Spotlights

GVSU Honors College Blog

Check out our blog for more spotlight worthy stories from past & current honors students!


Gabrielle Angel, a first generation college student and member of the Honors college, has been highlighted in a new article on the GVNEXT blog, a publication of Grand Valley State University's University Communications. In the article, "McNair Scholars transition undergraduate research projects to online formats" by Michele Coffill, Gabrielle discusses how the McNair Scholars community has been integral to their academic success in the face of COVID-19. Angel is a senior majoring in women, gender, and sexuality studies at GVSU.

Gabrielle Angel, honors student, working on their research project online


Zoë Smith is a GVSU and Honors College alumna. She will be graduating medical school at Wayne State in a few short months and joining the front lines against COVID-19 at Detroit Medical Center as an intern. Zoë recently matched into a Dermatology residency and will be moving to Philadelphia in July 2021. She is also a small business owner and designer of The Medicine Mug. The Medicine Mug is a go-to gift item for anyone in healthcare. 

The Medicine Mug

Zoe Smith


Nate Gillespie, Class of 2018, and now a Senior Analyst of Auxo Investment Partners, is in the early stages with other Grand Valley alumni to organize a “Coronavirus Civilian Corps”. He and others are working to amass a contingency of student and youth volunteers to coordinate safety-conscious assistance for local non-profit and small businesses including a fundraising campaign to support local micro-grants for these same struggling local, small enterprises and entrepreneurs.

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Brittany Hunter, '08, was included in Grand Rapids Business Journal's 40 under 40 class of 2019. She is a Managing Partner at Atomic Object, a custom software design and development consultancy.

Brittany Hunter


Domonique Palmer ('20) graduated from University Prep, where a college-bound culture is emphasized. Palmer was so comfortable with the thought of being a college student she said she took it upon herself to complete her family’s necessary financial aid paperwork.

“I did everything right to prepare myself for college. Money was the biggest obstacle,” Palmer said.

Palmer and her twin sister, Monique Palmer, are the first two from their family to attend college. When they were accepted into Grand Valley, receiving the Thompson scholarship was a huge relief.

“I was not going to be able to go to college without this financial stability. When I work, I can spend money on other things, rather than putting it toward tuition,” Palmer said. 

She will graduate in April with a bachelor’s degree in integrative studies and plans to pursue a master’s degree in student affairs leadership. Palmer said her aspirations are to help students much like herself.

“I would like to work with first-year students who come from limited incomes, and help them access college,” she said. “I want to work with people who don’t see themselves going to college.”

 

Read more about students like Domonique that have benefited from the Thompson Scholarship here.

Palmer laughing with Ellen and Bob Thompson


Meijer Honors College professors receive emeritus status

Provost Cimitile has honored two longtime professors from Brooks College and the Meijer Honors College with emeritus status. Jane Toot and Jonathan White both retired at the end of the Fall 2019 semester after 28 years and 36 years of service, respectively.

Toot joined Grand Valley's faculty as director of the physical therapy program in 1991. She served as dean of what was then the School of Health Professions and has been teaching courses in the Frederik Meijer Honors College since 2010. Toot created an honors college intergenerational course several years ago that blends traditional-age students with senior citizens from Porter Hills and other retirement communities in the area.

White joined the Grand Valley faculty in 1983, with teaching appointments in criminal justice, liberal studies and the Honors College. He was the founding director of the School of Criminal Justice and also served as the dean of Social Sciences. Since 2002, he has served as executive director of the Homeland Defense Initiative. White is a national expert on the topic of terrorism and religious extremism.

 

Jane Toot

Jon White


Student uses grant award to explore medicine in Belize

Christa Fernando used a study abroad experience to explore learning about global health. Read more details here

Christa Fernando


Uyen Pham, '19, has pursued every research opportunity she could find throughout her time at Grand Valley. The international student from Vietnam has worked with her mentor Rachel Powers, professor of chemistry, since her sophomore year, assisting with Powers’ research on bacterial resistance to antibiotics by studying beta-lactamase.

