Article Category Archives: Class Notes

Navigating the Future

Coming to America put Huan Truong on a path to a better life and a rewarding career.

Prior to studying at Truman, Huan Truong was a college dropout in his home country of Vietnam. Today, the computer science alumnus has a Ph.D. and works for one of the most technologically innovative companies on the planet. 

Truong (’11) always wanted to come to the U.S. for his education, but did not know if it would be economically feasible. With encouragement from some friends, including two who were already at Truman, he took a leap of faith and enrolled at the University. Growing up, he viewed the U.S. as a land of opportunity, which to him meant wealth and fame, but his views changed upon arrival.

“The opportunity here is the second chance that many people like me might not have in their home country. In that regard, Kirksville is my American Dream coming true,” Truong said. “Kirksville was the place that picked me up as a broken-hearted, and literally broke, 20-year-old who didn’t know what to do. Part of what makes Kirksville so special is that it is kind and inclusive for me and many others.”

Although Truong made it to America, his journey to success was not always smooth sailing. By his own admission he was a mediocre business administration student. After three semesters, he took a computer science class. It was a subject he enjoyed, but he wasn’t sure it would be right for him.

“I didn’t know if I wanted to go hardcore computer programming as a major since everyone who does CS seemed boring to the arrogant me at the time,” he said.

After a faculty member pointed out he had a long future ahead of him and he should spend it doing what he enjoys, Truong made the switch to computer science the very next day.

While pursuing his Ph.D. in informatics at the University of Missouri, Truong worked on a side project called Crankshaft. It was an open-source, free software that anyone could install in a traditional vehicle to make it a smart car. With Crankshaft, drivers could have convenient, voice-controlled maps and music without having to physically handle their cell phone. It made the roadways safer, and earned Truong the attention of a little company named Tesla.

Once his studies were completed in the summer of 2018, Truong packed up and moved to Mountain View, Calif., and he now spends his days writing code for a company considered by many to be the trailblazer of the American automotive and energy industries.

“I am honored to be working with people who are so smart and work so hard to make great products,” he said. “The work makes me feel like I live 10 years in the future. There are problems that can only be solved by the collaboration of thousands and thousands of people. I think making great cars that are safe, smart and fun to use is one of those problems.”

As a software engineer, Truong is more problem solver than gearhead. Ironically, for a guy who works at one of the most groundbreaking tech companies in the world, he gets to the office many days by a very old-school means of transportation: his bicycle. He does, however, get to ride in a Tesla car to work on the other days.

“To me, cars are like giant toys,” he said. “I love it, to be able to contribute my part in making technology trustable, friendly and helpful in people’s eyes. I feel not all tech companies are heading that way, so I feel fortunate to work for a company that seems to have a mostly positive impression on people. Lastly, nothing compares to helping the Earth and humanity while having fun and doing exactly what I love.”

In the future, Truong hopes to apply his skills at some of his boss’ more ambitious companies. He would love to work for SpaceX on projects like CubeSat satellites or a spaceship.

What’s in a Name

The dedication of a local park was an early sign of a life committed to service.

Vicki Patryla is nearly 50 years removed from her time as a student, but her name will likely live on in Kirksville forever. She is the name behind the town’s Patryla Park, an honor bestowed on her at the ripe old age of 24.

A native of St. Louis, Patryla (Pa-TRY-la) quickly felt a connection to her college home.

“The faculty seemed very competent and very caring, and I just fell in love with the people of Kirksville,” she said. “I became more engaged and more committed to the city of Kirksville because of the caring feeling of the people.”

As a cheerleader and member of what is now known as the Residence Hall Association, Patryla (’69, ’70) was active on campus. She was also very committed to service in the community, particularly in regard to children. She routinely worked with kids in the residential area then known as Pickler Park, and saw a need to outfit the space with amenities for children. To help make the spot family friendly, she called on Campus Volunteers, an organization she created, to secure financial donations from local businesses and clubs.

After Patryla earned her master’s degree, much of the project was turned over to Campus Volunteers. By 1971, after years of work, the area officially became Kirksville’s sixth public park. Located on Decker Road, and tucked in behind Spur Pond, it was christened Patryla Park in honor of the young woman who put the entire plan in motion. Patryla was brought to tears when she received a letter notifying her of the designation.

“I had no idea it was going to be named after me,” she said. “I was more than overwhelmed, and I was truly humbled knowing that someone would think of me in that way.”

Throughout her childhood, those around Patryla instilled three important points in her: faith in God, belief in others and belief in oneself. While she may have already been on track to lead a life of service, she credits her work with the park in Kirksville for adding fuel to her fire.

