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Outstanding First Year Honors Students Named at Fall Convocation

At the annual Honors Fall Convocation, held September 2, 2010, at the University Hilton, Dean William Monroe named the Outstanding First Year Honors Students. Chosen from a talented, motivated, and hard-working entering class, Outstanding First Year Students represent “the best of the best.” Their grade point averages are high, but they distinguish themselves by more than just the ability to make As, and each one has been nominated for this recognition by the Honors College teaching faculty. The winners represent a diverse group of disciplines and backgrounds, and their achievements symbolize the fine work of the entire first-year class.

The Human Situation faculty also named the winners of the first Outstanding Human Situation Essay contest, recognizing the most outstanding essays from the 2009-2010 year for their clarity, insight, and argument. Safa Ansari-Bayegan and Molly Heiman were this year's winners.

The awards provided the culminating events for the evening, which welcomed almost 600 students, parents, faculty, staff, and alumni, and also included comments from Dean Monroe, a greeting from President Renu Khator, and a keynote speech from Dr. Jan-Åke Gustafsson. Interim VP for Research, Dr. Stuart Long, also recognized the major scholarships awarded to the entering class and their recipients.  

2010 Outstanding First Year Students

Derek Schilling

Derek, a graduate of Friendswood High School, impressed his nominator, Professor Andy Little, from the very beginning, when Derek almost stole the faculty-student softball game from the deserving faculty at Honors Retreat. But in class he was even more impressive: Professor Little writes that his “devotion to the class, his attention to the readings, and his genuine interest and delight in confrontation with the texts and with rival interpretations were a model to us all.” Derek’s demanding academic schedule—in both chemical engineering and Honors—somehow also afforded him the time to be one of the most devoted first year students in Honors activities and student organizations. Professor Little puts it succinctly: “I love this kid.”

Jana and Nina Spitzley

These outstanding twin sisters were born in Hamburg, Germany, and come to the University from The John Cooper School. Their nominator, Professor Orson Cook, described them thus: “In some ways, the Spitzleys are a teacher's nightmare: they are identical twins who sit together—or very close together—and dress in clothes that are not actually identical, but are darned close. They have the same shy smile, the same charming accent – even their handwriting is eerily similar.” In more important ways, however, they were also dream students: though they were among the more reticent students in his section, Professor Cook wrote that “both were uncommonly good students in a course that is legendary for its rigor.  Like mute bulldogs, these young women attacked examinations—both in preparation and in actual writing—with a fierce, quiet, impressive determination.” Their writing demonstrated an “analytical creativity that is rare among first-year students”: an exceptional achievement, especially for students for whom English is their second language.

Jessica Gull

Jessica is a graduate of Katy High School and was a life-saver in her Human Situation course according to her nominator, Professor Rob Zaretsky. Dr. Zaretsky makes a confession: “All teachers have those moments when students do not make conversation and books do not make sense and nothing you do seems to work. At such moments, I hope they all have students like Jessica Gull.” Though he wondered whether, after receiving the umpteenth draft of one of her papers, she perhaps loved writing too much, he also says: “I always knew how lucky I was to have her in my class: Jessica was a truly remarkable student.” Jessica is a Communication Sciences and Disorders major with a 3.94 gpa.

Chris Powell

An Eagle Scout and a musician, Chris is a graduate of Van Alstyne High School near Dallas, where he was valedictorian. He was nominated by both Professor Ted Estess and Professor John Moretta, both of whom praise not only his intellectual abilities and his thoughtfulness, but his willingness to steer classroom discussion. He is described as “diligent,” “extremely creative,” “going beyond expectations,” and “contributing with insight and fervor.” Chris is an English major with a 4.0 gpa.

Simon Tice

Simon, a graduate of Lamar High School, first drew the notice of his nominator, Professor Andy Little, when Professor Little wondered how, as he puts it, “this underage freshman of barely seventeen could dare opt into my discussion section at mid-year.” Though not a talkative student in class, Simon was talkative with Professor Little outside of it. It was in those conversations and in Simon’s writing that his intelligence shone through. “His work was exceptional,” Professor Little writes. “He had a marked tendency to go for strange ideas in his essay assignments, and he had the tenacity to make them almost plausible. He was truly a joy to teach, and he is a joy to know.” Simon also rode with the Honors College MS 150 team and that has plans to start an Honors College Riding Club this fall. Simon is a mechanical engineering major with a 3.6 gpa.

