The College honors outstanding academic achievement with 2019 Dean’s Medals

On Dec. 17, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University will celebrate academic excellence in the social sciences, natural sciences and humanities during its fall 2019 convocation ceremony. Departments and schools from around The College select a graduating student who has exhibited consistent dedication to academic excellence throughout their time at ASU to receive the prestigious...

On Dec. 17, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University will celebrate academic excellence in the social sciences, natural sciences and humanities during its fall 2019 convocation ceremony.

Departments and schools from around The College select a graduating student who has exhibited consistent dedication to academic excellence throughout their time at ASU to receive the prestigious Dean’s Medal in honor of their achievements. Medals are worn with their graduation regalia as they lead their fellow graduates during the processional.

Meet the outstanding fall 2019 Dean’s Medalist awardees from around The College. 

Kiersten Begay 

Dean’s Medal: American Indian Studies

Majors: American Indian studies, business law

Begay is described as a high achiever eager to take on ambitious projects and make an impact outside the classroom.

“Ms. Begay participated in the town of Gilbert’s Native American Management Internship program … with the expressed intent of serving as a leader and changemaker in her own community,” said Michelle Hale, an assistant professor in the American Indian Studies program. “In that role, Kiersten educated others about indigenous history, rights, sovereignty and contemporary issues and, along with her fellow interns, was inspired to start a nonprofit that advances the leadership opportunities for Native women.”

In addition to her internship with the town of Gilbert, Begay interned with the Arizona Department of Gaming, where she tracked and examined bills related to tribal gaming and confronted problem gaming through a series of public service announcements with partnering advertising agencies. 

Hale said Begay hoped to apply what she’d learned working directly with elected officials to one day serve the Navajo Nation. 

“I knew Kiersten to be eager to learn new things, take on new challenges and amass the building blocks she needs to reach her personal and professional goals,” Hale said. “She serves as an example of the caliber of American Indian leaders who emerge from ASU.”

 Emily (Yuhong) Su 

Emily Yuhong Su

Dean’s Medal: Department of Economics

Majors: Economics, justice studies

Minor: Business

Certificates: Socio-legal studies, economic justice

Su is a New American University Scholar and student at Barrett, The Honors College at ASU who instructors say is distinguished by her ability to give back to the community despite juggling a busy schedule of two majors, two certificates and a minor. 

During her time at ASU, Su has worked as a victims services intern with the office of the Arizona attorney general, a policy intern for the office of the Tempe mayor and a mentor to high school debate teams in the Chandler Unified School District.

“When you get to know Emily, you will understand why she makes the effort to devote time to these extra activities,” said Jose Mendez, chair of the awards committee for the Department of Economics. “She cares deeply about improving the lives of others.”

In addition to her work with communities, Su has been a corporate intern for JP Morgan Chase & Co. She has also given back to fellow students at ASU, serving as a teaching assistant at Barrett, as a first-year success coach and as a reading and writing tutor. 

Carly Verbeke 

Carly Verbeke.

Dean’s Medal: Department of English

Majors: English literature, political science

Certificate: Creative writing 

Verbeke began considering the link between accessibility and everyday life early on. Transferring to ASU in the fall of 2017 was a chance to become a voice for other people with disabilities and help advocate for change.

“Having grown up as a wheelchair user, (Verbeke) is committed to advocating for the rights of people with disabilities through law, awareness and public policy — a practice she has cultivated during her time at ASU,” the Department of English’s selection committee wrote.

Verbeke has seized opportunities to make an impact both on and off campus. She participated in several accessibility-focused university service days and programs, including the Devil’s Adapt personal training program and a mentorship for youth interested in adaptive sports. 

She expanded her impact by studying abroad in Seville, Spain, and Munich, Germany, where she conducted independent studies regarding how advocacy and accessibility issues figured into German and Spanish case law. 

Back in Arizona, she completed an independent study at ASU examining how people with disabilities are portrayed in children’s literature and interned at the Arizona House of Representatives before moving to Washington, D.C., to work as an intern for the Spinal Cord Injury Law Firm.