Following her time at the University, Patryla earned a degree from the University of Leeds in England, where she studied on a Rotary International Scholarship, and she received her Ph.D. in special education from St. Louis University. Her career has been varied, but service has been at the core. She has taught education at six colleges in five states, often focusing on people with disabilities or special needs. Her efforts do not stop with the classroom. Patryla has served in administrative positions related to community outreach with no fewer than four non-profit organizations or corporations, and her charitable endeavors have led her to several countries. In addition to children and the disabled, she has poured her heart into causes for the elderly, veterans, international citizens and the mentally ill, among others.

After enough selfless acts, it can be difficult to avoid the spotlight. Over the years, Patryla’s efforts have earned praise from both sides of the political aisle. She has received letters of recognition from former Sen. Max Cleland and President Bill Clinton, to name a few, and her work with veterans garnered a call from a staff member for President Barack Obama. Organizations that have shown gratitude for her work include the March of Dimes, the Veterans Administration and the Salvation Army. While it’s nice to be appreciated, Patryla is not motivated by earning distinctions to pad her resume.

“Kindness is the most important credential,” she said. “Life is not about awards, honors and degrees. Life is about doing the work of the Lord. It is nice to be important, but it is more important to be nice. The best gift of giving is giving of oneself and the warmth of the human heart.”

Patryla is retired and now makes her home in Lilburn, Ga.

Patryla continues to volunteer her time for veterans and children like Madison, left, and Megan.

The Right Place

Rich and Melissa Chapman came to Kirksville in search of an education. They ended up finding a home.

As students, Rich and Melissa (Davis) Chapman approached Truman from different directions, both literally and figuratively. After growing up in the small town of Camp Point, Ill., Rich felt like Kirksville was the big city. For Melissa, who hails from the Kansas City suburb of Blue Springs, Mo., moving to a rural area for school was a bit of a culture shock. It worked out well for both of them, and the benefits it has reaped for Kirksville are nearly incalculable.

For most alumni, Kirksville is a multiyear pit stop in their lives. They come to northeast Missouri – sometimes reluctantly – to get an education. Most move on after graduation and have quaint memories of their college town. However, a number of graduates like the Chapmans end up realizing Kirksville is more than just a great place to go to school, it’s a great place to live.

“We chose to stay because we developed relationships with close friends,” Melissa said. “We found a church we loved and jobs that we were passionate about doing.”

Both are teachers in the Kirksville School District, but they took noticeably different paths to get there. Melissa (’00, ’02) participated in the MAE program after earning her degree in English. She completed her internship in Novinger, Mo., and continued to teach fifth grade in that school for three years before moving to Ray Miller Elementary in Kirksville. After 12 years there, she made the short trip over to William Matthew Middle School where she currently teaches sixth grade math and reading.

Upon earning his degree in psychology, Rich (’98) was a truancy officer in Quincy, Ill., for two years before returning to Kirksville to work at the Bruce Normile Juvenile Justice Center. After several years, he switched over to become a special education teacher and earned a master’s degree from the University of Missouri–St. Louis. He later transitioned to the Project Lead the Way Engineering Program, and he now teaches engineering to high school students at the Kirksville Area Technical School.

“As college students, we were so wrapped up with our own new-found independence that we had blinders on to all of the wonderful things Kirksville has to offer and the great people that make Kirksville a great place to live and work,” Rich said. “As educators, we are now very aware of the outreach that Truman students do throughout the Kirksville School District. As students, we never realized how intertwined the college and schools truly are.”

The Chapmans have now been residents of Kirksville more than four times longer than they were students, and they have become ingrained in the community. Their two daughters, Olivia and Julia, are involved in a number of activities. Rich has been a coach for football and golf at Kirksville, and cheerleading at Truman. They have even helped to increase the population of town by convincing Melissa’s parents to relocate to Kirksville. Without a doubt, the family’s biggest impact has come in the form of a 5K run/walk they have put on for the past seven years in support of diabetes research.

The Inspire 1 for JDRF event is the Chapman’s response to Julia’s diagnosis of type 1 diabetes. When Julia was six, she saw a news story about a child who started a race to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and wanted to sponsor her own. It has been a family endeavor ever since. The annual event usually includes about 150 runners and has raised a total of more than $53,000.

“After the first year, we had such an outpouring of support from our community, we knew then that we had made the correct decision to make Kirksville our home,” Melissa said.

Melissa and Rich Chapman with daughters Olivia, left, and Julia