Kim La

Kim La is a graduate of Cinco Ranch High School. Her nominator, Professor Matthew Nicol, calls Kim “among the top three undergraduate students I have taught during my six years at UH.” Professor Nicol also noticed that Kim wasn’t much of a note taker in his calculus course; when he asked her about this, she said that she was concentrating on understanding the main ideas rather than taking complete notes. In a course like calculus, the rest of us would crash and burn using such a strategy. But for Kim, Professor Nicol writes, “This strategy seems to have worked. I think she absorbed everything at first hearing, and has great natural ability in mathematics.” Kim is a biochemistry major with a 4.0 gpa.

Casey Goodwin

Casey comes to the University from Las Vegas, where she graduated from Advanced Technologies Academy. Her nominator, Professor Matthew Nicol, noted her “penetrating questions” and her enthusiasm for learning calculus and its applications. He also praised her persistence: “I was impressed by the way she refused to give up on problems until she understood the answer thoroughly. It is a pity that we don't have an A+ grade as I would have liked to distinguish her performance in that way.” Casey is a mechanical engineering major with a 3.84 gpa.

Isaac Norris

A native of Champaign, Illinois, and a National Merit Scholar, Isaac impressed his nominator, Professor Ted Estess, so much that Isaac was nominated despite spending only one semester at the Honors College. Isaac deferred his admission for a semester last fall while he served on a five-month mission trip in Queensland, Australia. Professor Estess says: “Not only did Isaac contribute intelligently to the discussion group, but he also did exceedingly well on his exams.  Above all, he wrote well-organized and thoughtful essays that were a pleasure to read. Isaac is first-rate.” In addition to performing exceptionally well in a challenging major, Isaac is now a National Merit Mentor for incoming scholars. Isaac is a biology major with a 3.94 gpa.

Ann-Marie Leba

A native of Tacoma, Washington, Ann-Marie is a graduate of Clear Lake High School. Her nominator, Professor Rob Zaretsky, says that “Ann-Marie reminded me that the least talkative students can be the most engaged.” She decided, it seems, to wait until just the right moment: “On occasion,” Professor Zaretsky wrote, “Ann-Marie would break a long silence with a quiet, alarmingly perceptive remark.” On top of that, her papers were always the work of many drafts, and were, in Professor Zaretsky’s words, “original, lucid, and deeply thoughtful.” Ann-Marie is a Chemical Engineering major with a 3.94 gpa.

Stephen Mulvahill

Stephen is a home school student from Nassau Bay. His nominator, Professor Sue Collins, says that he brought a “wry sense of humor and an agile mind” to both classes he took with her. Her praise is effusive: “He is one of those students,” she writes, “that teachers would pay to have in class: smart and serious, with just enough self-confidence to ask questions and just enough angst to wonder about his own presuppositions. I don't know where Stephen will end up on his journey of self-understanding, but as long as he includes my classes in it, I'll be happy.” Stephen is a Music Performance major with a 3.84 gpa.

Luis Rodriguez

Luis comes to us from Porter, Texas, and is a graduate of New Caney High School. Luis was one of only two students to receive an A in the Honors Introduction to Chemistry course, taught by his nominator, Professor Shiv Halasyamani, who calls him an “exceptional student.” The next semester, Luis again earned one of two As in Honors Introduction to Chemistry II, this time from Professor David Hoffman, who also singled Luis out for nomination. Professor Hoffman doubted his own ability to praise Luis sufficiently, noting that “science professors, especially chemistry professors, are not known for their wit and eloquence.” But he also added his wish that his lack of verbosity—certainly not a limitation of our Human Situation professors—would not disqualify Luis for recognition. And it has not. Luis is a Biology major with a 3.91 gpa.