Uyen is a recipient of the Ruth Chamberlain Global Issues Scholarship, which provides assistance to students in the Frederik Meijer Honors College who have shown significant promise and have demonstrated interest in research.

Read more about Uyen's research here

Uyen Pham


Keegan Bauer '19 always dreamed of earning a four-year degree, despite the obstacles she would face as a first-generation student. Growing up in Alpena, Michigan in a single-parent household, she had to figure out how to apply to colleges on her own, as her mother and older siblings had never gone through the process. The first time she visited Grand Valley, Keegan was impressed by all the resources and help she received.

Read more about Keegan's experience as a fist generation college student here.

Keegan Bauer


Growing up spending a lot of time working in the garage with his dad, Johnathan Otterbein, Class of 2020, has been interested in how things work from a young age. Because of this, it only made sense that he chose to be a mechanical engineering major at Grand Valley. He appreciates many aspects of the program, such as the emphasis on hands-on learning, getting to work on exciting projects like building robots, and gaining real-world experiences through the required co-op. The engineering program also offers extra-curriculars like the solar racing team, which Johnathan has been the Lead Design Officer of for two years. 

Read more about Johnathan's experience with the Innovation Design Center here

Johnathan Otterbein and Ryan Aldridge


Anna-Lise Baldwin studied abroad in Bilbao during the Fall 2019 semester. Here is an interview she did with Centro Internacional de Espanol-CIDE regarding her experience. 

Anna-Lise Baldwin in Bilbao


Isabel Thompson has a curiosity about science that keeps her hand in the air during class discussions.

Thompson's curiosity played a large role in her being selected for the national Beckman Scholars Program, a rigorous, 15-month mentored research experience for undergraduate students. Thompson, who is majoring in cell and molecular biology, will receive an award of $21,000 over the course of the program. The program is funded by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation; Grand Valley was selected in 2017 to participate in the program for three years.

Thompson's mentor is Jennifer Moore, associate professor of biology. Thompson said they share a love for amphibians and reptiles, which led to her research project focused on lava lizards in the Galápagos Islands.

Increasing numbers of tourists and land development on the islands has impacted lizards, Thompson said. Her goal is to assess if human interaction has had a distinct effect on the genetics and population levels of lava lizards. Moore visited the islands in 2017 and 2018 to collect samples; Thompson is extracting DNA from those samples.

"The lava lizard is a threatened species," Thompson said. "This work would help inform conservation management plans."

This is not Thompson's first entry-point into research. After her first year at Grand Valley, she worked with Jodee Hunt, professor of biology, over a summer to observe the behavior of large cats at John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids.

Thompson, from Holland, said she has always been comfortable choosing biology as a major. What gave her pause to think was adding a minor. "I settled on anthropology, then statistics at some point. The problem is I like everything and I ask a lot of questions," she said.

Moore said Thompson's passion about research and science will work to her benefit as a researcher.

"Research is born out of strong sense of scientific curiosity, which Isabel embodies," Moore said. "She’s also got the dedication and drive to carry this project through to completion, even over the inevitable speed bumps that are a big part of research."

Susan Mendoza, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship, encouraged Thompson to apply for the Beckman program, which OURS administers. Thompson said completing the essay and interview process was a good challenge.

"It was scary because I was putting myself out there. The process caused me to really think about my place in the scientific community," Thompson said.

Photo of Isabel Thompson


Angel Bista, an international relations major from Grand Haven, Michigan, spent summer 2019 studying Japanese in Okayama, Japan abroad after being awarded the competitive U.S. Department of State's Critical Language Scholarship (CLS). 

The CLS Program is part of a U.S. government effort to expand the number of Americans studying and mastering critical foreign languages. CLS scholars gain skills in languages that are less-commonly taught in U.S. schools but are essential for America’s engagement with the world, contributing to U.S. economic competitiveness and national security.

Bista was one of only 550 competitively selected American students representing 233 colleges and universities across the U.S. to receive a CLS award. Each CLS scholar spent eight to 10 weeks in one of 26 locations studying Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bangla, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Swahili, Turkish and Urdu.

