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College of Arts and Sciences Student Awards

The College of Arts and Sciences at Saint Louis University recognizes the scholastic and creative achievements of our outstanding students.

CAS Graduate Award Guidelines

CAS Distinguished Thesis Award Guidelines

The Distinguished Thesis Award honors exceptional scholarship, research and writing by thesis master’s students in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The winner of the CAS Distinguished Thesis Award will receive an honorarium of $700. Up to two honorable mentions will be awarded, with honoraria of $150.

Criteria and Eligibility

All thesis master’s students may apply for initial consideration by the committee. (Only one student from each thesis master’s degree-granting unit in the College of Arts and Sciences may be a finalist.) Students whose degrees were conferred in 2023 are eligible for the 2024 award.

Application Process

Submit applications by completing and sending the application form. Applications must be submitted to by 5 p.m. on January 31, 2024.

  1. An application includes:
    1. Name
    2. SLU ID
    3. Degree-granting department or program
    4. Date of degree conferral
    5. Current email address
    6. Current mailing address
    7. Title of thesis
    8. A thesis summary of no more than 10 double-spaced pages (12-point, Times New Roman font or similar). Must be included as a PDF in the form.
    9. A chapter-length writing sample from the thesis. Must be included as a PDF in the form.
    10. The applicant's CV (no more than two pages) Must be included as a PDF in the form.
  2. A thesis summary of no more than 10 double-spaced pages (12-point, Times New Roman font or similar). The summary must be written by the nominee for an audience of non-specialists.
  3. A chapter-length writing sample from the thesis.
  4. The nominee’s CV (no more than two pages).

Selection Process

A multidisciplinary committee will meet twice. First, the committee will examine the applications in order to create a list of finalists, with no more than one finalist being chosen from any master’s degree-granting program.

The committee will then ask each finalist's department/advisor to provide a letter that supports the selection of the thesis and explains how it constitutes a significant contribution to the discipline. The committee will then examine the entire application and select winners based on the significance of their contribution to their disciplines.

The committee will consider both content and method, assessing the importance of the study, originality of the work, the caliber of the scholarship, publication potential, and the quality of the writing, among other measures of excellence.

CAS Distinguished Dissertation Award Guidelines

The Distinguished Dissertation Award honors exceptional scholarship, research and writing by doctoral students in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The winner of the CAS Distinguished Dissertation Award will receive an honorarium of $700. Up to two honorable mentions will be awarded, with honoraria of $150.

Criteria and Eligibility

All CAS doctoral students whose degrees were conferred in 2023 are eligible to apply for initial consideration by the committee for the 2024 award. (Only one student from each doctoral program in the College of Arts and Sciences may be a finalist.)

Application Process

Submit applications by completing and sending the application form. Applications must be submitted to by 5 p.m. on January 31, 2024.

  1. An application includes:
    1. Name
    2. SLU ID
    3. Degree-granting department or program
    4. Date of degree conferral
    5. Current email address
    6. Current mailing address
    7. Title of dissertation
  2. A dissertation summary of no more than 10 double-spaced pages (12-point, Times New Roman font or similar). The summary must be written by the applicant for an audience of non-specialists. Must be included as a PDF in the form.
  3. A chapter-length writing sample from the dissertation. Must be included as a PDF in the form.
  4. The applicant’s CV (no more than two pages). Must be included as a PDF in the form.

Selection Process

A multidisciplinary committee will meet twice. First, the committee will examine the applications in order to create a list of finalists, with no more than one finalist chosen from any doctoral degree-granting program. The departments/advisors of the finalists will then be asked to provide a letter that supports the selection of the dissertation and explains how it constitutes a significant contribution to the discipline. The committee will then examine the entire application and select award winners based on the significance of their contribution to their disciplines. The committee will consider both content and method, assessing the importance of the study, originality of the work, the caliber of the scholarship, publication potential, and the quality of the writing, among other measures of excellence.


Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Undergraduate Champion Award

The College of Arts and Sciences Undergraduate DEI Champion Award recognizes a graduating senior in the college who has made significant contributions to advancing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in areas including but not limited to race and ethnicity, gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, language, culture, national origins, religious commitments, age, disability status, political perspectives within the university and/or in the broader community. Categories include, but are not limited to, advocacy, activism, community engagement, and/or research. 

The CAS DEI Committee must receive nominations by Jan. 29.  A candidate must have 90 or more undergraduate hours by that time.  Winners receive an honorarium.

James D. Collins/Outstanding Senior Awards

Each April, the SLU College of Arts and Sciences recognizes outstanding seniors. Faculty members nominate students in their disciplines. Each department chooses one student, a graduating major in their program, to receive the award annually using its own criteria and procedures.

The office of the dean must receive nominations by February 21. A candidate must have 90 or more undergraduate hours by that time. Winners receive an engraved college medallion.

Pre-Commencement Awards

The College of Arts and Sciences recognizes graduating students who are members of honorary societies and who receive special departmental awards at our pre-commencement ceremony each May. We are proud of our graduates’ participation in a wide variety of activities and recognize their success not only in the classroom but on campus, in the community and in the world.

2023 Undergraduate Collins Award Winners

African American Studies – Rebecca Townley
Headshot of Rebecca Townley

Rebecca Townley, African American Studies

American Studies – Taylor Stalling
Taylor Stalling holding awards medal at ceremony.

Taylor Stalling, American Studies

Introduction by Emily Lutenski, Ph.D.

I am delighted to introduce Taylor Stalling, the 2023 Collins Award winner from the Department of American Studies.

I first met Taylor in Fall 2020, when she was a student in my Introduction to American Culture course. The course took up four contemporary problems in the United States—the pandemic, the criminalization of blackness, the politics of resentment, and undocumented migration—which were examined through numerous disciplinary angles. The topics of the course were urgent and student approaches to them could be divided. Taylor was immediately impressive when, in every discussion, she participated in manners that were informed, principled, and curious, engaging both the difficult course materials and her classmates with both generosity and conviction. As one of my colleagues described, “she is inspirational for others in the classroom and supportive of many different kinds of learners.”

Taylor is an astute cultural critic. In my class, she crafted an excellent paper that analyzed Beyoncé’s performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” at the Coachella music festival in 2018. She argued that this performance was a way to unapologetically bring “Black associationalism” to the forefront of U.S. cultural consciousness, even in a predominately white space where Beyoncé was the first Black performer to headline the event in its 21-year history. “Black associationalism” is a term Taylor drew from the scholarship of Imani Perry, who uses it to describe the development of Black organizations— religious institutions, Greek life, HBCUs, and more — that are “explicitly political, even with respect to organizations that had no explicitly political purpose,” particularly in that they emphasize the attainment of freedom as a collective endeavor rather than an individual goal. Through Taylor’s close attention to the details of Beyoncé’s performance — from the choice to sing the “Black National Anthem” in the first place, to the HBCU-style marching band that backs her, to the unified cries of the performers — Taylor sees Beyoncé’s performance not as pleasing the predominately white audience she would have faced, but instead as radically out of joint with it. The performance creates, as African American organizations have long done, a Black-centered, empowering community of inclusion, even in a white-dominated space of tokenization.

