Twelve students from the 2016–2017 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:
Anna Lopez has immersed herself in campus activities since arriving at St. Edward’s for the Fall 2013 semester. As Orientation leader for the Hilltop Welcome Team, she assisted in hosting and leading the 2020 freshman class throughout the summer. She served as president of the Communication Society and volunteered at homeless shelters during a Spring Break Experience in Denver, Colorado.
For two years, Anna was a committee chair and director of The BIG Event. “As The BIG Event director, Anna was critical in the development of the largest one-day service project on the St. Edward’s campus, which consisted of over 225 participants,” says Carey Mays, director of Student Activities. “Anna showed her ability to be a strong leader, take direction and be a team player at the same time.”
This Communication major from Baytown has also participated in multiple activities within Campus Ministry. “What truly has helped inform my growth while at St. Edward’s is Campus Ministry,” Anna says. “I have been involved almost everywhere on campus, but never had I encountered a source that infused so much growth in me as this program. I was introduced to Campus Ministry my sophomore year, and I have found myself returning there ever since. I can confidently say that I would not be where I am today if it were not for the peace that Campus Ministry has brought to my life.”
While saying busy on campus, Anna excels academically. She has been on the Dean’s List every year since she was a freshman. And she is a member of three honor societies: Alpha Lamba Delta, Alpha Chi — and Lamba Pi Eta, the communication honor society.
“Anna is an extraordinarily talented and motivated student,” says Teresita Garza, associate professor of Communication. “It is rare to see such balanced dedication at the undergraduate level. Anna is competent and resourceful. She sets her goals high and strives to exceed expectations. She challenges herself to go beyond basic or fundamental understandings. Consequently, her critical thinking skills are developed well beyond those of most undergraduates.”
When Becca Gutierrez left her home in El Paso in 2013 to attend St. Edward’s, she and her parents knew she was embarking on a journey that would shape her future. “But at the time,” she says, “I did not realize that my education would also change my perspective on the world and teach me how to contribute my skills and my love of helping others to change the world.”
A Political Science major, Becca landed a job as a legislative intern for a Texas state representative. “I thought this is where I was destined to be after college,” she says. “While I eagerly anticipated going into work every day and learning more about how our state government works, I soon realized state politics was not where I belonged. I began to discover that I wanted to help people on a larger scale, perhaps in D.C. where I could work on a national level.”
Looking at different options in her major, Becca reached a decision. “I developed a strong love for wanting to solve education issues because of my appreciation for my well-rounded education and my belief that every child deserves a right to equal and accessible education,” she says.
Becca continued to be involved on campus, including serving as president of the Student Philanthropy Council. “Through her collaboration with the SGA and other student organizations, Becca helped advance students’ understanding of the value and meaning of building a philanthropic culture on campus,” says Joe DeMedeiros, vice president for Advancement.
For her last semester as an undergraduate, Becca moved to Washington, D.C., to be an intern for the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, a nonprofit organization that advocates for education quality. “My collegiate experience ignited that spark of ambition that assured me of my place in the world as an education policy activist,” she says.
“I have every faith that Becca will be able to apply the academic and leadership skills she gained at St. Edward’s to help improve education,” says Jennifer Jefferson, visiting assistant professor, University Studies. “She is, in my opinion, a very brave person."
A Biology major with a concentration in pre-health, Devin Hayes arrived on campus from Iowa in August 2013. “As a freshman, I had no problem getting involved,” she says, “and quickly found myself happily juggling school, rowing practices, volunteering and socializing.”
Devin’s life on campus took a turn during her sophomore year. “One Sunday afternoon when playing intramural flag football, I sustained a concussion that forced me to drop most of my co-curricular activities and focus on doctor’s appointments and studying,” she says. “I don’t remember much from that day or even that year, but I know it was the hardest time in my life. I had difficulties in nearly everything I did as I struggled with memory, walking, depression and anxiety.”
Looking back, Devin says that despite the daily struggles, she doesn’t regret that it happened. “My injury made me face challenges,” she says. “The St. Edward's community was there for me in my worst times. They showed me I didn’t have to do everything alone, and it was okay to admit when things weren’t going my way. With the support of staff and co-workers, I began to embrace my changing reality.”
Among Devin’s many activities are a Service Break Experience in El Paso volunteering at a shelter that helps women who have experienced domestic abuse or homelessness, and guiding weekly campus tours for potential students and their families. She has made the Dean’s List five times and received the Outstanding Student Award in Spanish, her minor.