 Mari Wuollet 

Mari Wuollet.

Dean’s Medal: School of Earth and Space Exploration

Major: Geological sciences

Wuollet came to The College as a transfer student in 2016. She is described as a student whose passion for exploration and discovery was matched by an ability to produce exemplary work in the classroom and in the field.

During her time at ASU, Wuollet took part in a three-week field course led by School of Earth and Space Exploration professors Arjun Heimsath and Thomas Sharp mapping geological features near Durango, Colorado. Heimsath said the trip showcased Wuollet’s talent and dedication for the study.

“Mari exemplifies the interdisciplinary spirit that we are proud of at the School of Earth and Space Exploration,” he said. “Her writing was as good as her field work, and Tom and I would use her reports as the templates for what we considered to be excellent work.”

Heimsath said Wuollet was a quick learner who also stood out for her willingness to help fellow students through complex geological problems in the field. 

“In addition to picking up the course material rapidly and doing truly excellent mapping, she helped immensely in the camp and was always attentive to her peers' needs as well,” he said. “Her ‘can do’ attitude is well known by all who have taught her and is a delightful testament to how well life experience can serve our students.”

Emily Dereszkiewicz

Emily Dereszkiewicz

Dean’s Medal: School of Life Sciences

Major: Biological sciences 

Dereszkiewicz has spent her time at ASU juggling full-time work as a nurse’s assistant, building her experience in the lab and serving as a leader to other female researchers.  

She worked on several large bee research projects at the School of Life Sciences and collaborated with fellow researchers to present the findings to other students. 

In a nomination letter, Brian Smith, a Trustees of ASU Professor in the School of Life Sciences; research associate professor Hong Lei; and postdoctoral research associate Chelsea Cook commended Dereszkiewicz’s dedication to mastering difficult lab techniques, advancing research and helping high school students understand lab protocols. 

“Emily has taken steps to inspire young students from local high schools to engage science education and critical thinking,” they wrote. “She has taken a leadership role in the lab while working full time and excelling in her classes.”

After studying the honey bee brain, Dereszkiewicz moved toward further studies on the insect’s behavior, working with Cook as one of two undergraduate researchers investigating how certain bees process information. 

“Overall, Emily has contributed a new research technique that future researchers will continue to use and has inspired young female scientists to pursue research,” the letter continued. “The Smith Lab is better because Emily has been a part of it.”

Katarina Martinez 

 Katarina Martinez

Dean’s Medal: School of Social Transformation

Major: Justice studies

Martinez came to ASU after spending a year teaching English in Tonglu County, China, and earning an associate degree in applied science from Phoenix College. A drive to identify problems facing society and help spur change led her to a justice studies major.

In addition to excelling in her coursework, Martinez has worked as the School of Social Transformation’s front desk coordinator and office specialist. The school’s director, Pardis Mahdavi, said Martinez brings an important presence to the school and is always ready to help.

“In this role, Kat is often the first person students meet when arriving at Wilson Hall for advising appointments. Not only has Kat provided much needed stability and a calm, unflappable presence … she has always been eager to step up when needed,” Mahdavi said. “Kat has demonstrated excellence in the classroom while serving as an invaluable member of the School of Social Transformation’s community.” 

Martinez is also actively involved in the Chicano/Latino Faculty and Staff Association and University Career Women. Upon graduation, she plans to work toward a master’s degree and finding new ways to impact change in the world at large.  

Vanessa Lara 

Vanessa Lara

Dean’s Medal: T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics 

Major: Sociology

Minor: Communication

Lara is a transfer student from Mesa Community College whose interest in sociology transformed into a passion for social research at ASU.

“While at the Sanford School, (Lara) became involved in several experiences and opportunities that have cultivated her interests in research,” said Stacie Foster, director of undergraduate programs at the school. 

Lara’s research centered on examining how intersectionality relates to undocumented immigrant communities. During her time on campus, she analyzed local social media content as a research assistant for an ASU project and completed a summer research program focused on immigrant families and academic outcomes as a fellow with ASU’s Summer Undergraduate Program for Engaging with Research. 

