The College honors academic excellence with fall 2020 Dean’s Medalists


On Monday, Dec. 14, 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 fall 2020 virtual convocation ceremony.

Each semester, departments and schools within The College select outstanding students who have 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 fall 2020 Dean’s Medalist awardees from The College.

Madison Andrade 

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

Andrade is a Barrett, The Honors College student, studying political science and sociology. While at ASU, she explored her passion for politics through independent research and impactful extracurricular endeavors.

She held several roles during her time in The College, including as an intern with ASU’s Undergraduate Student Government, as a project member on the McCain Institute’s Peer-to-Peer: Protective Project, and as a Senate page with the Arizona State Capitol. Within the campus community, she was also involved with Her Campus, a student organization and media site aiming to empower and encourage female students. 

She won the School of Politics and Global Studies’ Experimental Lab competition to conduct a study on how individuals may draw upon stereotypes about the relationship between perceived physical attractiveness and political leadership ability. In addition, her team placed second in the McCain Institute’s national competition, Peer-to-Peer: Protective Project, for their work on creating a campaign targeting hate-based violence.

Senior lecturer Gina Woodall nominated Andrade for the Dean's Medal and described her work in a 400-level class on women and politics as “impeccable” and “thought-provoking” and saluted her work ethic and pursuit of excellence throughout her time at ASU.

Sarah Braunisch

Dean’s Medal: School of Earth and Space Exploration
Major: Earth and space exploration (geological sciences)

Braunisch is a transfer student whose childhood passion for hiking and collecting quartz samples led her to study geological sciences at the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

She discovered her passion for planetary science when she joined the Christensen Research Group, led by Regents Professor Philip Christensen. There, she worked in his lab comparing mineral samples with observations from asteroid and Mars missions. She also conducted an individual research project in the lab focused on the Granite Wash Mountains of Arizona.  

“We congratulate Sarah on this well-deserved honor,” said School of Earth and Space Exploration Director and Professor Meenakshi Wadhwa. “We are incredibly proud of her achievements, especially given the challenging circumstances that we are in at the present time and look forward to all that she will achieve beyond ASU.”

Braunisch plans to start graduate school in the spring at ASU to work toward her PhD in geological sciences. 

Frank Cossio

Dean’s Medal: School of Life Sciences
Majors: Biological sciences (neurobiology, physiology and behavior), neuroscience

Cossio is a Barrett student with a passion for neurobiology and physiology. From 2018 until 2020, he volunteered in President’s Professor Jennifer Fewell’s sociobiology in insects lab, where he examined task differentiation and brain structure in stingless bees. Cossio played a major role developing this project and collecting data, and he contributed significantly to the final paper that is in review for publication.

For a presentation he gave on this work at the annual School of Life Sciences Undergraduate Research Symposium, he won a best-presentation award. He also co-authored a paper examining colony diversity and heat tolerance in ants.

“Frank is a star. He is incredibly intelligent, and indeed is one of the most intellectually curious students I have had the pleasure to teach or mentor,” said Fewell. “His intellectual curiosity and work ethic are phenomenal. Beyond that, he is a generous and caring individual who is genuinely committed to shaping his career around giving back to the community.”

After graduation, Cossio aspiries to attend medical school.

Paul Espinoza

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

Throughout his time at ASU, Espinoza has taken advantage of a wide variety of opportunities outside the classroom including serving as an undergraduate teacher’s assistant and completing a summer research fellowship through the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics. Along with his years of research experience, he was also involved with a number of student organizations including ASU Changemakers, ASU Hunger Coalition and ASU Rainbow Coalition.  

“Paul’s combination of hard work and a heart for service is what we in the School of Social and Family Dynamics respect and admire about him. He is a terrific human with a bright future and the capacity to make positive change in the world,” said Stacie Foster, a clinical assistant professor and the director of undergraduate programs in the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics.

After graduation, Paul plans to pursue a PhD in family and human development.

Aaron Garcia

Dean’s Medal: School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies
Majors: Religious studies (religion, culture and public life), political science

From a young age, Garcia knew he wanted to pursue higher education. When he joined the U.S. Air Force and was introduced to a chaplain during basic training, he realized he too wanted to become a chaplain. This led him to transfer to ASU to pursue a degree in religious studies with a concentration in religion, culture and public life as well as a degree in political science.