Leigh Shultis

A graduate of B.F. Terry High School, Leigh was called “the most forward of the largest collection of the sharpest minds I have ever had in a single Human Sit discussion section.” Her nominator, Professor Andy Little, was so at a loss for words to describe Leigh that he had to make them up: he says that “She carpe’d every diem.” Leigh is one of those students who pushes back, which is what makes teaching most difficult—and enjoyable:  “Half the semester was a struggle of my classroom agenda against hers,” Professor Little wrote. “Without students like Leigh, who fully invest themselves in their reading, this job would not be half as fun.” Leigh is a Music Performance major with a 3.65 gpa.

Catrina Kim

A native of Hinsdale, Illinois, just outside Chicago, Catrina is a graduate of the Illinois Math and Science Academy. Catrina is such an impressive student that one of her nominators, Professor Sue Collins, never even taught her in class; she conducted Catrina’s oral exam for Human Situation. “I have heard my share of oral exams,” Professor Collins writes, “but Catrina's, to use a technical expression, ‘blew me away.’ As I listened to her, it came to my mind that at her age I would have been incapable of such self-possession and intellectual grace.” Another nominator, Professor David Mikics, says that Catrina “has a strong sense of the high stakes we play for in Human Sit,” and that she “cast a bright light on everything she looked at.” Catrina also had a third nominator, Professor Jamie Ferguson, who felt the brunt of her intelligence firsthand: he wrote that “Humbly, cogently, implacably, Catrina often put me in the uncomfortable position of having to defend weak points in faculty lectures—a particularly interesting experience when I was the faculty member who had given the lecture.” Catrina is a Music Performance major and a Phronesis minor with a 3.98 gpa.

Safa Ansari-Bayegan

Safa, a graduate of Awty International School, was nominated by Professor Iain Morrisson, who wrote that Safa “stood out from day one as the most mature thinker and writer in my class.” While praising her writing and exceptional dedication to her studies, Professor Morrisson also instructed her future professors to set the bar high: “If Safa is challenged and harried by her professors,” he writes—and you can bet Dr. Morrisson did his best to harry her—“I am not sure what limits, if any, there might be for her.” Safa is a Political Science major and Phronesis minor with a 4.0 gpa.

Catherine and Colleen Seitz

Our second set of twins are graduates of B.F. Terry High School, and one of their nominators, Professor Gabriela Maya, puts it bluntly: “The Seitz sisters are a power team.” Catherine and Colleen did everything well, she writes, “asking all the right questions and noticing all the right things about the texts.” Something about them just makes them seem like a team: maybe it’s because, as Professor Maya noticed, “their papers were handed in together, sometimes Colleen’s on top, sometimes Catherine’s.” Or maybe because another nominator, Professor Tamler Sommers, confesses that he was in fact unable to distinguish them for some time until one of them—he’s still not sure which one—cut her hair. But they did more in class than just befuddle our Human Sit professors: Professor Sommers writes that “With Catherine and Colleen, I can say that I learned from them in the most straightforward sense of the term—they taught me how to interpret and understand aspects of the texts that I found bewildering.” We honor them together, because their performance has been equally outstanding: though each is clearly her own person, Professor Sommers says that “The quality of their participation and insights were so uniformly good, that they were no help in distinguishing them.” Colleen and Catherine are both Hotel and Restaurant Management majors, and Professor Maya predicts that “they will both be killer business women.”

Outstanding Human Situation Essay

Safa Ansari-Bayegan won for her untitled essay (although the adjudicating committee are calling it: "The Trouble with Adam Smith"). Safa uses Smith's own words to expose some troublesome dimensions of his claims regarding the duties of government. Her ability to inhabit Smith's Wealth of Nations affords her the proximity to turn over the arguments and get a good look at their questionable underbelly. This is a creative and skillful piece of work.

Molly Heiman won for her essay "Ugly as Sin." Molly focuses on the portrayal of the physicality of the priest in Madame Bovary in order to highlight Flaubert's critique of institutional religion. Her ability to read in the smallest details of Flaubert's novel a critique of the larger world he has conjured reveals an original mind engaged in the difficult work of making something new. Molly's work here is effortless and smart.

Honorable mentions for the prize included:

  • Paul Spheeris
  • Jacob Plette
  • Seetha Jagannath
  • Kurosh Avandsalehi
  • Rachel Goldwait