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Commencement honors top students, faculty

CommencementCoverDuring its 128th Commencement, held May 9 and 10, 2014, Stetson University graduated 662 students; 171 graduate students and 491 undergraduates. At the Celebration of Commencement and three commencement ceremonies, Stetson University presented several awards honoring outstanding students and exemplary faculty.

William Hugh McEniry Award for Excellence in Teaching is considered Stetson’s most prestigious award for faculty. It is awarded to a faculty member chosen by students and other faculty. Excellence in classroom teaching is the primary criterion, though other factors, such as intellectual growth, professional competency, academic activities outside the classroom, and service to students and the university as a whole may be considered. The recipient of this year’s McEniry Award is Eric Kurlander, Ph.D. (pictured below right), professor and chair of history. The award was presented at the Saturday commencement ceremony by Harry Price, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry, and last year’s recipient of this award.


With a Ph.D. in modern European history from Harvard University, Kurlander teaches classes on modern German, European and world history. Since his appointment at Stetson in 2001, Kurlander has been “one of Stetson’s most prolific and accomplished scholars,” according to a faculty feature written in 2012 by Karen Kaivola, Ph.D., former English professor and associate provost at Stetson. Kurlander has received numerous Stetson summer grants, and was presented the Hand Award for Scholarly Achievement in 2006. He has held several fellowships abroad: The Thyssen-Heideking (German Historical Institute) Writing Fellowship at the University of Cologne (2007-8); the Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship for work in Bonn and Berlin (2007-8); and the Fulbright Scholar Grant, which he held while teaching at the Freiburg Padagogische Hochschule in Germany in 2012.

He is widely published, authoring four books, including two current projects: a textbook, The West in Question: Continuity and Change (forthcoming, Pearson-Longman), and Nazi Monsters: A Supernatural History of the Third Reich.

Kurlander is a tireless advocate of the kind of rigorous academic quality that characterizes the best liberal arts colleges, Kaivola wrote in her faculty feature on him. “For him, the best thing about Stetson is the chance to teach a wide range of courses to small groups of really smart and engaged students,” Kaivola said, “while working with talented faculty who share a commitment to liberal learning and passion for scholarly inquiry.”

Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award is presented annually to the man 
and the woman in the graduating class whose nobility of character and dedication to service sets them apart as examples for others. This prestigious award is among the highest recognition given to a graduating senior and is given jointly by Stetson University and the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation in New York. This award was created nearly 100 years ago to honor Sullivan’s life of service to others. Elizabeth Paul, Ph.D., provost and vice president for academic affairs, presented this year’s Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards to graduating seniors, Jay DeDon (left) and Alice Le (right).

DeDon-SullivanJay DeDon is an individual who is constantly involved within the community. He participated in school organizations dedicated to community involvement such as being the head of Phi Mu Alpha’s Service Committee, participating in IMPACT, volunteering at schools in his hometown of Plant City, Fla., being a private trumpet instructor, and creating a Honor Band programs for both elementary and middle school students to come together and learn from each other and music education interns. He has also been recognized for his community engagement efforts as a Newman Civic Fellow. In the midst of all of these activities, he has also managed to keep a high GPA during his four years at Stetson, and remains involved in campus events such as intramural sports with his fraternity. He is described as a role model of noble character and service involvement for many people over the past four years. He strives to push and improve himself in every way on a daily basis and is committed to dedicating his life to service.

AliceLe-SullivanAlice Le has a double-major in music and pre-med, while maintaining an impressive GPA and participating in an abundance of service activities at Stetson. Her distinguished artistic and academic accomplishments are complemented by her extensive Bonner Scholar service, as well as by her work as a community organizer for the arts, a wellness intern, a Tobacco Peer Educator, an SU First Peer Mentor and a yoga instructor. She serves as the rehearsal accompanist and voice lesson coordinator at DeLand High School, working with students as they prepare for All-State competitions. “A significant leader at Stetson, Alice is inspirational, caring and devoted to furthering the values of Stetson University, and I am proud to have her as a student,” her nominator wrote. “This recipient has the power to change the world.”

