates graduating from Dartmouth in 2021 and hopes to be involved in internal medicine or in Native American Health Services. The Geisel School of Medicine is small with only 92 students and Mackey is the only one from Oklahoma.

“I know all of the professors and my classmates,” she said.

Her ECU experience has played a role in her current success in medical school. Her entrance and books were paid for with the help of the McNair Scholars Program. She also received massive help in preparation for medical school from Dr. Steve Benton, associate professor and director of ECU’s Honors Program, and Dr. Alisha Howard, assistant professor in ECU’s Department of Biology.

“Dr. Benton helped me out a lot and I did an honors thesis as a junior with Dr. Howard,” said Mackey. “They brought me to a different level of thinking. Dr. Howard taught me a lot of a science and she helped me with my recommendation letter. A lot of the biology classes I took (at ECU) were helpful for medical school and when I worked at the Kerr EPA Lab for two years I got a lot of experience and a steady job.”

Linzi Thompson

Thompson, a 2016 ECU graduate from Sulphur, just earned her master of science in environmental engineering from Stanford University this past spring.

“Stanford really values diversity and students from different backgrounds,” Thompson said. “Besides the size, it was a lot like ECU. The professors were really open and wanted to help you.”

While at Stanford, she did a graduate engineering internship with the Santa Clara Valley Water District. She is currently working as a contractor for Facebook in the mapping department – a skill she picked up at ECU as cartography minor.

“It’s not what my degree in, but I’m happy to be using some aspects of my education,” said Thompson, who says she will be pursuing engineering work in the near future.

Thompson credits ECU for her preparation to graduate school.

“The professors helped me out a lot and made sure I knew the material. They were really helpful considering I was getting my (undergraduate) degree in science at ECU and an engineering (graduate) degree at Stanford,” Thompson said. “ECU professors helped me pick out the right classes I needed and helped me find internships to help me get into Stanford.”

She also believes ECU’s sense of community and closeness helped her build confidence in achieving another level of education. She also praised ECU McNair Scholars Program, including its Environmental Research Apprenticeship Program (ERAP), for preparing her for graduate school challenges.

Thompson was the 2016 co-winner of ECU’s George Nigh Award for the university’s top senior. Besides being a part of the Honors Program and the Alpha Chi National Honors Society at ECU, she was a member of Student Senate, Rotaract Club, Environmental Health Science Club and American Red Cross. She also did research projects in China and Alaska and did volunteer work in Cambodia.

Blake Scott

Scott, a 2013 ECU graduate, recently received his Ph.D. in cellular and molecular medicine from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. His thesis work was completed in the laboratory of Elizabeth Jaffee, M.D.

He credits ECU with establishing a foundation for his success at Johns Hopkins.

“When I reflect on my time at ECU, the experiences that really stand out to me revolve around the amazing people I came to know during my time in Ada,” said Scott. “ECU afforded me the space to change and grow during some of the most formative years of my life. The good fortune I had in knowing and being challenged by certain classmates and faculty members truly shaped my four years and put me on the right trajectory to thrive at Hopkins.”

Faculty members such as Dr. Jennifer McMahon, Dr. Mara Sukholutskaya and Dr. Christine Pappas are what makes ECU so special, according to Scott.

“Although my major was molecular biology, and I went on to pursue a Ph.D. in the biological sciences, it is difficult to overstate how the perspectives, advice, mentorship and incredible teaching capacity of these three, and so many others, shaped my thinking,” Scott said. “They taught me, both through lectures and their actions, the value derived from globally-informed thinking and paradigms.”

Scott says he left ECU with a deep admiration for the liberal arts and its advocates and teachers.

“I remain confident that that the liberal arts background I was exposed to was integral to my ability to pursue the hard sciences successfully and even more essential to the work I am doing today outside of the laboratory,” said Scott. “Communication, empathy, respect and intellectual curiosity were on prominent display in many of our classrooms and they are the four most important skills I possess and continue to develop.”

Scott was part of the McNair Scholars Program at ECU.

“Undoubtedly, this had a huge impact on my ability to secure an offer from Hopkins,” Scott said. “Pat Sutton, Yul Dotson and the support that the program provided were instrumental to me ability to access these opportunities and so many others along the way.”

Scott is currently an associate consultant with McKinsey & Company, Inc. in the New York City office. He is working on a variety of topics and problems both in the science and pharmaceuticals space as well as in many non-life science industries.

NOTE: For more information on the ECU Honors Program go to  or call 580-559-5738 or email


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