2021 Distinguished Student Awards

2021 Distinguished Student Awards

The Distinguished Student Award is one of the top student honors given at OSU-Cascades and recognizes one graduating student in each degree area for outstanding achievement in academics and contribution to their field.

Here's what our faculty shared about the honorees:


Emmerson Donnell

American Studies

Emmerson is driven by intellectual curiosity and scholarly aptitude to seek out connections among art, literature, culture, politics and ideas. He participated in the Transatlantic Student Symposium, usually restricted to graduate students. “The small class sizes, thoughtful faculty and great local connections are what make OSU Cascades great,” said Emmerson. He was selected as one of 15 students from across the Corvallis and Bend campuses to receive the Outstanding Senior Award from the OSU College of Liberal Arts. Emmerson works for the indigenous rights law firm Galanda Broadman, where he has published several articles and he writes for their blog. After graduating, he plans to apply to law school.

Sandra Dennis

Arts, Media & Technology

Sandra has been a vocal participant in the discourse of the classroom. She has participated in OSU Honors College courses where she enourages in-depth conversations with her fellow students. On top of being a force in the classroom, Sandy brought her design and mechanical skills to a part-time position with engineering research teams at OSU-Cascades, and prioritized her family throughout.

Abigail Larkin


Abigail is an excellent student, maintaining a 3.95 GPA, and described by faculty as a genuine extraordinary individual. She was a member of the OSU Honors College, completing her thesis project entitled “Characterization of Two Aerobic Bacteria from Canada Goose Microflora by Whole Genome Sequence Analyses,” while also fulfilling the biology degree requirements. Abigail valued the close connections and interactions she had with both fellow students and staff. She knew she was in the right place when she started participating in undergraduate research where she saw how knowledge is constructed outside the limitations of the classroom.

Megan Bolt

Business Administration

Megan interned in the OSU-Cascades Innovation Co-Lab, where she helped start-up companies market their products and services. "I was the lead on a UX/UI design project for a manufacturing company, managed various social media accounts, created a strategic marketing plan for a start-up company and more," she said. She was also the host of the OSU-Cascades Career Development Center's Career Lift podcast, where she talked to local CEOs and company founders about how they started their businesses. Megan has her own start-up, Raddr, which is dedicated to creating quality, durable fishing gear for women. After graduating, she's first headed to Alaska where she'll train to be a sport fishing guide, before pursuing her many entrepreneurial dreams.

Marjorie Symonds

Computer Science

Marjorie Symonds is a technical athlete, and her talent and aptitude ensure her ability to help shape the future world. In her "free time" between a full course load and working part-time, Marji actively engaged in undergraduate research. Over two years, Marji developed a smart dog collar that detects canine seizures using machine learning and pushes a notification to the pet owner's smart phone. For her work, Marji received a Layman Fellowship for experiential learning and research, and presented her research at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research in April 2021. After graduation, Marji is headed to Washington D.C. to join the Cybersecurity Talent Initiative, and will work in cybersecurity for the U.S. Coast Guard. "I know that either through work or volunteering, I don't ever plan to stop working to let young women and people who don't see themselves in computer science know that they do belong," she said.

Bridger Cook

Energy Systems Engineering

Bridger approaches complex problems with ease and is not afraid to be challenged to better understand new engineering concepts. He can work with a high level of autonomy, is very curious and has the ability to explore different paths to solve problems. “Someone once told me you know you're in the right major if you get excited about things that most people find boring — for me, at least, that was spot on,” said Bridger. He’s been accepted into the OSU Mechanical Engineering Accelerated Master's Platform, and was recently awarded a $40,000 Sun Grant to study the use of forest residue biomass (slash piles) to generate energy.

Tyler Morris

Hospitality Management

While studying and working full-time, Tyler earned the highest GPA in the hospitality management degree program, engaged in classroom discussions, and was a leader in group projects and field work. “I knew I was in the right program during my first hospitality classes as we discussed creating guest experiences and positive work cultures,” he said. Tyler has a passion for sustainability in the hospitality industry, and the faculty has no doubt he will be a leader in this emerging trend.

Thelma Pruett

Human Development and Family Sciences

Thelma blends academic insight with professionalism and a fierce resolve to be a champion for individuals who are often overlooked and underserved. “As an immigrant and a first generation student, I understand how hard it is to overcome the barriers of oppression and racism,” she said. A tireless advocate for children and families, Thelma gained valuable experience through a practicum and internship at the Oregon Department of Human Services, and she volunteers as a child advocate for CASA of Central Oregon, with the Red Cross, and for mutual aid projects in the community.

Jessica Hofherr


Jessica’s academic performance was in the top rankings of her classmates. Her concern for her fellow students' success and her genuine interest in the kinesiology field made her stand out among her peers. It was during a kinesiology research study that Jess knew she was at the right school. “The professors are always so open to our questions and the level of teaching is set to a high bar,” she said. Jess strived to put in extra work and it paid off — she was accepted into the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at University of Colorado-Anschutz and started there this spring. She hopes to eventually work with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs or contract to support the needs of active duty military after graduate school.