Devin became Club Sports Coordinator in 2015, meeting with and advising the officers of five club sport teams weekly, while also providing support for developing club teams. “Devin’s passion for serving our community manifested itself in the Club Sport Service Project, which provides a day of service to the Austin community,” says Andy Lemons, director of Campus Recreation.
“Since the moment I met Devin, she has been incredibly cheerful and positive,” says Jason B. De La Rosa, pre-health professions coordinator. “She has embodied our mission to serve, which will serve her well in the health professions one day.”
When Dominick Adrian Namis looks back on his years at St. Edward’s since arriving as a freshman in 2013, he sees challenges he has met and personal growth he has accomplished. “I have been challenged to fight for social justice, live more simply, embrace and love my community, and dig deep and explore myself through spirituality,” he says. “The Holy Cross values upon which St. Edward’s University was founded enhanced my faith and made me who I am today.”
Born in Belize, Dominick and his family moved to Austin before his senior year in high school. “I was a commuter my freshman and sophomore years,” he says. “I needed to get involved on campus and did so through the best way I knew how — the church. Within the first few weeks, I signed up for S.E.R.V.E. Austin through Campus Ministry. Throughout the semester, I worked with Mary House Catholic Worker, a hospice serving Central Texas. This experience taught me that no matter how bad life may seem, we must keep faith in God and continue to love one another.”
A Digital Media Management major, Dominick’s highly involved campus activities include serving two years as a Senator in the Student Government Association (SGA), a Resident Assistant (RA) in the Apartments, and a member of the Academic Integrity Assessment Committee. He also led a group of students during The BIG Event, a day of service to give back to the university’s neighbors in Austin. “He is a quiet, selfless, hard-working and focused student,” says Lisa Kirkpatrick, Vice President for Student Affairs. “He does not require a spotlight to establish a sense of purpose and focus.”
Dominick has traveled to Los Angeles for a Spring Break Experience (SBE) focused on the social issue of urban homelessness, and served those experiencing this problem. In addition to this, Dominick traveled to Montréal, Canada to work with individuals with disabilities and will be going to Lima, Peru in the summer of 2017 to work with children suffering from poverty. “SBE has changed the way I view the world,” he says.
In 2016, Dominick was one of 40 students selected nationwide to participate in the Marketing EDGE Collegiate Summit held in New York City, and one of only 4 to be awarded the prestigious Marketing EDGE Lee Epstein Scholarship. He has received a Faculty Scholarship, been on the Dean’s List from 2014 to 2016, and is also a member of the Delta Mu Delta and Kappa Gamma Pi honor societies. Dominick has interned in the Office of the Governor of Texas, The Texas Department of Information Resources, and the Mozilla Corporation in San Francisco. Upon graduation, Dominick will transition into full-time employment with Facebook.
Jonathan Edwards Jr.
Jonathan E. Edwards Jr. began his journey at St. Edward’s as a freshman senator with the Student Government Association (SGA). His goal was to accomplish something monumental, which resulted in enhancing SGA’s outreach to students by creating the SGA Ambassadors.
During his tenure as Student Body Vice President, Jonathan felt less confident that he was having an impact at the personal level. He became more involved in Campus Ministry during his senior year, as a member of the Home Support Team for the Freshman Escape Retreat. “As I engaged with members of the Class of 2020, I became enthralled with the opportunity to pray for, encourage and reassure the youngest of our students as they embarked upon this new chapter in their lives,” Jonathan says. “Some students were still struggling with speaking English, others had never been to St. Edward’s until they began their studies. And many, to some extent, admitted to me their fears and doubts.”
Jonathan was the first St. Edward’s student to be named a Rangel Scholar and one of 15 students invited nationally by the U.S. State Department. Also, Jonathan, an advocate of public service and community engagement, serves as the First State Vice President of the NAACP Texas State Conference Youth and College Division. In that role he provides leadership to almost 100 units statewide and all state conference committees. Above all Jonathan is a man of faith. As a member of the final class of the Holy Cross Collegiate Program at Moreau House, Jonathan has enjoyed experiencing the values of community, service, and spirituality alongside his brothers: the Men of Moreau. In addition, Jonathan serves as the university Peer Minister of Ecumenical and Interfaith Life. In this capacity he enjoys working in a multi-cultural atmosphere through crossing religious borders of over 50 faith traditions and fostering the development of the university Interfaith Leadership Council.
“Jonathan recognizes his responsibility to the St. Edward’s and world communities by taking advantage of opportunities to serve others to confront critical issues in our society,” says Dean of Students Steven Pinkenburg. “It has been a pleasure working with and getting to know Jonathan. He will succeed on whatever path he chooses.”
