Graduating Seniors Honored at 33rd Annual Senior Honors Luncheon

33rd Annual

The Kent State University Honors College held its thirty-third annual Senior Honors Luncheon on Saturday, April 6, 2019, honoring senior honors students who will graduate in the spring, summer, or fall of 2019.  To begin the luncheon, Dr. Alison J. Smith, Dean of the Honors College, welcomed those in attendance, followed by remarks from Dr. Beverly Warren, President of Kent State University.  President Warren said in her remarks that undergraduate students at Kent State University “are so fortunate to be exposed to some of the best faculty the country has to offer” and that she knows that Kent State’s reputation is “in good hands” with the students being honored.  She expressed her hope that the students had earned “a great foundation” and “a great love” for Kent State during their undergraduate careers, and she assured students that “that love comes back in full measure to you.” 


In addition to honoring students and those who have supported them throughout their education, the luncheon also presented the 2019 Distinguished Honors Faculty Award.  This year’s recipient of the award was Laura Moll, a professor of English.  In her remarks, Moll thanked both her friends who are teachers, whose voices have “emboldened” her own, as well as her students, to whom she said, “Your words, combined with the memories of teaching, I will carry always in my heart.”  She also shared personal messages of encouragement for her students, many of whom credit her with fostering their interest in the study of English.  Moll’s teaching specialty is her Freshman Honors Colloquium course on passion, pain, and transformation, which she has taught for eight years.  She told the students in attendance, “Your voice, your contribution, is absolutely essential. Each of you [is] critical to good change in this world… I wish the knowledge and wisdom to call you to be who you need to be.”  Laura Moll’s passionate belief in her students highlights why she was chosen to receive this year’s Distinguished Honors Faculty Award.


Bart Bixenstine, a 1971 graduate of Kent State University’s Honors College and the recipient of the 2019 Distinguished Honors Alumni Award, praised both what Kent State and the Honors College helped him accomplish as a student as well as the strides the university has made in recent years to become what it is today.  “The school was good for me,” Bixenstine said, “even though it’s better now, and the Honors College was good for me, even though it’s better now.”  Bixenstine expressed that he has a continuing affinity for his alma mater, where he periodically teaches a course about the First Amendment; in his remarks, he called Kent State “a place that gives kids special opportunities according to some ideals about how they should receive an education.”  Like Moll, he also had a message of pride and encouragement for the graduates-to-be, telling them, “I hope you go out and [are] able to achieve the goals the Honors College has given you.”


The seniors who attended the luncheon are well on their way to achieving the admirable goals they have set for themselves.  Jessica Keller, an integrated language arts major, has a solid plan for the rest of her last semester and her near future as a recent Kent State graduate: she will finish her student teaching and publish her senior honors thesis, then return to her hometown of Waterville, Ohio, begin her job search, and eventually move into her own language arts classroom.  Jessica is a first-generation college student, and she is grateful for the additional support she received through the Honors College, especially having a second academic advisor to whom she could go with questions.  Both of the honors academic advisors she had during her time at Kent State were involved with Alpha Lambda Delta, the national honors society for first-year success students of which Jessica served as president.  Completing her senior honors thesis, which investigates different techniques used to teach the works of Shakespeare, and organizing a field trip, including a poetry walk, for a group of eighth-grade students are two of Jessica’s most memorable experiences at Kent State.


The atmosphere at the event was one of celebration, both for what the students have accomplished and the great accomplishments that await them in their futures.  The plans students have for after graduation are varied but invariably commendable and impressive; some students intend to enter the workforce in their chosen fields after graduation, while others will pursue graduate degrees, whether at Kent State or other institutions, or participate in volunteer programs.  Jara Chadwell, a nursing major from Minerva, Ohio, appreciated the structure of her honors nursing courses; one hour of individual honors work is automatically added to each course, which students can devote either to pursuing their own research or assisting researchers with their work.  Jara and another student used this extra work opportunity to conduct an extensive review of literature and created a poster presentation, which they presented at the Midwest Nursing Research Society Conference as well as at the Undergraduate Research Symposium at Kent State.  The researcher with whom Jara and her classmate worked used their literature review as background for the research she conducted, so the two students were included as coauthors.  Sarah Ballard, who majored in criminology and justice studies and sociology, will return to her hometown of Rochester, NY and work as a female resident assistant at a summer program for the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth while also packing and preparing to depart for Morocco with the Peace Corps in early September.  She says the networking connections she’s made exemplify what she should aim for her professional relationships to be in the future.  She has enjoyed being a resident assistant in Stopher-Johnson and helping to integrate new students into the Honors College and Kent communities as well as being on the executive board of Alpha Lambda Delta. 


Some students are less certain of their plans because they have several enticing options from which to choose.  This is a good problem to have, and it is the kind of dilemma now facing Ya’el Courtney, a biology major who has yet to choose whether she will pursue her graduate degree in neurobiology at Harvard or Stanford.  Ya’el says that the process of writing and defending a senior honors thesis has been important to her Kent State career, and she found it helpful to be able to talk about that research when she interviewed for graduate programs.  She says that her professors have been willing to help her when she has asked for assistance and says that that was a great lesson to learn, as well as good advice for continuing students.


Nolan Wiley, a political science major from Orange, Ohio, is grateful for the additional help he received from honors advisors when he learned he had enough credits to graduate a year early.  The advisors helped him figure out how to manage what to do next while still taking full advantage of honors programs, including the opportunity to complete a senior thesis.  “They were a constant resource for me in that way,” Nolan says.  The intimacy of smaller class sizes in his honors courses allowed him to get more out of those classes than he would in a traditional lecture class; he also says that honors courses encouraged him to take more responsibility for his education, which will be beneficial when he starts at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law in the fall. 


Abigail Winternitz, a public relations major with a public health minor, agrees with Nolan that the small sizes and the engaging discussions she had with other students were great benefits of being an honors student.  “Every honors class that I’ve had here has been a greater level of deeper thinking,” she says.  During her junior year, Abigail participated in the Public Relations Student Society of America’s Bateman Case Study Competition, which gives public relations students across the country the opportunity to apply what they have learned throughout their education to create and implement a public relations campaign.  Abigail’s project won second place in the nation, and she traveled to Charleston, South Carolina to present at the national competition.  Once she graduates, Abigail plans to move to either return to her hometown of Cincinnati or move to Columbus, where her sister lives, to search for jobs in the public health field. 


Like Ya’el and Nolan, Lilia Borodkin also hopes to continue her education after receiving her undergraduate degree in psychology.  She is applying to the graduate program in school psychology at Kent State and will know in August if she has been accepted.  Through her Educational Psychology course, Lilia collaborated with other students to create a lesson plan that has been implemented by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.  Lilia was also the University Winner of YES!Magazine’s Fall 2018 “Feeding Ourselves, Feeding Our Revolutions” student writing competition.  She says that working with a professional editor and having her essay published in a national magazine is tied with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History project for her favorite experience she’s had at Kent State, and she says that the unique opportunities she has had as an honors student have prepared her for graduate school and for the responsibilities she will encounter in her career.


The work of graduating honors students and all seniors will culminate in Spring 2019 commencement, which will be held at Dix Stadium on Saturday, May 11, 2019 at 11 AM. 




POSTED: Wednesday, April 17, 2019 - 4:25pm
UPDATED: Friday, October 25, 2019 - 2:41pm
Nina Palattella, Kent State University Honors College Intern