Taylor is also a rigorous archival researcher. In another American Studies course, with a semester-long project in the SLU Special Collections, one of my colleagues reports that “Taylor . . . produced, unquestionably, the best paper in the class. Based on extensive research — so extensive that the archivist later shared how much she admired Taylor’s approach — Taylor reconstructed part of the history of Black Catholics in St. Louis through the records of St. Elizabeth’s parish and the Federated Colored Catholics association of the 1920s and 1930s. Her essay argues convincingly that existing scholarship has focused too much on white religious leaders and has largely ignored the agency and creativity of Black parishioners. Reading critically through the parish records, Taylor brings out Black parishioners’ voices, beginning the work of returning them to the center of the historical account. It is a tour-de-force paper, and [she] is revising it to be submitted for publication.”

This semester, Taylor is putting the finishing touches on her senior thesis, an extensive piece of original research that uses hip-hop to launch an argument about the limitations of Black capitalism as a strategy for racial uplift. After historicizing Black entrepreneurship as a strategy for racial advancement, Taylor deftly compares the work of two artists, Jay-Z and Noname. In doing so, she interrogates popular perceptions of socially-consciousness rap and argues for an anti-capitalist approach to Black liberation and community organizing.

Taylor’s careful and critical thinking about race, gender, class, nation and power has led her to numerous student leadership positions at our university. She served as co-chair for a university-wide committee that spearheaded SLU’s involvement in a national climate study of campuses to advance racial equity. She has been the social advocacy chair for the Black Student Alliance. She is active in her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, where she has built bridges among African American students at universities throughout our region. Hilariously, given her senior thesis project, she has hosted a popular KSLU radio show titled “Bass and Bougie.” These are in addition to the important roles she has served working in admissions, as a resident advisor, and as a new student orientation leader. In all these positions, Taylor has been a powerful advocate for social justice, an accessible guide, and a meaningful coalition-builder. She is a model of the public-facing study of cultural politics to which American Studies as a discipline aspires.

She is an outsized presence at Saint Louis University — a model of academic achievement, leadership, public service, and the kind of public-facing scholarship in U.S. cultural politics that American Studies advances. It has been our joy and our honor to work with her.

Biology – Merideth Vieson 
Merideth Vieson Headshot

Merideth Vieson, Biology

Introduction by Blythe Janowiak, Ph.D.

The Saint Louis University Biology Department is proud to recognize Merideth Vieson with the Collins/Outstanding Senior Award. Merideth was nominated by three faculty members in biology, each of which shared glowing accolades.

First, coursework. From one of her instructors: “I've had Merideth in two courses and she has been exceptional in both — going above and beyond and ended up ranked #1 in both courses (including a course with 398 students enrolled). In one class, Merideth actively participated and made huge contributions to the in-class discussions; both of her presentations in class and her critique writing on a tough research paper were outstanding. For her honor capstone requirement, she wrote a beautiful paper on vaccines, made both a super clear pamphlet, and a YouTube video to educate the public about vaccines. Another instructor noted, “She set the curve for molecular biology lab in the fall”. I personally have taught Merideth in three courses and she has been an exceptional student. She leads discussions and applies concepts very well. She has been a true leader in my research lab course that she’s enrolled in currently. I also have been mentoring her for a library project this semester, and she's been an exceptional worker in that aspect as well, as she completes a compelling review paper entitled, 'The Effects of Probiotics on Gut Microbiome and Mental Health.'"

Second, Merideth has been a patient teacher and mentor. She has served as a teaching assistant for the honors crossroads course titled “Medicine and Freedom in the United States." In that capacity, she mentored other honors students and helped lead in-class discussions. She served as a Biology Mentor and a Path Mentor for other honors students living in the Honors Learning Community. Through these roles, she helped many biology honor students with their course scheduling and homework questions. In addition, she has been a lab prep TA for the General Chemistry Laboratories since sophomore year and has been the lead prep TA for the past two years. She is also serving as a learning assistant for General Chemistry II this year. She also has tutored with the organization Overground Railroad to Literacy. As a senior, she has received the Spirit of the Billiken Award due to her exemplary services.

Third, Merideth has done research with Dr. Asmira Alagic in chemistry on a project regarding the evaluation of the effectiveness of the General Chemistry course. The data includes student performances and specific interventions used to improve learning outcomes. She has also been helping with data analysis on the discrepancies in DFW rates in various race demographics and first-generation students for first-year math and science courses, especially chemistry. She's additionally doing literature research on these topics and they are hoping to write and submit a paper on these findings soon.

In summary, through her courses, teaching, and research, Merideth has demonstrated remarkably advanced critical thinking and problem-solving skills. This will come in handy as she pursues her M.D. right here at Saint Louis University Medical School. We, the biology faculty, couldn’t be prouder.

Catholic Studies – Grant Gottschalk


Headshot of Grant Gottschalk

Grant Gottschalk, Catholic Studies

Introduction by Fr. Matthew Baugh, S.J.

Grant Gottschalk is the kind of student that professors love to have in class: engaged, well prepared, thoughtful and diligent. He is able not only to articulate faithfully the content of class materials but even to make creative and novel connections of his own. A triple major in philosophy, theology, and Catholic Studies, he regularly draws on the impressive breadth of his intellectual formation. He has produced memorable essays and delivered engaging oral presentations on topics as diverse as Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus, Pope Francis’ diplomatic and apostolic journey to the nation of Iraq, Richard of St. Victor’s scholastic treatise On the Trinity, and Kierkegaard’s philosophical text Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing. 

Grant is in the first cohort of students to graduate with a major in Catholic Studies, one of the newest degree programs here at SLU and one that forms students from a wide variety of specialized disciplines in the integrating power of Catholic thought and culture. Grant understood the power of Catholic Studies as a place of integration from the moment he stepped on campus as a freshman, when he first became involved with the Catholic Studies Center. And because he has been as deeply engaged with the co-curricular program as he has with the academic program, he has modeled the kind of profound personal integration that can happen when one moves seamlessly between classroom, chapel and community spaces. Grant is involved in every aspect of the life of the Catholic Studies Center. He sings and plays music for liturgies and for Eucharistic adoration. He participates in our speaker series, lectures, and book discussions. A graduate of a Jesuit high school, he leaps at every opportunity to engage further with Ignatian spirituality. Grant has not only a deep hunger for academic exploration but also a sense of the existential significance of what we do in a Jesuit university and an openness to letting himself be shaped by it. He is an image of what we mean when we say someone is “Jesuit educated.” 

