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K-State Today

April 23, 2024

K-State First presents 2023 awards

Submitted by Mariya Vaughan

Six K-State First award winners hold up their certificates.

At its annual awards banquet this April, K-State First celebrated the winners of the 2023 First-Year Advocate, K-State First Book, K-State First Bosco Family Scholarship, and K-State First Special Recognition Career Achievement awards. K-State First highlighted the successes of its award winners with excerpts from their award-winning submissions and high praise from their nominators.

The First-Year Advocate Award celebrates faculty and students who engage with first-year students, help them succeed academically, build community, show they value equity and inclusion, empower their students, and help their students find purpose and achieve their goals.

The 2023 First-Year Advocate Award winners are Ruth Welti, faculty/staff recipient, and Ellise Peterson, student recipient.

Welti's nominator indicated how she works tirelessly to create opportunities for students to participate in engaged learning and research from the very beginning of their time at K-State. "Inside and outside of the classroom, Dr. Welti goes above and beyond for her students to support them in not only their research and academic interests, but also creates a space where students can highlight challenges they are facing and collectively work through solutions to those as well. Dr. Welti not only directly guides and mentors the students in her Exploring Scientific Research CAT Community, but also connects each of them individually to a faculty mentor who is engaged in the work that they are interested in and excited about, leading to further opportunities down the road for them to learn and grow more fully as researchers and scholars."

Peterson's nominator highlighted how intentional she is about connecting with, supporting and engaging students: "Ellise is a model student whose enthusiasm and engagement is infectious. She takes her responsibilities as an RLA very seriously, mentoring and supporting so many students, even those that aren't in our CAT Community! She has helped CAT Community students find jobs in the health field, in addition to connecting them to volunteering and shadowing opportunities, truly going above and beyond! Ellise also excels at the social and emotional connections with students — making sure they have fun, make friends, and take care of their mental health and well-being."

The K-State First Book Awards celebrate the common experiences shared at K-State with the common book. The award winners all worked hard to foster student engagement, enhance students' educational experience, expand the consideration of new ideas, values and concepts in the classroom and in the university community and use creative applications of the themes from the 2023 common book, "They Called Us Enemy" by George Takei. The student awards are made possible by the generosity of Bill Miller and Debbie Leckron Miller.

Faculty award: Cliff Hight, department head of the Richard L. D. and Marjorie J. Morse Department of Special Collections, organized and hosted an event titled Japan-U.S. Relations after World War II: A K-State Case Study. During this event, participants gained insights into the war's impact on the life of Mitsugi Ohno and his family, who immigrated to Manhattan in 1961. Additionally, David Graff, a professor of military history, provided a broader historical context of Japan-U.S. relations in the decades following World War II, enriching attendees' understanding of this subject.

Student awards: Two students, Madisyn Robertson and Kristen Wallace, received the Bill Miller and Debbie Leckron Miller K-State First Book Scholarship. 

In her essay, Robertson, first-year elementary education major, compared her prior understanding of World War II and Japanese internment camps gained through school to the insights she gained from reading George Takei's memoir and attending his lecture at McCain Auditorium. His words ring in her head daily and have transformed her perspective on active participation in civic engagement. Thanks to George Takei, she will boldly go where she has never gone: civic engagement.

Wallace, a first-year marketing student, wrote an essay reflecting on her experience reading a book and attending a speech by George Takei. Attending George's talk opened her eyes to the potential impact of a single event on the rest of her life. The talk also provided perspective on her challenges as a college student. Wallace resolves to maintain a level-headed approach to future challenges, acknowledging that they are temporary and pale compared to the historical hardships endured by previous generations. Moreover, she hopes Americans can avoid repeating past mistakes by learning about the often-forgotten parts of history.

K-State First Book Student Group Award: MANRRS — Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences is a student group that provides a local and national network of support for K-State students enrolled in agriculture, forestry, related sciences and other interdisciplinary subjects. They hosted a panel discussion to connect modern-day realities of prejudices and injustices today to George Takei's experiences with the internment camps. The student participants could relate to the book and make connections between the book's content and the barriers that underrepresented individuals still encounter today.

K-State First Special Recognition Career Achievement Award — Each year, the K-State First team recognizes someone at K-State for their exceptional university leadership and unwavering dedication to first-year students. These individuals have been essential to the success of the program throughout the years and we value their passion for and contribution to the K-State First mission.

Don Saucier, university distinguished teaching scholar and professor of psychological sciences, was recognized with the award. Saucier has been an essential contributor and supporter of K-State First dating back to its very beginnings. He led one of the original CAT Communities, Psychology of Prejudice, which continues to this day, and has contributed to scholarship on the effectiveness of K-State First practices. As a university distinguished teaching scholar, Saucier is an advocate for impactful teaching on campus. He has served as the faculty associate director for K-State's Teaching and Learning Center since 2019. The center is an important resource for all faculty, including those who teach for the K-State First program, providing professional development opportunities designed to improve teaching and the scholarship of teaching and learning. He has been a core pillar in K-State First's continued efforts to build a community of instructors on campus that are truly dedicated to and excited about teaching.

K-State First Bosco Family Scholarships — This scholarship is awarded thanks to the generous contributions of the Bosco Family, Bill and Debbie Miller, and other donors, for participation in K-State First's high impact CAT Community program. The five scholarship winners for 2023 were Kavon Jemison, Mallory Brooks, Samson Chen, Darleen Ferrer and Javier Vazquez.