Jonathan is a member of Alpha Mu Gamma, Kappa Gamma Pi, and Pi Sigma Alpha honor societies. He has received the Dean’s Excellence Scholarship, the National NAACP Education Award – The Agnes Jones Jackson Scholarship, made the Dean’s List six times and was named an NAACP Torchbearer.
Since her freshmen year, Lisa Machado dreamed of studying abroad. The opportunity came her way to spend four months in Angers, France, during the Spring 2016 semester. Lisa says she learned lessons in France that she could never learn in a classroom. “I learned how to be an adaptive communicator by engaging in weekly conversations with a French high school student,” she says. “By devoting time to exploring my interests, I gained a new perspective on what is important in life.”
Faculty advisor to the study abroad experience in Angers, Catherine MacDermott says that Lisa is the epitome of the school’s motto: Take on Your World. “While participating in the Spring 2016 Angers study abroad program, Lisa was often the ‘travel guide and planner’ for many of her peers, encouraging them to take on their world and make the most their time abroad,” MacDermott says. “Lisa made friends with international students from Russia, Gabon, Vietnam and France and brought them into the St. Edward’s-Angers community.”
Numerous other activities filled the time of this Digital Media Management major from California. Lisa served on the Student Leadership Team (SLT) as the co-director of Leading EDGE, which trains students to work with groups and individuals through team-building sessions and leadership workshops. The following year, Lisa continued her leadership experience as the associate director of SLT, where she led 16 students within the Leadership Living Learning Community. Additionally, Lisa was responsible for co-planning the Change Institute, a forum enabling students to engage in cross-cultural dialogue.
As a volunteer with S.E.R.V.E. Austin, Lisa assisted at an emergency shelter for recently arrived immigrants and people seeking asylum. Lisa also supported the Hilltop Mentor’s program, where she mentored new students to help them adjust to campus life.
Entering St. Edward’s University, Lisa received the Moreau Scholarship, given to one student from each Holy Cross High School that experienced great success in scholarship, leadership and service. As a graduating senior, Lisa has now earned the Presidential Award, culminating a highly successful, holistic education at St. Edward’s University.
“Lisa is the type of student every student affairs professional hopes to work with,” says Lindsey Woelker, associate director of Student Life. “I am fortunate to have been a part of her journey.”
Bioinformatics major Margaret Walsh’s dream is to attend medical school. In Summer 2016, she experienced a valuable opportunity from the Atlantis Project Pre-Medical Fellowship. “I gained an international perspective in La Plata, Argentina, where I shadowed medical specialists in the Sister María Ludovica Children’s Hospital,” she says. “This allowed me to experience a new culture and has motivated me to continue on the road toward attending medical school.”
Another experience Margaret appreciates was a research project at Wild Basin Creative Research Center. “My team and I analyzed microbial root microbiomes of native Texas plant species,” she says. “We created a project that would be the foundation for me beyond the classroom. While conducting my research and engulfing myself in rigorous coursework, I deepened my knowledge and love for the sciences in the classroom.”
Margaret traveled to Phoenix, Arizona, for a Spring Break Experience. “My group lived in community and served with the guests of André House,” she says. “We listened to stories and learned about the adversity that many people on the streets of Arizona face, and how André House provides their guests with a place to call home.”
Charles Hauser, associate professor of Bioinformatics, believes Margaret made a smart but risky decision to major in bioinformatics. “Smart in that she appreciated the impact of bioinformatics on our understanding of disease,” he says. “Risky, in that by moving into a field that requires computational competencies in addition to biology and chemistry, she put her GPA and her desire to become an MD at risk. To her credit, she has demonstrated an unusual ability to work at a high level in all of these disciplines.”
Marisa Lacey, senior associate director of Student Life, sees a bright future for Margaret. “With her inner strength, grace and compassion, Margaret exemplifies the Holy Cross philosophy by utilizing both a strong mind and heart in her academic and service pursuits,” Lacey says. “I feel this will translate through to her future medical career, ensuring that the heart is nurtured along with the mind for herself, colleagues and patients.”
Mary Katherine Belknap
A puzzle with missing pieces is how Mary Katherine Belknap describes herself when she arrived at St. Edward’s University. “I am an introvert, reserved and quiet by nature,” says the December 2016 graduate. “The spark to be proactive and a better leader is something I credit to Student Life here on campus. By aligning myself with unique opportunities as soon as I entered college, I forced myself away from my comfort zone to fulfill my expectations of becoming the better person I wanted to be.”