Foster said Lara intends to use her research about undocumented communities to one day help spur change. 

“(Lara) is passionate about this line of research and the people for whom her future work may offer a voice,” said Foster. “We are so incredibly proud of Vanessa’s accomplishments and excited for her future.”

Gillian Bryant

Gillian Bryant

Dean’s Medal: Department of Psychology 

Major: Psychology

Bryant is a student at Barrett, The Honors College whose dedication to helping people shaped an interest in using research to better understand how to help children and families.

In a nomination letter from the Department of Psychology's awards selection committee, faculty members familiar with Bryant’s research on therapy dogs and child development say she excelled in both roles.

“Those two areas of research built upon her experience as a year-round camp counselor at the Phoenix Zoo, where her favorite part of the job was reaching out to children with coping skills who presented a challenge to other counselors,” the letter read. 

Bryant delved deeper into the study for her honors thesis, working with student service agencies on campus to collect data on how the use of therapy dogs compared with that of massages in short-term stress relief. 

“Gillian went above and beyond what is typically expected of honors students,” the letter continued. “She obtained the approval of ASU’s Institutional Review Board, negotiating access to therapy dogs and masseurs, recruiting her own participants and conducting her own data analysis on behavioral and physiological measures.”

Bryant will present a portion of her work on child development at the Cognitive Development Society’s annual conference next year. 

Dakota King

Dakota King

Dean’s Medal: Department of Physics  

Major: Physics

King is known for his ability not only to grasp difficult scientific material, but to help fellow students understand it as well.

“Dakota is one of the best learning assistants I have ever worked with,” said Cynthia Keeler, an assistant professor in the Department of Physics who hired King to help new students through complex coursework he’d already completed. “He understands the material deeply and — perhaps more importantly — understands how to answer student questions by leading them in the right direction rather than simply giving the answer.”

Keeler said King was especially distinguished by his understanding of how people learn. 

“Dakota was recommended to me as a successful student who also had the engaging personality required for this style of work,” she said. “When a student asks a question, he understands why they are asking — I’ve met many graduate students who find it difficult to understand others’ questions, so it is impressive to see that skill in an undergraduate.”

King also conducted undergraduate research of his own, completing a research and engineering internship with the Biodesign Center for Applied Structural Discovery’s Beus CXFEL Lab and a physical education research assistantship at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. 

Carolyn Clark

Carolyn Clark

Dean’s Medal: School of Molecular Sciences

Major: Biochemistry 

Minor: Studio art

A recipient of the research-focused LEAP Scholarship for transfer students, Clark came to ASU from Paradise Valley Community College in the fall of 2017 and delved into research right away. 

In the lab of School of Molecular Sciences Professor Giovanna Ghirlanda, Clark worked on a Mayo Clinic-funded project involving the synthesis of peptides and another project that aimed to develop artificial amino acids. 

Ghirlanda said Clark was apt at troubleshooting project roadblocks and worked alongside a graduate researcher with ease. Then by her final semester, Clark was working entirely independently in the lab.

“I consider (Clark) at the same level of lab skills and analytical thinking as a second-year graduate student,” Ghirlanda said. “She learns very quickly, is curious about the system and thus seeks out academic papers and conversations with experts in order to understand her project.”

Ghirlanda said Clark helped design and analyze a series of peptides that mimicked secretin, a naturally occurring hormone appearing in the upper intestine. The findings will form the basis of a forthcoming publication that Clark will co-author. 

“Carolyn is an exceptional student,” Ghirlanda said. “She has the academic knowledge and the research experience to excel.”  

Briana Kumorek 

Briana Kumorek

Dean’s Medal: School of International Letters and Cultures

Major: German 

For Kumorek, language is a tool to better understand the world and the people within it. 

“Ms. Kumorek’s motivation stemmed from a true desire to use languages to better understand communication, literally, but especially also to encourage an understanding between cultures,” said Sara Lee, a German lecturer in the School of International Letters and Cultures.