It is my pleasure to present the Outstanding Student Award in Catholic Studies to Grant Gottschalk.

Communication – Lauren Morby
Lauren Morby holds her award medal at a ceremony.

Lauren Anne Morby, Communication

Introduction by Dan Kozlowski, Ph.D.

I’m delighted to introduce Lauren Morby to you! Lauren is the James D. Collins Award winner for the Department of Communication. I’m Dan Kozlowski. I’m the chair of the Department of Communication, and I also was lucky enough to have had Lauren as a student in class along the way.

Lauren has been an outstanding student at SLU. She’s a rare triple major — with majors in communication, political science and women’s and gender studies. I didn’t talk with the chairs of Political Science and Women’s and Gender Studies about this, but my guess is that Lauren was competitive for the Collins Award in their departments too — as she should have been.

Lauren excelled in the classroom throughout her time at SLU. She’ll graduate with an overall GPA high enough to earn her summa cum laude honors. And, to this point, she’s earned an A in every Communication course she’s taken. She is an excellent writer, a hard worker and a critical thinker. She can synthesize ideas well, build cohesive arguments and express her thoughts clearly. In class discussions, Lauren’s contributions demonstrate that she’s intellectually mature and conscientious and that she can be a consensus-builder when her classmates have divergent viewpoints.

Impressively, Lauren managed to balance all of her academic success with a striking resume full of extracurricular experience. In that work, she showed a commitment to service and combating issues of social justice. Among other things, she’s been the president of the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship program. She was an R.A., a resident adviser, for two years, and while in that role, she organized an initiative that provided free sanitary products for the residents of her dorm. She also interns with SLU’s Center for Social Action, where she helps with community voter engagement and connects with community partners about service opportunities for students. And she’s also on the executive board of Gateway Tutors, a group that provides tutoring and childcare to a local homeless shelter.

I could go on if I had more time! Our department faculty felt wholeheartedly that, in addition to her classroom accomplishments, Lauren embodies the values we hope our students leave SLU with: She’s dedicated to social justice and being for and with others, and she’s always looking for opportunities to make our communities better and more equitable.

Lauren’s commitment to those values is driving her to pursue a career in family and juvenile law. She plans to attend DePaul University’s law school in the fall.

Lauren, we’re so proud of you — both because of what you’ve done here and also because of what we know you’ll accomplish as you leave us. Thanks for being so awesome, and congratulations on winning this award!

English – Vanessa Perou
Vanessa Perou holds her medal at a ceremony.

Vanessa Perou, English

Introduction by Nathaniel Rivers, Ph.D.

I know I speak for the entire Department of English today in congratulating Vanessa Perou for winning a prestigious James D. Collins Award. Vanessa is both a thoughtful reader and an inventive writer who has excelled as an English major in our Research Intensive English program. I also speak for the department in saying that we could not be prouder in having Vanessa represent us here today. She is truly the best of us.

One of the most striking aspects of Vanessa’s scholarship is its tremendous range. In one class, Vanessa developed a project tracking and collating the university’s communications (across emails and social media posts) around tragic events and incidents of crime. She argued that the very timing and accumulation of these communications can themselves become a kind of unwitting trauma (or undue stress) for the university community. Vanessa explored how information about trauma in-forms trauma itself. She has likewise spent a semester engaging readings on “the human” as a particular, historically-constructed subject saturated in and by racialized categories. Around the same time, Vanessa was bringing 19th-century literature (in particular, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein) to bear upon the pressing and pervasive issue of racial disparities in higher education. This work resulted in the article, “The ‘In-Dependence’ of Black America,” which was published in The Johns Hopkins University Macksey Journal. Vanessa’s attention to racial disparities likewise informs her brilliant final project for the departmental honors track, entitled “Racial Stereotypes: Re-presented Images of the Nineteenth Century Collective Imagination,” which locates the origins of contemporary constructions of race in the Romantic era, taking as case studies the work of Frankenstein author Mary Shelley and 19th-century French accounts of Sarah Baartmann, the so-called “Hottentot Venus.” Her project advisor Dr. Toby Benis describes Vanessa as “an unfailingly curious, intellectually rigorous scholar who understands the social injustice of systemic racism as an unavoidable outgrowth of classical liberalism's tendency to universalize and abstract human experience from material realities.” Vanessa’s sharp mind cuts to the heart of the matter each and every time.

In addition to the rigor and promise of her scholarly work, it is equally important to note that Vanessa is an absolute joy to have as a student, which is to say, a collaborator. In our work together, for instance, she has helped me to make connections amongst readings that I would not have made otherwise. For real though, she made me think through the work of the Enlightenment-era conservative Edmund Burke, which is very much not my thing. Furthermore, her inquisitive engagement also kept me on my toes. Vanessa will follow up with you about something you said in class, and you best be ready. And this engagement is frequently a function of the way Vanessa orchestrates her work across several courses: what she is reading there often comes to inform what she is reading here. In this way, Vanessa helps faculty to see how they resonate with one another in ways they hadn’t previously imagined. Indeed, upon realizing that they both have Vanessa in class at the time, faculty will often remark, “why, yes, she is also a very engaged presence in my classroom as well.” And then conversation flows into the work Vanessa is doing and how it’s put our own research and teaching areas into conversation. It is then as Edmund Burke says: “The arrogance of age must submit to be taught by youth.” Our department is better for having had Vanessa as a student. As Dr. Benis has remarked,“Vanessa's work has been a gift to the English department and to the College of Arts and Sciences.” Vanessa's time here at SLU reverberates.

As an outstanding English major, Vanessa has consistently committed herself to reading the difficult texts and to writing the challenging essays. And to do so in ways that speak to and challenge the world around her—around us. With this work, she fulfills the potential of a major in English. We give this award to Vanessa because she embodies all the qualities of a Collins Award winner. We give this award to Vanessa because in her we see the promise of our collective futures.

Fine and Performing Arts – Serina Daniels
Serina Williams holds her award medal during the award ceremony.


Serina Daniels, Fine and Performing Arts

Introduction by Aaron Johnson, Ph.D.

It is a great pleasure for me to present Serina Daniels, the John D. Collins Award recipient in the Department of Fine and Performing Arts. Serina graduates with a B.A. degree in music with a concentration in piano performance. She is also double majoring in speech, language and hearing sciences with a psychology minor. Serina will graduate with a 4.0 GPA in music and a 3.95 GPA overall. She is an exemplary student who has always done far more than the expected minimum. Serina has always been deeply involved not only in the music program, but also in the university community and the community at large whether it be as an International Ambassador, a U101 peer instructor, a food pantry volunteer at Billiken Bounty or as a tutor and piano instructor to elementary and high school students north of the Delmar Divide.

