Academic Excellence Easily Maintained Students Receive Awards for Achievements

"What is an immortalized Schwann cell?" John McVay, Walla Walla University president, asked Lisa Barcelo, senior biochemistry major, from the platform of the University Church.

It was WWU's annual Alumni Homecoming Weekend awards event, when the president takes a few minutes to highlight a few of the many high-caliber projects on which students are working.

"My research studies cells to determine if there's too much sugar," Barcelo explained. "This can eventually have implications for people with diabetes."

Barcelo was one of five students who shared their research with students, staff, faculty and alumni.

Andrew Sell, senior mechanical engineering major, talked about his project using sunlight to heat water, even when there is no sun.

"This is possible because we use a molecule called a zeolite," explained Sell. "Zeolites get hot when they suck up water and they can then transfer that heat into the water itself."

Two biology students shared information on their studies of gulls. Zach Taylor, senior biology major, found gulls are efficient with daylight, and tend to have a curfew of sorts, returning to the colony at specific times, generally related to loss of daylight.

Sean Hayes, biology graduate student, is researching the preening habits of gulls.

"When we're nervous we tend to do something pointless, like toss our hair," said Hayes. "Gulls do similar things when they're nervous." When asked why this was important, Hayes answered, "Lots of behaviors in animals are similar to behavior in humans. If we can understand animal behavior, it may help us better understand ourselves."

Later in the program, several students were given awards for their academic achievements.

"Recognition is given to students who engage in original research, immerse themselves in performance, distinguish themselves in the academic area, challenge themselves by participating in the honors program and maintain outstanding academic records," said Scott Ligman, associate vice president for academic administration.

Nine students received awards of more than $7,000, one of whom has completed over 300 hours of coursework. More than 250 students who received awards maintain a GPA of 3.75 or higher, and one senior was set to graduate with a 4.0 cumulative GPA.

"Although many of the awards focus on academic achievement," said Ligman, "award decisions often involve broader consideration of the student's contribution to WWU, their professional potential, and their commitment to service."

Ligman and McVay agree that WWU lives up to its mission of excellence in thought, generosity in service, beauty in expression and faith in God.

"It has been so much fun to learn in some detail about the projects and research these students have been a part of," said McVay after the brief on-stage interviews. "Thank you all for your excellence in thought at Walla Walla University."

June 01, 2010 / Walla Walla University

Becky St. Clair, WWU GLEANER correspondent