Seven LAS alumni named 2020 STATEment Makers

CATEGORIES: Alumni, News
Trees with yellow leaves as viewed from Catt Hall balcony. Words LAS Alumni Awards.

Iowa ‘STATEment Makers’ recognizes early professional accomplishments and contributions made by Iowa State University’s outstanding, young alumni. Recipients of this award have made differences in their own lives, the lives of others, their communities, and/or their professions through ambitious efforts that reflect the scholarly, entrepreneurial, or service oriented spirit of an Iowa State University education.

Meet the 2020 STATEment Makers from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences:


Haitham Alabasi

Haitham Alabsi (‘08 biochemistry) is a clinical fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital/Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Outside of his clinical duties, Haitham’s research focuses on leveraging automated bedside data to provide more accurate prognostication and data-driven clinical decision-making.

As an undergraduate student at Iowa State, Haitham discovered an interest in cancer research while collaborating on a graduate/postdoctoral research team. This interest led Haitham to a full-time, research-assistant position at Stanford University.  He later attended Des Moines University, earning a degree in osteopathic medicine. Haitham has since completed his residency in neurology at Wright State University with plans to continue clinical research work following the completion of a summer fellowship.

“Iowa State was my launching pad. It ingrained in me the necessary thought process and knowledge to utilize the opportunities that I was presented with.” – Haitham Alabasi

Heidi Becker

In 2017, Heidi Becker (’08 meteorology) and her husband Josh (’07 business) lost their 2-year-old son Drew to a year-long battle with neuroblastoma. Later that year, the couple founded Warrior Wagons, Inc., a nonprofit organization with a mission to gift newly-diagnosed pediatric cancer patients and their families with a collapsible wagon filled with practical and comfort items.

In addition to gifting 100 families, at four different hospitals, with a Warrior Wagon, Heidi speaks and writes about the couple’s experience with childhood cancer. Heidi has been published in WomenInc. magazine and regularly posts for 1,000 fans who follow her blog, “Drawing from Drew.”

“I’d like to write a book about our story and experience. While the memories are fresh, I’d like to author a memoir that goes beyond retelling our tragic story, but shares the life lessons we gained during our journey with pediatric cancer and life afterward.” – Heidi Becker

Marquis Hamilton

 Marquis Hamilton (’09 communication studies) is following his calling to help students reach their full potential academically, personal and athletically. As a learning specialist at Noble Network of Charter Schools in Chicago, he provides one-on-one instruction to students with disabilities and collaborates with teachers, parents and students to implement support for success.

Marquis’ impact on students’ lives extends outside the classroom through Unimaginable Possibilities Mentoring (UP Mentoring). UP Mentoring  provides exposure and post-secondary opportunities to young men from underserved communities in Chicago. In addition to leading this successful nonprofit, he also serves as a mentor for the organization.

Marquis was also a four-year football letter winner during his time at Iowa State.

“I’m passionate about helping others and being recognized for doing good work in my community. Impacting the lives of others is such an awesome feeling.” – Marquis Hamilton

Kelly Howard

Kelly Howard (’08 journalism) is an accomplished public relations strategist and the CEO of EightSixtySouth, a Los Angeles-based agency that focuses on strategic communications for clients who serve the lifestyle and wellness space. In addition to running EightSixtySouth, Kelly is a member of the PR Couture Council, a contributor to, and a member of the Forbes Los Angeles Small Business Council. In 2018, she was named Communicator of the Year during PR Couture’s Bespoke Communication Awards.

Kelly continues to make an impact on the lives of Iowa State students through her company’s internship program.

“It’s where I grew up and what gave me the footing to take the next step in life. I only hope I can continue to impact those around me the way Iowa State impacted me.” – Kelly Howard

Meredith McKean

Meredith McKean (’07 biochemistry) is making huge strides in melanoma cancer research as a medical oncologist and hematologist with Tennessee Oncology, PLLC, and also as a clinical investigator at Sarah Cannon Research Institute in Nashville, Tennessee. During her time at Iowa State, she was a letter winner in cross-country and track.

Meredith has published multiple academic articles in peer-reviewed journals, primarily on immune therapy and melanoma. She was awarded a 2017 Young Investigator Award and research grant from the American Society of Clinical Oncology Conquer Cancer Foundation.

Meredith gives back to her local community by organizing skin cancer awareness events and serving as a mentor in the Girls on the Rug program. Most recently, she spoke to middle school girls about STEM careers in medicine.

“Harnessing the immune system to treat cancer has been a major breakthrough in our field, and I hope we can continue to make strides developing more effective immunotherapies for patients with cancer.” – Meredith McKean

Goran Micevic

Goran Micevic (’10 biochemistry) is a resident physician at Yale New Haven Hospital and West Veteran Affairs Hospital. He believes that melanoma doesn’t have to be a fatal cancer, and instead, can be a controllable and treatable disease.

Goran grew up in war-torn, former-Yugoslavia. His goal to become a physician and researcher led him to Iowa State and later to Yale University, where he and a team of researchers made important discoveries for melanoma patient care. The team discovered a novel pathway and drug target in addition to developing a prognostic test that can identify melanoma patients who have particularly aggressive cases, by using gene expression and DNA methylation information from a skin biopsy.

In addition to impacting skin cancer research, Goran is a HAVEN Free Clinic volunteer and Refugee Immigration Services cultural companion. Goran’s long list of honors and recognitions includes membership in: the Society for Melanoma Research, the American Association for Cancer Research and the Society for Investigative Dermatology.

Goran believes the world would be a better place if “Education was available to all.”

Lissandra Villa

Lissandra Villa (’16 journalism, political science) has covered countless national news stories including allegations of sexual harassment and abuse of power in Congress during the height of the #MeToo Movement, as well as a 2017 mass shooting at a Republican Party baseball practice.

Prior to covering national politics as a staff writer for TIME magazine, Lissandra interned at National Public Radio then spent nearly three years writing for BuzzFeedNews. As an undergraduate student at Iowa State, Lissandra interned The Des Moines Register and the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Lissandra is currently on the campaign trail covering the 2020 Democratic primary.

“[My favorite college memory was] skipping class to cover the 2016 election, which really confirmed for me that yes, this is actually what I wanted to do with my life.” – Lissandra Villa

Photo credit: Tony Luong