Friday, July 21, 2017

SUU is All About the People for Brooke Russell

Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, Brooke Russell was always a true Cubs fan, but after graduating from Southern Utah University in 2002, she added the Thunderbirds to her favorite mascot list.

Brooke attended high school in Las Vegas, NV, and Woods Cross, UT, and after feeding a serious habit of Nielsen’s Frozen Custard in the Davis County area, Brooke enrolled at SUU, found that Brad’s Food Hut helped curb her cravings, and became a loyal Cedarian. 

With a double major in Psychology and Interpersonal Communication, Brooke’s academic training and involvement in student affairs and activities at SUU propelled her to a career in higher education. Today, she works as a production coordinator with the Center for Excellence in Higher Education where she produces video content, TV and web advertising, as well as radio advertising for non-profit colleges in the western United States.

“It wasn't a career I decided to pursue, it was just something that I fell into and actually really enjoy,” she says of her work. “One of the coolest parts of my job is interviewing our graduates and hearing the stories of how their lives have changed because of their decision to be educated.”

Some of Brooke’s fondest memories as a student at SUU include running a kissing booth at the Halloween Howl (more recently renamed “The Scream”), late night drives to Vegas for In-N- Out Burger (before St. George had one), and sharing one bathroom with six girls (a lesson in patience and humility).

One stand-out experience was being persuaded to audition for the Parowan Community Theater. Performing on stage was something Brooke had never done before, but she decided it was a chance to get out of her comfort zone. She was cast as a chorus member in Brigadoon with several other SUU students, and sang and danced on stage in front of a live audience. It was something she will never forget, and probably never do again.

Brooke lives in downtown Salt Lake City, right across the street from the Utah State Capital. She enjoys the view from her home, loves utilizing public transportation and being “car-free” in the traffic filled city. While Brooke’s professional career has always been in higher education including a stint at Stevens-Henager College, part of her will always be with SUU-- in the dorms of Manzanita, the ballroom of the Sharwan Smith Student Center, and the classrooms in the Centrum.

Brooke loves Southern Utah University and the Cedar City community. She visits regularly because one of her passions is hiking, and everyone knows some of the best hikes are found in southern Utah.  She also enjoys kayaking, snowshoeing, skiing, and being in the outdoors. 

SUU really is all about the people; friends, professors, and staff all combined equal awesome sauce!,” she says. “When I think of my SUU favorites, I think of the good, the bad, and the ugly, all of it!  So cliché I know, but while I don't know that I'd like to go back to dorm-living, apartment-sharing college life, it was such an amazing time and really shaped who I am now and what I value the most.”

Friday, July 7, 2017

John Marriott is Living His Dream on the Stage

Looking for a famous SUU face? You might just find one next time you board a Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) ship where John Marriott is living his dream of performing and leading a team of entertainers. 

Performing numerous shows each day as captain of the cruise line’s vocal team, John loves traveling the world, visiting the shores of new places, and even revisiting some of his favorites: Australia, New Zealand, Bora Bora, Asia, and Alaska.

“I knew I loved singing and being the center of attention,” John says of his decision to pursue a career in the field of entertainment. “Whenever there was a video camera, I weaseled my way into every shot.”

John credits his family for helping him pursue and discover his musical talents. He particularly appreciates his parents for introducing him to musicals, plays, the Utah Shakespeare Festival, and tours that came through Cedar City. 

Raised in Cedar City, just south of the SUU campus, John graduated from Cedar High School before becoming a Thunderbird where he was a member of Acclamation for four years and Presidential Ambassadors. These two groups opened up doors of the entertainment and public relations worlds to him, and provided a chance to meet amazing people. Performing with Acclamation eventually led him to audition for the Tuacahn Center’s company in St. George, Utah, where he was a cast member.

Graduating from SUU in 2000 with a degree in public relations and advertising, John took a job as an executive team leader with Target.

“I was hired by Target because I was able to apply ideas and experiences learned from real life PR/Advertising campaigns and projects that we participated in through our classroom assignments,” he says. “The Communications Department (at SUU) was outstanding and all of the professors were hands on and willing to mentor us.”

John loved this work at Target, but never gave up on getting a break in the entertainment industry and now he is able to say he loves his job as a performer and the opportunities that come from it. 

