Jul. 1, 2016

Twelve students from the 2015–2016 academic year were presented with the St. Edward’s University Presidential Award at the Honors Night ceremony. The Presidential Award is given to outstanding seniors from the undergraduate, graduate and New College 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:

Kaitlin Burke

When Kaitlin Burke, a Psychology major, became a resident assistant during her sophomore year at St. Edward’s, she saw herself as a superhero, ready to take on any challenge and save all those who needed saving. Instead, she ended up dealing with far more resident problems and crises than she had expected, leaving her emotionally drained. 

Instead of quitting, Kaitlin examined her role as a resident assistant. She had always related to the spiritual metaphor of herself as a cup running over with generosity and love, which she believed empowered her to give everything to those around her. But by doing that, she drained her cup dry. She talked to family, friends, staff members and mentors about the stress and pressure she experienced as an RA, a process she found embarrassing and sometimes painful. Kaitlin came to the realization that acknowledging your own weakness is not a weakness, but a strength. She says that learning to be patient, kind, caring and understanding with herself has helped her be the same with others.

Kaitlin continued her work as an RA with the Honors Living Learning Community, and the experience inspired her to pursue a career in counseling. Among the programs Kaitlin conducted for residents are Snores Galore, emphasizing the importance of sleep; May the Force Be With You?, which cleared up misconceptions about Catholicism and won Outstanding RA Spirituality Program of the Year; Mass 2 Go, in conjunction with Campus Ministry; and Who Ya Gonna Call? Stress Busters!, about stress management and holistic wellness.

Kaitlin’s activities on campus didn’t stop with her work as an RA. She juggled multiple activities, including leading numerous service teams, working with Campus Ministry to plan and lead an off-campus weekend retreat, working both on and off stage in productions at Mary Moody Northen Theatre, and participating in academic trips to Costa Rica and Japan. As she looks to her future, Kaitlin is concentrating on finding joy and beauty within the process of compassion. One recommender said: “Kaitlin excels in working with diverse groups and is poised for a highly successful career in the field of counseling.”

Nancy Clark

One of Nancy Clark’s greatest moments came during a conversation with a group of FreeStore Austin community regulars, many of whom are homeless. She felt honored by the honesty and frankness these people shared with her. The conversation happened during Nancy’s Capstone project for her Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and Ethics (MSOLE).

FreeStore Austin is an outreach ministry of the United Methodist Church that provides free clothing and household items to all by encouraging donations of items and time back to the store. When Nancy started graduate school she was filled with passion and ideas but struggled to put them into action. In her first course she learned that leadership is more about who a person is than about having a certain skill. In another course she discovered the importance of culture and creating dialogue. An ethics course introduced her to the moral matrix, which helped her understand the motives of other people. These discoveries led Nancy to accept more risk. She agreed to speak to a group of women in state government about the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions. The discussion that followed, on gender bias and how to bring about change, was humbling for Nancy. The more risks she took, the more confidence she gained. She could see this in her volunteer work at FreeStore Austin. Her goal for her Capstone project was to help the organization be better equipped for a sustainable future. She interacted closely with FreeStore clients, interviewed board and staff members, and made recommendations about increasing FreeStore’s impact on the community. Nancy discovered that many of the things she suggested were already on the minds of some of the boardmembers, emphasizing the importance of opening a dialogue.

Nancy says the MSOLE program helped her discover voices that have stayed silent for a longtime. She is now much more confident about speaking up and taking action. One recommender said: “Nancy’s training and scholarship have helped her understand the needs of the world. Her infectious enthusiasm and tireless advocacy make her the kind of leader who brings people from all walks of life to greater understanding.” 

Clair Daly

Clair Daly describes herself as quiet and shy when she arrived at St. Edward’s as a freshman. Faculty and staff who worked with her describe her as a born leader. This dichotomy illustrates how Clair successfully worked to expand her comfort zone during her time at the university. The Communication major pushed herself to say yes to opportunities that initially made her feel uncomfortable. The more often she did this, the more comfortable she became and the more leadership opportunities came her way.Clair credits the LeaderShape Institute for her success. She attended the five-day program as a sophomore and describes the activities as helping students discover more about themselves and their leadership development.

