Apr 06, 2018

Each year, 12 students from the 2017–2018 academic year are presented with the St. Edward’s University Presidential Award at the Honors Night ceremony. The Presidential Award is given to outstanding seniors from undergraduate and graduate programs who embody the principles of the university’s Holy Cross tradition and mission, and have demonstrated excellence in leadership, academic performance and service to the university and other communities. The award is given annually each April to no more than 12 students . 

This year’s Presidential Award winners are:

Alissa Barber came to St. Edward’s with plans to be an education major. But after her third day of classes, she sat in her freshman dorm room feeling overwhelmed by her newfound independence. This ambitious young woman decided to search for her niche at the university.Alissa Barber

“I found Campus Ministry, where I joined the S.E.R.V.E. Austin program and began volunteering weekly at Mary House Catholic Worker Home, a home for individuals who have experienced homelessness,” Alissa says. “I spent time having conversations and dinner with the residents as well as assisting with household chores. This inspired me to participate in the Service Break Experience program in Denver, Colorado, to work with people experiencing homelessness.”

She also discovered a new career path: social work.

“It was amazing how quickly Alissa began articulating a commitment to the people she served at Mary House,” says Steve Rodenborn, associate professor and chair of Religious and Theological Studies. “Alissa served without pretense, courageously identifying with men and women too often placed on the margins of society.”

Lou Serna, director of the Office of Community Engagement, agrees. “Above all else, service has been an integral part of Ms. Barber’s life,” he says. “During her time at St. Edward’s, she has drawn on this passion as a Social Work major and through internships with nonprofit organizations that have strong missions.”

“While volunteering at the Women’s Bean Project in Denver, a business that employs chronically unemployed and impoverished women, I realized that I didn’t want to just teach people, I wanted to see them succeed and surpass their own expectations,” Alissa says.

During a study abroad trip to South Korea, Alissa began to take ownership of her independence. She describes one example.

“One day, having missed my train stop, I found myself lost in Guro station and unsure of the way back to my school near the Yeokgok station,” she says. “After initially panicking, I channeled my nervous energy into navigating how to reroute myself and eventually found my way home. I realized that if I could navigate the subway, I could conquer other hurdles on my own as well.”

Katrina Chuah

As a high school student touring universities, Katrina Chuah trusted her intuition.

“While touring St. Edward’s, I stood next to the Carriage House and realized that I felt at home,” she says. “Choosing St. Edward’s was one of the best decisions I have made because I grew so much as a student, Servant Leader and, more importantly, as a person. I learned how to manage my time and adapt by utilizing different study methods.”

Volunteer opportunities at St. Edward’s helped Katrina early in her college career.

“At the beginning of college, I pondered my own values and how I would apply them to my life,” Katrina says. “Through LeaderShape, I realized that my principles aligned with St. Edward’s values and mission: integrity, compassion, diversity and the courage to take risks. When I volunteered at Interfaith Action, I worked on a beautification project with other students for S.E.R.V.E. 1 Day. The homeowners extended so much kindness, despite the financial and medical hardships they were facing. They chose to remain positive, and this inspired me to evaluate how I respond to negative situations. I was supposed to be helping them, but they helped me understand life on a more profound level.”

“I was Katrina’s supervisor when she was my teaching assistant for my Microbiology lab course,” says Teresa Bilinski, assistant professor of Biology. “She is intelligent, mature and motivated to succeed. Katrina is driven by more than her own desires; she has a genuine desire to contribute to society through clinical medicine. Katrina embodies the greatest values of this university in her dedication to service, academic excellence and leadership.”

“Ms. Chuah represents the best of St. Edward’s,” says Lou Serna, director of the Office of Community Engagement. “She is committed to her academics while executing major service events for the university community.”

Katrina is looking toward the future.

“These formative experiences have helped shape the next chapter of my life and enlightened me to take on my world when I enter medical school next fall,” she says. “I strive to become a physician who aims to provide an invested and quality healthcare experience, with a focus in underserved communities.”

Colin de Guzman

After an immensely satisfying first semester during his freshman year at St. Edward’s, Colin de Guzman hit some bumps during his second semester: not being selected for positions for which he had applied.