Willie J. Farias-Rivera

Liberal Studies

His faculty described Willie as well-prepared for classes and able to connect his coursework to his lived experiences and career goals. "Being able to talk with my professors one-on-one and ask questions has been a key component to my success at OSU-Cascades," Willie said. In an assignment in a course devoted to youth and communication outreach, he wrote the top literature review in the class, displaying his ability to conduct library research, interpret peer-reviewed academic articles, synthesize large bodies of research to identify a communication challenge that has not yet been addressed, and propose an outreach module to address the need. Willie is intellectually curious, excited about learning, and will quietly, yet significantly contribute to his community.

Laura McWhorter

Natural Resources

Laura McWhorter took to heart advice from faculty, recommending she immerse herself in the natural resources field and find ways to volunteer and get experience. One of Laura’s initial out-of-classroom opportunities was volunteering with the High Desert Museum — through which she earned the chops to be an associate curator of wildlife. She also created an internship with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service around golden eagle nest monitoring and public engagement. This summer, Laura will work as interpretive ranger at Yellowstone National Park. “The natural world fascinates me, and there's no one component of an ecosystem that I prefer over another,” said Laura. “I will swoon over a good meandering stream or colorful lichen growing on a rock, the same as I will over a fledgling peregrine falcon taking her first flight.”


Jade Warner

Social Science

Jade has been active at OSU-Cascades since the day she stepped foot on campus. She is compassionate, intellectually curious, and committed to using her social science degree to solve community challenges. She is a Layman Fellow and will graduate with a degree from the OSU Honors College. Her honors thesis represents her desire and ability to use her knowledge of social science to overcome an issue challenging our communities during the pandemic: vaccination hesitancy.  Her thesis was supported by researchers in the OSU-Cascades Laboratory for the American Conversation. "Moving forward, I would like to use my degree in social and political sciences to help my community to be the most inclusive, equitable, and beautiful place it can be," said Jade.

Mitchell Sheridan

Tourism, Recreation and Adventure Leadership

Mitchell has the highest G.P.A. of the current class of graduating TRAL students. His faculty describe him as being consistently engaged in each and every class. His commitment to professional development outside the classroom has been exemplary. "My professors put a high value on real life experiences which helped shape my learning and understanding," he said. "I now feel equipped to enter my field with confidence."  Mitch was recently accepted into a National Outdoor Leadership School instructor development course, and is actively seeking teaching assistantship opportunities with the TRAL program.


Chris Madigan

Master of Counseling, Clinical Mental Health

Academically, Chris is consistently a high-performer. He seeks out feedback as a means to grow and ask, “what else can I do?” Chris is a leader among his peers, taking on the role of advocacy chair through OSU-Cascades’ chapter of Chi Sigma Iota. What Chris found of greatest value in the counseling program at OSU-Cascades was the opportunity to work in the field. “It was an honor to be given the trust to work with clients and their mental health,” he said, referring to his role as a clinic intern at the Community Counseling Clinic at OSU-Cascades. Chris’ feedback is sought-after at the Counseling Clinic. Many first-year graduate counseling students expressed gratitude for the effort and intentionality he placed on his role, helping them learn and grow as he debriefed their sessions.

Aurora Jensen

Master of Counseling - School

Aurora's academic work was outstanding. She worked full time as a school counselor during graduate school, and consistently integrated social justice issues, over and above what was required of her. “The elementary school years set the foundation for developing the knowledge, attitude and skills necessary for students to become healthy and confident learners,” she said. Aurora has shared creative interventions and technology programs with her peers in order to meet students’ needs while they were learning at home this past year due to the pandemic. After graduating, Aurora plans to work as a school counselor in the Corvallis School District.

Angela Rose Leverich

Master of Arts in Teaching - Elementary Education

Described by the faculty as one of the strongest teacher candidates they've worked with and a leader in navigating the challenges of remote instruction created by the pandemic, Angela was hired by Bend La Pine Schools to complete the school year as a full-time comprehensive distance learning teacher. She also demonstrated a high interest and proficiency in working with diverse student populations. Above all, she brought compassion and drive to reach all of her students. Angela has accepted a kindergarten teaching position and is ready to guide and teach her students about school life.

Amber Tollerud

Master of Arts in Teaching - Secondary

A summa cum laude graduate who pursued dual teaching endorsements in social studies, Amber created a positive learning community rooted in equity, where every student has a voice. “Despite all of the uncertainty around this school year, the hands-on experience I gained as a hybrid and in-person teacher was invaluable in cultivating my professional skills,” said Amber. She went beyond excelling in the clinical licensure and program requirements. She coached middle school cross country and high school track, participated in equity forums, initiated tutoring sessions for high needs students, and conquered new technology to engage and educate her young students. Amber has been hired as a middle school teacher in the Sisters School District and will start this fall.

Distinguished Students Archive: