Overcoming adversity while continuing to excel academically was the common denominator for four Texas A&M University students who received the 2012 Aggie Spirit Awards. The awards were presented by members of the Texas A&M Faculty Senate, who literally “pass the hat” to fund the special awards.
The 2012 award winners are Jennifer Mueller, a doctoral student in liberal arts from Houston; Larisa Kovalenko, from Istanbul, who is completing a master of science in marketing degree; Laura Matteson, from Galveston, a senior in maritime administration at Texas A&M at Galveston; and Michelle Hatfield from Stafford, Va. who graduated in December with a finance degree and in May with a Spanish degree.
The award was created in 2001 and personally funded by the Texas A&M senators to recognize students who show outstanding courage and determination in the face of adversity while attending the university. It normally is presented to only one or two students each year.
“I am honored to present the Faculty Senate Aggie Spirit Awards to four students this year,” said 2011-12 Faculty Senate Speaker Michael Benedik in presenting the awards. He explained that nominations were solicited this spring from throughout the university and the nominations were reviewed by a selection committee.
Mueller was nominated by Prof. Joe R. Feagin of the College of Liberal Arts. He said that since 2007, Mueller has had to deal with her mother’s cancer diagnosis and, eventually her mother’s death, only to be diagnosed with breast cancer herself.
Through all the months, Feagin explained, she not only survived these trials, she has used them as a basis to transform her life. She has made steady progress on her Ph.D. work, including passing her comprehensive exams with great distinction and gathering important data for a dissertation, published four research articles in this period and also maintained a straight A average in her graduate work.
Kovalenko was nominated by Alina Sorescu, associate professor and Mays Research Fellow. Sorescu said Kovalenko arrived in summer of 2011 to join the master of science in marketing program in the Mays Business School. Shortly after she arrived, she was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer. Through surgery and treatment, she was able to return to class, complete all her assignments, exams and responsibilities.
She finished the semester fifth in a class of 30 outstanding graduate students and her illness is now in remission. She has displayed poise and determination throughout her ordeal and such professionalism in her school work, Sorescu said, adding that she is an example for anyone faced with difficulties.
Matteson was nominated by Kris J. Knox, assistant department head in the Department of Maritime Administration at Texas A&M-Galveston, who said that on April 29, 2006, Matteson was severely injured in a car accident on State Highway 21 and was life-flighted to a College Station hospital. She underwent an emergency craniotomy and then life-flighted to the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston where she was in a coma in the ICU for nearly three months. After another three months in a rehabilitation center in Houston, she was transferred to a transitional learning center for a year.
At the time of the accident, Matteson was a junior at the University of Texas. Coping with those many obstacles, she was able to enroll first at Galveston College and then at Texas A&M-Galveston, where she currently lacks one course to graduate with a GPR of 3.75.
Hatfield was nominated by D. Scott Lee, a professor in the Mays Business School. Lee said on Oct. 17, 2010, Hatfield was involved in a car accident in which she suffered a traumatic brain injury and nearly lost her life. She regained consciousness in a child-like state suffering from chronic migraines, amnesia and had tremendous difficulty processing information.
Throughout her trials, Lee said Hatfield would not quit. In November, her mother pushed her wheelchair back onto campus because she was determined to complete her finance degree that semester and walk across the stage with her classmates. In December, exactly two months after the accident that nearly ended her life, Hatfield walked unassisted across the stage to receive her diploma from Texas A&M. Last fall she returned to College Station to complete the remaining credits for a Spanish degree.
For more information on the awards or the award winners, contact Marilyn Willie, assistant to the Faculty Senate, at (979)847-9033.