“From rejection to rejection, I lost more and more confidence in myself,” Colin says. “However, in all of my failures, I found one common denominator as to why I kept going: hope. Hope, to me, was the motivation to be better and do better than my failures. Also in my times of failure, I found that through my community of mentors, friends and family, I was able to build support for this hope in myself.”

Colin applied for Student Life positions again and was accepted. He also became involved in Campus Ministry.

“In my jobs with Student Life, I revamped Hillfest, making a full-on carnival,” Colin says. “I also changed the end-of-the-year party to become the end-of-the-year concert, EndPoint. As peer minister of retreats, I restructured the upperclassman retreat, Emerge, and created the Kairos Retreat, a new Catholic-based retreat influenced by the teachings of Blessed Basil Moreau.”

“Colin is the type of student who thrives the most in our Holy Cross environment,” says Joi Thailoan Ngo Torres, director of Diversity & Inclusion. “He breathes life into our programs and traditions. Colin is a refreshing reminder that the Holy Cross legacy lives in the spirit of our students and the change they enact.”

Colin was a student in Visiting Assistant Professor Shannon Baley’s American Experience and American Dilemmas classes. “Some students are reticent to speak up in class about their American experiences, positive or negative,” Baley says. “Not Colin! I could always count on Colin to contribute thoughtful and insightful questions and comments to class discussion. He served as a great role model for more hesitant peers.”

“When I reflect on St. Edward’s, it has been full of challenges, but nothing that I was not ready for,” Colin says. “Although I doubted myself and questioned whether I was ready, I ultimately knew that I can fly through zeal, experience and passion that St. Edward’s University provided me in my education.”

Matthew DiSalvo

Receiving a Moreau Scholarship gave Matthew DiSalvo the opportunity to attend St. Edward’s University, an opportunity that changed his life.

“I was fortunate to attend Holy Cross New Orleans for high school and be eligible for one of the most prestigious scholarships St. Edward’s offers,” Matthew says. “The Moreau was the fuel that would burn my desire to be a leader on campus, in my community, and in all other aspects of my life.”

Matthew’s ability to grow and develop into a leader was put to the test when he arrived on campus.

“I wanted to play baseball at the collegiate level,” he says. “Within a day of being on campus, I came to my first test: Do I go and talk to the coach to see if there’s a chance, or do I not even try? I knew I had to try because putting yourself out there is a form of leadership. In my opinion, one must be able to lead themselves before they can become a leader to others.”

By the end of the day he was offered a spot on the team.

“While scholarship and leadership are very important, it is service that has helped me grow and develop,” Matthew says. “Every summer I volunteer at two different weeklong overnight summer camps for children, one for children with cancer and the other for children with pulmonary diseases.”

“Matthew’s kindness and openheartedness have turned him into a beloved figure,” says Andrew Lopez, basketball coach and camp administrator. “Our children at these camps have had some rough lives, and Matthew recognizes that.”

“Matt is a talented student who balances a rigorous academic load with team and leadership commitments,” says Caroline Morris, who taught his Honors class. “He takes very seriously what contribution he will make to the world.”

Thinking of his time at St. Edward’s, Matthew says, “The scholarship I gained, leadership I developed, and service I completed and continue at St. Edward’s has helped me see the world through a different lens and allowed me to have confidence that I can accomplish whatever I put my mind to, and instill that same confidence in everyone I meet.”

Louise Gaunt

Louise Gaunt credits her undergraduate experiences at St. Edward’s for shaping her growth as a service-minded and justice-seeking individual.

“Growing as a leader in positions such as a club sport president contributed to confidence in my academics, where I challenged myself with research,” she says. “Consequently, the education and voice I gained gave me inspiring opportunities to be involved with service.”

Stepping out of her comfort zone at St. Edward’s, Louise applied for leadership positions throughout campus.

“Most notably, I joined Women’s Club Basketball because of my love for the sport,” she says. “Eventually, I became president because I enjoyed the important position."

Louise also challenged herself with research opportunities.

“My sophomore year I became involved in an intense, yearlong bioinformatics research project analyzing plant microbiomes,” she says. “I pursued research because I wanted to apply what I was learning in the classroom and gain a new appreciation for scientific methods.”

“As a student, Louise is a diligent worker,” says Casie Paris-Fisher, director of the Forensic Science program. “Outside the classroom, Louise has shown exemplary leadership skills. She participates in undergraduate research and is a member and officer of a student organization that focuses on science and community relations.”

