GW Celebrates High Academic Achievers

Annual academic honors dinner recognized 189 students with high grade-point averages and scholars who have done distinguished work.

The 2018 Distinguished Scholars from left: Cameron Peters, Sydney Merritt, Jacqueline Dyer, Ashley Alessandra, Siena Kramer, Provost Maltzman, President LeBlanc, Daniel Lyng, Kurtis Guy, Connor Forsythe and Rosie Hakim. (Logan Werlinger/GW Today)
April 23, 2018

By B.L. Wilson

Students who combined demanding academic course work with being cyber security whizzes to business mavens and paramedic flight interventionists were celebrated by peers, family and faculty of the George Washington University community Friday evening at the annual Academic Honors Dinner.

In all, 189 George Washington University undergraduates were recognized for outstanding academic achievement. These full-time sophomores, juniors and seniors maintained a grade point average of 3.94 or higher and performed in the top 2 percent of their classes.

To the students who were honored in the Grand Ballroom of the Marvin Center, GW President Thomas LeBlanc said, “You exemplify this community’s aspiration to seek preeminence in all that we do, especially in our scholarship and research.”

For GW Provost Forrest Maltzman, the dinner sets the stage for a host of spring activities that “along with Research Days, the New Venture Business Plan Competition and the opening of Next are warm up acts for graduation that celebrate the success of our students.”

A select group of nine graduating undergraduates—distinguished scholars—were singled out by each school to deliver brief remarks. They were nominated by the faculty of respective schools not only for achievements in the classroom but also for their support of peers, their involvement in co-curricular activities such as research and internships, and their contributions to campus life and student organizations.

Daniel Lyng, who came to GW as a Presidential Scholar, plans to continue pursuing studies in political science. He said time at GW should also be valued for “learning for the sake of learning.”

“It gives us the opportunity to explore so many fields and so many different opportunities,” he said. “This produces a community of learning that really is unrivaled at any other university.” 

The 2018 Distinguished Scholars:

Jacqueline Dyer, Columbian College of Arts and Sciences

Introducing Ms. Dyer, Michael King, professor of chemistry, described an undergraduate student who since her sophomore year at GW has been immersed in biomedical research at professional levels, working with teams of graduate students and postdoctoral scientists at the Vertes Research Group, under the direction of Akos Vertes, professor of chemistry.

Dr. King noted that she has presented at national conferences and won numerous awards and fellowships at GW and from professional associations such as the American Chemical Society and the National Science Foundation.

“I’ve learned so much—from the niche topics like laser desorption ionization mass spectrometry to fundamental things like how to even be a scientist, how to investigate and research,” Ms. Dyer said.”

After graduation, she plans to serve in the United States Navy as a nuclear propulsion officer and continue her career in chemistry.

Daniel Lyng, Columbian College of Arts and Sciences

Dr. King quoted a faculty member who said that when “Daniel engages in research, it is exhaustive, yet he manages not to get lost in it. This is the mark of a strong intellect.”

Mr. Lyng spent most of his life in East and Southeast Asia before coming to GW as a member of the University Honors Program. With a major in political science, he has focused on the intersection of organization theory and politics.

He interned at the U.S. Supreme Court, served as a legal assistant at the State Department and worked for the Public International Law and Public Policy Group. He plans to continue working with the Environment and Natural Resources Global Practice at the World Bank Group where he is now employed and pursue graduate studies.

Connor Forsythe, School of Engineering and Applied Science

“’Not satisfied’ is something that I think describes Connor Forsythe,” said David Dolling, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science. In addition to earning a 4.0 grade-point average, being involved in an array of internships and study abroad, Dr. Dolling said, “[Mr. Forsythe] was not satisfied with working on one research project, he started research with a third faculty member this year.”

He also took the lead in reinstituting a chapter of the professional society the National Society of Professional Engineers at GW.

“The professors I’ve come in contact with always went out their way to make me feel like a contemporary, someone who can contribute and really accomplish great things,” Mr. Forsythe said. “That’s allowed me to not put limits on myself.”

Mr. Forsythe will start a Ph.D. program at Carnegie Mellon University in the fall.

Rosie Hakim, School of Business

One of Ms. Hakim’s professors was so impressed with her intelligence, work ethic and maturity that she was hired as a teaching assistant, a responsibility that had previously been entrusted only to a graduate student, according to Leo Moersen, associate dean for undergraduate studies at GWSB.

While maintaining a high grade-point average, she pursued her passion for empowering young women through GW’s Women In Business group, which involved leading 35 undergraduates on a networking tour at corporate cites in New York.

“If all of that weren’t enough, Rosie managed to study abroad in Barcelona and held several internships,” Dr. Moersen said, at workplaces such as Bloomberg LP, Attain, McAdam-Financially Advanced and the U.S. Treasury Department.

She thanked faculty members and student organizations, especially GWIB, for helping her to overcome her fears and doubts and challenging her to get out of her comfort zone and chase her dreams.

“Four years ago when I started my journey here, I could barely imagine making it through my first course, microeconomics, my freshman year,” Ms. Hakim said.