Upon completing the program, Clair made a conscious effort to challenge herself to accomplish what she thought was impossible. A number of Service Break Experiences (SBE) contributed to Clair’s personal growth. Her first took her to the U.S/Mexico border, where she learned about complex social and economic issues facing people on both sides of the border. Students lived with recent immigrants in El Paso, Texas, while working with local organizations that provide housing and assistance. During another SBE in Montreal, Canada, Clair worked with people who have developmental disabilities. She then led a SBE to San Francisco to work with organizations that create safes paces for youth facing HIV and AIDS. Clair was the SBE leader for the inaugural Building Bridges experience that seeks to support homeless LGBT+ youth and young adults. Her leadership helped make it one of the most requested by students. Clair excelled in other leadership activities as well, including planning various campus events, participating in local service events, and working as an Anchors leader to support incomingstudents and introduce them to campus traditions.

As she approached graduation, Clair acknowledged that she had increased her comfort zone to triple the size it was when she first came to St. Edward’s. One recommender said: “Clair brings joy to her work with her sense of humor and use of music and pop culture in a variety of situations, and her ability to have fun wherever she goes.”

Anna Davies

After a trip to Japan with a business course during her sophomore year at St. Edward’s, Anna Davies was determined to pursue a career in international marketing. Anna, a Marketing major with a minor in Graphic Design, came to St. Edward’s as a member of the Hilltopper women’s soccer team. She first saw herself as more than a student-athlete when she attended LeaderShape, a week long program designed to inspire student leaders. Following this, she became involved with multiple departments on campus and joined several student organizations. While helping organize the annual Job & Internship Fair on campus, Anna connected with a local company that gave her the opportunity to use her marketing and design skills in real-life situations. Her involvement with her off-campus job and in campus activities as a participant and leader piqued her interest in culture and international communication. 

Next came the trip to Japan with her business course. Anna found herself intrigued with the vibrant, colorful packaging that combined marketing and graphic design to highlight the cultural aspects of that country. The experience inspired her senior thesis on design as a tool for cross-cultural communication between the United States and Japan. 

On a 2015 trip with Campus Ministry to South Africa, her father’s home country, Anna saw the lingering effects of apartheid on some of the communities the group visited. They volunteered at a home for vulnerable children, where she saw the profound need for improved access to education. Anna’s connection with the people she met there cemented her aspiration to combine business, design and creativity to equalize opportunity across cultural and national borders.

Anna says she has developed a stronger sense of who she is because of the emphasis at St. Edward’s on experiential programs abroad, cultural engagement, global inclusiveness and social justice. One recommender said: “Of the students I’ve worked with on their honors thesis, Anna has thought most deeply about her own goals, and has taken the most risks personally and academically. She had the courage to go well outside her comfort zone and figure out what she was most interested in, even if it was intimidating.”

Michael Haywood

Before coming to St. Edward’s, Michael Haywood seldom thought about developing or strengthening his own convictions and ideals. While attending LeaderShape in his sophomore year, he resolved to never again let himself fall into apathy. From there it was full steam ahead.

He added a second minor and entered the new Behavioral Neuroscience program. He later spent a semester as a teaching assistant. He volunteered at service projects and became a site leader for Campus Ministry’s SERVE 1-Day during his senior year. He learned about issues that affect the homeless population in Phoenix, Arizona, during a Service Break Experience. He worked 16 sessions of Campus Connections, two Anchors programs and two Hunts on the Hilltop through the Transitional Experiences Council. He attended the National Conference on Students in Transition in Denver, Colorado. He learned about sustainable development through Eco-Lead in Costa Rica and study abroad in Chile. With every semester, Michael found new ways to make a difference for others, to grow as a person and to test his limits. He says that he didn’t have a master plan to guide his vast range of activities, but over time he saw the connections and common threads between everything hedid. And he discovered that one of the best ways he could serve others was to build connections, whether between different people and groups or between people and information. In addition to his many service endeavors, Michael also participated in activities associated with his second minor: music. He performed with the Madrigal Chamber Choir and Omni Jazz, and played guitar and sang with the Jazz Lab Band.

While he wasn’t sure who he was when he entered St. Edward’s, by the time he graduated,Michael had grown into a person driven to be his best, to understand more about the world and people around him, and to help anyone in whatever way he can.

