Honors and Awards
Commencement 2011 honored outstanding students, professors, an alumna, and a distinguished guest. Saint Mary's College presented the following awards and honors this graduation season.
- Valedictorian: Samantha Wassel '11
- Lumen Christi Award: Jingqiu Guan '11
- Saint Catherine Medal: Laura Glaub '12
- Maria Pieta Award: Professor Patrick Pierce
- Spes Unica Award: Professor Nancy Nekvasil
- Commencement Speaker and Honorary Doctorate of Humanities: Therese Johnson Borchard '93
- Honorary Doctorate of Humanites: Colleen Barrett
Samantha Wassel excelled both in the classroom and on the College’s cross country team. She finished classes a semester early, earning a grade point average of 3.987 overall and 4.0 in her English writing major. Along with classmate Kathryn Lynch, Wassel received the English department’s top writing award, the Laurie A. Lesniewski Creative Writing Award. “The award is given by the department as a whole, and Sam was our unanimous choice,” English Professor Max Westler says. "What makes Sam a writer is not just her talent or ambition, but how much she cares about getting the words on the page exactly right. That means putting up with a high degree of frustration, but Sam has always been patient. And you can feel her focus, her intensity, and her sense of purpose in every sentence she writes."
Her academic and athletic performance earned Wassel the 2011 Academic and Athletic Achievement Award. Coach Jackie Bauters calls Wassel one of the finest athletes she’s ever coached, saying, “Sometimes you meet an athlete and you just know they are going to be different, they have that extra ounce of pixie dust to make them magical.”
Wassel’s cross country achievements include bringing home an individual title her freshman year with a 19:39 in the 5-kilomter race; landing a spot in the regional meet her junior year, and finishing the 6-kilometer course with a 25:19; and, in her senior year, scoring for her team in five of six races, and competing at the regional meet again.
Wassel plans to go to graduate school and ultimately make a career of writing. A native of New Carlisle, Indiana, Wassel and her husband, Andy Wassel, currently live in New York.
Jingqiu Guan of Chengdu, China, received the Lumen Christi Award, which honors an outstanding Christian woman. The recipient of the award is traditionally someone who has excelled in leadership and loyalty to Saint Mary’s and whose presence has had a profound effect on the College community. Guan majored in economics and French and earned minors in mathematics and dance.
Faculty and students alike know Guan as an enthusiastic, positive, and engaging woman. In fact, one of her faculty nominators states, “A visit from her to your office makes the day more special.” Her kindness and thoughtfulness touch everyone she meets.
Guan is a talented pianist, dancer, and linguist. Her outstanding academic record has resulted in her being accepted to every graduate school to which she applied. She will attend Harvard University to study international education policy, turning down Stanford University, the University of Notre Dame’s Peace Studies Program, and the University of Iowa’s graduate dance program to which only four students are chosen each year. The acceptance to Iowa is especially significant because Guan only started dancing at Saint Mary’s, not younger.
Guan has a passion for dance and has performed annually in the dance recital at the College. She completed the Saint Mary’s Intercultural Leadership Certificate program and has been active in presentations of Chinese culture on campus. She also acted as the mistress of ceremonies for the showcase during the celebration of International Student Week on campus. She has also helped to organize the China Night program where this year she performed a dance with the daughter of a faculty member. This year she traveled to her homeland with the Women’s Choir, serving as an interpreter and dancing during concerts.
Additionally, Guan served as the student representative to the Alumnae Board and was a member of the Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership’s International Advisory Board.
Guan embraces each new opportunity in life with an eagerness to become the person she was created to be. No doubt, her attitude, talents, and faith will help her achieve her dream of creating her own non-profit organization that would use arts education to promote social justice and peace.
The Saint Catherine Medal honors a sophomore or junior who demonstrates high standards of personal excellence and scholarship and who contributes to the College community in the spirit of Christian leadership. The award commemorates Saint Catherine of Alexandria, the patron saint of scholars, especially of women scholars. Kappa Gamma Pi, the National Catholic Honor Society, sponsors the award.