EtterTurnerAward-2Etter McTeer Turner Award is named for Stetson’s first woman dean of students, and is presented to the student who shows outstanding academic achievement, leadership and service to the community. Provost Paul presented this year’s award to Sammi Smith (pictured with Provost Paul, left), mathematics major, who earned the department’s highest award–the Ashcraft Award–as a junior, “indicating her superior intellect and dedication to her academic study,” said Provost Paul. She graduates with a perfect GPA, and is a member and president of Stetson’s chapter of Omicron Delta Kappa (ODK) national leadership organization. In addition to her academic success, she is also a member of the Stetson Golf Team, tutors in Stetson’s Math Clinic and served as a Stetson Peer Instructor. Smith “is an ideal representative of Stetson University,” Paul said.

The John Hague Award for Distinguished Teaching in the Liberal Arts and Sciences celebrates Stetson’s tradition of excellence in teaching and its devotion to scholarship, morality and friendship. These are the guiding principles of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious undergraduate honorary society. At the Celebration of Commencement ceremony on Friday, Karen Denner-HagueAwardRyan, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, presented this year’s Hague Award to Michael Denner (right), associate professor of Russian Studies and director of the University Honors Program. With a Ph.D. in Slavic languages and literatures, from Northwestern University, Denner teaches courses on Russian literature, film and language, and writes on Tolstoy and popular culture. He is editor of the Tolstoy Studies Journal. He mentors students from across the university. At the beginning of the current academic year, 2013-14, Denner was voted as one of two Advisors of the Year for 2012-13, for superior academic advising and dedication to students.

Established in 2007, this award is named in honor of the late John Hague, professor emeritus of American studies, and a widely admired teacher, scholar and academic leader. Hague led Stetson’s application to earn a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa in 1982, which became the first chapter established at a private university in Florida. The initial gift allowing Stetson to honor the career of John Hague was made by William and Margaret Dunifon.

ROTC BrownAt the ROTC Commissioning ceremony held at 10 a.m. Friday, May 9, Stetson graduating senior Robert T. Brown was commissioned as 2nd Lt. in the United States Army. The Army ROTC program provides students the opportunity to acquire skills and knowledge necessary for commissioning as a second lieutenant. Lt. Col. Oakland McCulloch, U.S. Army (Retired), was the guest speaker for the 2014 commissioning ceremony. With a major in American studies, Brown’s first duty station and unit is with Alpha Company, 5-159th Aviation, Clearwater, Fla.

The Stetson professors who have elected to retire at the end of this academic year, were announced, including: Dr. Robert “Bob” Boozer, professor of management; Dr. E. Nicholas “Nick” Maddox, professor and chair of management; Dr. John Schorr, senior professor of sociology; and Dr. Ann Small, senior professor of music.

The Hand Awards were established by Stetson Trustee Emerita and College of Law alumna Dolly Hand and her husband, Homer, to applaud faculty members who are not only dedicated teachers but also who have notable achievements in scholarship or creative work in their areas of expertise and who have made a difference in their local or larger communities. The following awards were announced at Commencement by Provost Paul.

The Hand Award for Research, Creative and Professional Activity were presented to three outstanding teacher-scholars at Saturday’s commencement ceremonies:

  1. Dr. Rajni Shankar-Brown, associate professor of teacher education. Her nominators noted that “she consistently demonstrates her commitment to personal growth, intellectual development and global citizenship, both in the Stetson community and the community beyond. Her achievements as a teacher-scholar dedicated to social justice are making significant contributions to the field of education, adding distinction to our Teacher Education program.”
  2. Dr. Alicia Schultheis, associate professor of biology. Her nominators wrote that she “disseminates the results of her research through publications in top-ranked scientific journals, as well as through presentations at national and regional meetings, and has successfully garnered both internal and external funding to support students in lab experiences … for graduate programs at major research institutions.”
  3. Dr. Timothy Peter, professor music and director of choral activities. His nominators wrote that “he excels at supporting his students and colleagues here while maintaining a competitive profile for the rest of the nation to examine. He has elevated the national and international exposure of our program, while also engaging generously locally and regionally. He has also just published an article in the most prestigious journal in his field, and has been selected for acclaimed professional leadership roles across the country and globe – all in the last year. His joy, professionalism, and excellence are a model for us all.”

Stetson University College of Law commencement ceremony will be Saturday, May 17, 8:30 a.m., Gulfport, Fla., campus, 1401 61st St. S.