More than 40 students, faculty, staff, and alumni are honored in college’s 65th annual Honors and Awards ceremony

The college’s 65th annual Honors and Awards ceremony went off without a hitch on the afternoon of Tuesday, April 16 in Hayes Auditorium. The annual event celebrates the academic, athletic, and service achievements of those in the Lees-McRae community. Throughout the ceremony, awards were presented for each of the academic programs; Order of the Tower, the college’s student leadership program; the male and female student-athlete with the highest GPA; and the staff member selected by the Student Government Association.

Both of this year’s recipients of the student-athlete Fred I. Dickerson award were also recognized with the awards for their respective academic programs. Senior Criminal Justice and Psychology double-major Cami Belin received the award for the female student-athlete, as well as the Psychology Award. Senior Wildlife Biology major Alex Trifunovic received the award for the male student-athlete, as well as the Wildlife Biology Award.

“In 20 years of doing this this is the first time I’ve ever had to bring up a list because this person has so many amazing accomplishments.”

– Program Coordinator of Psychology James Carson said of Belin.

In addition to these academic and athletic awards, the Honors and Awards ceremony features six distinguished awards presented by President Lee King and Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty Pamela Vesely. These are the Faculty Academic Advisor Award, the New Faculty Award, the Sullivan Award, the Edgar Tufts Humanitarian Service Award, the Edgar Tufts Faculty Award, and the President’s Award for Excellence. Each of these awards are given through nominations by the college’s students, faculty, and staff.

Given to a faculty member in recognition of their ability to deliver reliable, consistent, and comprehensive advising to students, this year’s Faculty Academic Advisor Award was awarded to Student Success Coordinator Cara Fulton. In her presentation of the award, Vesely shared one of the nominations Fulton received from a student who credited Fulton’s outstanding academic advising with helping her stay the course and complete her degree.

Keeping with the recognition of the college’s amazing faculty, Vesely presented this year’s New Faculty Award to Josh Pate. The New Faculty Award is awarded to a faculty member who has been with the college for one to three years, and has excelled in teaching, advising, scholarship, and service in that time. Pate is the dean of the School of Business and Management and the program coordinator of the Sports Management academic program.

“He has been solid and supportive since taking over the Sport Management [program] and is always available to help students. He is kind-hearted and generous of spirit.”

– A nominator of Pate

The Edgar Tufts Faculty Award was the final faculty-specific award of the evening. Presented by Vesely, this honor is given in memory of the college’s founder Rev. Edgar Tufts and is awarded to a faculty member who exemplifies outstanding professional performance and contributes to the welfare of the college and community. This year’s award was presented to Instructor of Criminal Justice Derrick Lail, whose commitment to his students and colleagues along with consistently strengthening both the Criminal Justice program and the college, is a true example of outstanding professional performance.

“This recipient contributes to our college community by seeking ways that he may be of service and encouraging others to strive for excellence…he is a rockstar.”

– Vesely of Lail in the presentation of his award.

As part of the partnership between Lees-McRae and the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation, each year the college presents two Sullivan Awards, one to a graduating senior, and one to an alumni or community member. This award is given to those who demonstrate a “nobility of character” and a service to others that sets them apart from the crowd.

This year’s student recipient of the Sullivan Award was senior English major Nate Darden. Darden has been extremely involved in campus and student life throughout his four years at the college and is a leader amongst his peers. He is a presidential scholar, a member of Order of the Tower, a high-achieving student who consistently earns a spot on the President’s List, the captain of the cheerleading team, and a mentor in the college’s Peer Ally program.

Alumna Gail Miller ’72 received the community member Sullivan Award. Always a friendly face around campus, Miller has remained involved in campus and student life since she graduated more than 50 years ago. She has a passion for Lees-McRae and strives to ensure that students have the best experience possible at her alma mater, even collaborating with several other alumni to sponsor an annual scholarship for Lees-McRae students.

“Some of the words chosen by Nate’s nominators include ‘dependable,’ ‘kind,’ ‘high moral character,’ and ‘service.’ Nate’s nobility of character and service to others makes him a deserving recipient of the Sullivan Award.”

– King in his presentation of the award

“Gail is a legend, there is no doubt…Gail can be seen on campus many times each year helping students move in, participating in Homecoming events, Mountain Day of Service, Student Appreciation Day, Baccalaureate, graduation, and numerous other events.”

– King in his presentation of the award

There were also two recipients of the Edgar Tufts Humanitarian Service Award, senior Wilderness Medicine and Rescue major Kade Hoilman and Director of Counseling Services Marla Gentile. Both Hoilman and Gentile were selected to receive this award in recognition of their life of service to both the community and the college. In the spirit of Edgar Tufts, recipients unselfishly give of their time and talents, show a true openness and concern for others, and display a life of giving.

Regarded as a leader amongst his peers, Hoilman gives back to his community in countless ways, including being active in his church, working multiple jobs, and volunteering his time with elderly community members.

When it comes to giving back to the community, Gentile is no different. As the Director of Counseling Services Gentile was instrumental in helping support the college’s student body through the various mental health challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, and her work continues to support students in their daily lives.

“Kade exhibits a life centered on servant leadership in many ways. He has created community for students of different interests and backgrounds, he always has time to listen to his peers, he is a role model for academic excellence.”

– King of Hoilman

“Marla has exemplified professionalism, courtesy, and compassion to those who seek her help. One person even stated that Marla had changed her life and encouraged her to begin her healing journey.”

– King of Gentile

The final award of the evening was the President’s Award for Excellence, which honors members of the college community who exemplify exceptional service, commitment, and dedication to Lees-McRae and the college’s students. Unlike the other five distinguished awards, the recipient for the President’s Award for Excellence is hand-picked by King rather than selected based on nominations from the college community. The President’s Award for Excellence is not presented each year, and its inclusion in a particular Honors and Awards ceremony is up to the president’s discretion. This year, King chose to give the award to multiple individuals.

The President’s Award for Excellence was awarded to all three of the college’s faculty members in the Nursing program, which is graduating its final cohort of students in the Class of 2024 before the program is ended. Assistant Professors Evelyn Brewer, Barbara Leduc, and Martha Hartley took the stage to accept their recognition for their commitment to delivering excellent instruction to their students.

 “I think the toughest decision an administration can make is to decide to close down an academic program and re-invest those resources into helping other parts of the institution thrive. We did that two years ago with our Nursing program. These decisions are undeniably hard on our students; however, these decisions also have a life-changing impact on the faculty and staff who are also affected,” King said in his presentation of the award. “Over the last two years, Dr. Evelyn Brewer, Barb Leduc, and Martha Hartley have been phenomenal examples of service over self. They have continued on to ensure that our remaining students receive a high-quality education.”

By Maya JarrellApril 18, 2024