The 2011 Saint Catherine Medal recipient is Laura Glaub ’12 of Okemos, Michigan. She is a communication studies major with minors in women’s studies and social work. As stated on her award citation, Glaub is passionate about a wide variety of causes and demonstrates the integration of heart and mind that reflects the best in Holy Cross education. She is known as an innovator who constantly seeks ways to bring people together to make the world a better place. Her list of accomplishments is long. She created the Love Your Body Week and worked with several departments to raise awareness about negative body image and its effects on women. Her work on this and other projects reflects her life philosophy: “Respect for all, flavored by joy.”
Glaub is very involved in student organizations and clubs, including the Student Government Association, Residence Life, Dance Marathon, the Belles Against Violence Office, Student Activities Board, and more. Through the Office for Civic and Social Engagement, she has climbed ladders for Rebuilding Together and tutored children for the College Academy of Tutoring program.
Blessed Basil Anthony Moreau, founder of the Congregations of the Holy Cross, spoke of the need for the value of zeal, and this zealous, joyful life is embodied in Glaub. She demonstrates what people are capable of when the heart and mind are integrated, and when we approach others and the world guided by the values of respect, compassion, and service.
Glaub received the award at Honors Convocation on May 8. Students, faculty, and staff nominate candidates for this award and the Academic Affairs Council makes the final selection. The name of the recipient is not revealed until the Convocation.
The Alumnae Association Board of Directors presented the Outstanding Senior Award to Emma Hoffman, a biology major from Oak Forest, Illinois. The award recognizes a student who exemplifies the spirit and values of the College. The recipient also carries out the beliefs of her faith in daily living and is distinguished by scholarship, leadership, and outstanding dedication to Saint Mary’s.
Since her first year, Hoffman has been active in Campus Ministry, participating in retreat ministry and group presentations as well as serving as a liturgical minister and peer minister to her fellow students. “Emma exemplifies what a Saint Mary’s woman can become: Someone eager to serve and know more about the world in which we live,” says Regina Wilson, assistant director of Campus Ministry.
Throughout her four years at Saint Mary’s, Hoffman gained the confidence to pursue her passions for biology, traveling abroad, and involvement in student government. As a first-year student, she was elected president of her class. As a sophomore, she was a member on the Class Board, and as a junior, she served as Student Government Association mission commissioner. In her senior year, she stepped up to the role of student trustee on the College’s Board of Trustees.
Studying abroad was an integral part of Hoffman’s Saint Mary’s experience, including participating in the Rome Program her sophomore year. Her senior research project took her to Little Corn Island in Nicaragua, where she tested a water purification system as she fostered memorable relationships with the poverty-challenged locals. This experience allowed Hoffman to combine her love of biology with her desire to serve others.
These experiences have combined to teach her the crucial skill of being able to state her opinion with confidence. “As my senior year comes to an end, I do not have to worry that I will be lost in a crowd,” Hoffman says. “My leadership abilities will set me apart. My path is not certain, but the tools and friends I have gained at Saint Mary’s will always hold me in good stead.”
After graduation Hoffman returned to Little Corn Island and will stay there for a year to do biology related projects. She also plans to apply to graduate school to study environmental health or apply to the Peace Corps.
The Maria Pieta Award was established in 1976 in honor of Sister Maria Pieta, CSC, a teacher and administrator at Saint Mary’s College. The award recognizes outstanding instructors of freshmen and sophomore classes. The recipient of this year’s award is Professor Patrick Pierce, chair of the Department of Political Science.
According to his award citation, Pierce is recognized for his consistent commitment to and excellence in teaching young women. These qualities are evident whether he’s working with students in or out of the classroom. He not only demands the best from his students, he also goes out of his way to help them meet that demand. A student writes in her nomination that Pierce once made her redo a paper: “Instead of giving me the poor grade I undoubtedly deserved, he wanted to make [sure] I truly understood the material. He was not going to let me fail.” His students appreciate this dedication, with one student calling his teaching “the most valuable to my growth as an independent and analytical thinker.”
Pierce’s strong relationship with Saint Mary’s students continues well after graduation. He stays in contact with alumnae from his department, often helping current students make connections with them. Each year, he arranges for three alumnae to return to campus to talk with current students about how the major has played a role in their careers and about the transition from college to career.