One recommender said: “Michael made sure he took advantage of every aspect of the St. Edward’s experience. What is outstanding is not simply his participation, but the high level of engagement with the spirit and intent of the programs.”

Michelle Hernandez

Michelle Hernandez found herself on an unexpected but valuable path when she discovered the St. Edward’s mission to “provide an environment in which freely chosen beliefs can be
deepened and expressed.” The Religious and Theological Studies major had no intention of attending a university with a religious affiliation, believing a public institution would be more likely to encourage students to think for themselves.

Even after choosing St. Edwards, Michelle didn’t consider getting involved in Campus Ministry. Things began to change when she went on a Freshman Escape. She had never been on a retreat before, and says it turned out to be one of the experiences she treasures most. She discovered how complex people are, how there’s more to a person than what meets the eye. During the retreat, group members and team leaders shared how they struggled with their faith, something Michelle had not realized before.

Michelle encountered theology for the first time in her Freshman Studies class. She found herself intrigued by questions of purpose, ultimate meaning, motivation and the variety of personal factors that influence the answers to these questions. She became drawn to Religious and Theological Studies as a major and to undergraduate ministry as a vocation. Classes at St. Edward’s taught Michelle how to think critically by asking educated questions. And her involvement with SERVE 1-Day’s service projects and participation in three ServiceBreak Experiences showed her that faith and spiritually are inseparable when working toward social justice.
Michelle is grateful to have had the chance to explore her beliefs through her work as a Peer Minister and a Freshman Studies teaching assistant, which allowed her to express her faith through relationship-building. She is driven by her faith to continue encountering it in unexpected places and pushing for a better tomorrow. 

One recommender said: “Michelle has come to my office many times to discuss ideas she is considering, especially the intersection between psychology, religious experience and interfaith understanding. Her motivation for these conversations was not grade-based, but inspired by her curiosity and passion for these topics.”

Chris Jackson

Christopher Jackson has seen the damage that natural disasters can cause. As a freshman,Chris traveled to Biloxi, Mississippi, a town that has suffered recurring national disasters, for a Service Break Experience working with Habitat for Humanity. As he installed floorboards, caulked, laid sod and talked to residents, Chris came to the realization that, without government policy that addresses climate change, citizens such as those in Biloxi will continue to suffer. The Chemistry major hopes to pursue a career researching renewable energy to combat climate change and meet the world’s growing energy needs.

With a goal of finding long-term solutions to the problems created by climate change, Chris spent the following summers conducting research on solar cell technology at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center National Laboratory and researching carbon dioxide reduction at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. He was president of the university’s chapter of American Chemical Society (ACS) Students on Climate Change, a group that encourages climate change discourse among college students. He served as an ACS student representative at the 21st Conference of Parties on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris, France. Chris says his St. Edward’s education and social justice background have given him the
opportunity to work on both the technology that can drastically reduce the impact of climate change as well as with communities suffering the effects of this global problem. As a scientist and global citizen, he believes he has a responsibility to work at the intersection of chemistry research, international policy and public service. In his future, he wants to support new projects that adopt technologies and develop international policies that make a tangible impact.

Beyond science, Chris’ involvements at St. Edward’s have been diverse. He competed for the Hilltoppers Division II varsity cross country team, played trumpet in the university’s jazz band,
and was president of the Asian Student Association.One recommender said: “I have watched this quiet, unassuming young man blossom into a confident, outspoken leader. Chris has been extremely active in contributing to scholarly activity within the field of chemistry.”

Catherine Maloney

Catherine Maloney came to St. Edward’s knowing she was interested in healthcare and improving the lives of impoverished individuals, but unsure of the path she would take. The Rhode Island native already had completed two service trips to the Mustard Seed Communities (MSC) before she arrived at St. Edward’s. The Kingston, Jamaica, organization works with young people who are disabled, have HIV/AIDS or are teenage mothers.