Serina’s academics and commitment to our department and our entire SLU community is reason enough to present her with this award, but it is her spectacular musicianship that truly sets her apart from all others. Last spring, she presented her junior recital, which consisted of a performance of Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition in its entirety. If you know the work, you know it is a huge undertaking. This past November, Serina was selected to perform in two concerts with world-renowned pianist Kariné Poghosyan during Poghosyan’s residency here at SLU. After those performances, Serina was invited to perform at this year’s St. Louis Literary Award ceremony with Neil Gaiman. She was part of a trio performing “Stardust Suite” from the movie Stardust by composer Ilan Eshkeri. Eshkeri arranged the suite for Serina’s trio just for this performance. If you missed the Literary Award ceremony, you have another chance to hear Serina and her trio perform it at her senior recital this coming Monday at 7 p.m. at College Church. Her program will also include amazing works by Claude Debussy and Franz Liszt.

Most of our majors in the music program are double majors, and most go on to pursue graduate studies and careers related to their other majors, so I wasn’t surprised to learn that Serina will be starting work in the fall on her master’s degree in speech pathology at University of Iowa, where she will be much closer to home, which I know her family will appreciate. Like all our graduates, regardless of ultimate career and life goals, I know Serina will continue to use all the musical knowledge, skill, and musicianship she has learned and developed over the last four years to nourish her body and spirit on a daily basis as she continues to grow as a musician.

It has been an absolute joy having Serina in the music program for the past four years. She is the embodiment of SLU’s mission and is a shining example of what it means to be a Billiken.

Forensic Science – Kaitlynn Schantz
Kaitlyn Schantz holds her medal at the Collins Award ceremony.


Kaitlynn Nicole Schantz, Forensic Science

Introduction by Professor Erik Hall

On behalf of the forensic science program, I am proud to honor Kaitlynn Schantz with the Outstanding Student Award. Kaitlynn Schantz was a forensic science major who graduated in December. During her time at SLU, Kaitlynn has been a great asset to the forensic science program being a member of the Forensic Science Club and a member of Delta Delta Epsilon Forensic Science Honor Society. Kaitlynn was also a laboratory assistant for my crime scene investigation lab course, a DNA laboratory research assistant, and coordinator for research during the summer in the forensic science program. During her time performing research, Kaitlynn worked with an outside vendor to write a project proposal for testing on newly developed swabs for use in forensic and medical-diagnostic testing and began the initial testing of the swabs before graduating in December. Her research continues today and has helped form a strong partnership with that company which led to additional opportunities for current forensic science students.

Her research interests and advanced lab skills also allowed Kaitlynn to be tasked with the setup of complex laboratory equipment which she was able to not only set up, but also write a manual for the forensics lab on the different assays to use, protocols to select, and run times which students are utilizing today. While her lab work is admirable, Kaitlynn also volunteered her time to attend numerous prospective student events and forensic training opportunities both on and off campus. She helped recruit students to SLU, in particular transfer students, by telling her own story of transferring to SLU and she also helped with several training opportunities for local law enforcement in crime scene investigation and blood spatter analysis. Kaitlynn was always giving with her time and energy to help make the SLU forensic program better than it was when she arrived, and it is.

After graduation, Kaitlynn was offered a job as a DNA analyst at the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Crime Laboratory where she was hired in at a criminalist II level, which is an advanced-level DNA position. I have already been told by several seasoned analysts at the lab (independently, I should add) that Kaitlynn is one of the brightest and most knowledgeable trainees the sections had and they are so glad she is part of their team. In her free time, you may see Kaitlynn at the gym or volunteering at the Missing Person Support Center of Missouri, where dedicated volunteers like Kaitlynn are helping to give families hope or closure on a missing loved one. Kaitlynn is the example of what you can achieve by putting in the extra effort to take on a challenging research project, tackling setting up complex assays on instrumentation, and pioneering a partnership with Rockwood School District to host interns during the summer at SLU to give younger students the opportunities to experience forensic science. Kaitlynn is very deserving of this award, and she is a great representative for the forensic science program and the University. Congratulations Kaitlynn, and thank you for everything you have done at SLU.

Health Care Ethics – Mia Romero
Mia Romero holds her medal at the award ceremony.

Mia Romero, Health Care Ethics

Introduction by Prof. Harold Braswell

It is such an honor to award the James D. Collins Outstanding Student Award for Bioethics and Health Studies. Mia has earned this award, primarily, for her outstanding work in Bioethics classes, in which she earned straight As. But her contribution to our major and department can only be partially reflected by her exceptional grades. She is someone who has helped us to build a culture of bioethics among our students and faculty, a culture that is intellectually rigorous and emotionally warm, one that values curiosity and commitment. She has created this culture through her work in our undergraduate bioethics club, which she has been involved in since 2020, through the research assistance that she brought to several faculty members, and through her participation in every one of her courses. Her professors — whom I consulted for comments — speak of both her intense intellect and abundant warmth, two qualities that she brings together and is willing and able to share with others.

Our department chair, Jason Eberl wrote that “Mia’s performance in the course was exemplary. She attended each class meeting fully prepared, having completed the assigned readings, and had valuable insights to offer in-class discussion of very complex bioethical issues, such as allocation of health care resources, genetic modification, and end-of-life care, as well as the ethical principles — respect for autonomy, nonmaleficence, beneficence and justice — that underlie the moral evaluation of these issues. Mia demonstrated both intellectual curiosity and professional commitment to mastering this field of inquiry.

Erica Salter, with whom Mia took “Controversies in Death and Dying” wrote:

Mia demonstrated herself to be one of my most responsible and responsive students. She eagerly participated in classroom discussion and met each course deadline without fail. She apprehended the course readings (many of which are philosophically dense and somewhat difficult) and regularly integrated them into discussion. Mia is an engaged communicator, regularly contributing ideas and experiences to class discussion.

Dr. Salter, also noted Mia’s “commitment to the field of bioethics through several extra-curricular projects and programs” as well as her being selected for a prestigious internship in clinical ethics at Baylor College of Medicine (Summer 2021), during which she conducted a comprehensive literature review on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation criteria.

Finally, doctoral student Marissa Espinoza, who taught Mia in several classes, wrote:

"It was so hard to figure out what to write because there’s so much to say…

Mia has proven herself to be an excellent writer and a wonderful collaborator. She is kind, humble, and determined. She is insightful in her comments in class and her responses to her peers. Not only is Mia an excellent scholar, but she also makes those around her better by the example she sets. It has been a great joy to know her and have been her instructor. I have no doubt she will conquer whatever challenge she takes on next.”

