The Faculty Award is considered the most prestigious award given to a graduating senior. Selected by a committee of faculty members, the recipient is an individual who they believe best represents the ideals of a liberal arts education. Students who meet the requirements of a 3.75 GPA or higher and three years of on campus residency are notified of their eligibility for the award, and then may choose to apply and go through the interview process. The committee narrowed the applicants down to five finalists who were presented at Honors Convocation April 21. This year’s finalists were Rayna Downing, Brian Kongs, Gretchen Mayes, Ben Shinogle and Danny Virga.

Rayna Downing

Rayna Downing, business administration, psychology and applied critical thought and inquiry major (ACT-in), originally did not intend to apply for the award.

“I didn’t think that I even had a shot at it,” said Downing.

But after thinking about what the award meant, she decided to apply.

“I just knew that whoever was selected for the award would be a representative of a true liberal arts education, and I wanted to be that person,” said Downing.

Other finalists expressed this same concern. English, political science and ACT-in major Ben Shinogle also did not originally plan to apply for this award.

Ben Shinogle

“I actually wasn’t intending on applying” said Shinogle “then, I had a conversation with Dr. Staal about it, and he said, ‘Well, you shouldn’t consider the award as just something for you, but a way to showcase what Jewell may have done for you.’ I frankly owe a ton to Jewell. Jewell has been very good to me, and I think that there have been some really remarkable moments that Jewell has allowed for me to experience. So having the grounds and the opportunity to reflect on those things, mainly in the process of writing an essay and doing the interview, really appealed to me.”

Danny Virga, Oxbridge molecular biology major, shared a similar approach.

“I wanted to apply for the Faculty Award because it was important to me to prove to myself that my time here was worth something, and I wanted to prove to others that their investment in me throughout my time at Jewell turned out to be worth it,” said Virga.

Both Gretchen Mayes, communications and accounting major, and Brian Kongs, music and ACT-in major, wanted to apply because they watched the individuals who had been up for the award in prior years and thought highly of them.

Brian Kongs

“[I] looked at them as role models, so you know it’s always neat to be able to achieve something that your role models have also achieved,” said Mayes.

After going through the applications, the committee selects individuals as semi-finalists and proceeds with the interview process. Prior to their interview, these individuals are given an article to read that they will discuss with members of the committee during a 30-minute interview. Many of the finalists expected the interview to be challenging.

“It was a very ‘Jewell’ interview,” said Shinogle, “It was multidisciplinary. The professors were there to pull as much as they could from you, to challenge you, but not to make you self-destruct.”

Downing and Mayes both felt nervous and scared during their interviews.

“I think I just felt really nervous to be in a room with so many highly regarded professors,” said Mayes.

Virga knew about the structure of the interview from people who had experienced it.

“[I was] told it would be similar to the Oxbridge interview or a tutorial in its content/goals, so I felt decently prepared,” said Virga.

Gretchen Mayes

However, the finalists express more than just their fear during the process. For Mayes, being named a finalist for this award signifies her success in fulfilling the Jewell journey and receiving a true liberal arts education. Shinogle describes the award as an “exciting and stimulating process” and a good opportunity to reflect on his Jewell experience.

Some of the finalists have set plans for after graduation while others are continuing to weigh their options. Mayes will begin her full-time career as a rotational accounting analyst at Dairy Farmers of America after getting married in late May. Kongs will continue his education at Kansas City University College of Medicine, where he eventually hopes to become a physician. Virga will be attending Columbia University in New York to begin his PhD training in neurobiology. Shinogle hopes to get into humanitarian relief. He has been accepted to Teach For America and is a finalist for a job as a field operations manager with Outreach International. Downing is interested in doing City Year and eventually continuing her education in graduate school.

Faculty Award Winner Danny Virga

The award was ultimately presented to Virga at the Honors Convocation.

“I certainly didn’t think I was going to be recognized, but I felt that, if people were willing to put forth so much time and effort into making me the best student and person they could, then they deserved my effort in showing that their work was appreciated and worth it,” he said.

Feature image courtesy of Sarah Paperi. Portraits courtesy of Amy Kontras.

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