McDaniel senior named Maryland top honors student

Erich Spioch.
March 12, 2013

For the second time in four years, a McDaniel senior is the recipient of the Maryland Collegiate Honors Council’s prestigious Portz Award for Outstanding Honors Student at a four-year college in Maryland.

Eric Spioch (above) of Westminster, Md., is majoring in Spanish and Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies with a linguistic specialization. A graduate of Westminster High School and one of the college’s first four Arabic majors graduating in May, Spioch studied abroad in Cairo, Egypt, during the spring of his junior year, where he volunteered at the Children’s Cancer Hospital of Egypt. He chronicled his experience online at  

Spioch and five other McDaniel Honors Program students presented papers at the MCHC conference where the Portz Award was announced. The award, which has been given annually since 2004 by the Maryland Collegiate Honors Council (MCHC), acknowledges the achievements of honors students who excel academically and through community involvement. The award carries a $500 stipend. Criteria include a student’s grade-point average (both overall and in honors courses), letters of recommendation from faculty, and completion of a student project.

At McDaniel, Spioch is involved not only with the Honors program as a senior class representative, but in athletics on both the track and field and cross country teams.

Spioch was nominated for the award by Stephanie Madsen, associate professor and chair of psychology and director of the Honors program, and Sara Raley, assistant professor of sociology and assistant director of the Honors program. Their letter of nomination noted Spioch’s enthusiasm for learning and his engagement in academics as well as community and campus life.

“Eric is well known among the faculty in a wide variety of departments as one of McDaniel’s brightest and most engaged students – a reflection of the breadth and rigor that characterizes Eric’s approach to all of his studies,” wrote Madsen and Raley in their letter of recommendation for the award. “He is a model student in honors class, willing to take intellectual risks and to explore topics well outside of his major.”

In fact, his student project submission for the Portz Award was a paper that he completed in his honors seminar on “Attachment Theory,” and, although he had not previously studied Psychology, he was the top student in the course.

Just as he is a top student at the college. In fact, as much as he relished his time abroad, Spioch counts his return to campus as a homecoming.

“There really is nothing like coming home to McDaniel and my family here. I was able to bring back all the memories and skills that I gained and share them with the campus community,” he said, explaining that he volunteered as a “candy striper” in the outpatient chemotherapy department, organizing activities with the pediatric patients and talking with the children and their families. “While this doesn't sound particularly academic, the time I spent at the hospital was when I got to practice the most Arabic and really interact with and learn from people of all walks of Egyptian life.”

Spioch has his career sights set on being an independent translator – and is hoping the job involves traveling. But first he has an interest in working as a language analyst, “utilizing my language skills as well as my critical thinking abilities. I'm not sure if this will include grad school, but at the very least I plan to obtain a translation certification.”

Spioch is the second student from McDaniel to earn the Portz Award. Eric Lemmon, who graduated as McDaniel’s first quadruple major in physics, chemistry, biology and biochemistry, received the award in 2010.

McDaniel students who presented papers at the MCHC conference are:

Senior Clara Burgess, a Sociology major from Chevy Chase, Md.: “Building a Global Campus – Influences on Study Abroad Participation”

Senior Casey Dunn, an English and Communication major from Eldersburg, Md.: “Sh*t Honors Students Say” Here’s the video Dunn made for his presentation.

Senior Catherine O’Keeffe, a Biology major from Tuckahoe, N.Y.: “Creating a Genetic Knock-out in the Social Amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum”

Sophomore Matthew Peterson, a Biochemistry major from Littleton, Colo.: “Come to Jesus: Bible Study As A Strategy to Engage Students in Critical Reading Outside The Classroom”

Senior Luke Schmidt, a Biology major from Red Lion, Pa.: “Toll-like receptor-2 (TLR2) mediates hyperglycemia-induced augmented vascular contractility” (with Maria Alicia Carrillo-Sepulveda, Kenia Pedrosa Nunes, Kathryn Spitler, R Clinton Webb, Georgia Health Sciences University, Augusta, Ga.)

Senior Eric Spioch, a Spanish and Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies major from Westminster, Md.: “The Muslims Did It Better:  Linking Religious and Political Powers in Spain”