The program provides funded, group-based intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment experiences designed to promote rapid language gains. CLS scholars serve as citizen ambassadors, representing the diversity of the U.S. abroad and building lasting relationships with people in their host countries. Alumni of the program go on to continue their language study and apply their critical language skills in their future careers.

Photo of Angel Bista


Kali Smolen is a 2017 graduate of Frederik Meijer Honors College. After completing her degree in Cellular and Molecular Biology (CMB), she began her MD-PhD training at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire. This dual degree program is 8-years long and involves 2 years of medical school, followed by completion of a PhD, and then 2 more years of clinical work before applying to residency programs. With her first 2 years of pre-clinical curriculum behind her, she is now working on her graduate studies in the Kettenbach Lab at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center where she studies phosphatase activity in mitosis and how this is involved in various disease states including cancer.

During Kali’s first semester in the Honors College at GV, she took the Food For Thought Honors Sequence that opened her mind to where our food comes from and how food is deeply intertwined with human health and social privilege. This largely influenced her extracurricular involvement at Grand Valley through the Sustainable Agriculture Project (SAP) and GVSU Beekeepers and continues to drive Kali’s community involvement outside of the classroom at Dartmouth. Kali says that her Honors College experience taught her to engage in critical discussion with faculty and students, build a strong sense of community, and think about everyday concepts in a way that goes far beyond the surface.   

Kali Smolen headshot


An FMHC alumnus has been awarded a highly competitive scholarship by Phi Kappa Phi, the nation's oldest and most selective collegiate honor society. Scott St. Louis of Midland, Michigan, was selected as a recipient of a Marcus L. Urann Fellowship, named after the society's founder. St. Louis is one of only six recipients nationwide to receive the prestigious $20,000 fellowship. St. Louis received a bachelor's degree in history from Grand Valley State University, and also served as the program manager for the university's Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies. As a Urann Fellow, St. Louis will pursue a master's degree in information at University of Michigan. Since its creation in 1932, the Fellowship Program has become one of the honor society's most visible and financially well-supported endeavors, allocating $615,000 annually to outstanding students for first-year graduate or professional study. The selection process for a fellowship is based on the applicant's evidence of graduate potential, undergraduate academic achievement, service and leadership experience, letters of recommendation, personal statement of educational perspective and career goals, and acceptance in an approved graduate or professional program. "I am tremendously grateful to The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi, as well as the faculty and staff of Grand Valley State University, for the very generous Marcus L. Urann Fellowship," St. Louis said. "This award will open up an abundance of possibilities during my time in graduate school." Phi Kappa Phi Fellowships are part of the society's award programs, which give nearly $1 million each year to outstanding members and students on chapter campuses through study abroad grants, dissertation fellowships, funding for post-baccalaureate development, member and chapter awards, and grants for local, national and international literacy initiatives.

Scott St. Louis headshot


Christa M. Fernando, of Kentwood, Michigan, was recently awarded a study abroad grant worth $1,000 from The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi, a collegiate honor society for all academic disciplines. Fernando is one of 75 students nationwide to receive the award. The grants are designed to support undergraduates from campuses that have Phi Kappa Phi chapters, as they seek expanded knowledge and experience in their academic fields by studying abroad. Fernando is a senior majoring in biomedical sciences, and will use the grant to study abroad at the Sacred Heart College in San Ignacio, Belize.The selection process for a study abroad grant is based on the applicant’s academic achievement, campus and community service, relation of travel to academic preparation and career goals, a personal statement, letters of recommendation and acceptance into a study abroad program. Each recipient receives $1,000 to be applied toward travel abroad. Established in 2001, the Study Abroad Grant Program has awarded more than $875,000 to undergraduate students. The grants are part of the Society’s portfolio of award programs, which gives nearly $1 million each year to outstanding students and members through graduate and dissertation fellowships, funding for post-baccalaureate development, and grants for local, national and international literacy initiatives.

