Bobcats forever

Published October 5, 2023

Bobcats forever

Notable alumni reflect on years spent at OU

By Culture Staff | For The Post

Correction appended: A previous version of this article stated Alissa Henry's name as Alissa Edwards.

According to the Ohio University Alumni Association, there are more than 275,000 living people who have graduated from OU. Among these Bobcats are doctors, engineers, teachers, journalists and just about every other profession imaginable. Whether alums return to Athens’ bricks frequently or only have memories of their time on campus, one thing remains the same: Once a Bobcat, always a Bobcat.

With Homecoming right around the corner, now is as good a time as ever to reflect on notable alums and all they have accomplished since leaving the “Harvard on the Hocking.”

Alissa Henry

As the lifestyle host of WSYX ABC 6 and the host of Ohio Cash Explosion, Alissa Henry is a familiar face to many Columbusites. Also a successful blogger and local entertainment reporter, Henry has a lot on her plate. However, she never is too busy to devote time and effort to her alma mater.

Originally from Columbus, Henry graduated from OU in 2009 with a degree in journalism. She said she was immediately drawn to OU because of its ideal location and picturesque campus.

“I loved my experience at OU,” she said. “I made great friends who I still talk to now, I learned a lot, I had excellent internships, I joined a sorority (and) I got good grades.”

During her time in college, Henry was involved in a plethora of activities and extracurriculars. From being a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority to being a part of the Black Student Communications Caucasus to writing an opinion column for The Post, she was all over campus at all times. Even with all her responsibilities, Henry managed to graduate magna cum laude.

Henry said her favorite memory from her time at OU was having the opportunity to emcee the Homecoming parade with a news anchor in Columbus. A full-circle moment, the news anchor is now one of Henry’ coworkers, and to make it an even more full-circle moment, she will be emceeing this year’s Homecoming parade as an alum.

“I did it when I was a student, now I get to be the person working on television that comes and does it with the current student which is cool,” she said.

Henry emphasized that having a journalism degree from OU has been an asset in her professional career, with the notoriety of the program following her.

“It’s great to be able to say that I graduated from OU because pretty much everyone knows that OU is known for journalism, so just saying that speaks volumes,” Henry said.

Henry said she is excited to return to campus and will be forever thankful for her time spent at OU.

“I loved my time there,” she said. “I’m glad that I went there, and I’m glad I graduated from there.”

David Wessells

David Wessells, the vice president of homecare services at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, said he received his master’s in healthcare administration (MHA) at Ohio University in 2018. Wessells is originally from Aberdeen, Washington. He said his wife was an alum of OU, so he was familiar with the school and knew that OU had an excellent online medical program.

“I had a really great experience with the OU professors, with interacting with others that were taking the course from all over the country,” he said.

Wessells said his biggest piece of advice for students looking to work in health care is to go out and talk to people in the field that interests them. He said medical professionals are looking for talented individuals ready to put in the work and be flexible and willing to adapt to many different situations.

“I think the health care field is changing dramatically,” he said. “It’s changing from a situation where organizations are delivering procedures to solve medical problems to transitioning to where we can look at community health and prevention and wellness. I think that (there are) health care professionals who are interested in making an impact on the health of their communities.”

Wessells received his undergraduate degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and later went to medical school at Northwestern. While Wessells stayed in downtown Chicago because of medical school, he said he enjoyed Athens’ college town feel which reminded him of Chapel Hill.

“I really missed that college campus experience that I got in Chapel Hill and when I go back to Athens, it always reminds me of that,” he said.

Jennifer Lahmers

From the quiet city of Dover, Ohio, to the bustling streets of New York City and Los Angeles, Jennifer Lahmers has already made a name for herself within the television news landscape.

Lahmers, a former E. W. Scripps School of Journalism student, began her career as a “one-woman band” for WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee. After a year at the station, she worked with Fox CT as an award-winning journalist and weekend news anchor in Connecticut.

A lifelong dream to move to the most populated city in the country led Lahmers to jobs within New York City, as a reporter for WNYW-TV and host for "Good Day Wake Up." During her time in the Big Apple, she caught the eye of the former senior executive producer of Extra in Los Angeles and eventually became a correspondent for the entertainment news program.

Lahmers worked for Extra for almost four years before returning to morning television news with Good Day L.A. in February 2023. She said despite her love for entertainment, the return felt natural and what she was meant to do.

Lahmers became an OU alum in 2006. She said the decision to major in broadcast news emerged from her early passions at eight years old.

“I always wanted to be a storyteller,” Lahmers said. “I wanted to be an author and an illustrator, and there’s even a cardboard cutout in my room…in Ohio…saying ‘my big dream is to become an author and an illustrator.’”