Lee said Kumorek, who is also proficient in American Sign Language, combined her knowledge of both languages as a vehicle to make connections between distant worlds.

“Ms. Kumorek’s contributions in the language and disability class were exceptional,” Lee said. “With her combined knowledge of sign language and deaf culture, and the German language and culture, she was able to draw connections and analyses that moved the class to a different level.” 

Lee said Kumorek is apt at challenging other language students to consider linguistic connections and cultural inclusivity more deeply. Outside the classroom, she was an active participant in the school’s language exchange hub SILC Café and German Club.

“Ms. Kumorek is the ideal representative of a language major,” Lee said. “She has very high academic achievements, an understanding of interdisciplinary and global languages and cultures, and her enthusiasm for learning and engagement inside and outside the classroom.”

Rebecca Ericson 

Rebecca Ericson

Dean’s Medal: School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies

Majors: History, English linguistics

Ericson is described as a dedicated student whose passion for global connection and culture sharing extends across campus and beyond.

“A stellar student, Rebecca is also a generous citizen of the world, a young woman who has proved equally eager to support to students uncertain in their first year,” said Catherine O’Donnell, an associate professor in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. “She exemplifies the humanities’ ability to inspire critical reflection on society and to nurture compassionate connection.” 

Ericson is a co-founder of Asian American student group Epic Movement and a member of ASU international club Bridges. She conducted research for the Center for Asian Research and the Political History and Leadership program, and also explores issues of culture and society through street photography and personal writing.

During her time at ASU, she studied abroad in Singapore and spent this summer teaching English in Hong Kong during city-wide protests.

“The protests gave unexpected richness and risk to her work,” said O’Donnell. “Rebecca’s concerns were always for her students, and she at times reshaped lessons so that the young people in her care could openly discuss their concern.” 

Eyeing more opportunities abroad after graduation, Ericson applied for a Fulbright scholarship to return to Hong Kong. 

Jennifer Blech

 Jennifer Blech

Dean’s Medal: School of Human Evolution and Social Change

Major: Anthropology

Minor: Global studies

After losing her hearing 10 years ago, Blech remembers facing a choice.

“I realized early on that I had two options,” she wrote in a letter regarding her award nomination. “I could isolate myself and fall through the cracks of isolation and disability, or I could stand against the challenge, adapt, and seek opportunity in the midst of this new world without sound.”

Blech chose the latter, returning to school, learning sign language and immersing herself in a community of people facing similar challenges. 

“This was a pivotal moment for me as I realized that the deaf culture was not merely a group of people with shared attributes of deafness, but a rich and beautiful, yet largely unknown, culture amidst the rest of the world,” she said. 

That interest expanded to an exploration into the intersection of culture and community at large, on campus and abroad. She undertook development and public health programs in Indonesia and The Gambia, and undergraduate research projects exploring health and academic outcomes of deaf communities. As a student at Barrett, The Honors College, her thesis focused on how indigenous societies in Mexico and the American Southwest interacted before colonization. 

Upon graduation, Blech plans to pursue a master’s degree in global health.

Lindsay Lohr

Lindsay Lohr

Dean’s Medal: Hugh Downs School of Human Communication

Major: Communication

As a student writer and musician, Lohr is described as a dedicated student who employs multiple creative avenues to tell multifaceted stories and communicate with the world. 

She is a New American Scholar and the recipient of the William and Teeny Drakos Endowed Scholarship, the House of Broadcasting Inc. Endowed Scholarship and the ASU Sun Angel Funk Fine Arts Scholarship. She also completed an International Business Certificate in Barcelona, Spain, through an Alumni Study Abroad Scholarship from The College.

She engaged with peers on campus as a founding member of the ASU Jazz Acapella group and an early architect of ASU’s first sexual violence prevention theater initiative, CounterACT.

Outside ASU, she aided environmental, social and animal welfare initiatives as a volunteer with the Sierra Club, the Arizona Trail Association, Feed My Starving Children and a sea turtle conservation initiative in Costa Rica. 

“Lindsay is an exceptional student academically, professionally and...

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Alisa Reznick
azreznic@asu.edu