Working for Norwegian Cruise Line is not his only brush with entertainment fame though. He recently performed in the Tony nominated musical, “Swing” where he played the trumpet, ukulele, harmonica, and sang. 

John loves getting back to Cedar City when his schedule permits to spend time with family, and he loves traveling, baking, being a twin, and anything Wizard of Oz. But one of his greatest accomplishments is being the “favorite uncle to 18 beautiful and amazing nieces and nephews,” he says.

Although he doesn’t have an exact address right now (living on the cruise ship and touring the oceans doesn’t lend itself to a permanent location), he does have a storage unit in Utah, and will always call Cedar City home. He is proud to be a T-Bird and loves his memories of SUU.

“The biggest smile comes across my face every time I think of my time at SUU,” he reflects. “From my first day to my last day at SUU I have nothing but the fondest of memories. I would recommend SUU to anyone because of the quality of education, brilliant professors that are educators as well as friends, and because there are so many ways to be involved other than just attending classes every day.”

“Some of my best friends are those made at SUU,” John says.  “We laughed hard and worked hard.”

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Linda Milianta is the Lady Who Walks

A familiar figure in Cedar City, Linda Milianta is known to many as “the lady who walks.”

Her cheery disposition and ever-positive attitude have brightened the days of many over the years as she has passed by, and after logging more than 50,000 miles and wearing out countless pairs of shoes, she continues to walk the same five-mile route every day, seven days a week, all year-long, in rain, wind or shine.

Before retiring in 2010 after a 32-year career as a second grade teacher at North Elementary School, she used to walk every day after school to help her to unwind and have time to herself. Back then, many people recognized her via the bright yellow headset and radio she’d carry with her as she walked. Now, although with smaller headphones, Linda continues her walks in the mornings and listens to country stations or to Thunder 91 as she rambles, waving from time to time to friends or fellow travelers who call out or honk car horns.

She knows the town well. Her father, Robert Avedesian, came to Cedar City to serve in the Army Air Corps training detachment here and met and married LaZon Woolsey. They were both highly active figures in Cedar City for decades, and parents to Betty (Rosenberg) and of Linda, who met her sweetheart, Marion (Tiffer) C. Robb, at Cedar City High School. The couple got engaged in his white 1964 Ford truck on her graduation night and planned on living happily ever after together. Linda worked while he attended college and anxiously awaited the birth of their first child.

Two weeks after their daughter Debbie’s birth, Tiffer left for the Vietnam War. Just months before his slated return in 1969, however, tragedy struck and he drowned in the South China Sea. The unwelcome news reached home and turned Linda’s world upside down.

After Tiffer’s passing, Linda says the Cedar City community was very supportive. She later got to know many Vietnam veterans while working on the war memorial in town, but her early dream of being a stay-at-home mother had long-since changed.

“I realized I needed to take care of myself,” Linda says today, still with tears in her eyes. “I went back to school with help from Veterans Affairs and earned my degree from SUU in 1977 in elementary education. At first the only reason I wanted to teach was so I could have summers off with my children but it turned out to be the perfect job for me and I loved it.”

Soon after graduation she was hired to teach second grade at North. She was terrified for her first day, but fellow teacher Donna Benson (’76) took her under her wing and helped her get through those first couple of tough years.

“Donna became the best friend I ever had. We taught second grade together for 20 years,” Linda says of her friend who passed away in January.

Linda poured her heart and soul into her career and was known as a caring and enthusiastic teacher. The children were her favorite thing about her job and her fellow teachers supported and cared for her like family, she says. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

SUU Was Life Experience and Hands On Learning for Sara Greener

A native of Layton, Utah, Sara England Greener (’05) fell in love with Southern Utah University during a high school recruiting event hosted by Sandra Lord Thomas (’93) at Layton High School. That’s all it took for Sara to know that SUU was exactly where she wanted to attend college.

And once on campus, she loved everything Sandra had told her to expect: amazing professors who knew her name, on-campus housing, great roommates, student activities, clubs, an amazing community, and the natural beauty of southern Utah.

“The education I received at SUU was more than opening a book and reading a chapter; it was life experience and learning hands on,” she says of her academic experience.

During her junior year, and with the encouragement of friends, Sara began to reach beyond her comfort zone and decided to become more involved on campus. “That was the year that changed my life forever,” she says.