Mary Katherine immersed herself in activities, especially Students for Sustainability (SFS). “She began her journey with SFS as a member in 2013, then became Communication Director and finally rose to the position of Vice President in 2015,” says Cristina Bordin, Sustainability Coordinator and Advisor for SFS. “Mary Katherine has a keen sense for identifying areas of need within SFS and across campus. She established the campus clothing swap for the St. Edward’s community and spearheaded Tap the Hilltop, a campaign to make St. Edward’s a bottled water-free campus.” SFS collected numerous awards and in 2015 Mary Katherine received the Emerging Leader Award.
Campus Ministry’s Spring Break Experience offered additional opportunities. “This opened my sense of community by inexplicable measures,” Mary Katherine says. “I formed community around the globe working with staff and residents helped by Habitat for Humanity in Mississippi; working with orphaned boys in India; underprivileged school children in Peru; and disabled populations in Jamaica.”
Mary Katherine also served as an intern for Visiting Assistant Professor Dr. Charles Porter’s Water Workshops. “Along with her duties in the seven workshops, she was a student in my water mediation training class,” Porter says. “I assigned her the most difficult water dispute, the obscure 2016 disaster between the Jat caste and the citizens of Delhi. This dispute was an outstanding example of a critical issue confronting society not only in India, but also worldwide.”
“College serves as a breeding ground for self-discovery,” Mary Katherine says. “Each puzzle piece that St. Edward’s handed me has helped me to create a beautiful picture that clarifies my understanding of the world and myself all the better.”
Biology major Narda Salinas had spent most of her life in Austin when she arrived at St. Edward’s for her freshman year. Much to her surprise, Austin became a new place to her. “Opportunities to engage in volunteer work with the campus and the community opened my eyes to my unique abilities and showed me new possibilities in my world,” Narda says. “St. Edward’s gave me the passion to not only say what I want to accomplish, but to formulate a plan and act on it.”
At The LeaderShape Institute during spring semester of her freshman year, Narda was able to reflect on who she is and what she wants to do. “Being surrounded by people with great aspirations inspired me to dig deeper and consider my ultimate purpose,” she says. “I learned about different leadership styles, how to lead with integrity and the importance of listening. An even greater blessing was forming a community with people of different backgrounds and majors who pulled me outside of my comfort zone.”
Among Narda’s leadership roles are communication director and co-campaign director for GlobeMed at St. Edward’s; volunteer coordinator for the American Medical Student Association and Academy of Science; and student leader for an Spring Break Experience trip to Denver, Colorado. She has volunteered at Dell Children’s Hospital, Sierra Ridge Learning Center, and St. David’s South Austin Hospital. An outstanding student, Narda is in the Honors Program and Alpha Lamba Delta Honor Society. She has been on the Dean’s List four times.
“Although I debate whether medical school, graduate school or both is the right plan for me, I know St. Edward’s has prepared me with the skills and passion to take any path that opens up,” Narda says. Liza Manjarrez, associate director of Campus Ministry, knows Narda will succeed. “Her course of study as a Biology major fits her perfectly,” Manjarrez says. “Her intellect and interest in the subject steams from a desire to work on behalf of improving people’s health and wellness, especially among the most vulnerable of society.”
As a freshman at St. Edwards, Rochelle Hajikhani trudged up the hill from East Hall to her classes. She recalls looking toward the sky and seeing flags that proclaimed, ‘Take on your world.’ “Seeing that simple message each day made me realize that big accomplishments were waiting to be achieved over the horizon,” Rochelle says. “It started with the signs. But my professors played a huge role in my motivation and achievements soon thereafter. It was my professors who presented me with challenging course material and who would encourage outside-the-box and critical thinking.”
In her sophomore year, this Biology major from Katy, Texas, attended The LeaderShape Institute, a week-long seminar that focuses on leadership development and personal discovery. “Developing my LeaderShape Vision began as what I thought I had been doing all along: working hard to make it into dental school,” Rochelle says. “But after a week of workshops, dialogue and critical thinking, I learned that my true desire is to serve my community. I realized that is why I wanted to reach my dental-related goals in the first place. I started the next semester even more inspired to use my drive and resources at St. Edward’s to care for people in need in my community.”
Rochelle applied for the LeaderShape Institute Vision Fund in hopes of starting her own community outreach. “I received a stipend to educate underserved children at local elementary schools about oral health while also providing toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss,” she says. “It was beyond fulfilling to see how receptive the children were.”