Catherine made her third trip to MSC as a leader of a Service Break Experience with Campus Ministry. Another Service Break Experience at St. Edward’s took Catherine to Phoenix, Arizona, to serve homeless people at the André House of Hospitality. She learned that more than 15 percent of the sheltered homeless in Phoenix suffer from a diagnosed mental illness. As she listened to these people talk, her interest in healthcare turned to an interest in mental health. Back at St. Edward’s, Catherine decided on a major in Behavioral Neuroscience with a minor inBiology. She received a 2014 Fulbright Summer Institute Award to study at the University of Exter’s International Summer School in England. There, she pursued studies in Preventive Medicine: Exercise and the Environment, working alongside renowned scholars to explore the physiological and psychological aspects of health and wellbeing. The experience reinforced he decision to focus on behavioral neuroscience. 

During additional Service Break Experiences, Catherine led a trip to El Paso, Texas, to work with female immigrants and traveled to Arizona to work with the Apache Native American Reservation. A semester abroad in Angers, France, added to her understanding of mental health in different cultures and expanded her overall worldview. Opportunities have defined her experience at St. Edward’s, Catherine says. Professors, campus ministers and peers have helped her clearly discern her goal of providing culturally sensitive mental health interventions in developing areas. 

One recommender said: “From the beginning I knew Catherine was destined for success. I saw her tailor her experience to cultivate the education of her mind and formation of her heart through vigorous course selection, service to others and the promotion of justice.”

Jacques Mercier des Rochettes

Jacques Mercier des Rochettes found himself in an unexpected situation when, as a junior at St. Edward’s, he traveled to Spain to learn the language and culture of that country. Upon arrival he discovered that his host for the month was a secluded conspiracy theorist. The Philosophy major accepted the challenge to learn from someone who rejected society and whom society rejected. Jacques says this turned out to be one of his best experiences. He credits his professors for his attitude of openness and appropriate curiosity, giving him the ability to learn from every experience.

Jacques came to St. Edward’s with the intention to study political science and work with governments. He soon decided that his concern for the common good would best be developed by majoring in philosophy and searching for a growing understanding of what is true and good.
His professors encouraged him to work directly on what he is interested in and what he thinks is valuable. He accepted the challenge, working with refugees and editing a philosophy journal. He says the refugees have helped him understand the need for commitment. The philosophy journal exposed him to many perspectives, requiring him to respectfully ask questions and seek honesty in research without prejudice against opposite points of view. Jacques is known among the St. Edward’s faculty for participating in just about every meaningful activity on campus, an example of his commitment to social justice and peace. Heseeks opportunities off campus, as well. In 2013 he rode his bicycle to the Texas State Capitol and convinced the Ways and Means chair of the legislature to take him on as an intern.

Jacques served as a liaison to meetings with lobbyists and managed constituent relations. His Philosophy Department studies have taught him to challenge himself, Jacques says, to continue searching with others for the cohesion of our best thoughts and acts, to understand ourselves, our faiths and the riches of all cultures. One recommender said: “As a mentor for the campus Rotaract Club, I got to know Jacques and found him to be a leader, a person of ideas and ideals, and a hard worker.and a hard worker.”

Leslie Gerik Nelson

Prior to pursuing her Master of Business Administration, Leslie Gerik Nelson gave little thought to international business or working abroad. Her MBA graduate program at St. Edward’s changed that. She traveled to Prague, Bratislava and Vienna for a Special Topics in Global Business course and participated in the university’s MBA Global Business Capstone consulting course in Seoul, South Korea. Leslie credits her classes and professors for her interest in the global reach of companies, economies and countries, and how they are all connected. She is committed to the idea that business leaders must understand how all stakeholders are intertwined and must work together to achieve their goals. Within the first month of her studies at St. Edward’s, Leslie began working to create the first graduate student association within The Bill Munday School of Business.

The result was the MBA Student Association (MBASA), which gives students opportunities to learn, grow and network outside the classroom. This reignited her passion for leadership and allowed her to sharpen those skills. Leslie is proud of her role in launching the MBASA and its benefits to the business school. She hopes the organization will continue to offer ways for graduate students to live out the mission and Holy Cross traditions of St. Edward’s for years to come. In addition to the rigors of her graduate studies, Leslie is involved in community activities. She is active with the Alzheimer’s Association and has participated in events around Austin in honor of her grandmother, who died from the disease in 2014. She is also social media manager for the Texas Czech Genealogical Society. And she serves the Terry Foundation as a scholarship interviewer and a mentor to current scholars. Her activities in and outside of the classroom have prepared Leslie to be a force in the business world. She says that her classes have fueled her growth as a person, as a leader and as a professional. 

