Dr. Holly Riffe

Commencement Speaker, 2017 Frank Sinton Milburn Outstanding Professor Award Recipient

Dr. Holly Riffe

Dr. Holly Riffe joined the social work faculty at Northern Kentucky University in 2001. She sets the standard for intertwining teaching and research with real needs in our community and beyond. Riffe conducted research in South Africa to understand the intersection of belief systems and local HIV/AIDS prevention technologies. “If we could understand why people were not using prevention techniques, then we could target those specific beliefs and, in turn, save lives,” she says. Using those same rigorous research methods, she has conducted health research with the local Latino community, needs assessments with Somali refugees and evaluated risk factors for truancy in children. In each of these endeavors, Riffe integrates NKU students, faculty and community members in the research.

Riffe spearheaded the process for NKU’s first MSW program to successfully achieve accreditation from the national Council on Social Work Education. That MSW program now graduates approximately 70 students each year who provide clinical social work services in our region.

As a collaborative partner with students and other faculty from across campus, Riffe co-designed an interdisciplinary minor in social justice, which draws students from a variety of programs across campus. Her Introduction to Social Justice course always exceeds capacity and receives high praise from students. One student commented, “During the hustle and bustle of my nal year of nursing school, it is easy to get caught up in the assignments and stress. [This class] has been a wake-up call to what is happening around me. It provides a moment of ‘Things are much bigger than this,’ and ‘There are more important things.’ I feel that this class helps me not just with my bachelor’s degree—it helps me grow as a person.”

Similarly, her class on Compassion, Empathy, and Forgiveness in Social Justice sparks an audience of students to practice compassion and kindness daily while understanding that without that foundation, we, as a community, cannot move forward. A local church sermon used that class as a backdrop to understand how we can each integrate these concepts in our overlapping spiritual and secular lives.

Riffe’s drive to support those around her is evident by how she dedicates her time. From working with Somali refugees to engaging the community around the heroin epidemic, community leaders contact her to think through the issues, conduct research and explore policy alternatives. This is how Riffe perceives her role as a metropolitan and regional professor. Walking through a refugee camp holding the hand of a Zimbabwean child or eating dinner with a class of students at a Somali restaurant in Florence, Kentucky, she says: “This is the best work-life I can imagine. I may be the odd one, but I truly enjoy meeting folks and working on projects in our region. I like the problems that make me scratch my head and think about situations like our Boone County librarians, who gured out how to feed kids who hung out at the library while their parents worked.” 


hannah myers

Student Speaker, College of Health Professions

Hannah Myers

Hannah is graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the College of Health Professions. She is an extremely driven, motivated and compassionate individual who has been very involved on campus during her time at NKU.

She has been a member of the Student Nurses’ Association, is an ambassador for the College of Health Professions and is a member of Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing. Hannah also strives to be very active and present in her community in the

Northern Kentucky area. She is a member of the American Red Cross and also volunteers for the Northern Kentucky Medical Reserve Corps. Hannah works as a highly regarded nurse extern at St. Elizabeth Hospital, where she has further developed her nursing skills and has been selected to serve on several hospital-wide committees. Upon graduation, she has accepted a position at St. Elizabeth in the Medical Intensive Care Unit, where she will start her career as a registered nurse. She looks forward to embracing her career in nursing and one day continuing her education by pursuing a graduate degree here at NKU. 

christina durso

Student Speaker, College of Education and Human Services

Christina Durso

Christina Durso is a graduate student receiving a Master of Arts in School Counseling from the College of Education and Human Services. Originally from Louisville, Kentucky, Christina has devoted her life to helping others. In 2014, she spent three months living in El Porvenir, Honduras, volunteering with Honduras Child Alliance. Christina taught English and worked with volunteers from around the globe to support the education and overall health of children in El Porvenir.

Prior to pursuing her master’s degree, Christina received a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education from Georgetown College and taught rst grade for three years in Kentucky.

As a former recipient of the Women Leading Kentucky Scholarship and the Rachel M. Votruba Endowed School Counseling Scholarship at NKU, Christina has been recognized as a dedicated leader in
the eld of education and counseling. After graduation, she plans to become a school counselor and obtain her Rank 1 in School Counseling at NKU. Christina hopes to one day pursue a doctorate degree in leadership, where she can utilize her knowledge, experience and skills as a leader in the community. As an advocate for education and mental health, Christina would ultimately like to establish her own non-pro t organization that addresses the social, emotional and academic needs of children around the world.