Finger food, fellowship and, for graduate students and those that support them, a night to remember.
The Graduate Student Council held the fifth annual Pioneering Spirit Awards ceremony Friday, April 5, from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Blagg-Huey Living Room. The ceremony, aimed at recognizing faculty, staff and graduate students for their contributions to their departments and disciplines, honored candidates in eight nominating categories including Distinguished Graduate Faculty Member, Distinguished Department, and Graduate Assistant Award of Excellence.
Before the ceremony began, attendees, which included the candidates and those that nominated them, were encouraged to mingle over hors d’oeuvres.
The formal ceremony opened with a history of the Graduate Student Council and a rousing speech in which its founder, Dr. Larry LeFlore, pledged eight thousand dollars to the organization if someone could come up with a plan to successfully implement a license plate program to increase funding to the university.
An address from the keynote speaker LaQuitha Mohair, a three-time alumna of the TWU School of Nursing and a captain in the United States Public Health Service, followed. Mohair fondly remembered her time at TWU, which began in 1973, reflecting on the changes that have taken place at the university but emphasizing that its role in the success of graduates has not changed.
“The most common denominator for any student that enrolls in a university is the much-anticipated hope of graduation, mostly unaware of the true pioneering spirit that’s hidden within,” Mohair said. “Your presence here this evening enrolled in a graduate program at Texas Woman’s University, is evident that you possess a pioneering spirit in your quest for knowledge, for professional growth, and that you’re up to the unknown challenges of what the future holds. The pioneering spirit of hope defines us as it powers us through daily struggle that seems to come from nowhere and blindside us.”
That spirit of hope was evident among the nominees, who expressed gratitude for being recognized by department leaders.
“I’m nervous [and] excited,” Tara Hartford, a master’s graduate in the educational leadership department, said. “I’m really honored that Dr. T.J. [Laura Trujillo-Jenks] nominated me so just to be here is an honor in itself; she’s kind of like my mentor.”
“I’m not really expecting to win, but I’m happy to be here,” Heather Hagler, a nominee for the Doctoral Student Award of Excellence for her work in psychology, said. “I’m excited that I got nominated and to see my classmates that got nominated as well.”
The main event followed the keynote address, with the winner of each nominating category presented by a GSC senator and a short speech by the nominators about each winner. The winners are as follows:
Distinguished Staff Member – Dr. Lionel Faure, Biology
Distinguished Graduate Faculty Member – Dr. Camelia Maier
Distinguished Department – English, Speech & Foreign Languages
Graduate Assistant Award of Excellence – Joseph Reyes, Music Therapy & Counseling
Graduate Research Assistant Award of Excellence – Patricia Flint, Special Education
Graduate Teaching Assistant Award of Excellence – James Fraley, Rhetoric
Master’s Student Award of Excellence – Kalia Aparicio, Business/Healthcare Administration
Doctoral Student Award of Excellence – Heather Gerling, Sociology
The ceremony concluded with a speech by Dr. Carolyn Kapinus, dean of the graduate school, who spoke of the importance of graduate students to the “fabric of the university.”
“Can you imagine our university without graduate students?” Kapinus said. “Graduate students are essential to the fabric of the university – and I’m not just saying that for job security,” Kapinus said, laughing.
But the words of Mohair perhaps best-captured the prevailing spirit of the evening and the graduate honorees themselves: perseverance.
“So hold on, keep your pioneering spirit even through the struggles, knowing that they are empowering you to meet the challenges of the future,” Mohair said. “Don’t waste time; be all that you can be while you are here at Texas Woman’s University.”