Apr. 12, 2019

Nine students from the 2018–2019 academic year will receive the St. Edward’s University Presidential Award at the Honors Night ceremony on April 29. 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.

Jovahana Avila ’19, Political Science

As a first-generation American, Jovahana Avila lived at the center of her family’s immigration experiences to the United States. It is because of her experiences that she grew up keenly aware of the need to improve and strengthen her community. On campus, she worked to rebuild the Latino Student Leaders Organization, and create a space to build a community and identify their overlapping experiences. In time, she hopes to be a change agent, improving the ways that government agencies, public policy, and institutions serve communities. Jovahana began this pursuit working at the Texas House of Representatives with State Representative Eddie Rodriguez. This led to her experiences working at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C., League of Women Voters of Texas, Annie’s List, Mayor Steve Adler, U.S. House of Representatives with Congressman Luis V. Gutiérrez and at the Center for Public Policy Priorities.

Jennifer Dennington ’19, Special Education


Jennifer knew that she had to learn about injustices of the world if she had any chance at alleviating even one of them. This idea led her to the Service Break Experience program with Campus Ministry. She participated in two experiences, led one, and will lead a final trip the summer after she graduates. On her first trip with the program, she spent a week with people experiencing homelessness in Phoenix at Andre House of Hospitality. Her second one re-affirmed her major and career path in Special Education as she spent the week in Montreal, Canada, with their L’Arche (Larsh) community. L’Arche was founded by Jean Vanier (Von-yay), who wanted people with intellectual disabilities to live in harmony with those who were of able-body and able-mind.  Recently, Jennifer was named the class of 2019 Valedictorian.  

Lilliana Yuelei Hime ’19, English Writing and Rhetoric

Lillian Hime

Lilliana discovered early in her career at St. Edward’s that change starts with the individual at the innermost level, radiating outward to the community and further to the world. This was the inspiration for the organization Lilliana started, AmericaIWill.  For two years, the organization has worked to empower students to be the change they want to see in their communities, using their unique skills in the fields they’re passionate about to make a difference. Lilliana believes the organization’s strongest, most effective educational tool has been storytelling. From anonymous stories of DACA recipients at St. Edward’s to an art exhibit of trans beauty and stories, she believes that to make people care, the quickest route to connection is through the empathy fostered by stories.

Rachel Leader ’19, Sociology

Rachel Leader

Starting college, Rachel wanted to find her place at St. Edward’s and feel accepted by the campus community. One way Rachel was able to do that was immersing herself in Campus Ministry. Through participating in the Service Break Experience program, she found people who shared her values of community and justice. She led a trip experience to El Paso, Texas, where her group learned more about the conditions facing immigrants and migrant workers. They spent time at Villa Maria, a temporary home for women experiencing homelessness. They prepared dinner for the women and shared meals with them. While at Villa Maria, a temporary home for women experiencing homelessness, she felt the power sharing spaces with others that transcended boundaries and borders. Rachel continuously seeks to build community through her research in sociology and her commitment to justice as a servant leader. 

Katrina Bush ’19, Biology, Pre-Health Concentration

Katrina Bush

Early in Katrina’s time at St. Edward’s, she began volunteering at C.D. Doyle Clinic, a free health clinic serving the homeless and low-income communities of Austin. She has also had the opportunity to see health issues internationally by serving as president of the St. Edward’s chapter of GlobeMed, a social-justice health equity organization that partners with global nonprofits to work on sustainable partnerships and projects. During a summer in Nicaragua, Katrina worked as a grassroots onsite work intern planning a nutritional project, while focusing on developing a mutual relationship to best understand and serve their needs. In working with the Austin homeless community and local citizens in Nicaragua, she became convinced that healthcare is a human right, not a privilege.

Bridget MacDonald ’19, Social Work

Bridget Macdonald

When Bridget arrived at St. Edward’s, social work was not even on her radar. Since discovering it her freshman year however, the program has helped her put her passion for working with others and addressing injustices into action. She has also been able to take these passions outside of the classroom through her work with Campus Ministry. She had a passion for service and justice, and a desire for community, and the Service Break Experience program provided those things. Bridget participated in the program for three years, traveling domestically to serve different communities. The Honors Program and Bridget’s Social Work major have challenged her, required her to think critically and creatively, and have been a crucial part of her Holy Cross education. 

Sydney Mitchell ’19, Behavioral Neuroscience

Sydney Mitchell

Sydney came to St. Edward’s determined to find her niche, a physical and mental space of belonging. She found her place in the Black Student Alliance, a safe space that fostered an environment that seemed like home, where she could be herself. She also became a resident assistant, focusing on helping residents make connections and advocating for her peers. Sydney traveled on the Social Justice Journey, an annual week-long trip that seeks to confront critical issues of society, through the Diversity and Inclusion office. In spring 2019, she was inducted into the McNair Scholars program, where she conducted research on how Race and Physicality effect the sentencing in the judicial system. Through her many experiences, Sydney has not only found her place, but left her mark on St. Edward’s University. 


Amanda S. Rodriguez ’19, Finance

Amanda Rodriguez

Amanda took advantage of the multiple service opportunities on campus in an effort to answer the call she felt to serve others and become an active member of society. Her first service experience on campus was attending a S.E.R.V.E. 1 Day project. When she registered for the project, she had no idea service would become such a big part of her life. Through participating in various projects, she has discovered her passion for service while learning the importance of being an active member of society. She realized she could help address the issue of economic inequality by becoming a financial advisor or certified public accountant to work with lower socio-economic communities and help them reach financial stability.

Marlaina Widmann ’19, Behavioral Neuroscience

Marlaina Widmann

Marlaina’s experiences as a Peer Health Educator in the Recreation and Wellness office shifted her career goals. When she applied for the position, she expected to primarily be interested in learning more about and educating her peers on mental health issues. She chose to study behavioral neuroscience due to an interest in becoming a psychiatrist. As she learned more about health promotion, she came to understand just how important it is to focus on all dimensions of a person’s wellbeing, not simply physical and mental, like she had previously believed. Guided by her experiences with and understanding of health promotion, she aspires to become a doctor of osteopathic medicine due to its more holistic philosophy and approach to medicine.