I never had the privilege of having Mia in a course, but, having gotten to know her reasonably well as program director — and supervising her current capstone project — I agree with Marissa. She is an exceptionally reflective person, who is thinking very carefully, and very smartly, about how to best make use of her abilities. It’s been such an honor to be of some assistance to her during her time here and I and many others in our department are just so excited for what’s coming next. Thank you, Mia, for everything you’ve given to our program.

History - Patrick Bausch
Patrick Bausch holds his medal at the award ceremony.

Patrick McMenamin Bausch, History


Languages, Literatures, and Cultures - Sylvia Young
Sylvia Young holds her medal at the award ceremony.


Sylvia Young - Languages, Literatures, and Cultures

It is my pleasure to introduce the 2023 recipient of the Collins Award for the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, Sylvia Young. Sylvia is a double major in Spanish and psychology, which has been no easy feat, often requiring her to take a heavy course load in order to finish both majors. During her time at SLU, she sought out opportunities to combine her two majors and deepen both her linguistic and cultural knowledge. For instance, she spent a summer at our campus in Madrid and has worked with organizations in St. Louis that serve diverse populations. I had the opportunity to have Sylvia in my Spanish for the Health Professions class in Fall 2021, and as part of the class, she worked with the emotional and physical wellness team at LifeWise STL, a social services agency that works with Spanish speakers and other immigrant populations. This project culminated in a final product assignment, in which she and another student completed vital data analysis of bilingual surveys that LifeWise needed for grant reporting and applications. This was one of the best final products in the class, and a resource that the organization will continue to use in years to come, due to Sylvia’s devotion and thoughtfulness in addressing the organization’s needs. Through this project and her reflections on it, I was able to see firsthand Sylvia’s passion and commitment to immigrant mental health. In fact, she is so devoted to serving this community that she jumped at the opportunity to complete extra service hours (completing 30 hours during the semester when only 20 were required), translating family profiles for another organization’s Christmas program and volunteering at a health fair.

In addition to these volunteer opportunities, Sylvia has been committed to supporting mental health in other ways, such as being a crisis counselor volunteer. Sylvia also has been involved with several clubs at SLU and has engaged in research, which she presented at the Psychology Undergraduate Research Conference at UCLA last spring. And yet, you would never know that Sylvia has so much going on because she is always extremely thorough, detailed, and responsive in all aspects of her life. She has learned to balance many responsibilities and activities at once, which will no doubt serve her in the future as a bilingual clinical psychologist. It has been a true pleasure to witness Sylvia’s progression as a student and person, and it is an honor to give her this award. ¡Muchas felicidades, Sylvia!

Mathematics and Statistics - Kaitlyn Lampe


Kaitlyn Lampe holds an awards medal.

Kaitlyn Lampe, Mathematics and Statistics

Introduction by Elodie Pozzi, Ph.D.

I would like to thank Bryan Clair for giving me the opportunity to introduce the Collins Award recipient from the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. It is with great pleasure that I announce that Kaitlyn Lampe has been chosen by the Department of Mathematics and Statistics to receive the Collins Award.

Kaitlyn is the most talented student I have worked with at SLU: I had the chance to be Kaitlyn's professor in three advanced mathematics classes. Kaitlyn is the ideal student every professor would like to have. What strikes me the most is her rigor, the precision of her arguments and the care she puts in her work. She is also the perfect classmate, always ready to help her fellow students.

Kaitlyn is a second-generation mathematics major; she is deeply motivated by the passion of learning. She is an incredibly hard worker. She did not choose the easiest path: not only is she able to be an impressive mathematics major, she is also a very successful major in biology. What is even more outstanding is that while doing two majors, Kaitlyn is able to work in a lab. Since Spring 2022, Kaitlyn has been working in Dr. Brent Znosko's lab, using her scientific skills to identify sequence families in RNA tertiary structure.

What sets Kaitlyn apart is not only her natural talent, but her dedication combined with her hard work. She consistently puts in extra effort to fully understand complex concepts and solve challenging problems. Kaitlyn has consistently demonstrated a passion for mathematics and an exceptional ability to understand and apply mathematical concepts.

Her achievements are a testament to her commitment to learning and her perseverance.

Her passion for mathematics extends beyond the classroom as well. She has participated in math outreach programs: in particular the Math Club, the Association for Women in Mathematics Colloquium. She has been selected with two of her classmates to give a presentation at the Senior Legacy Symposium on a challenging topic: fractal analysis. 

Her academic path and all of her accomplishments are extremely inspiring for her friends, her classmates and her professors. While mathematics has not always been attractive for women, Kaitlyn reconfirms it is possible to be an accomplished woman in mathematics. By her investment and dedication, she sets up herself as a role model in mathematics.

Kaitlyn plans to pursue a graduate education in bioinformatics but will continue doing research in Dr. Brent Znosko's lab next year. She has not yet shown all her abilities and there is no doubt that Kaitlyn will continue to make incredible achievements in the future.

Last but not least, not only is she talented academically and having a bright future, but she also has impressive culinary skills: it is difficult to resist her cookies!

I extend my congratulations to Kaitlyn and I welcome you to join me in congratulating her on this achievement.

Neuroscience - Julia Lanfersieck
Julia Lanfersieck holds her medal.

Julia Lanfersieck, Neuroscience

Introduction by Jill Waring, Ph.D.

Julia Lanfersieck is highly deserving of the neuroscience major Outstanding Student Award for the many ways in which she has stood out as an excellent research assistant, student, and member of the SLU community. It has been my privilege that she has been a member of my research lab for almost a year and a half. Julia is a quick learner, excellent working with younger and older adult research participants, shows good judgment, and is a great member of our team.

Julia has been an ambitious and curious student, seeking opportunities to learn a variety of neuroscience research skills across the span of cognitive neuroscience (with me) to cellular neuroscience (with Dr. Fenglian Xu) in preparation for graduate training. She was selected for the competitive SLU DeNardo Neuroscience Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (NeuroSURF) Program in summer 2022 and worked intensively on her research project with Dr. Xu’s lab. Julia did an impressive job of summarizing and communicating highly technical research results about mouse cortical neurons in her poster presented at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in Nov. She also presented her project at our Center for Neuroscience annual symposium where she was the only undergraduate selected to give an oral presentation and was additionally awarded Best Undergraduate Research Poster for her outstanding presentation of this research.

In my lab, Julia quickly and ably learned to implement our research protocols. She has done a great job with the responsibilities of testing both older and younger adults, as well as being my lead lab assistant on our new project using EEG to record brain activity during cognitive tasks. After her early graduation in December, I invited her to stay on as a paid research assistant in my lab for this semester until she leaves for graduate school this summer.