“I have known Louise since she was in the introductory biology lab courses,” says Emily Hooser Hartman. “She now works for me as a teaching assistant and serves as a leader to her peers as well as the students enrolled in the course.”

A highlight for Louise was participating in an international immersion to Mustard Seed Communities in Jamaica her senior year.

“My group and I engaged with children and adults with disabilities,” she says. “I began to appreciate the amazing power of love while developing patience and sympathy. Our immersion highlighted my interest in medicine, but my passion for service grew tremendously as equality and human rights were constantly iterated throughout the week.”

Ben Griffith

Arriving at St. Edward’s as a transfer student, Ben Griffith understood the importance of the upcoming years of his education.

“Learning that the university encourages risk taking, I grew more comfortable in the risk that I was taking in transferring to a new school and community,” he says. “Looking back over the past two and a half years up to this point, it is not the activities that have made me feel accomplished, proud and extremely happy here at St. Edward’s. It is the lessons from my leadership positions, service endeavors, as well as the education that I have received that has contributed to my growth in the community.”  

“In addition to Ben’s involvement as a student leader in various campus offices, including Campus Recreation, Student Life and Campus Ministry, his vast experiences both on and off campus showcase his embodiment of the Holy Cross education,” says Andy Lemons, director of Campus Recreation.

“In his roles with Campus Recreation as a student leader, Ben’s passion for making students aware of the opportunities available to them displays his unique personality traits that make him a remarkable student leader,” Lemons continues. “As a member of our Street Team, Ben works with co-workers to establish strong person-to-person marketing techniques. He was instrumental in setting some of the defining responsibilities and navigating unique challenges associated with this new departmental initiative.”

“Mr. Griffith is devoted to the Mission of St. Edward’s and to creating a supportive, responsive and engaged campus committee, as evidenced through his Student Government Association involvement and his community service,” says Jennifer Jefferson, director of the Center for Teaching Excellence. “He has actively searched for opportunities to better understand his values through confronting critical topics and pursuing justice and peace.”

“Each step I took during my St. Edward’s experience has been a risk, and I would not want to change the outcome of any of it,” Ben says. “Without the many successes and failures that I have gone through since transferring two and half years ago, I would not have been able to grow and develop into the person I am today.”

Carlos Martinez

Carlos Martinez understood the importance of education from a very young age.

“My journey at St. Edward’s began long before I ever fathomed what college could or would be,” he says. “It began in earnest when I was probably five years old, when my mom instilled in me a sense of pride in achieving academically. Her father discovered the power of education for himself, becoming one of a handful Latinos of his generation to earn a master’s degree. And I must give my dad credit. He was the first to graduate from college on his side of the family. To my parents, education became not a tool, or a goal to be met; it became integral to the development of a well-rounded individual.”

In addition to his studies, Carlos became involved in numerous activities on campus. Among them are first violin in the university orchestra, volunteering at Special Olympics Texas, senior counselor at the National Hispanic Institute, and volunteering at various citizen workshops.

“Mr. Martinez balanced his time well between his academic and career pursuits, his service through the Student Government Association, his time as a resident assistant, and his service through other organizations,” says Lisa L. Kirkpatrick, vice president for Student Affairs. “He is part of the fabric of what we believe originates in our Holy Cross roots … he is humble, uninterested in being the center of attention, engaged fully in community life, and committed to social justice and service.”

Chad Long, associate professor of Political Science, taught Carlos in four classes. “The Public Policy course serves as a Capstone for political science majors,” Long says. “Students must produce an original policy memo that resembles those written for top public officials. Carlos focused on undocumented immigrants brought here as children. This is a complex and controversial issue, but he was passionate about it. I was pleased because he did not approach it as something to be done to pass a class, but as a vehicle to inform his own views.”

“St. Edward’s is and will always be the best thing that could have ever happened for my development as a young adult,” Carlos says. “The education I received there went far beyond the classroom.”

Korey Nuchia

First-generation college student Korey Nuchia arrived at St. Edward’s with goals in mind.

“I promised myself that I would achieve a French minor and study abroad in an effort to become fluent; participate in a research project and put in 110% effort every day to do the best I could in my courses,” she says. “I sought out leadership and fellowship, academia and inspiration.”