Student government became a natural venue for her involvement, and she ran for vice president of student activities, and won. She learned important life lessons during her time serving students that prepared her for future work in event planning, leading and working a group, and being a positive force in connecting with people.

“I also learned I am more capable than I ever gave myself credit for, and that I can do things I never dreamt of doing,” she says.

Following graduation, Sara worked for the Utah Shakespeare Festival as guest services manager and was on the front-line of customer service with thousands of guests. After 14 years with the Festival, she moved to the SUU Advancement Office in 2014, where she is the executive assistant to Vice President Stuart Jones (’86), who can also point to a rich training ground in leadership fostered by SUU. He was the 1985-86 student body president.

“I am so proud to be involved with the team that works tirelessly to fundraise for the University,” Sara says. “It’s amazing the support I see come in from not only the community, but also alumni who give back to support scholarships, programs, and in making our campus a first-class educational institution.”

Sara and her husband Justin, a 2008 graduate of SUU, are the parents to five children and live in Enoch, Utah. She enjoys spending time with her family outdoors and going on adventures.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Jennifer Walstad Had Full Confidence When She Entered the Job Market

When Jennifer Powell Walstad graduated from SUU in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree and certification in elementary education and theater arts, she was ready to hit the ground running with full confidence gained from exceptional hands-on experience she gained as a student.

She was not shocked by the “real world” when she entered the workforce, and her preparation helped her pursue a lifelong dream of teaching, leading her up the ranks to become the district academic director for American Preparatory Schools, as well as a stage manager for the Corporation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. 

As district academic director, Jennifer oversees the hiring, training, and professional development of staff as well as K-12 curriculum and academic progress of all of the students at the seven charter schools in her district, ranging from Las Vegas, Nevada, to her hometown West Valley City, Utah. As stage manager, she is able to serve her church community through productions such as Mormon Tabernacle Choir concerts, Temple Celebration events, Savior of the World, Nauvoo and British Pageants, and New Year’s Eve events. Even with all of this on her plate, Jennifer has had 100 percent of her students pass their Criterion Reference Tests in every subject area for three straight years, and has successfully managed a production of more than 20,000 participants.

Jennifer lives in Lehi, UT, and when she isn’t busy in her administrative and stage managing roles, she enjoys playing with her kids, singing, participating in theater, teaching anything, spreadsheets, and reminiscing about the happy memories of hard work and laughs from her time at SUU. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Utah Shakespeare Festival's First Full-Time Employee

R. Scott Phillips first came to Southern Utah University in 1971, as a business major. However, like many students he soon developed other interests. “By the end of my second year, I wanted to change my major from business to theatre, but I was terrified to tell my parents,” he said. Yet, he managed to gather his courage, and he went home to Caliente, Nevada, to tell his mother and father of a decision that would change his life.

Phillips gets a little reflective as he finishes the story: “My father said ‘Scott, if this is a thing that makes you happy, then you should do it—but don’t give up your business degree.” So, Phillips graduated two years later with a double major in speech and drama, and in business. It has been a decision that has served him well as he has worked in various capacities at the Utah Shakespeare Festival for 40 years, and has now retired to pursue other interests.

“I had a great time here. I learned a great deal,” he said as he talked about how SUU prepared him for his future at the Festival. “I learned to think on my own, and I met some fabulous people while I was here.”

After graduation and nearly two years of graduate work at Idaho State, he was hired by the Festival leadership, notably founder and mentor Fred C. Adams, as the Festival’s first full-time employee, beginning work as the marketing director on March 1, 1977. Since, then he has worked as the Festival’s manager director, interim director, and (for the past nine years) as executive director.

In his 40 years, Phillips has made numerous friends as he has mingled with Festival crowds nearly every matinee and evening performance, welcoming old friends and making new ones. “Working here is like planning the biggest family reunion imaginable,” he said. “The 100,000 who come here every year are a family.”

In the process he has also been recognized as a leader in his field. Most notably he received the prestigious Mark R. Sumner Award from the Institute of Outdoor Drama in October, and in January was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Shakespeare Theatre Association.

Phillips has hundreds of wonderful memories of his time at the Festival, but the ones he treasures the most are the Festival being awarded the Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre in 2000 (“Imagine a boy from Caliente on the stage of the Radio City Music Hall to accept theatre’s greatest honor”); the Festival’s 50th anniversary in 2011 (“a non-profit organization turning 50 is really something to celebrate”); and the opening of the Beverley Center for the Arts in 2016. “The opening of the Beverley was an amazing accomplishment,” he said. “To raise nearly $40 million and build this center, including two new theatres, is almost beyond belief.”

And, now, for the future? Phillips is still working on exactly what he will do, but promises he will stay busy and involved in the arts and his community. “I love Cedar City, and I love the Utah Shakespeare Festival,” he said. “I expect both of them to continue to improve and be beacons to other communities and arts organizations.”

“I do believe Cedar City and SUU are much better and stronger because the Festival is located here,” he concluded. “It has elevated the conversations in our community. It has allowed us to be presented on a national and international stage. It has encouraged diversity and inclusion which I think have made Cedar City and SUU a better place for all of us.”

Tickets are now on sale for the Festival’s 56th season, which will run from June 29 to October 21. For more information and tickets visit or call 1-800-PLAYTIX.

The Utah Shakespeare Festival is part of the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts at Southern Utah University, which also includes the Southern Utah Museum of Art (SUMA).

Written by Bruce C. Lee, Utah Shakespeare Festival Publications Manager

Friday, May 5, 2017

Asai Gilman is Changing Lives in Hawaii

Asai Gilman, a 1992 marketing and information management graduate of Southern Utah University, is changing lives across the state of Hawaii.

He and wife Keawe founded a non-profit organization called Edu-1st (, in order to prepare Hawaii’s youth for college and career success. Through Edu-1st, all types of students learn the keys to success, gain self-confidence, and are motivated to adopt a “can-do” attitude in their lives. 

Born and raised in the islands, Asai and Keawe graduated from the Kamehameha School before leaving the mainland for college at SUU. While here, they dated, married and started a family. 
Asai served as SUUSA’s multicultural representative and shortly after graduation took a job as SUU’s assistant director of school relations. That was when he first developed the idea for Edu-1st, as he was conducting a college fair presentation on the Navajo reservation for young people and their families, and pledged then to return to Hawaii and create a non-profit organization that would give back to his people.

After working at SUU, Asai took a job at Dixie College where he coached football players from Las Vegas, Arizona, California and Hawaii.

“I got a chance to travel to Hawaii to recruit football players for five years, and each time felt impressed to follow my dream,” he says. “I saw families that lacked the college and career confidence and failed to see and believe in themselves based on social challenges and cultural stereotypes.”

He created a highly successful marketing company that specialized in yellow page advertising and design in the Las Vegas area. But his career path abruptly changed when he received a call from the president of BYU Hawaii asking him to interview for the position of director of admissions and recruitment. Feeling inspired by his dream of giving back to his community, Asai accepted the position and moved his family to Hawaii.

In the course of his work there, Asai met a colleague in the college’s parking and shared his vision of creating a non-profit organization to help families prepare for higher education and career success. This colleague, who worked in the grants division of the United States Department of Education, offered his help.

But it was not until three years later, after meeting this same colleague three different times—and a fair amount of prodding from his wife—that Asai decided to go for his dream and submit a grant.

Over the next few weeks, Asai and Keawe worked non-stop. They created Edu-1st in two days, secured 501c3 status in just three weeks, and finished writing nine different grants. Edu-1st was awarded two of the nine grants submitted, and received $3.3 million in funding. The couple went to work, hiring five full-time employees and another 20 part-time employees to help run the program.

“I have no idea how we did it, but I believe angels assisted,” says Asai.

He also believes the purpose of Edu-1st made all the difference, especially considering that many larger entities and agencies, like the University of Hawaii, were in competition for the same pool of grants.

Since its official inception in 2003, Edu-1st has served more than 6,000 students and families, and has helped build confidence in college and career success. Asai, who was the executive director, says, “Now, I serve on the board; it’s been a fun ride.”

The Gilmans have seven great children who carry on the tradition of excellence. Four of the seven are scholarship athletes at the United States Naval Academy, UVU, BYU and University of Hawaii (UH). Number four is a freshman in high school who has already received a Division 1 football scholarship offer to UH. The last three children, Asai says, “are amazing souls and keep us on our toes.”

Asai believes that he received great preparation skills for life from Southern Utah University because he received an opportunity to experience practical and hands-on learning.

“It was there where I learned how to create,” he says.