In addition to her strong research-related activities, Julia graduated with a nearly perfect GPA in the honors program. She has also been invested in serving the community during her time at SLU. For three semesters she served as the president of the SLU chapter of Active Minds, the student organization to promote better mental health and support students experiencing mental illness. Additionally, she served on the executive board for Neu Rho Psi, the neuroscience honor society, for three semesters.

Julia is a very talented scholar, campus leader, and researcher, and she will continue her neuroscience education in the doctoral program in neuroscience at UNC-Chapel Hill this summer. There, she plans to pursue research of the biological mechanisms and therapeutic targets for Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other neurodegenerative/aging-related disorders.

Working with Julia has been a very enjoyable and rewarding experience, and she is a valued member of our research team. I will be sorry to see her leave this summer, but I am certain she has a bright future and outstanding potential to achieve her goals. I believe Julia stands out as an exemplary SLU grad and wish her congratulations on receiving the 2023 Outstanding Student Award from the Neuroscience Major.

Philosophy - Casey Cruz
Casey Cruz at the award ceremony.


Casey Cruz, Philosophy

Introduction by Gregory Beaubout, Ph.D.

I feel very honored to introduce Casey Cruz, the recipient of the 2023 James Collins Award for Student Excellence in Philosophy. 

I have known Casey since that earlier period in our lives, from the time before COVID. In January 2020, Casey was enrolled in a small honors seminar I taught, Historical Introduction to Philosophy. There are a lot of great things about teaching at SLU, and several of these were present in my experience that semester. First, it was a small seminar-sized class. I’m genuinely grateful to those who make these decisions that we have the opportunity at SLU to teach seminar-sized classes, even at the introductory levels. In fact, our group met in a delightful space, in the Cartier Mansion, on the west end of our beautiful campus. By the midterm break, having spent many weeks doing close readings of Plato’s early dialogues, the group had developed into a tight-knit learning community. Together, we puzzled through some of the great works of philosophy, those dialogues in which Plato takes up fundamental questions about what it means to live, and to live well, and to be part of a community, to challenge injustice in oneself and in one’s community, to question what’s really worth living for, and what’s really worth devoting one’s life to. One of the early assignments that semester had us puzzling together about one of the arguments that Socrates advances in response to the question of whether one should be of hope in the face of death. Then, during the midterm break, our world changed, as I’m sure we all remember. COVID. But that group was already tight-knit, so for us the transition to Zoom seemed somehow full of hope. It was all new and exciting. That group had near-perfect attendance for the rest of the semester. 

Casey, like so many SLU students, had come here to study biology, with an eye on medical school. But he somehow got bitten by philosophy, and he ended up adding a philosophy major to his studies in science. In the semesters that followed, his class schedule typically included courses such as biochemistry, molecular biology, organic chemistry, evolutionary biology and philosophy. It’s not polite or perhaps even appropriate to mention a student’s grades, but let’s just say that, semester after semester, Casey got top grades, both in his science classes and in his philosophy classes. 

People sometimes ask me, how many philosophy majors are there at SLU? And that is a tricky question. You see, for generations, SLU has been a place where young Jesuits do several years of their academic formation. Plus, we have religious sisters from orders that send their young women in formation to SLU to study philosophy, not to mention those at the seminary preparing to become priests in the Roman Catholic Church, who do their formation through SLU. Those sorts of students enroll in the same upper-level classes that Casey took. Indeed, in one of the upper-division seminars that Casey took with me, the class was filled with such students: these are studying as Jesuits, this one is a nun, etc. Having spent the entire semester engaging with such students reading complex texts that raise contemporary questions regarding social philosophy, Casey, drawing from his science background, wrote on environmental philosophy and care for our common home.    

Everyone knows that philosophy is a demanding academic discipline, and it takes a special sort of student to major in philosophy. When our department met earlier this semester to select the recipient of this award, we could have chosen any of 2023 philosophy majors, as the caliber of each is quite high. The study of philosophy involves reading, engaging and evaluating complex arguments in order to seek wisdom. Indeed, all of the academics who are here today have the name of philosophy in their academic degrees: those of us who are Ph.D.s are doctors of philosophy. As doctors, we are, as the Latin suggests, teachers. As philosophers, we are lovers of wisdom whose research and inquiry takes us to the very heart of things. 

The James Collins Award that each of these honorees today receives is named for one of the greatest philosophers from SLU, and believe me, SLU’s philosophy department has a long history of great philosophers. I became familiar with the work of Professor Collins when I was a doctoral student in the early 1980s. You see, Professor Collins was one of the most important academic minds of the 20th century, especially in Catholic philosophy.  

Several years ago, when I was at academic meetings at Princeton University, I had dinner with a scholar from Cambridge; when he learned that I was from Saint Louis University, he asked me straight away about James Collins. “Collins was such a great philosopher, and a wonderful historian of philosophy. Is his name still honored there?” I’m very glad that we honor these students by remembering the academic work of James Collins. His greatest gift was his ability to take seriously the history of ideas, engaging those with whom he disagreed to draw out the best from each in pursuit of what he called the “Lure of Wisdom”. 

Professor Collins died in 1985, and I joined the faculty here at SLU in 1989. I knew of him, but all my colleagues then knew him. I was surprised to learn from them that Professor Collins lived his entire adult life with what today we might call “mobility challenges”. He was confined to a wheelchair. From reading his books, I was completely unaware of this. From my older colleagues, I learned that, at a time before ramps and elevators, Professor Collins had his student assistant lift him out of his wheelchair, to place him on the stairs. Professor Collins would then, while sitting on a stair, lift himself up, moving up from stair to stair, until he reached the floor of his classroom or his office.  So that persistence and determined ability to transcend one’s limitations is another way in which James Collins is a tremendous model for us. 

                If I had more time, I would tell you about Casey’s senior research, which is titled, “Clinical Medicine as a Meta-Disposition: How Knowledge from Plato’s Dialogues can Help Health Practitioners Respond to the Crisis of Credibility.” As his title suggests, Casey is drawing from the wisdom of Plato to address one of the most pressing issues that will be faced by those who develop expertise in medicine to promote health. You see, Plato wrote at a time when some of those who claimed expertise in knowing how to bring about health in a community tended to overstate their own knowledge, and in response, others in that culture came to doubt the very possibility of knowing the truth. It’s not so different in our time. Puzzling through those ancient disputes will serve Casey well in his future, as he will be continuing his studies at the graduate level next year here at SLU studying biochemistry. Please join me in congratulating Casey Cruz as the 2023 recipient of the James Collins Award for Student Excellence in Philosophy.

Political Science - Grace Wallis
Grace Wallis holds her medal.

Grace M. Wallis, Political Science

Introduction by Morgan Hazelton, Ph.D.

Grace Wallis is unstoppable. Luckily, her well-honed abilities, excellent intellect, clarity of purpose, and drive make her a force for good. We are exceedingly proud to count Grace among our majors, and she has reported that we have helped shape the excellent person she is today.