Korey says her most enriching moments “always were surrounded by community.”

“I discovered my home in Campus Ministry, where I underwent my RCIA journey to become a Catholic,” she says. “Thanks to this community, I received my first sacraments of baptism, communion and confirmation in Le Mans, France. My faith was further enriched through social justice volunteering in Austin and Houston. Service-based experiences helped cultivate the part of me I love most: my belief in community. I engaged with people in my own community and a community abroad, which has made me a more open and empathetic person.”

Lisa Furler, Special Events associate, and Andrew Fernandez, Visit Experience coordinator, have worked with Korey since she arrived on campus.

They offer this observation: “Korey has become a premier teacher, mentor, coach and leader. She coaches tour guides as a member of our leadership team, teaching them how to deliver engaging campus tours. She manages large groups with ease, adapting to the audience as needed. Our guests continually comment on her personal approach.”

“Korey has been extremely engaged in the courses she has taken from me and was a class leader in every case,” says William J. Quinn, professor of Biological Sciences. “No student has even approached Korey’s level of reliability and creative interest in the role of greenhouse manager. Korey makes sure it is clean, well-organized and serving the needs of the students using it.”

After graduation, Korey will attend Louisiana State University and plans to pursue a masters in Entomology with a specialization of honey bee research

“St. Edward’s will leave an indelible mark on my life. It has molded who I am and propelled me toward a future full of promise.”

Jaqueline Olvera

Jaqueline Olvera arrived at St. Edward’s with help from the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP).

“I have always had a thirst for knowledge and knew that I wanted to pursue a higher education,” Jaqueline says. “I knew college expenses would be a challenge. During my final two years of high school, my family was placed into a program that provides assistance to families and students who performed migrant work. I visited St. Edward’s University, and in January of 2014, I received news that I had been accepted to St. Edward’s as a College Assistance Migrant Program Scholar.”

During her first semester, Jaqueline had trouble adjusting to college life.

“I was grateful to have the support of the CAMP staff and the support from the Social Justice Living Learning Community,” she says. “Being surround by others who felt passionate about social issues fueled my desire to continue my civic engagement.”

Jaqueline calls her Alternative Spring Break program in El Paso “one of the most transformative experiences I had as an undergraduate at St. Edward’s.”

“My group members stole my heart with their commitment to work with immigrant and migrant populations,” she says. “I deeply connected with the social issues. Being a daughter of immigrants and migrant workers, this experience taught me more about who I am and helped me acknowledge the sacrifices my parents made to build a better life for me.”

“Ms. Olvera has become a leader amongst her peers,” says Perla Delgado, director of the College Assistance Migrant Program. “She uses her migrant background to foster a deeper understanding of migrant communities.”

“I have seen Jaqueline grow in confidence as a performer and intelligence as a musician,” says H. Morris Stevens Jr., Music Department head. “She has taken advantage of several choral ensembles, including University Chorale, St. Edward’s Madrigal Chamber Singers and St. Edward’s Masterwork Singers.”

Jaqueline will be going onto the next chapter of her life with more than a bachelor’s degree, she says. “St. Edward’s allowed me to become someone who believes in impacting the community, thinking outside the box, and that education is the key to unlimited horizons.”

Patrice Ponce

When Patrice Ponce arrived at St. Edward’s University, she wanted to get involved with a community she knew she would feel comfortable in ― Campus Ministry.

“My initial exposure to Campus Ministry was the Freshman Escape retreat,” Patrice says. “During the retreat, a talk given by a student leader resonated with me. He shared his coming out story, and I cried because for the first time in my life I felt comfort. I felt inspired to share this part of myself with someone. Although I couldn’t muster up the courage to tell my friends about my identity, I learned a valuable lesson ― I was not alone.”

When Patrice returned to campus she learned that she was accepted to attend an Alternative Spring Break in Whiteriver, Arizona.

“I had the privilege of spending time on a Native American Reservation at Fort Apache, and I listened intently to stories they shared. They told stories that tackled serious topics such as drug abuse, alcoholism and poverty. It was difficult to hear, but it allowed me to look at social justice from a perspective I had never experienced.”

Patrice decided to apply for leadership positions within the Service Break Experience and retreats offered by Campus Ministry.