One recommender said: “Leslie is clearly a role-model scholar and student leader. Other students migrate to her, ask her advice and counsel, and she is always willing to help.”

. Edward’-model scholar and student leader. Otherstudents migrate to her, ask her advice and counsel, and she is always willing to help.”


Victoria Ochoa

Victoria Ochoa’s involvement on the St. Edward’s campus began when, as a freshman, she agreed to direct The Big Event, a day of community service. The university had never had a freshman take the lead, but Victoria and her team identified 20 community service sites, raised hundreds of dollars in sponsorships and recruited several hundred student volunteers. 

Victoria, a Political Science major, knew that she wanted to go into public service to help solve the challenges she saw growing up in the Rio Grande Valley. But she was unsure where in the government’s policymaking process she wanted to work and where she could be most effective. Her Foundations of Social Justice class led Victoria to an internship at Annie’s List, a Texas organization dedicated to electing progressive women to the Texas Legislature. Victoria’s next internship took her to the office of Congressman Ruben Hinojosa in Washington, D.C. She was one of 36 students selected nationwide to participate in a Latino leadership training.  

The following summer Victoria interned in the office of Vice President Joe Biden. At the White House, she learned about the “It’s On Us” campaign to end sexual violence on college campuses. She became the Title IX coordinator for “It’s On Us” at St. Edward’s. In one semester, Victoria organized and hosted a campuswide dialogue about sexual violence. She worked with Student Affairs to implement programs and services to address this problem. During her last semester at St. Edward’s, Victoria became the university’s first winner of the prestigious Truman Scholarship, awarded to only 58 students nationwide. The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation supports graduate education and professional development of outstanding students committed to service leadership. 

Returning from a final study abroad trip to France, Victoria felt fulfilled knowing that her intellectual curiosity at St. Edward’s had allowed her to gain emotional awareness, conviction, a sense of self and a sense of adventure. One recommender said: “Victoria’s academic success, internship experience and volunteer efforts tell the story of a bright and caring young woman dedicated to advancing policy solutions to help communities like the one where she was born and raised.”

Cheyenne Rohmann

When Cheyenne Rohmann arrived at St. Edward’s for her freshman year, the first-generation college student didn’t know what to imagine for her future. It didn’t take long, though, for the timid young woman to discover her strengths and put them to work. Cheyenne credits her transformation to the Hilltop Leaders program, which she learned about at the St. Edward’s Involvement Fair.

She had never thought of herself as a leader, which she pictured as someone who is extroverted, powerful and authoritarian. But during the program, she came to see that all types of people can become leaders. She dedicated herself to pursuing leadership in all aspects of her academic life. Two of her first leadership opportunities helped children. Attracted to the idea of service leadership, Cheyenne and her fellow Hilltop Leaders designed a project to benefit families at the nearby Pleasant Hills apartment complex. The Hilltop Leaders raised money to buy a bookshelf, books, school supplies and educational games for children who attended the Pleasant Hills community center. They also enjoyed interacting with the families.

 An internship with Side by Side Kids allowed Cheyenne, a Psychology major, to work with children in the classroom, testing her new leadership skills while helping the children develop their own skills. She created a newsletter published in both English and Spanish to keep parents informed and involved. She interviewed the kids and created a video, and planned and delivered an end-of-semester party. The internship solidified Cheyenne’s passion for working with underprivileged populations. An on-campus leadership role for Cheyenne was as a peer health educator with the Health & Counseling Center. She planned outreach events that encouraged healthy lifestyles, including an interactive presentation to teach students about the benefits of yoga and a video for Body Awareness Month. 

Cheyenne appreciates the opportunities for growth she had at St. Edwards, including studying abroad in Scotland and mentoring students visiting from Japan. She hopes to impact others the way educators at St. Edward’s have impacted her life. One recommender said: “Cheyenne has developed skills that will allow her to make significant contributions to our understanding of the world and its peoples.” 
her grandmother, who died from the disease in 2014. She is also social media for theTexas Czech Genealogical Society. And she serves the Terry as a scholarshipinterviewer and a mentor to current scholars.professional.One recommender sclearly a role-model scholar and student leader. migrate to her, ask her advice and counsel, and she is always willing to help.”