Lisa M. Goering, associate professor of Biological Sciences, is impressed with Rochelle’s commitment to service. “I have witnessed her passion for pursuing justice in her involvement with the Pre-Dental Club,” Goering says. “Rochelle has almost single handedly revived the club. As a leader Rochelle acts as a motivator — she has drawn in other students and gotten them excited about the club. This allows other students to be involved. Rochelle is not interested in being in control but rather empowering other students to take a more active role.”
Sharnicia Dotson displayed her leadership skills as soon as she arrived on the St. Edward’s campus. As a freshman, she served as social director for Teresa Hall, creating and promoting events for the residents. She expanded her role the following year to area coordinator for East and Teresa halls. As area coordinator she coached 10 students to plan events for their residence halls; executed marketing campaigns for campus and resident hall events, including social media, poster designing and tabling; and oversaw campuswide events such as Hall Olympics and the Halloween Block Party.
As a mentor with Hilltop Mentors, a program for incoming students, Sharnicia acted as a companion, problem-solver, listening ear and friend. As a tutor with S.E.R.V.E. Austin, she tutored students seeking to earn either their GED or high school diploma. She also had the opportunity to tutor elementary students.
In Fall 2015, Sharnicia studied abroad in South Korea, taking 15 credit hours in business courses. “I lived with three Korean roommates and had an international exchange class comprised of people from France, Belgium, Canada, Mexico, Sweden, Russia and Uzbekistan,” she says. “Never before in my life had I the opportunity to hear so many unique backgrounds and perspectives at once.”
Back on campus, Sharnicia continued to be an outstanding student in the Honors Program, earning a place on the Dean’s List twice and an Emerging Leader award. She served as marketing director for Topper TV, creating marketing campaigns and event materials. As marketing director for the spirit organization Hillraisers, Sharnicia developed social media plans to inspire more people to go to games, and wrote profiles for the athletes so students could get to know them.
“Sharnicia is an innovative and creative leader who helps push her team beyond the boundaries of what we have always done,” says Marisa Lacey, senior associate director of Student Life. Tiffany Tirres, adjunct professor of International Management, agrees. “With her international experience in Korea, Sharnicia took a risk to expand her global footprint,” Tirres says. “Sharnicia is a creative, motivated and passionate individual with a strong will to achieve and a heart of gold.”
Graphic Design major Stephanie J. Darby has had many opportunities to use her skills during her years as a St. Edward’s student. She started as a junior designer at Arete, the university’s student academic journal, and worked her way up to the position of lead designer. She served as a volunteer designer for the Two Nations One Faith event, which marked Pope Francis’ visit to Juarez, Mexico in the hopes of breaking down barriers around immigration. Through various internships and freelance projects, she had the opportunity to design for clients such as the U.S. Department of State, the Israeli Consulate, and the Texas Department of Transportation.
“Being a graphic designer is about being a visual problem solver,” Stephanie says. “I believe I have a responsibility to use my skills to engender change for social justice issues. It might seem like I spend my days designing posters or websites, but I am actually designing change.” As such, the work she produced at St. Edward’s as the Senior Graphic Designer for Campus Ministry has been the most meaningful to her.
“At its core, Campus Ministry revolves around service, social justice issues, interfaith inclusion, and ultimately, the word of God,” she says. “The aura about the Campus Ministry building is one of compassion and caring, and serving here has allowed me to learn about the expanding potential of my own capabilities.”
Stephanie’s commitment to service extends across Austin and North America. During a Service Break Experience trip to Los Angeles, she and her group served breakfast, lunch and dinner to more than 1,000 men, women and families at the Union Rescue Mission in Skid Row. On a trip to Montreal she lived with and served adults with intellectual disabilities. In San Francisco, she worked at shelters for LGBTQ+ youth who were experiencing homelessness.
She helped with clean-ups at McKinney Falls State Park, Blunn Creek, and Slaughter Creek, volunteered at an animal shelter in Cedar Creek walking and playing with the rescue dogs, and made homemade soup and sandwiches for the ARCH homeless shelter in downtown Austin. She served as a volunteer deputy in Travis County advocating for individuals with disabilities, and her passion for ending systemic homelessness inspired her to design and help coordinate Reach Out, the homeless resource fair for the greater Austin-area.
A member of Alpha Lambda Delta, Alpha Chi, and Kappa Gamma Pi honor societies, Stephanie has made the Dean’s List every semester since Fall 2013. “She provides leadership to her peers in words and actions,” says Kim Garza, associate professor of Graphic Design. “She knows how her strengths complement others’ contributions.”