Christa Fernando headshot


A FMHC student has received scholarship money from the nationally competitive Goldwater Scholars program. Shea Siwik, a junior majoring in biochemistry,earned $7,500 from the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation. Goldwater Scholars (496 chosen nationally this year from a pool of 5,000 students) are nominated by faculty members, have strong academic and research backgrounds and will likely enroll in graduate schools. The last time Grand Valley students were selected as Goldwater Scholars was in 2012.

Siwik, from Portage, works in the research lab of Paul Cook, associate professor of chemistry, characterizing enzymes involved in the production of a compound called bacillithiol, which several disease-causing bacteria use to destroy certain antibiotics. Siwik will spend the summer at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as part of the National Science Foundation's Research Experiences for Undergraduates program. Cook said he has confidence that Siwik will achieve her plan to earn a doctoral degree in biochemistry and then teach at a research university. "Shea stood out to me as a great candidate for the Goldwater Scholarship," Cook said. "She has done great work in my lab, and she is another example of the extraordinary research students we have at Grand Valley.”

Named in honor of former Sen. Barry Goldwater, Goldwater Scholars often earn prestigious post-graduate fellowship programs. Goldwater Scholars have been awarded 92 Rhodes Scholarships, 137 Marshall Awards, 159 Churchill Scholarships, 104 Hertz Fellowships, and numerous other distinguished awards like the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships.

Shea Siwik headshot


Benjamin Scott-Brandt, a Liberal Studies major in the Frederik Meijer Honors College, has received the prestigious Glenn A. Niemeyer Undergraduate Student Award. Named for the first Provost of GVSU, the Niemeyer Awards honor faculty and students who strive for excellence in all aspects of a well-rounded academic experience. Students selected for the Niemeyer Awards are well-rounded individuals with demonstrated excellence in both the classroom and extra-curricular activities.

Specializing in the study of sacred spaces, Ben is also a songwriter, hairstylist and intern at GVSU's Campus Interfaith Resources. Ben is a first-generation college student graduating this spring, and he hopes to continue exploring the role of sacred space here in West Michigan. Congratulations, Ben!

Benjamin Scott-Brandt headshot


Emily Larson is a graduate of the Honors College in 2012. Emily is now a senior advisor leading the schools brief at BIT (The Behavioural Insights Team) in England. Before joining BIT, Emily ran an international organisation that brought together leaders in the fields of education, policy and psychology to promote teaching character and wellbeing in schools. Emily has expertise in the fields of wellbeing, character development and designing large scale behavioral interventions. She has worked for over seven years to develop, employ and test interventions for educators in Nepal, India, Thailand, the Philippines, the UK, and the USA. Emily graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with her Masters in Positive Psychology. She has taught as an assistant instructor at the University of Pennsylvania for three years, sits on the board of Governors for a school in South London and is an Advisory Board member at the S P Jain Centre for the Science of Happiness in India.

Emily Larson headshot


Elizabeth "Biz" Stolz, an Honors student, is working to make Disney the most magical place on Earth. Read more about her work here

Elizabeth Stolz posing with Mickey and Minnie mouse


Lindsey Short graduated from Grand Valley with a major in Biomedical Science in April 2018. During her college career she was a part of the Honors college, studied abroad in Ghana in summer 2017, and was able to create her own research project. She has been working in Dr. Daniel Bergman's research lab for the past two years looking at chemical communication between crayfish.

Since graduation, she has expanded her research into looking at pheromones that are released during confrontation between a turtle and crayfish and seeing if it is interpreted as an alarm to other crayfish. In January 2019 she was able to present at the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology conference in Tampa, Florida.

Lindsey Short headshot


Lauren Robb (far right) is Pre-Medicine, Honors student majoring in Biomedical Sciences and previously studied abroad with the Honors program to Ghana in 2016. This past weekend, Robb presented her research with Professor Martin Burg and Brittany VandenBerg at the Society for Neuroscience conference in San Francisco.

Lauren Robb presenting her research


Nathan (‘14) and Alice (‘15) Kalinowski met while living in Niemeyer and married in 2015. 