After graduating, she returns to Bloomberg as an analyst, with as much trepidation she said as she experienced in that microeconomics course.

“Thankfully, my four years at GW have taught me that it is at these moments when we are most vulnerable that we grow and learn,” Ms. Hakim said.

Ashley Alessandra, Elliott School of International Affairs

Chris Tudda, adjunct professor of history and a U.S. State Department historian, described Ms. Alessandra as an “amazing professional” and an all-time favorite student. Dr. Tudda was standing in for Lisa Stephenson, the Elliott School associate dean of academic affairs and student services who could not be present.

Ms. Alessandra was an intern at the State Department last summer and served as a special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan. “I can tell you they don’t pick or accept just anyone at the State Department,” Dr. Tudda said. “She is someone of exceptional quality who can be a policymaker if she chooses to do so.”

Ms. Alessandra credits her success at GW to the support of GW STAR, the student admissions tour guide program, and Delta Phi Epsilon Professional Foreign Service Sorority. Both gave her the confidence, she said, to pursue her dream of studying African affairs and spending her sophomore year in Uganda.

With the help of her professors, Ms. Alessandra said she has been named a Boren Critical Language Scholar in Swahili and will be traveling to Tanzania this summer to study the language.

Sydney Merritt, Milken Institute School of Public Health

Sydney Merritt achieved a 4.0 grade-point average with a double major in public health and psychology and a minor in criminal justice while interning at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. There, she worked on the opioid crisis.

Introducing her, Michael Lu, professor and senior associate dean for academic, student and faculty affairs at SPH, said, “Faculty describe her as a student with a brilliant mind and a force to be reckoned with.”

Ms. Merritt said when she came to GW from Miami she had a general interest in health policy, but it wasn’t until she took Introduction to Public Health that she fell in love with the field. “The course allowed me to engage with other students in substantive discussion on topics ranging from the HIV/AIDS epidemic to the Zika outbreak.”

Next year, she will pursue a Master of Science in Public Health, concentrating in health policy at Johns Hopkins University.

Cameron Peters, College of Professional Studies

Cameron Peters will be graduating from GW’s first cyber security undergraduate program at the College of Professional Studies, after transferring from Northern Virginia Community College.

“So he has excelled at two colleges over the last four years,” said Melissa Feuer, associate dean of students at CPS. She said one of the highlights of his time at GW was participation in The Atlantic Journal’s conference on cyber frontiers where he talked about the skills gap and the need for highly-trained cyber professionals.

Mr. Peters said his experience with his professors at GW exceeded his expectations. “Every one of them was an experienced professional in the field working for years,” he said. “Sometimes our classes would go from 6 to 9 and they would stay until 11 to answer questions.”

Mr. Peters plans to continue his involvement in cyber security by investigating and writing about the impact of research on upcoming technologies.

Siena Kramer, School of Nursing

Siena Kramer applied to GW’s School of Nursing after getting a degree in history, philosophy and literature at Wesleyan University. She discovered nursing after volunteering at the UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center.

“I love it when somebody comes to nursing with a background in arts and sciences, not just the hard sciences,” said Janice Hoffman, SON senior associate dean for academic affairs.

Ms. Kramer is graduating from the accelerated nursing program with a 4.0 grade-point average, having completed 60 credits in 15 months.

During that time, she represented the school on a medical mission to Uganda where she and her colleagues worked closely with community health workers to conduct hypertension screening and provide follow-up education.

“The best prize that life has to offer is a chance to work hard at work worth doing,” Ms. Kramer said, referring to remarks attributed to President Theodore Roosevelt. “But I think the work worth doing isn’t as hard when you are surrounding by colleagues and mentors who support you through your toughest shifts, lift you up when you have doubts and inspire you with their wit and bravery on a daily basis.”

After graduating, Ms. Kramer is considering a nursing career in an intensive care unit and a future career in teaching nursing.

Kurtis Guy, School of Medicine and Health Sciences

As a distance education student in Las Vegas, Mr. Guy’s first time on the GW campus was the evening of the Academic Honors dinner.

Karen Wright, assistant dean for student life and academic support of health sciences and director of the physician assistant program at SMHS, said, “This is an online program. So he has had an opportunity to apply what he is learning in the classroom in real life.”

Mr. Guy served as a flight paramedic on an emergency medical team the past three years and was among the first responders providing life-saving interventions at the mass shooting that took place in Las Vegas last October.

“My time at George Washington as a distance education student has been one of the most intellectually challenging and yet rewarding learning experiences to date,” Mr. Guy said. “I would be the definition of a non-traditional student, working full time as a flight paramedic, traveling and even submitting discussion posts by the Wi-Fi on the commercial planes.”

What makes his relationship with professors and faculty so interesting, he said, is that he had not met them face-to-face, only through email discussions and occasional phone calls.

Yet, with their support, the day after he graduates, Mr. Guy will enter GW’s post-baccalaureate premed program in D.C. to become a doctor, which he has wanted to be since childhood.


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