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Stetson honors top students and faculty at Undergraduate Awards Ceremony


At its Undergraduate Awards and Recognition Ceremony, Stetson University announced the recipients of two of its most prestigious awards: the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards, presented to two members of the graduating class; and the John Hague Award for Distinguished Teaching in the Liberal Arts and Sciences, given to a faculty member.

Each year, the university announces the recipients of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards at the Undergraduate Awards ceremony. This prestigious award generally is considered among the highest recognition given to two graduating seniors and is given at many universities jointly by the institution and the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation in New York. The awards are given by the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation to recognize individuals whose “nobility of character” and dedication to service set them apart as examples for others.

At this year’s ceremony, Lua Hancock, Ed.D., vice provost, presented the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards to Amber Finnicum-Simmons and Ryan Day.

Amber Finnicum-Simmons is a psychology major and was the recipient of the 2015 Newman Civic Fellows Award, recognizing the next generation of public problem solvers and civic leaders. As a member of Stetson’s Bonner Program, Finnicum-Simmons was inspired to start the Stetson Coalition for the Homeless to raise awareness of homelessness and make a sustainable long-term impact on the community. Working with Stetson faculty, she helped establish a program for psychology majors to obtain certifications and internships with The Neighborhood Center, where she volunteered much of her time to help prevent homelessness in DeLand and West Volusia County.

Upon graduation, Finnicum-Simmons will serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA with Stetson’s Center for Community Engagement for one year, during which time she will also be pursuing her master’s degree in counseling from Stetson. She plans to assist individuals with mental health challenges after completing her graduate degree — particularly individuals who are homeless.

“Amber exemplifies all the qualities of excellence that we expect from our students at Stetson University,” said Hancock in the award presentation to Finnicum-Simmons.

Ryan Day is graduating with a major in accounting with a 3.6 GPA. In addition to academic excellence, he has spearheaded a sustained partnership between Stetson and the Special Olympics of Central Florida. A member of Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity, Day is known for motivating members of Stetson’s Greek Life to make an ongoing commitment to assist with Special Olympics, with the goals of helping the individual athletes as well as raising funds.

Such effort prompted one of his nominators to comment: “Anyone who can get a bunch of fraternity men out of bed at 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning, in order to do volunteer work in the community, is doing something right. When this happens not just once, but repeatedly over the course of two years … well, that’s why I’m nominating him for the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award.”

By virtue of his hard work, intellect and willingness to help others, Day has multiple offers to attend prestigious M.Acc. graduate programs as well as job offers once he completes his graduate degree.

“He is an intelligent, joyful, committed light on our campus,” said Hancock. “I am honored to call him a Hatter as he goes out into the world.”

The 2016 John Hague Award for Distinguished Teaching in the Liberal Arts and Sciences was presented to Cynthia Bennington, Ph.D., professor of Biology at Stetson University. With a Ph.D., from West Virginia University and a Postdoctoral Associate degree from Princeton University, Bennington has conducted ecological research in Alaska, West Virginia, New Jersey and Florida. At Stetson, she teaches ecological and botanical courses and actively engages students in research on the ecology of arctic and temperate plant species. She also involves Stetson students in environmental service-learning projects both on and off campus. Bennington and Karen Cole, Ph.D., director of the Gillespie Museum, established a “Teaching Landscape,” which recreates a small portion of the longleaf pine ecosystem that historically dominated the sandhills of Central Florida.

Additional awards were announced at the ceremony for the College of Arts and Sciences, School of Business Administration and School of Music. For more information on Stetson University’s 2016 Commencement, visit www.stetson.edu/commencement.