Good teaching requires commitment and perseverance, and Pierce exemplifies those qualities, the citation states. An avid runner, his love of sports includes a love of basketball, and he has long served as the academic advisor for the Saint Mary’s basketball program. A former player notes: “He has given academic advice to many members of our team and has articulated to the team how academic life and athletic life correlate. He has made us all better students on the court and in the classroom.”
Whether on the sideline of the basketball court, in the office, or in the classroom, Pierce’s teaching is characterized by a passion that students find infectious. As one student puts it: “The main focus of his teachings … is strengthening an understanding of democracy and increasing our passion for political participation, regardless of political affiliation.”
Professor Pierce received the Maria Pieta Award at Honors Convocation on May 8. Students, faculty, and staff nominate candidates for this award and the Academic Affairs Council makes the final selection. The name of the recipient is not revealed until the Convocation.
The Spes Unica Award recognizes a faculty member’s eminent service to Saint Mary’s College. Contributions can be in the area of teaching, scholarship/creative activity, and/or service. This year’s recipient, Professor Nancy Nekvasil, chair of the Department of Biology, has demonstrated exceptional dedication to the College in all of these areas.
According to her award citation, Nekvasil models selfless devotion to the College and exudes boundless enthusiasm for teaching and scholarship.
She has been a member of many committees, including Student Affairs, Academic Standards, Faculty Affairs, Admission and Scholarship, Rank and Tenure, Curriculum, Assessment, Grievance, and General Education. She has shared her expertise as a faculty member by mentoring new faculty in her department and through the College mentoring program. She has supported the College’s writing program, once serving as a co-director. At one point, she even put her love of teaching on hold to help the College as an advisor in the Academic Affairs Office.
As stated in the citation, Nekvasil gives tirelessly to her department. As chair of the Department of Biology, she led her department through an external review and is now leading a curricular revision. She is the advisor for two student clubs. In one of her particularly demanding roles, she counsels students who intend to go to graduate school in the health care disciplines. She makes four-year plans for these students, advises them, and writes letters of recommendation.
The recipient of the 1990 Maria Pieta Award, she is recognized as an extraordinary teacher. After only five minutes in conversation with her, one sees her love for teaching and her students. She demands the best of her students, supports their efforts, and takes great delight in their success. Her office door is always open, and students appreciate her support. As one student says in her nomination letter, “Whenever there was a low point . . . [she] was always there telling you that she believes in you.” A teacher-scholar, Nekvasil shares her love of her discipline and helps students develop their own voices in that discipline.
Professor Nekvasil received the Spes Unica Award at Honors Convocation on May 9. Students, faculty, and staff nominate candidates for this award and the Academic Affairs Council makes the final selection. The name of the recipient is not revealed until the Convocation.
Therese Johnson Borchard ’93 is associate editor of PsychCentral.com, where she contributes to the award-winning blog, World of Psychology. She also writes the daily blog, Beyond Blue, on Beliefnet.com. Borchard is author of Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes and The Pocket Therapist: An Emotional Survival Kit. A columnist for Catholic News Service, she is also coeditor, with Michael Leach, of the national bestseller, I Like Being Catholic: Treasured Traditions, Milestones, and Stories.
Delivering the Commencement address at Saint Mary’s was a dream come true for Borchard. “I think being chosen as the Saint Mary’s Commencement speaker is the highest honor I can think of. Not even winning a Pulitzer Prize would mean more to me,” she says. “Much of who I am today was formed in my four years at Saint Mary’s. The school is really part of my soul because it was there that I found the courage to be me.”
Borchard received a degree in religious studies from Saint Mary’s College. She also received the Lumen Christi Award, the highest honor conferred on a student. She earned a master’s degree in theology from the University of Notre Dame.
Colleen Barrett, president emeritus of Southwest Airlines Co., received an honorary doctorate of humanities. Barrett has consistently been recognized as one of the most powerful businesswomen in America and serves as an inspiring example of a strong and successful woman. The definition for success is different from person to person, Barrett has said. In an interview for the Horatio Alger Award for Distinguished Americans, she said, “Success is definitely not a paycheck or a title. For me, success is being able to answer ‘yes’ to the question, ‘Did I make a positive difference today?’” Barrett worked her way up the ranks at Southwest Airlines, a company that built its reputation on excellent customer service. She started with Southwest at its inception in 1971, stepping down as president in 2008.