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The College honors outstanding academic achievement with 2020 Dean’s Medals

April 28, 2020

On Monday, May 11, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University will recognize its highest achieving students from the social sciences, natural sciences and humanities at the 2020 virtual convocation ceremony.

Each department and school within The College has selected an outstanding student who has demonstrated a steadfast commitment to academic excellence during their time at ASU. These students will be awarded a prestigious Dean’s Medal in honor of their scholastic achievements.

Meet the outstanding spring 2020 Dean’s Medalist awardees from around The College.

Jack Mann 

Dean’s Medal: Department of Economics
Major: Economics
Minor: Statistics

Mann is a student at Barrett, The Honors College at ASU, a New American University Scholar and a National Merit Scholar who is passionate about economics and statistics. 

While at ASU, Mann researched projects including assisting in econometric research examining the effects of spatial and temporal disaggregation on the relationship between extreme weather and GDP in the United States.

“I could not think of a more ideal recipient for this award than John,” said Jose Mendez, chair of the awards committee for the Department of Economics. “Not only is he outstanding academically, he is also truly remarkable as an individual. I have never had a student that was so respectful and gracious. I feel privileged having had him in my class.”

During his college career, Mann worked at a number of places, including the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C., where he provided research and analysis to inform reports, and at ASU’s Office of University Initiatives, where he worked as a strategic research analyst. 

Cormac Doebbeling 


Dean’s Medal: School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership
Majors: Civic and economic thought and leadership, political science
Minors: Film and media production, Spanish

Throughout his time at ASU, Doebbeling stood out as a leader among his peers. As an early adopter of the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, Doebbeling was able to grow alongside a new program.

Doebbeling served as the secretary of ASU Young Democrats and is a member of ASU Students for Education Equity. Taking a substantial international approach to his education, Doebbeling participated in numerous Global Intensive Experiences including traveling to India, Israel and the West Bank, Trinidad, Spain and Cuba. His capstone project makes an interesting comparison between founding father George Washington and revolutionary founder Fidel Castro.

“Cormac Doebbling possesses a rare combination of intellectual breadth and depth,” said Paul Carrese, director and professor at the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership. “Whether it is international politics, grassroots political activism, political philosophy, film, theater or literature — Cormac is enthusiastic and knowledgeable. It has been a pleasure having him as part of our school’s founding generation of students.”

After graduating from ASU, he plans on completing his master’s degree in comedic writing at DePaul University in Chicago in order to pursue a career in political satire in television and film.

Shane Bechtel

Dean’s Medal: School of Earth and Space Exploration
Majors: Earth and space exploration (astrophysics), physics
Minor: Mathematics

Through his endless dedication and determination, Bechtel exemplifies the interdisciplinary spirit and community engagement the School of Earth and Space Exploration thrives for. During his time at ASU, Bechtel, a New American University Scholar and ASU/NASA Space Grant Scholar, participated in several research projects (including both Barrett and senior thesis projects), mentored incoming students and volunteered in support of STEM education.

“He has outperformed every other student in the class, including the graduate students by a substantial margin,” said Judd Bowman, a professor at the School of Earth and Space Exploration. “He is a joy to have in class. … While many students balk at working with raw untested data, Shane faced the challenge head on.”  

Bechtel wrote and contributed to many academic papers and gave several presentations on his research. For his senior thesis, Bechtel worked with research scientist Rolf Jansen to conduct an in-depth structural analysis of a small sample of intermediate redshift galaxies.

“He approached this new topic of research with enthusiasm and — more importantly — produced tangible results in a very short period of time, while juggling his many other commitments,” Jansen said. “Moreover, he implemented his code in a general ‘pipeline’ that will prove useful for related future research projects.”

Morgan Leland

Dean’s Medal: School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies
Major: Philosophy (morality, politics and law)

Leland, a Barrett student, stands out for her outstanding hard work, compelling and clear writing ability and her helpful class participation. 

Her honors thesis explores disability from a personal perspective and aims to dramatically shift the way we think about disabilities while recognizing that the stigmatization of disabilities affects other marginalized identities. Leland also studied abroad in Greece and Italy, and served as a study abroad diversity panelist.

Shawn E. Klein, philosophy faculty at the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, said Leland is the kind of student who goes above and beyond to help her peers come to better understand content.

“What distinguishes Morgan is that she is an educator, that she is committed to the potential of higher education for producing broader social changes, and that she is personally devoted to changing the content of, social relations in, and standard operating procedure of academia,” Klein said.

