It doesn’t take a 4.0 to figure out how to get on a Zoom call.
But three of the participants in a mid-morning call yesterday have 4.0 grade averages, and because they have mastered distance learning during the concluding weeks of their final semester at University of Mary Washington, they and their family members seamlessly accessed Zoom.
The three recipients of the 2020 Colgate W. Darden Jr. Award are Hannah Frederick, a math major with minors in data science and computer science; Meryl Menezes, a psychology major with a minor in Spanish; and Aleksandra Shtabnaya, a computer science major with minors in data science and digital studies.
“Each of our Darden winners completed their studies at UMW with perfect 4.0 grade point averages. All are graduating summa cum laude, and all have been inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious academic honor society,” said Provost Nina Mikhalevsky, who led the virtual presentation that also included deans and faculty members who had worked with the winners. “As a group, the Darden winners took 105 different courses in 23 different subject disciplines and completed six separate individual study or undergraduate projects.”
Mikhalevsky also praised each recipient for “persevering during a pandemic.”
In presenting the medallions, displayed virtually but which will actually be mailed to each recipient along with a check, Associate Provost for Academic Affairs John Morello said the 4.0’s fail to tell the whole story behind these outstanding graduates.
Hannah Frederick of Staunton earned the top award for oral presentation at the 2019 Summer Science Institute, and her presentation of an encryption scheme at the largest gathering of mathematicians in the world placed among the top in a field of 400 undergraduate presenters.
She plans to pursue a master’s degree in data science at the University of Virginia’s School of Data Science. “I then hope to apply my knowledge in mathematics and computation to a career in cryptography or cybersecurity,” said Frederick, who served as a mentor to entering first-year students while at UMW.
She’s looking forward to a rescheduled commencement, though she anticipates it being extra-emotional. “We’ll be saying hello and goodbye to everything we’ve loved and missed in our university all in one day.”
In addition to her considerable classroom accomplishments, Meryl Menezes served as an officer in UMW’s chapter of Psi Chi, an international psychology honor society. “The chapter advisor described Meryl as a steady presence who always brought positive energy,” Morello said in presenting the award. “Another faculty member called her a natural and diplomatic leader.”
Menezes, of McLean, intends to become a licensed clinical social worker doing child therapy. She applied to three Masters in Social Work programs and was accepted at all. She is trying to decide between Columbia University and Virginia Commonwealth University.
Acknowledging that finishing the semester online presented obstacles, Menezes said, “I have taken things day by day and have given myself grace on challenging days.” This weekend, she said, she will be in her UMW residence hall retrieving her belongings. “It will be bittersweet, but I am grateful to have the opportunity to be on campus during my would-be commencement day.”
As for Aleksandra Shtabnaya, Morello said, “Sandra took courses in 16 different subject disciplines. It’s not often that you see a course in meditation and contemplative practices along with a class on machine learning on the same transcript.”
He added, “Faculty members describe her as an outstanding writer and programmer, and a determined problem solver.” In addition, Shtabnaya, of Stafford County, is an award-winning desktop publisher who has designed materials for Fredericksburg-area nonprofits and developed Java Duck, a tutorial that provides beginning programmers with easy-to-understand instructions.
A first-generation Russian immigrant and only the second in her family to earn a college degree, Shtabnaya moved to the United States when she was 6 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen shortly before enrolling at Mary Washington.
“I had always been a shy student that blended in with the crowd and doubted myself,” she said, “but through the support of UMW’s amazing faculty, staff and classmates, I started to break out of my shell.” Noting the resilience she and her class members developed during the online learning situation, Shtabnaya aspires to a project manager position in either software engineering or data science.