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This I Believe: OU

Please join us for This I Believe: OU 2023 at 3:30 pm on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023. The event will take place in Meacham Auditorium, located on the second floor of the Oklahoma Memorial Union, 900 Asp Ave., Norman, OK. A select group of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members will present their personal "This I Believe" essays. See the list of speakers below!

The This I Believe: OU event is a wonderful opportunity to come together as a community, share perspectives, and grow in our deepening understanding of human flourishing. 

A reception will be held after the essay recitations in the Oklahoma Memorial Union.

“There’s a power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s a grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.” 
- Michelle Obama

This I Believe: OU 2023

Photo of Dr. John Banas

John Banas is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication. Professor Banas received his B. A. from Michigan State University, where he fell in love with the study of human communication and decided to become a professor. His studies then took him to the University of Hawaii at Manoa for his M. A. and the University of Texas at Austin for his doctoral studies. After serving as a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland, Dr. Banas was able to realize his dream of becoming a tenure-track professor when he joined the faculty at the University of Oklahoma in 2006.

Professor Banas is best known as the Director of the introductory Communication course, but he also teaches classes on relationship communication, social influence, and humor. His teaching efforts have earned him the General Education Teaching Award in 2013 and the John H. and Jane M. Patten Teaching Award in 2017. For the upcoming year, he will be a Presidential Teaching Fellow in the Honor’s College. When not teaching or conducting research, he is most likely home with his wife Elena (also an Associate Professor of Communication at OU) and two girls, Maria (12 years) and Natalia (8 years).

photo of Mike Beckham

Mike Beckham is co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Simple Modern, a leading producer of premium drinkware and lifestyle products. Founded in 2015 and based in Oklahoma, Simple Modern currently generates a nine-figure annual revenue and is committed to generosity, donating at least 10% of annual profits to nonprofit organizations. Under Mike’s leadership, the company has grown into a category leader for Amazon, Target, and Sam’s Club. In addition, Simple Modern launched in Walmart stores nationwide in 2022.

Prior to founding Simple Modern, Mike spent over a decade working for the worldwide Christian ministry CRU. Equipped with a deep understanding of the nonprofit sector, Mike transitioned into the business world and helped found and operate several e-commerce businesses, which cumulatively generated more than $1 billion in revenue. Mike graduated with a degree from the University of Oklahoma Price College of Business, where he currently serves as the senior entrepreneur-in-residence.


Photo of Caleb Kelly

Caleb Kelly is a former American football linebacker. He attended the University of Oklahoma from 2016 to 2022. As a senior at Clovis West High School in Fresno, California, Kelly won the 2015 Butkus Award given to the best linebacker in high school. He played in three College Football Playoffs and won five Big 12 Championships. He was Captain of the OU Football Team in 2021 and was awarded Freshman All-American Honors, and the 2018 AFCA Allstate Good Works Team. Caleb also earned a Bachelor of Communication, a Master of Organizational Leadership, and Master of Business Administration. He is now on staff as the Director of SOUL Mission - Career & Professional Development for the University of Oklahoma. He also works as a TV host for multiple OU Football shows run by SoonerVision. 

Photo of Dr. Jenny Sperling

Jenny Sperling (she/her) is an assistant professor of Critical Studies in Education in the department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of Oklahoma. Some of her research interests include critical youth studies and LGBTQIA+ experiences, with specific attention to sexual(ity) and reproductive education. Prior to joining the faculty at the University of Oklahoma, Jenny completed her Ph.D. in Education at the University of California, Santa Barbara and her M.A. in Education from the University of California, Berkeley.

Jen is a first-year Price College of Business Online MBA candidate. Even though Jen has lived on the east coast for her entire life, she chose the University of Oklahoma for her MBA program because of her family’s legacy with the university. Her father-- a 1964 OU alumnus, and her sister, a 2021 OU alumna, in addition to countless other members of her family-- have instilled in her a love for the crimson and cream and all that the University of Oklahoma stands for.

Jen graduated from Towson University in 1993 with a degree in Mass Communication. She has nearly 30 years of innovative and strategic communication experience, driving success for clients in the healthcare industry. Jen helped launch a pharmaceutical marketing communications firm and served as its VP of Marketing for 10 years. She has spent the last eight years at Mercer, leading the communications team for the Mercer Marketplace 365+ Retiree line of business, focusing on marketing and messaging for clients within the healthcare individual exchange.

Outside of work, Jen prides herself on giving back to her community. Whether it’s creating care packages for healthcare workers during the pandemic, making lunches for the homeless to distribute on Christmas eve, participating in the Polar Bear Plunge for Special Olympics, donating blood every 56 days, or serving as team parent for her son’s unified sports teams, Jen finds volunteering to be hugely fulfilling and an important part of her life. Jen lives in Maryland and has been married to her husband Albert for 23 years. They have raised two young men, Luke (16) and Jake (19), and one spoiled rescue dog named Abbey. Jen loves anything do to with the beach and water, listening to live music, watching sporting events, and spending time with friends and family.  

Katie Hallum is a current junior at the University of Oklahoma studying journalism and international security. Originally from Tahlequah, Oklahoma, she grew up on the Cherokee Nation reservation prior to attending OU.

Currently Katie works for NPR’s affiliate KGOU. She’s also involved with various campus organizations such as CAC’s Speaker’s Bureau, Crimson Club, the Native American Journalist Association, and the American Indian Student Association. She spends her time between these and doing what she loves most—writing. She currently has multiple pieces published in anthologies but hopes to one day publish a full book.

Her current plans for after graduation are attending grad school and studying international law, with her end goal going into foreign correspondence or public diplomacy.

Madison Williams is a Freshman studying Political Science at the University of Oklahoma. She knew she wanted to be a Sooner after her first visit to the OU Law Library.

Although Madison graduated from Burleson High School in Texas, her time at Coronado High School in Henderson, Nevada, sparked her passion for history and the environment. She poured this love into leadership roles in the student council and Green clubs and continues to do so as a member of the Class Council at OU. Madison volunteers for American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and MG12K Food Drives.

If asked, Madison will tell you that living in six states from birth to high school has cultivated her hobbies, like mountain biking, painting, drawing, and becoming a self-proclaimed Lego aficionado.

Michael Drew is a part of the sorority Tau Beta Sigma, as well as The Pride of Oklahoma marching band. He is a freshman at The University of Oklahoma, currently working towards a degree in Psychology. He came to Norman after graduating from Union High School in Tulsa, OK. 

He enjoys making music and hanging out with his friends. Michael loves giving back to the world, and volunteeers at a local elementary school. 

To access more of our previous This I Believe: OU content, including speaker biographies, videos, and photos, click here