Nicole Hinshaw

Dean’s Medal: Hugh Downs School of Human Communication
Majors: Communication, political science
Certificates: Cross-sector leadership, political entrepreneurship through internships: local to global and international studies

Throughout Hinshaw’s time at ASU, she has engaged in a wide variety of opportunities, including 11 different internships across the public, private and nonprofit sectors.

Hinshaw is a Barrett student and a two-time recipient of Hugh Downs School of Human Communication scholarships, awarded in 2018 and 2019. She also served as the 2018–19 Barrett Honors Fellow, working with Keith Brown, director and professor at the Melikian Center: Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies.

“It has been a great experience to be part of her ASU journey, and an inspiration to observe her clarity of purpose, her organizational skills and her poise and professionalism,” Brown said. “Besides her innovative and meticulous thesis work on the impact of Tempe Sister Cities youth exchange program, she also personified ASU's commitment to community engagement."

Hinshaw explored her interest in intercultural communication and international affairs while studying abroad in Ghana, Israel and the West Bank as well as nationally in Washington, D.C., with the McCain Institute’s Policy Design Program. 

In addition to internships, Hinshaw works as the communications coordinator for ASU Project Humanities and also served in leadership roles for the Next Generation Service Corps, the Global Leadership Development Program and the advisory board of ASU Global Guides.

Layne Philipson

Dean’s Medal: School of International Letters and Cultures
Major: Russian

Philipson is an outstanding student, employee and volunteer with an extraordinary talent for languages including Russian, English and Latin. She has a passion for foreign affairs, which she is using to make a difference in the world through public, government service.

“With an impeccable knowledge of Russian grammar, Philipson is an outstanding student who always understands what she is reading and is prepared to discuss her ideas,” said Hilde Hoogenboom, an associate professor in the School of International Letters and Cultures. 

Philipson is a finalist for the U.S. State Department’s highly competitive Critical Languages scholarship for advanced Russian study in Russia and is one of the first students from ASU who was offered a prestigious summer internship as a Russian Language Analyst with the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, Maryland.  

In the fall she will attend the University of Oxford to pursue her master’s degree in Russian and East European studies. Afterwards she plans on attending law school and hopes to work in the Department of Homeland Security to fight against human trafficking.

Holly Johnson

Dean’s Medal: Department of Physics
Major: Physics

Johnson is an accomplished student interested in applying physics to real-world problems, specifically when it comes to renewable energy. She is the co-author of three published papers and an award-winning presenter who has received the NASA Space Grant consecutively for the past few years.

Anna Zaniewski, an associate instructional professional in the Department of Physics, said Johnson’s outstanding productivity, skills and maturity were exemplified in her work.

“Holly demonstrates an ability to learn quickly, think independently and collaborate well. Her technical skills are impressive …” Zaniewski said. “She learns each new technique quickly and carefully. She takes detailed notes and is trusted with our most essential samples and research projects.”

In addition to her research, Johnson regularly volunteers and contributes to the development of other students through her position as a mentor in ASU’s Sundial Project. Johnson has been accepted into several prestigious graduate programs including Princeton.

Lorena Austin

Dean’s Medal: School of Transborder Studies
Major: Transborder Chicana/o & Latina/o studies (U.S. and Mexican regional immigration policy and economy)
Certificate: Cross-sector leadership

Austin is known for her diligence, persistence, community outreach, involvement and educational excellence. Through her life experiences in between high school and college, Austin realized that she wanted to dedicate her life to public service and building a better community. 

Austin served as the transfer chair for the Next Generation Service Corps scholarship where she connected and assisted potential transfer students by providing them with resources. As a transfer student herself, she was able to provide helpful insights that have helped many students succeed in transitioning to the university. 

Throughout her time at ASU, Austin successfully balanced schoolwork, community service and leadership roles while simultaneously working two to three jobs. Austin has also been a strong ambassador for the School of Transborder Studies by representing the unit in The College Welcome Assembly and being recognized as a Student Leader in The College.

“Lorena is vividly passionate about her current studies and future career in law. In the classroom, she is fully engaged and contributes to the learning of every student,” said Irasema Coronado, director and professor at the School of Transborder Studies.

Mackenzie Saunders

Dean’s Medal: School of Social Transformation
Majors: Justice studies, politics and the economy
Certificate: Socio-legal studies 

Saunders, a Barrett student, has actively shown her commitment to social innovation and fostering a more inclusive and just society by participating in campus residence life and leadership positions in political advocacy and nonprofit organizations.  

