What began in 2015 as an organization to give graduate students a voice quickly turned into much more than that. The Graduate Student Council was created by the dean of the graduate school in 2015, Larry Leflore, to provide graduate students with the same unity undergraduate students have. Afterwards, Leflore had a vision to “create the total graduate student” and realized the need for recognition of accomplishments amongst graduate students, faculty and staff, and from there, the Pioneering Spirit Awards were formed, according to Graduate Student Council President Shannon Combest.
The Pioneering Spirit Awards banquet that occurred on April 6 marks the fourth year of celebrating exemplary graduate students, faculty and staff. This year, over 45 graduate students were nominated and over 55 faculty, staff and departments were nominated according to Combest. While the awards banquet is currently only held on the Denton campus, individuals from all TWU campuses, including online students, are eligible to win awards. All nominees are sent invitations encouraging them to R.S.V.P. For recipients who attend other campuses or live out of town, the award is presented at a different time at a banquet held on the recipient’s campus, Combest explained.
Graduate students use a separate Google form to nominate faculty, staff and departments they believe should be award recipients while faculty and staff must submit applications with recommendation letters for students they wish to nominate. The recommendation letters allow the board to see the “personal response from the nominator,” which helps to later influence their decision in choosing the overall winner, Combest said. Once nominated, students must provide their resume or curriculum vitae and a personal statement letter for the board to review later when choosing the winning nominees. Students are also asked for a photo and their favorite quote so the winner can have this displayed in the slideshow at the banquet, according to Combest. The Graduate Student Council convenes to decide the winning nominees for faculty, staff and departments. In order to keep the deciding process free of bias during the reviewing process, the nominees are “blinded” so that the council members do not recognize students, faculty, staff or departments when deliberating, Combest said.
This year’s winning nominees include Whitney Barlow, Communication Science and Disorders (Graduate Assistant Award of Excellence), Yasar Arfat Kasu, Biology (Graduate Research Assistant Award of Excellence), Martheya Nygaard, Dance (Graduate Student Teaching Award of Excellence), Mikaela Wilk, Chemistry and Biochemistry (Masters Student Award of Excellence), Dawn Murphy, Nursing (Doctoral Student Award of Excellence), Dr. Carolyn Da Silva, Physical Therapy (Houston) (The Distinguished Graduate Faculty Award), Sarah Faber, Biology (The Distinguished Staff Supporting Graduate Students Award) and the department of Sociology (The Distinguished Department Supporting Graduate Students Award). The Pioneering Spirit Awards provide graduate students, faculty, staff and departments with respect and recognition for their dedication, hard-work and success
Photo Courtesy of Melissa Carr
Pictured above is the Graduate Student Council attending the Pioneer Spirit Award banquet.