It would be challenging to name all of the ways in which Grace is outstanding, so I will highlight just a few:

She is an engaging writer who brings clarity and incisiveness to the topics she addresses. For example, as part of the Law Day Essay Contest, in which she took first place, she wrote a compelling and sophisticated essay on how changing our understanding of the preamble to the Constitution and what is in the general welfare to be more inclusive and expansive would create a "more perfect union." Her clear thinking is matched with her writing skills to produce exceptional work.

In another example, in Dr. Nanes's Authoritarian Politics, Grace wrote one of the best final papers that he's ever had the pleasure of reading. Responding to a prompt about distinguishing between democracies and dictatorships, she made a compelling argument that leaders' motivations alone provide little insight into the country's political system. That is, just because dictators will do anything to stay in power doesn't mean that democratic leaders won't do exactly the same thing. She crafted a masterful case that institutions, particularly those that determine transfers of power, are a much more useful indicator of a country's level of democracy.

She also is a dynamic presenter and performer. These skills were displayed in her classroom presentations and as a selected student speaker and panelist on a panel regarding Russia-Ukraine as part of Atlas Week. They are also reflected in her numerous regional and national outstanding attorney awards in mock trial. Finally, they are apparent in her roles in SLU productions, including "The Government Inspector" where she was described as "anchoring the show" with a "bravura performance."

She is an essential contributor and leader when engaged in group work. A trait that I have seen on display in several classes. For example, she did a masterful job helping her classmates come together to write an opinion as a court in response to an actual case that the Supreme Court was considering. She helped students with less experience and knowledge understand legal concepts and the workings of the Supreme Court. Thus, it should be no surprise that she is the Team Captain for SLU's Mock Trial A-Team, the most competitive team.

We will miss having Grace in our classes, groups, and activities. She is a shining example of a Billiken. At the same time, we are very excited to see all that Grace will do in the world. Her potential is endless, and she cares deeply about justice, access, and equality. We know she will improve the world around her and be a woman for others.

Psychology - Margaret Grundy


Margaret Grundy holds her medal.

Margaret Grundy, Psychology

Introduction by Madeline Stenersen, Ph.D.

Good afternoon. I am Madeline Stenersen, and I’m an assistant professor of psychology here at SLU. It is my great pleasure to present the James D. Collins Outstanding Senior in Psychology award to Meg Grundy. Though I am here on behalf of her nominating professor Dr. Ruth Warner, who was unable to be here today, I have also had the distinct pleasure of working with Meg since beginning my time here at SLU in August of 2022 and am glad to have the chance to speak of her work today.

In addition to an impressive Capstone project presented at the UCLA Undergraduate Research Conference, in her years working with Dr. Warner’s lab, Meg has shown great drive, work ethic, and enthusiasm for the field of psychology broadly and for her interests in forensic psychology and sexual assault. She has worked diligently in assisting Dr. Warner’s lab investigating the perceptions of sexual assault survivors and each of her colleagues in this lab have nothing but positive things to say about her interpersonal style.

It was this work in Dr. Warner’s lab that first connected me to Meg when Dr. Warner, a professor of social psychology, came to me talking about a great student who was interested pursuing clinical psychology and asked if I would be interested in taking her on as my first independent research project student. In our time together Meg has accomplished an incredible amount of impressive and impactful work — beginning with helping me navigate how one even enrolls a student for independent research credit through Banner!

But once we got all the logistics down Meg narrowed down a novel, informed and impactful research question. Using data from over 27,000 transgender and gender-diverse people in the United States, and a map of transgender-related prison policies across the United States, Meg began working to understand the impact of state-level transgender-related policies on the likelihood of transgender and gender-diverse people experiencing sexual assault while incarcerated. And results were in fact impactful! Meg was able to ascertain, using a large nationwide sample, that the more transgender-related prison policies a state had implemented, the less likely an incarcerated transgender person was to report being sexually assaulted by either prison staff or inmates!

After receiving the Knoedler Student Research Fund award from SLU, Meg presented this analysis as a poster at the American Psychology and Law Society Conference in Philadelphia just a couple of weeks back and has a subsequent first-authored manuscript that is currently under review in the journal Sexuality Research and Social Policy. I would like to remind everyone that all of this was accomplished, in addition to her impressive academic record, in less than one year! Throughout all of this Meg has been a great leader, team member, and partner.

Though we have only had less than a year to work together, I am already very sorry to see Meg go. Meg’s time here at SLU culminated in her pursuing a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, an extremely competitive graduate field and intensive application process and season. I am excited to announce that, after graduating this spring, Meg is pursuing her Ph.D. in clinical psychology at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma. My colleagues and I have every confidence that Meg will excel in her chosen pathway and be an asset to the field. So please join me in congratulating the 2023 Collins Outstanding Senior in Psychology, Ms. Meg Grundy.

Sociology and Anthropology - Elise Pinsonneault


Elise Pinsonneault holds her medal.

Elise Pinsonneault, Sociology and Anthropology

Introduction by Scott Harris, Ph.D.

It is my pleasure to present the Department of Sociology and Anthropology’s Outstanding Student Award to Elise Pinsonneault.

Elise is receiving her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, with minors in human resource management and in philosophy.

Her overall GPA is a 3.88 out of 4.0, with a 3.89 GPA in her courses in sociology.

Outside of academics, Elise has worked as the mentoring program coordinator at University Writing Services for the past two years, where she has overseen the center’s mentoring process for over 20 writing consultants including undergraduate, graduate and part-time staff. In addition to working individually with students as a writing consultant, Elise has served as a resident advisor for the past two years. This year she serves as the lead resident advisor of her residence hall, managing a staff of 17 resident advisors.

When she’s not working or studying, Elise plays in the SLU pep band and serves as the captain of a 40-member hip hop dance team on campus, XQuizit.

For her post-SLU plans, Elise has accepted a full-time offer at Anheuser-Busch as a people business partner, where she will be responsible for developing and executing strategies to hire, retain, develop and compensate talented employees.

Before she begins her full-time role at Anheuser-Busch, though, Elise will be working as a summer faculty member at Phillips Exeter Academy, one of the most prestigious boarding schools in the U.S. (with notable alumni including Mark Zuckerberg). At Exeter, she will work as a teaching intern, focusing on courses in the Social Sciences and English for both middle and high-school students.

On a more personal note, Elise has been a student in three of my courses — social theory, marriage and family, and the sociology capstone. I have read almost 100 pages of her writing, across those courses! Her work is consistently insightful, on point, and even compelling, not to mention clearly written (she is a writing tutor, after all). In the classroom Elise brings a polite and respectful demeanor that balances friendliness and humor with a serious engagement with course ideas. I’ve enjoyed interacting and collaborating with her.