“Patrice has been a part of the Service Break Experience program since her first year,” says Liza Manjarrez, Campus Ministry Associate Director. “She seeks to bring dignity to the individual by engaging those we serve in conversation and activity.”

“I had the opportunity to be a retreat leader for Freshman Escape and give a talk,” she says.  “The focal point of my talk was my own coming out story. There’s a Freshman Escape tradition where everyone has an affirmation bag and people put anonymous affirmations into the bags. Students wrote to me about feeling misunderstood, unloved and lonely for identifying as LGBT+, but found comfort knowing others shared the same experiences.”

“Patrice has taken more courses with me than any other student I have taught,” says Chad Long, associate professor of Political Science. “In every one of them, she brought intellectual rigor, inquisitiveness and empathy for the views of others.”

Kylie Seaman

Kylie Seaman describes herself as “lost and confused” when she arrived at St. Edward’s University as a transfer student.

“St. Edward’s became a place for me to take risks and find myself again through leadership, service and academics,” Kylie says. “The commitment of St. Edward’s to holistically educate students has allowed me to grow as a scholar and a person at the same time. I have learned to take my knowledge and use it to help others, provide service and fight for justice for the less fortunate.”

Kylie’s positive start at St. Edward’s inspired her to become more involved and take on more leadership roles.

“I began my leadership journey with a position as a Transfer Ambassador for the Transfer Student Association (TSA), a role that allowed me to serve as a mentor to transfer students and assist them with their transition to the hilltop,” she says.

“In addition to her 4.0 GPA and being a full-time single mother, I do not know how Kylie finds time to perform service and provide leadership to the university,” says Kristy Ballard, chair of the Kinesiology Department. “Kylie worked as a transfer orientation leader. As a transfer student herself, who better to mentor new transfer students? Kylie served as the TSA President, the Pre-Physical Therapy Organization (PTO) President and the SEU Women’s Club Basketball Team Co-President.”

“What is outstanding about Kylie is the high level of engagement with the spirit and intent of the programs, all while raising her daughter,” says Marisa Lacey, former director of Orientation and Student Transitions. “When Kylie transferred from Kansas, her daughter was still under two years old. They were away from family and support systems, and coming to the hilltop for a fresh start. This is a testament to Kylie’s courage and her amazing growth into a strong role model.”

“The lessons I learned and opportunities I seized while at St. Edward’s led to me achieving my dreams and being accepted to Physical Therapy School,” Kylie says. “I intend to take the holistic education I received here and apply it to my future in hopes of helping others and doing service along the way.”

Kizil Yusoof

A conversation Kizil Yusoof had during an Alternative Spring Break trip appealed to her as a metaphor for stepping out of her comfort zone.

“I was volunteering at Andre House in Arizona, a center for homeless hospitality,” she says. “A guest talked about a snow globe he had seen and how our daily lives have become enclosed in a snow globe, and how everyone seems to be stuck in their own. Many people may forget about the world outside of their own globe. And he asked, ‘What is your snow globe?’”

Kizil says that her decision to attend St. Edward’s University was a major step out of her comfort zone.

“It has been one of the best decisions I have made,” she adds. “My conversation with the guest about the snow globe resonated with me because as a student I have been tied to my goals and interests. The opportunity to participate in the Service Break Experience taught me to look at the world holistically and understand where I fit in as a person interested in healthcare and research.”

“I’ve known Kizil since Fall 2014,” says Emily Hooser Hartman. “She was a new student enrolled in the introductory biology labs, which I coordinate. She was eager to learn more about the scientific process.”

“I had the opportunity to work on a research project to understand how changes in the pH of the gut affect the growth of probiotic bacteria,” Kizil says. “This research made me excited about how our individual microbiomes are affected by simple activities such as diet and lifestyle. I seemed to have found my niche.” She is currently applying to graduate schools to study microbiology.

“Kizil puts herself in new situations that stretch her,” says Lisa M. Goering, chair of Biological Sciences. “These situations include student organizations, leadership events, research, music and service opportunities. Kizil relishes new challenges. She values community and discovering the ways she can contribute.”

My time here at St. Edward's has shaped me into who I am today. Because of this university, I have broadened my individual horizons more than I ever could have imagined," Kizil says. "When people ask me "What is your snow globe?", I can confidently say it is the vulnerability in my life that I have learned through my experiences as well as the relationships that I have built with my family and St. Edward's."