This story’s author, Kate Elliott, coordinates the Department of Journalism’s magazine media concentration and co-chairs the College of Communication, Information, and Media’s Engagement Task Force.

According to family lore, one of freshman Kellyn Harrison’s ancestors was Captain Kidd, an infamous pirate rumored to have buried treasure in the Caribbean before the British hanged him. Jada Walls, a criminal justice and criminology sophomore from Ohio, was born with six fingers on each hand — the extra digits were amputated when she was a baby. As a child, Wyatt Long used Dr. Suess to overcome reading difficulties caused by a hearing problem. His freshmen classmate Emma Folkerts revealed she isn’t related to anyone in her family.

I will never again kick off a semester with standard introductions.

Kellyn, Wyatt, Jada, and Emma are among the 52 students in my Journalism 101 class. They are part of Ball State University’s record 22,541 students enrolled this Fall — including its largest, most academically qualified, and most diverse freshman class in the institution’s 101-year history.

Connection and community

Connection and community are as essential as coffee for this 8 a.m. section, so we got to know each other beyond name, hometown, and major. Here’s a sample of their surprising stories, reflecting the rich diversity of Ball State’s student community:

Denise Yang

When not working on her advertising major, Denise Yang from Carmel, Indiana, is a successful freelance artist.

Denise Yang of Carmel, Indiana, was born in America but raised in Taiwan until the age of 8. “Oh, I also get paid to draw for people online,” says the sophomore advertising major, whose freelance art is featured on T-shirts and an album cover.

With zero sense of smell, Alyssa Cooper of Indianapolis cannot distinguish between fried chicken and rotten cabbage. Unfortunately, her condition affects her sense of taste as well, but the sophomore creative writing major said she adds spice to her life through concerts, student media, and YouTube videos of cute foxes.

The great-grandfather of Indiana freshman public relations major Sidney Hoene was the architect of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, home to the New Orleans Saints.

Freshman telecommunications major Lexi Esterle is afraid of touching fish. Her family’s favorite pastime? Noodling, or fishing for catfish using one’s bare hands. Her caution is not unjustified: people have drowned while noodling, and catfish stings are extremely painful.

Inspired by mom

After double-lung transplant in 2008, Kami Geron’s mother qualified for four Transplant Games of America, competing in a 5K, 20K, 1,500-meter race-walk, bocce, bowling, discus, shotput, and volleyball. Kami, an Indiana sophomore, has remained her mother’s rock, taking time away only to model for underwater photography and major in journalism and studio art.

Junior theatre education major Bradley Powell was a competitive gymnast for six years and a competitive swimmer for four. But many of the New Albany, Indiana, native’s fondest memories involve theater — such as his 2015 encounter with British actress and singer Cynthia Erivo when she appeared in the Broadway revival of The Color Purple.

With parents in the Air Force, Abby Dunn has lived all over the world, with a memorable stop in London when she was 5. Ball State will be among her longest stays in one place, and the Indianapolis freshman majoring in studio art couldn’t be happier. Sitting next to her in class, Fort Wayne, Indiana, sophomore advertising major Jamie Strouts has visited more than 25 of the United States.

Zahira Har

Zahria Hart helped rescue garden snakes from the yards of her Brownsburg, Indiana, neighbors. The freshman is majoring in telecommunications and journalism.

Growing up, Zahria Hart’s neighbors in Brownsburg, Indiana, would call her to collect unwanted garden snakes and throw them into a nearby pond. Zahria initially wanted to be a cardiologist, but Dr. Hart wasn’t meant to be. A freshman, she is majoring in telecommunications and journalism.

Freshmen advertising major Ashlynn Sulteen, of Anderson, Indiana, has twice been hit by a car while riding her bicycle. The second accident was a hit-and-run. In 2017, nearly 6,000 pedestrians and 783 bicyclists were killed in crashes with motor vehicles in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Isabella Arguello, a sophomore English major, has named her two cats after singers: Ricki, after Ricky Martin, and Stevie, after Stevie Nicks. Her little sister wants a fish so she can carry on the tradition; she’d name it after famed rapper, Pitbull. Isabella, from Indianapolis, also really likes to hike.

Setting off alarms

Metal detectors never let sophomore public relations major Maria Kelly pass without sounding, since a car accident left her with two pins in her hip. The annoyance of grating beeps and thorough scans didn’t stop the Muncie native from traveling throughout Italy for a month this past spring.

Emma Lian Folkerts isn’t related to any of her family members. The undecided major from Lafayette, Indiana, is adopted from China, and her brothers are adopted from Romania. She’s also undergone more than 10 surgeries on her cleft lip. “My mom lost track after 10.”

Julia Tharp and family

Raised as one of 10 kids in Kokomo, Indiana, Julia Tharp (far right) is busy as a double major in sociology and public relations, with a theatre minor.

Sophomore Julia Tharp, of Kokomo, Indiana, is one of 10 children; the family traveled in a minibus they called the “Armored Beast of Death (or ABoD).” Her love for Scotland and Dr. Who set her apart from the ninetet, as does her academic focus: double majoring in sociology and public relations, with a theatre minor.

Matt Grube, a freshman journalism major from Whiteland, Indiana, wants to homestead out West. “Most counties in Montana are still considered frontier,” he insisted.

“I lost a bit of my childhood due to my hearing,” said freshman Wyatt, a TCOM major. “I couldn’t read or understand much, but for some reason I could understand Dr. Seuss books. I think I’ve got The Cat in the Hat memorized.” Today, the Indianapolis native is a published author and award-winning filmmaker.

Mikayla Sutton from Osgood, Indiana, devoted a year to barrel racing, or navigating on horseback through a cloverleaf pattern around a set of barrels as fast as you can.  The public relations major (with a concentration in event planning) is minoring  in creative writing.

Benjamin “Benny” Hershey is not, as most people think, related to the Hershey family of chocolate fame. The sophomore Muncie native is, however, a martial artist and lead guitarist in a Muncie rock band. He’s also majoring in journalism and TCOM.

And Westfield, Indiana’s Max McTigue? He is third cousins with none other than Tom Cruise.

Mic drop.

Max McTigue

Max McTigue is related to a pretty famous actor.