Nathan, from Garden City, MI majored in Biomedical Science and worked as an RA in Honors for three years. After graduating from GVSU, he attended Dental School at the University of Pittsburgh. Currently, Nathan is completing a residency at Yale University’s hospital system in New Haven, Connecticut.

Alice, from Canton, MI majored in History with a double minor in Advertising and Public Relations and Non-Profit Administration. She then completed the Master of Library and Information Science program at the University of Pittsburgh. Alice is now a business librarian at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business in Palo Alto, California.

We both enjoyed our time at GVSU and the Honors College where we made lasting connections with students, faculty, and staff. The teaching emphasis and outside-of-the-classroom opportunities prepared us well for our paths after graduation. 

Nathan and Alice Kalinowski standing together


Inuksuks

Games in the Circumpolar World Honors Junior seminar students built small Inuksuks in their class, taught by Professor John Kilbourne, to help guide them towards a meaningful future. Inuksuks are a structure of rough stones in the form of a human figure, traditionally used by Inuit people as a landmark or a commemorative sign. Inuksuks serve as Arctic Light Houses. They guide Inuit to good hunting grounds, warn of areas of danger, or where food might be cached (buried). 

John Kilbourne's class holding small Inuksuks they made in class


Cullin Flynn

Cullin graduated from the Frederik Meijer Honor's College with a B.A. in Spanish, and Minors in Natural Resources Management and Applied Linguistics. After two years of study abroad in Costa Rica and Mexico, he is currently in South Germany as a participant in the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange. For the internship phase of this program, Cullin has chosen to work with cargo bike manufacturer Radkutsche. This year he was recruited to play as a striker for football club TSV Altingen and also secured two scholarships to attend Model UN conferences in Bonn and Nuremberg, both of which have given an international perspective to his interests in sustainability and agriculture.

During his first semester at GVSU, Cullin visited an Honors Sequence with his roommate and was blown away by the dynamic engagement and rapport between student and professor. After a couple of conversations with the legendary duo of Dr. J and Janaan Decker, he enrolled in the program. Cullin explored metaphor in early scripture during his Junior Seminar “Terror of Monotheism” and later used his Honors Senior Project to involve campus fraternities and sororities in a volunteer tree planting project at the GVSU Sustainable Agriculture Project. The result: an orchard of over 100 fruit and nut trees still managed at “The Farm.”

Cullin Flynn headshot


University Innovation Fellows

Four Grand Valley Students will travel to Stanford University to take part in the University Innovation Fellows Silicon Valley Meetup, an event that will feature experiential workshops and design labs all focused on improving higher education. Meredith Filter, Dean Geschiere, Haley Jennings and Madalyn Slubowski will be accompanied by GVSU Marketing and Honors professor, Dr. Paul Lane. This program is to help young university students learn how to apply design thinking in a wide spectrum of subjects. Each student had to apply and go through about six weeks of intensive work online to participate. The event is both an opportunity to connect with people from different backgrounds and tour Stanford's design school. The students were recently featured in the Lanthorn. See article here.

Four GVSU students standing with Dr. Paul Lane and other Honors faculty


Leah Beaulac

Leah Beaulac has spent nearly three years in various Middle Eastern countries, through study abroad, scholarships, volunteering, an internship, and now in a professional capacity. The combination of her educational pursuits (Biology) and language acquisition (Arabic) has led to her current position at REACH initiatives, an international, non-governmental organization. She is currently working on the Jordan team, where they partner with organizations such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), United Nations organizations, United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), and numerous other NGOs in order to assess priority development concerns throughout Jordan.

She graduated from the Frederik Meijer Honor's College at Grand Valley State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology, and Minors in Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies, for which she was selected outstanding senior in those areas of study. During University, she interned at the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Amman, Jordan, focusing on Water, Sanitation and Health (WASH) sector needs. Here she was able to access the research tools necessary for the completion of her honors senior thesis The Impact of Syrian Migration on Water Demand in Northern Jordan, which was published in the Winter 2017 edition of Boston College Al-Noor Journal of Undergraduate Research.  Leah hopes to continue to work on complex humanitarian problems by assessing the impact of limited water resources on key development issues such as education, agriculture, and long-term sustainability plans.