It’s a bit ironic that Elise will be employed at Anheuser-Busch this fall, given that her senior thesis examines the effects of alcohol on human beings’ moral behavior. Elise does not doubt that drinking affects coordination and she agrees that intoxicated people should definitely not drive an automobile. On the other hand, she is highly skeptical of claims that alcohol “makes” people lose their inhibitions — act flirtatious, hook up with a stranger at a party, tell off-color jokes, express a harsh criticism, punch or fight someone, and other conduct that people excuse by saying “Sorry, I was drunk when I did that.” Elise’s capstone mobilizes several lines of evidence to argue that alcohol’s supposed impact on our moral behavior is either mythical or indirect at best. I recommend you ask Elise about her argument if you see her, since her paper is quite fun and provocative.

In short, I am very pleased that my department has selected Elise for this honor. It is well deserved.

Theological Studies - Katya Konopacki
Katya Konopacki holds her medal.


Katya Konopacki, Theological Studies

Introduction by Randy Rosenberg, Ph.D.

It is my honor to introduce Katya Konopacki as the James D. Collins Award winner for the Department of Theological Studies. Katya is from the great state of Wisconsin and joins us today with her fiance Chandler. Katya completed her B.A. in theological studies with minors in Spanish, Catholic studies and Catholic education. She graduates Summa Cum Laude. She is a member of Theta Alpha Kappa, the national honor society for theology students.

Katya has greatly impacted student life in her time at SLU. She co-founded SLU’s chapter of the Thomistic Institute in Fall 2020 and served as the organization’s first president. This organization is dedicated to promoting campus-wide interdisciplinary engagement with the vast Catholic Intellectual Tradition using the thought of Thomas Aquinas as its touchstone. In this capacity, she attended the Summer Leadership Conference in Washington D.C. three times. She organized book studies, lectures and pre-lecture seminars. Katya was also a member of Alpha Phi Omega Co-Ed Service Fraternity, the St. Edmund Campion Society, the Running Club and Students for Life.

I had Katya as a student in my Theology Capstone course in the fall. It was a remarkable group of students. Many of them live on the same apartment floor, so it was the kind of class where it was hard to find the sharp line of division between social life and the classroom — kind of like a first-year learning community course if you’ve taught one – except, as seniors, they were much more “mature!”

In reality, in addition to having a lot of laughs and some good lunches, we had many deep and fruitful conversations, and the students generated quality work — Katya’s being right there at the top! Katya's academic ability is of the highest quality. She wrote her capstone thesis on soteriology - a field in theology that explores the meaning and significance of the death of Christ. The title of the paper was “Necessity & Grace in Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo (why the god-man) (sounds like a dissertation title!!!). She navigated very sophisticated and difficult topics and texts with skill. She also critically engaged other scholars with nuance and care. Katya is a creative, deep, analytical, and synthetic thinker.

Katya possesses a wonderful mix of humility and confidence. She is sharp, generous, trustworthy, kind, and witty. She also knows how to take care of business; as a side job as a student, she nannied and taught a family’s four kids, aged 8, 6, 4, and 1 (and to satisfy our upper Midwest base in the room, she also worked at Portillo’s!)

Katya has the clear ability to be a scholar in an academic setting, a religious educator, and an administrator. Maybe even dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, or Philosophy and Letters, which is much less complicated! Currently, Katya is working as coordinator of religious education and a religion teacher at St. Louis Catholic Academy in North St. Louis.

On behalf of the Department of Theological Studies, I present the James D. Collins Outstanding Senior Award to Katya, congratulate you on your many accomplishments, and thank you for your impact on the intellectual life here at SLU.

Women’s and Gender Studies – Shirley Syed
Shirley Syed holds her medal.

Shirley Syed, Women’s and Gender Studies

Introduction by Alesha Durfee, Ph.D.

My name is Dr. Alesha Durfee and I’m professor and chair of Women’s and Gender Studies. It’s my great honor to present the Women’s and Gender Studies Outstanding Senior Award for 2023 to Shirley Syed.

Shirley is graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Women’s and Gender Studies and Biochemistry. She is a member of the Honors Program and Medical Scholars program, has been on the Dean’s List every semester since Fall 2019, and has an impressive 3.90 cumulative GPA. She has been accepted to Saint Louis University’s School of Medicine and says she plans to use her medical degree to provide medical care to medically underserved communities.

Shirley was named the Outstanding Senior as she has embodied what it means to be a community-engaged, praxis-oriented, feminist scholar. Praxis is putting theory into practice; it’s the hallmark of WGS.

Over the last four years, Shirley’s epitomized what it means to be a WGS scholar. She is a truly talented student who has used the knowledge and skills she’s gained to create social change. She’s an outstanding student in the classroom. I have Shirley in class right now and I’m continually impressed by her high-quality papers, including how sophisticated theoretical concepts operate in everyday life to create systemic inequalities. She then gives specific policy recommendations and concrete strategies for change. In her Honors Capstone last semester, she was required to do one research project — of course she did two, and created a website to give others access to the knowledge she’d gained.

And this isn’t just in her scholarship. Over the last four years, Shirley has founded, led, and volunteered for a wide array of groups, organizations, and agencies working to broaden access to and address inequality in STEM, education, and medical care.

Shirley’s been the president, vice president, treasurer, and member of the independent SLU chapter of She’s the First, a national organization that works to end the oppression and marginalization of women and girls worldwide. She’s a member of Alpha Epsilon Delta, a national health preprofessional honor society, and both attended and volunteered at an American Medical Women’s Association meeting.

Shirley co-founded the Youth Reading Initiative, a virtual reading program where SLU students facilitated reading sessions for students during the pandemic. Shirley’s volunteered for the last four years as a trauma-informed tutor for the Overground Railroad, tutoring students in math and English-language arts to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline. She was a “play guide” for the Children’s Museum of Illinois, where she modeled and encouraged positive play behaviors.

She’s been an auxiliary volunteer for Decatur Memorial Hospital and a main lobby information desk volunteer at SSM St. Mary’s Hospital. In these positions, she did everything from simple acts of direct service, like bringing water to a patient or directing patients and visitors as to where to go, to preparing IV kits and restocking medical supplies in the emergency room.

All of this represents only a small portion of why Shirley Syed is the WGS Outstanding Senior for 2023. Congratulations, Shirley.

2023 Graduate Awards

Honorable Mention - Distinguished Dissertation Award - Geoffrey Brewer


Geoff Brewer holds a certificate


Geoffrey Brewer, English – Honorable Mention for the 2023 Distinguished Dissertation Award


Distinguished Dissertation Award Winner - Mary Maxfield
Mary Maxfield holds a certificate.


Mary Maxfield, American Studies – winner of the 2023 Distinguished Dissertation Award