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K-State Today

May 1, 2020

Biology awards outstanding senior with Haymaker Award

Submitted by Eve McCulloch

Alexa Wilden

The faculty of the Division of Biology have awarded Alexa Renae Wilden, senior in microbiology, Gardner, with this year's H.H. Haymaker Award for Excellence. The Haymaker Award is the highest honor bestowed on a biology student at Kansas State University by the Division of Biology.

The award was named in honor of Herbert Henley Haymaker, a K-State alumnus, Bachelor of Science in agronomy graduate and faculty member from 1917-1963. The award is given annually to one of more than 100 eligible seniors majoring in biology, fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology, or microbiology, who has both an extraordinary level of accomplishment as an undergraduate, and the promise to continue such quality performance in a biological sciences-related career. Nomination and selection criteria include grades, rigor of academic program, extracurricular activities, recommendations by faculty, and performance in an interview. This year, nine of our finest seniors were nominated.

Since joining the Division of Biology in fall 2016, Wilden has excelled in every aspect of academic and community life at K-State. Two of her professors described her as a "powerhouse" and "superstar," respectively. Wilden is one of those rare individuals who combines true talent with unfaltering focus and effort. Wilden has served in leadership roles within the K-State Pre-Med Club and Pre-Health Ambassadors, been active in research, done volunteer work on and off campus, been part of the Symphony Orchestra, completed more than 40 hours of shadowing as part of her preparation for medical school, worked for a year as an undergraduate practicum for two biology courses, and worked with the Division of Biology during Freshman Orientation and Enrollment for three summers in a row.

She has shown a great desire to learn and help others with their learning. In the meantime, she has been able to complete two peer-reviewed publications — including one with first authorship — from her research, and designed an MCAT prep course that she is leading through UFM this semester.

But the things that you cannot see on paper are the ones that make Wilden truly special. Wilden is organized, focused, motivated and has a great passion for learning and sharing her knowledge with others. She is a critical thinker, and she is able to draw from her past learning experiences to get a grasp of the situations facing her, and to develop a comprehensive understanding of the subjects she is evaluating.

Wilden's leadership and compassion are unparalleled, both in her role as a practicum for microbiology and cell biology and as an undergraduate research assistant in Stella Y. Lee's lab. Wilden has been invaluable in mentoring and assisting other undergraduates, from training them in learning laboratory techniques, to helping them with their understanding of biological subjects, to developing good study habits. One good example of these is how, without being prompted, Wilden developed a whole semester study schedule for cell biology students, which outlined a reading schedule, when to review material, when to do the online assignments, and daily questions to practice their knowledge. 

Wilden has served as the president of the Pre-Health Ambassadors, as well as vice president of the Pre-Health Honor Society. In both cases, Wilden led their efforts to reach out and connect to the pre-med student population and spearheaded initiatives and programs to prepare the student members not only for their undergraduate degree, but also for how to successfully apply and interview for admission to a medical school program.

Next year, Wilden will attend medical school. She has been accepted into multiple prestigious programs for the 2020 school year. The faculty of the Division of Biology are excited to see what the future will bring for Alexa and they are confident that she will find success wherever she goes. 

As an undergraduate, Haymaker was an accomplished athlete who played quarterback and fullback on K-State's football team. As a faculty member, Haymaker's specialty was botany, but he also taught courses in math, psychology, economics, and sociology. Although interested in research, Haymaker preferred to work with students, serving as the Sigma Nu fraternity advisor and president of the area district of the Boy Scouts of America. In addition to teaching, he coached K-State's freshman football team in the mid-1930s for six years — for the additional pay of $25 per month — and also coached the basketball team for a time. In 1961 he was selected as an outstanding teacher by the K-State graduate faculty through the Faculty Lectureship program.

Sources for the article include Board Minutes, Sept. 14, 1935; K-State Collegian, Nov. 18, 1961; The K-Stater, April 1951 and June 1963; Manhattan Mercury, Oct. 9, 1964; Royal Purple, 1970, p. 56.