Leah Beaulac standing on stairs


Emily LeFevere

Emily LeFevere graduated twice from GVSU!  In 2008 Emily was an Honors College student who earned her BA in Spanish & Information Systems, and in 2015 completed her M.S. in Computer Information Systems.  Immediately after graduating with her undergraduate degree, Emily joined Steelcase as an intern. At the end of that summer, she was offered a full-time position with the company.  For six years Emily worked in Infrastructure, where she enjoyed coming up with strategies to automate and improve Steelcase’s business processes.  In the back of her mind however, she really wanted to do software development.  After acquiring web development skills in her M.S. course work at GVSU, and with the encouragement of her management,  she transitioned to a team that develops web apps and APIs within Steelcase.  She has worked in this role as a web developer for three years now, and it is a job she thoroughly enjoys.

As an Honors College student Emily enjoyed the foundation courses that tied all the standard requirements together with an interesting theme and unique project. She felt like she benefited from being part of a smaller community that shared a living space and classroom space where she made a lot of lifelong friends. One of her favorite course was Honors Geology, which ended with a memorable three week hiking trip out West that tied together everything she learned that semester. Participating on the Honors Council was also a great opportunity, she felt, to work together with fellow students and collaborate with faculty. 

Emily LeFevere Headshot


Paige Baustert

Paige Baustert is currently a junior majoring in Allied Health Sciences. Last summer, she had the opportunity to study abroad through the honors college to Ghana, Africa. While in Ghana, she conducted a Qualitative Needs Assessment of Health Care at many of the health facilities around Winneba. This research examined the health care needs of Winneba’s residents from the perspective of both health care professionals and community members. Health care professionals and community members agreed that overall, Winneba is in need of more health care facilities, a better national insurance system, and more malaria prevention. Her research paper has recently been accepted to the National Conference of Undergraduate Research at the University of Central Oklahoma. This four-day conference in the first week of April hosts students from all over the country with research from all areas of study. She will be giving a twenty-minute oral presentation about her research.

Paige Baustert on study abroad in Ghana


Ellen Adams

Dr. Ellen Adams, Assistant Professor of Art in the Frederik Meijer Honors College, was selected as the 2018 recipient of the Pew Teaching Excellence Award. This award recognizes professors for their passion, teaching excellence and their ability to stimulate intellectual curiosity in their students. Dr. Adams teaches the sequence “Europe: Center and the Margins” and several Junior Seminars with art history as their central discipline. Dr. Adams’ innovative pedagogy includes a module called “Reacting to the Past,” a role-playing game in which a moment in history is learned through engagement with primary sources and collaboration with classmates. These student-centered games force students to think critically and creatively about history and culture. It gets students out of their seats and shakes up the traditional classroom. Her class was featured in GV Magazine and can be read about here. Dr. Adams’ students never forget her classes, and send her postcards from all across the globe detailing how her teaching has helped them appreciate art and culture.

Ellen Adams standing on stage


Jeremiah Cataldo

Jeremiah recently published his fourth book, the topic for which is a social-political history of monotheism ranging from the 6th century BCE to the 4th century CE. The following is an abstract from Routledge Press:

In A Social-Political History of Monotheism, Cataldo shows how political concerns were fundamental to the development of Judeo-Christian monotheism. Beginning with the disruptive and devastating historical events that shook early Israelite culture and ending with the seemingly victorious emergence of Christianity under the Byzantine Empire, this work highlights critical junctures marking the path from political frustration to imperial ideology. Monotheism, Cataldo argues, was not an enlightened form of religion; rather, it was a cultic response to effluent anxieties pouring out from under the crushing weight of successive empires. This provocative work is a valuable tool for anyone with an interest in the development of early Christianity alongside empires and cultures.

Jeremiah Cataldo headshot