In her honors thesis, Saunders drew from her own experience as a walking paraplegic and aimed to expand access for ASU students with physical disabilities. By conducting an extensive inventory of nearly all buildings on the Tempe campus, she identified physical accessibility issues across campus.

“Mackenzie is a pathbreaker who rises above the small-mindedness of individuals and the restrictions of society,” said Annamaria Oliverio, a lecturer in the School of Social Transformation. “She elegantly transforms challenges into opportunities, not just for herself, but also others.”

Saunders works as a deputy campaign manager for the November 2020 and March 2021 elections for the Phoenix City Council and as Director of Operations for a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that advocates for disability rights.

Through an early decision, two-year deferral program that encourages students to gain professional experience before law school, Saunders was accepted to Harvard Law School. After earning her law degree she aspires to work in disability rights law to strengthen the ADA and eventually become a federal judge.

Hannah Berendzen

Dean’s Medal: T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics 
Major: Family and human development
Minor: Sociology

Since her freshman year, Berendzen demonstrated a high level of involvement in research, teaching, optional advanced coursework and leadership roles. 

She pursued advanced statistical methods courses, served as a research assistant on six research projects and worked as a grader or teacher’s assistant for four different courses. Through this work, she has a first-author manuscript in progress and presented at the National Conference on Family Relations.  

“Clearly, Hannah is a highly accomplished student. More importantly, however, interacting with her is a pleasure,” said Stacie Foster, director of undergraduate programs at the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics. “She is kind, compassionate towards others, and incredibly hard-working.”

Following graduation Berendzen plans to continue her education in family and human development by pursuing her PhD at ASU.

Xochitl Arlene Smola

Dean’s Medal: Department of Psychology 
Major: Psychology 
Minor: Statistics 

Smola is a first-generation college student whose early experiences inspired her to pursue a psychology degree at ASU with a focus on success and well-being of students and adolescents from underrepresented backgrounds.

“Xochitl Arlene Smola is an exemplary student who has overcome adversity and taken advantage of everything that ASU has to offer,” the Department of Psychology awards committee said in their nomination letter. “She represents us all well and is truly worthy of the Dean's Medal.”

She worked for multiple research programs including as a field manager for the Bridges Project at the REACH Institute during her freshman year, where she interviewed parents and adolescents, oversaw program interventions and supervised the field work of 30 of her peers. During her junior year, she worked in the Adolescent Stress and Emotion Lab, where she studied the Latino transition to college. Smola also represented ASU’s Department of Psychology in summer research training programs at the University of California, Los Angeles and University of Minnesota.  

Following graduation, Smola will attend graduate school for developmental psychology at one of the five programs that she was accepted into. She aspires to be a research professor in developmental psychology.

Delaney Bucker

Dean’s Medal: School of Life Sciences
Major: Biological sciences (biology and society) 
Minors: Spanish, civic and economic thought and leadership
Certificate: History and philosophy of science

In her time at ASU, Bucker explored a diverse span of activities and engaged in a variety of leadership positions, often forming connections and establishing partnerships across departments and academic disciplines at ASU and on a global level. Bucker, an ASU Tillman Scholar, successfully channeled her passion for community development, educational access and science communication with her skills in design-based research and curriculum-building.

Bucker co-founded the community initiative, ​INvision​, which seeks to excite low-opportunity background youth about higher education through partnering ASU’s diverse learning opportunities with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona. 

She studied abroad in the rural village of Tilonia, Rajasthan, India, where she developed an understanding of mental health in the rural context through participant observation, interviews and community engagement. 

In addition to her academic and research work, Bucker participated in athletic endeavors on the women’s triathlon team — swimming, biking and running her way to two consecutive NCAA National Championships.

Alyssa Burgueno

Dean’s Medal: School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences
Majors: Mathematics, physics
Certificate: Cryptology

Burgueno is a first-generation college student who is known for her creative, self-driven and collaborative nature. She performed several research projects on MRI imaging and on applications of p-adic number theory to quantum physics. 

In her honors thesis Burgueno continued her research on applications of p-adic number theory to quantum physics. Her research has been published and presented at conferences. In her work, Burgueno also initiated collaboration with researchers in Europe

Burgueno served as an officer of the school’s flagship program, Association of Women in Mathematics, various extracurricular activities as a tutor and a contributor to an online physics program for high school students.

