With a focus on interdisciplinary studies and the importance of a liberal arts degree, the School of Arts and Sciences hosted its annual honors convocation April 12 at the Cannon Memorial Chapel and presented five awards to deserving seniors.

Associate Dean Kathy Hoke presented the David C. Evans Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Scholarship and the Creative Arts to Serena Ding, Smaranda Craciun, Jeff Zheng, Sam Mitchell and Irena Stanisic.

Hoke noted that the five students’ GPAs average 3.94, all have received summer fellowships for research or creative arts projects and all plan to pursue further study. More information about each individual winner is listed below.

Dean Andy Newcomb praised the amount of independent study and student-faculty collaborative research in the liberal arts, noting that this year’s Student Symposium breaks a record in the number of research presentations.

“Nothing is more satisfying to a Richmond faculty member than to see a student succeed,” Newcomb said.

The program also included two featured speakers, senior Crystal Thornhill and biology professor Dr. April Hill, both of whom spoke about their experiences in the arts and sciences.

Thornhill, ’11, is a Richmond Scholar and psychology major with dual minors in medical humanities and women, gender and sexuality studies. Although she struggled academically as a freshman, Thornhill discovered her love for psychology and was able to find her niche with the help of faculty mentors.

The most meaningful part of her education, she said, was her service in the community. Thornhill volunteers at the Virginia Action Alliance for Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.

“Using whatever it is you’re passionate about and using it to help the community … allowed me to see everything I studied in class come to life,” she said.

Hill, a faculty member at Richmond since 2004, teaches courses in the Integrated Quantitative Science Program, as well as classes in the biology department.

Hill’s path to higher education was an unlikely one, and she spoke about her difficult family life growing up, which led to a confused young adulthood before she attended college.

“In college, as I pursued the general education requirements of a liberal arts curriculum, my mind was awakened to a new potential,” she said.

“… For me, the true beauty of a liberal arts education is the development of your mind … so you can think for yourself and understand the world around you.”

David C. Evans award winners

Irena Stanisic, Outstanding Achievement in the Creative Arts
A senior double major in studio art and Latin American and Iberian studies, Stanisic was nominated by the Department of Art and Art History. In 2010, she was the first UR recipient of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Undergraduate Visual Artist Fellowship. Images of her work have been selected from an applicant pool of more than 2,200 undergraduate and graduate art students in the United Kingdom and the United States to be featured on the Scope Miami website, one of the world’s pre-eminent art fairs. Her work has been featured in Style and Belle magazines as well as Artes Liberales. Irena plans to pursue graduate work in art, but first she will spend the next two years with Teach for America teaching art in the Latino neighborhoods of Chicago.

Samuel Mitchell, Outstanding Achievement in Both Research and the Creative Arts
Nominated by the English department, Mitchell is a senior major in English with minors in creative writing and history. He has written several short stories, has started a novel and has published a piece of creative non-fiction in a major national literary magazine. He has also pursued independent research, most recently a study of the works of Virginia Woolf. Mitchell has several fellowship offers for next year to pursue an MFA in creative writing and will most likely attend Hollins College.

Serena Ding, Outstanding Achievement in Scholarship and Research
Ding is a senior double major in biology and economics and was nominated by the biology department. She has co-authored one publication in a peer-reviewed biology journal based on her early work in Dr. April Hill’s laboratory, and is working on a second manuscript. Ding was recently a co-winner of the Richmond Federal Reserve’s “Share the Wealth” video competition and will attend Oxford for graduate work in biology.
Smaranda Craciun, Outstanding Achievement in Scholarship and Research
Nominated by the chemistry department, Craciun is a senior chemistry major and mathematics minor. She began pursuing independent scholarly activity in her first semester at Richmond, working in two very different areas: physical chemistry with Dr. Kelling Donald and organic chemistry with Dr. Wade Downey. Craciun’s work in physical chemistry has led to a co-authored publication in the American Chemical Society, and her honors thesis work in organic chemistry will likely lead to publication as well. Next year, she will enter a Ph.D. program in organic chemistry with a fellowship at Harvard.

Jeff Zheng, Outstanding Achievement in Scholarship and Research
Zheng is a senior double major in physics and mathematics and received nominations for this award from both departments. He began doing research in his first year with Dr. Ted Bunn in physics, eventually publishing a paper in Physics Review. Zheng has researched with a group at the University of Toronto’s Center for Quantum Information and Quantum Control and will eventually be a co-author on a publication, which will result from this collaboration. He is completing an honors thesis this semester in mathematical physics under the supervision of Dr. Bill Ross in mathematics, and will pursue a Ph.D. in physics in the fall.

Above: Smaranda Craciun, Jeff Zheng, Sam Mitchell and Irena Stanisic. Not pictured: Serena Ding.