Whether it was participating in her middle school’s competitive writing team or creating mock newscasts and commercials for the fictional “WJETS” news station with her friends, Lahmers’ passion for storytelling eventually led to her decision to attend OU because of its “elite journalism school.”

“I remember I was sitting in math class and my mom ran over the acceptance letter I got to the Scripps School of Journalism…and I was so excited because I knew what it meant,” Lahmers said.

Lahmers utilized her opportunity as an OU student and strengthened her enthusiasm for broadcast journalism. She became involved in WOUB, a public radio station operated by OU, as a weekend and morning radio reporter under the guidance of Fred Kight.

Along with the useful creation of a resume tape and the ability for her parents to watch her broadcasts, Lahmers shared how beneficial her experiences were at OU with others.

“You get to do a little bit of everything and figure out what you love the most,” Lahmers said. “I really feel like the experience I got at OU forever sent me on a path to what I am doing today. It gave me a love and appreciation for the television industry and that has never left me.”

Lahmers said the professors and mentors she interacted with set her up for success.

“The people who work at WOUB, they came from that world,” Lahmers said. “Because they love the industry…and journalism so much, they made me love it even more. They opened my eyes to the real mission of what journalism is all about, which is telling people’s stories and giving a voice to the voiceless.”

Matt Barnes

From an early age, Matt Barnes has had an unwavering desire to become a broadcast journalist.

“You could literally ask friends I was with in second grade and my teachers,” Barnes said. “They would be like, ‘Oh, yeah, he's always said he wanted to talk about sports on TV.’”

Since 2010, he has been living his dream as the morning co-anchor of NBC4 Today. Every morning beginning at 4 a.m., Barnes goes live and reports news for the Central Ohio region.

During his career, Barnes has had the opportunity to cover historic events including both the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games and the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Summer Games. He will continue his streak, reporting live from the Paris Olympic Games in 2024.

As a Columbus native, Barnes said he enjoys telling stories and amplifying voices within his community. His goal as a journalist is to tell stories accurately and compassionately.

“That's the best part of the job, just telling people’s stories,” Barnes said. “That's what I've always wanted to do is just highlight people that may not have that same voice or have the chance to have their voices amplified. That's what we can do.”

Barnes also works to further his community contribution as a volunteer and role model. He is a supporter of the Ronald McDonald House and was named Big Brother of the Year in 2020.

“We as a news station, as anchors, reporters, producers, all of us—we're trying to do our small part to make this a better city, a better region,” he said.

Barnes’ career as a journalist began in 2008 when he earned a degree in journalism from OU. During his time in Athens, he took part in WOUB and had a job as a tour guide and orientation leader.

Barnes chose to attend OU for the scenic campus and renowned E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. During his four years at OU, Barnes said he was shaped as a successful journalist and as a person.

“I love this university so much because I think it just played such a role (in) who I am as a person and who I am as a journalist,” Barnes said. “I hope every student that is there now understands the impact that place, that city and the people around you can have on you. Do not take it for granted.”

Perry Sook

The Alumnus of the Year Award is the highest honor an OU graduate can receive. This year, the award will be presented Friday, Oct. 6 to an individual who is well deserving of it. As the founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Nexstar Media Group, the largest local media and communications company, which is based out of Dallas, Perry Sook, ‘80, will bear the title with pride this Homecoming weekend.

Sook spent his time at OU during the late ‘70s and proudly claims West Green as the best green. Not only did he spend his first two years there, but he also has a personal connection with West Green, as it was where he met his wife, Sandy Sook, ‘80, in Boyd Dining Hall.

“Nothing would have happened in my life to this order of magnitude were it not for me having the chance to meet my wife Sandy on campus freshman year of 1977,” said Sook. “But had I not attended Ohio, had we not met, had we not become a couple and been married for the last 46 years now, none of this success that I've had professionally or personally or my ability to give back to Ohio University (in) a philanthropic way, none of that would’ve happened, had we not come together.”

Sook has also served 20 years on the OU Board of Trustees, with eight of those years being served as chair. Sook and his wife also donated a generous amount of money to assist in creating the Perry and Sandy Sook Academic Center, which opened at Peden Stadium in 2018. The space is an academic study area created for student-athletes to have a collaborative space. Sook’s resume speaks for itself, and his dedication and generosity toward the university even more so.

Sook credits nearly all his success to his time at OU and has given back to the university countless times. He continues to persevere in the media and communications world. This weekend, Sook will accept his award and partake in some traditional OU Homecoming festivities such as marching in the parade and attending this year’s football game.

“My philosophy to life is that attitude is everything,” Sook said. “I think that if you want to be successful in life, you have to be born on the optimistic side of things, the glass-half-full kind of person. Look for the opportunity.”

AUTHOR: Culture Staff

EDITOR: Hannah Campbell

COPY EDITOR: Addie Hedges