Upon graduation she plans on continuing her studies and pursuing a PhD in mathematics modern particle physics. 

Micah McCreary

Dean’s Medal: Department of English
Majors: English (literature), French, political science 
Minor: Asian languages (Chinese)
Certificate: International studies

McCreary’s diverse set of interests pushed him to take on three majors, a minor and a certificate while working as a teaching assistant at Barrett and a research assistant and French tutor.

During his time at ASU, McCreary participated in both the International Chinese Language Program and the French Language and Culture in Lyon programs. He is the founder and president of ASU Cultural Attachés, hosting weekly meetings where American and international students practice languages and learn about other cultures. In addition, he serves as a chief ambassador of ASU Global Council of Diplomats and as the membership chair of ASU United Nations Association.

“As a student, Micah was prepared, attentive, respectful and participated regularly and thoughtfully,” said Stephanie R. deLusé, principal honors faculty fellow at Barrett. “His willingness to learn and inquiring mind served him well as he built on his strong foundation to become even more excellent as time unfolded.”

McCreary studied abroad several times, traveling to China and Taiwan to immerse himself in his study of the languages. McCreary was accepted to many prestigious law programs and will pursue his graduate degree at Harvard Law School in fall 2020.

Madeleine Howell

Dean’s Medal: School of Molecular Sciences
Major: Chemistry
Minors: Materials science and engineering, mathematics

Howell has been extensively involved in undergraduate research at ASU in the interfaces of materials chemistry and health and co-authored several peer-reviewed, published papers. Her accomplishments have been recognized with the Goldwater Scholarship, the highest recognition for undergraduate research in science in the nation. 

Howell excelled in her coursework and her research, receiving the ACS Divisions of Physical Chemistry and Inorganic Chemistry awards from the School of Molecular Sciences.

“It is remarkable for a student to earn one of these awards, and almost unheard of for a student to earn two,” the school of Molecular Sciences awards committee said in their nomination letter. “It is a testament to Ms. Howell’s success and its recognition broadly by SMS faculty. In short, Ms. Howell is a standout who makes an impression on those who interact with her.”

Following graduation, Howell plans to pursue a PhD in physical chemistry at Harvard University. Her long-term career goal is to become tenure-track faculty at a large research university.

Amy Berry

Dean’s Medal: School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning
Major: Geography
Minors: Sustainability, urban planning

Berry is a top-performing graduating senior in the geography, urban planning and sustainability programs, making the Dean’s list every semester. She has balanced her studies while juggling many duties in her position as a student retention assistant.

Faculty in the school speak glowingly about Berry, noting her exemplary performance in class and her outstanding projects including her study of agricultural land loss in the U.S. using GIS and statistics.

“Amy has more interests than just geography and sustainability. She has compassion for those less fortunate than herself,” said Ronald Dorn, associate director and undergraduate programs professor at the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning.

Berry is involved in the community and participates in her church ministry and local charity events including Christmas Angel.

Ashton Marks

Dean’s Medal: School of Politics and Global Studies
Major: Political science

Faculty say Marks is “a joy” to have in class, recognizing him for always engaging in class and being eager to answer questions. “Ashton is an ideal student, combining intelligence, hard work and an eternally positive attitude,” said Kim Fridkin, professor at the School of Politics and Global Studies.

Avital Simhony, associate professor at the School of Politics and Global Studies who taught Marks in two courses concurred, saying he “was a treasure of a student,” who was “passionately engaged in class discussion.”

Valerie Hoekstra, associate professor at the School of Politics and Global Studies noted that “Ashton rose to the top immediately,” and “raised incredibly nuanced questions about the material that elevated our discussions. He was a leader of discussion, but never pompous or impolite even though some of the topics we discuss can be quite contentious. He also has demonstrated significant character and perseverance in pursuit of his degree. He is inspiring.”

Julia Phelps

Dean’s Medal: School of Human Evolution and Social Change
Majors: Anthropology, mathematics (statistics)

Phelps stands out to faculty as being an enthusiastic and engaged student with an outstanding work ethic. During her time at ASU she worked as a statistician doing data analyses. 

In her research and course work she performed at a very high level, making the dean’s list every semester. Phelps spent time abroad including in Leipzig, Germany, to train in advanced statistical modeling and in the Philippines, where she worked with faculty at a field site.

Upon graduation, Phelps strives to become an anthropological statistician.

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