High honors presented at Commencement
Three top awards were revealed at McDaniel’s May 24 Commencement ceremony. Two graduating seniors were recipients of the college’s top academic honors, the Argonaut Award for achieving the highest grade-point average, and the Edith Farr Ridington Phi Beta Kappa Writing Award for the best Honors paper.
Jason R. Stein of Rockville, Md., who earned a 4.016 grade-point average in his entire completed course of study, was presented with the Argonaut Award. A double major in Biology and Psychology, Stein graduated a College scholar, summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. He is headed to a position in the biopharmaceutical industry.
A mid-distance runner on McDaniel’s track team, Stein received departmental honors in Biology and is the recipient of the national Maria Leonard Senior Book Award and a co-recipient of the H.P. Sturdivant Biology Award. A mid-distance runner on the track team, Jason conducted research in the DNA of geckos and is heading to a position in the biopharmaceutical industry.
Stein collaborated with Biology professor Randy Morrison for his honors capstone project on a comparative analysis of nuclear and mitochondrial genes in captive-bred leaf-tail geckos. A strong student in the classroom, Stein also has “excellent scientific bench skills,” Morrison says.
“He wrote a first-rate paper in senior honors colloquium considering the impact of the legalization of marijuana on the psychological well-being of adolescents and adults,” says Psychology professor and Honors Program director Stephanie Madsen. “I was impressed with Jason's ability to thoughtfully contribute to a variety of topics in ways that deepened our discussion.”
The winner of the Ridington Writing Award is "Effects of Acute Mindfulness Meditation on State Mindfulness and Cortisol Response to a Mild Stressor” by Biology and Psychology double major Jesica West of Bloomingdale, N.Y., whose interest in helping people cope with acute stressors, such as students dealing with test anxiety, led her to choose the research topic.
Graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa with departmental honors in Biology and Psychology, West examined the effects of meditation on mindfulness and stress responses. She knew from her reading that there had been numerous studies examining the effects of long-term meditation programs on mindfulness and stress responses, according to her research advisor, Psychology professor Madeline Rhodes.
“But Jesi wanted to know if more acute practice of meditation could have similar effects,” Rhodes says, who nominated West’s paper for the award because “it highlighted areas that are hallmarks of a liberal arts education: the ability to think critically about a problem and to be able to write well about that problem.
“Jesi’s project and paper were more on the order of a graduate student than an undergraduate.”
B. Jill Brooks Hodge Professional Development Award recipient Rachel Hansell of Cumberland, Md., plans to use her master’s degree in Deaf Education to teach deaf and hard-of-hearing students in a bilingual environment. Her graduate thesis research focused on an analysis of the use of fingerspelling in American Sign Language video storybooks for young deaf children.
Hansell was diagnosed with bilateral profound deafness at 18 months old. At age 4, she was fitted with a cochlear implant and grew up learning to speak and sign English simultaneously.
A 2012 graduate of McDaniel with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, she did not begin to learn American Sign Language until her freshman year at the college. As an undergraduate, she served as president of the American Sign Language club and was a member of the Phi Sigma Sigma sorority, as well as a peer mentor for first-year students.
She also advocated for closed captioning in Maryland movie theaters, which led to the introduction of “Rachel’s Law” (House Bill 1463) in 2010 introduced by her state representative Kevin Kelly. She testified in Annapolis in support of the bill.
According to Mark Rust, associate professor of Education, “Rachel developed her passion for teaching while enrolled in a Jan Term course working with deaf children in the Dominican Republic.”