“Aaron has demonstrated that he is a strong student through his two years at ASU in addition to his work as with the United States Air Force,” said Jason Bruner, associate professor and head of undergraduate studies for religious studies. “He was able to maintain his grades and complete coursework all the while being deployed in Afghanistan. He is an exceptional student, and we have no doubt he will continue to impress in the future.”

As an active-duty military member and full-time student, Garcia successfully juggled his career with his academic responsibilities. In addition to serving in the military and working toward his degrees, he was also a member of Pi Sigma Alpha, the national political science honors society, and Theta Alpha Kappa, the national religious studies honors society.

After graduation he plans on applying to the Master of Divinity program at Grand Canyon University and hopes to one day become an officer in the U.S. Air Force.

Justin Gens

Dean’s Medal: Department of Physics
Majors: Mathematics, physics

Gens is a transfer student who will earn dual bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and physics this fall. Since fall 2020, he worked in Professor Richard Lebed’s lab as an undergraduate researcher where he is currently producing results in the study of elementary particles called exotic hadrons.

He has been a member of the Society of Physics Students (SPS) for several years, serving in the role of vice president. Through his work with the SPS, he organized volunteers for Department of Physics events, hosted career seminars and provided special-interest workshops for physics majors. In addition, he was involved in the creation of student guides for first-year physics majors, offering insight into the student experience. 

“Justin’s dedication to our broader pedagogical mission, in conjunction with his service in SPS to his fellow physics majors, reveals a student who truly cares about the work we do in the Department of Physics,” said Lebed, who nominated Gens for Dean’s Medalist.

After graduation, Gens plans to attend graduate school to further pursue the study of physics.

Jonah Ivy 

Dean’s Medal: School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership
Major: Civic and economic thought and leadership

ASU offers a wide variety of courses, and Ivy spent his first six semesters at ASU exploring the range of topics and programs. After participating in the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership’s Global Intensive Experience in India, he declared a major in civic and economic thought and leadership.

With a passion for creating positive change in the community and the world, he was involved in many campus activities including as officer and founder of Gardens at ASU, a student organization that aims to empower students with the skills to garden and live more sustainable lifestyles, and as a sexual assault student adviser in the Sun Devil Support Network.

Ivy can also be credited with the thriving garden on the perimeter of the Social Sciences Building on the Tempe campus. He instituted a student garden club called Food For Change with a mission to educate and empower students to engage in all aspects of the local food system. Food For Change supports and promotes food initiatives on and off campus with the goal to bring awareness to the local and national food movement. 

“Jonah Ivy is an exceptional student both academically and with his personal accomplishments,” said Adam Seagrave, an associate professor in the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership. “He has been an outstanding student both scholastically and as someone who believes to make an impact on the community, people must get involved. Jonah has left an everlasting impact on those around him.”

After graduation, Ivy hopes to continue working to make positive changes in communities with other changemakers.

Janani Lakshmanan

Dean’s Medal: School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences
Major: Mathematics

Lakshmanan, a Barrett student, will earn her degree in mathematics this fall. While at ASU she has been actively involved in a number of internships and extracurricular activities including NASA’s Psyche Inspired Internship program, the Association for Women in Mathematics, the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences Peer Mentoring program and ASU DataFest.

Lakshmanan also served as instructional assistant and grader and has been working with Matthias Kawski, President's Professor in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences.

A writer and dancer as well as a math major, Lakshmanan enjoys both the logical and creative aspects of all three areas.

“Ms. Lakshmanan’s all-around performances and contributions to the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences make her a role model to inspire future mathematicians,” said Associate Professor Wenbo Tang, chair of the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences Awards Committee.

After graduation, she plans to continue her studies by pursuing a PhD in mathematics.

Daniel Laufer

Dean’s Medal: School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning
Major: Urban planning

When Barrett student Laufer started out at ASU, he was an engineering management major. After stumbling upon the world of urban planning through a documentary and reading more on the subject, he knew he wanted to learn more and switched his major to urban planning.

During his time at ASU he took on several positions outside of school including as a medical scribe for Central Arizona Medical Associates, as an EMT supervisor for ASU Emergency Medical Services and in custodial guest services at the Disneyland Resort in Florida through the Disney College Program. For his honors thesis, he developed an evaluation tool to measure walkability in both suburban and urban areas in Arizona.

“Daniel is an excellent student. He actively participates in the classroom, whether it is in person or via Zoom, and can be counted on to consistently contribute to the discussion taking place. He excels at collaborative work with other students and is an excellent team player in group activities,” said Jason Kelley, lecturer in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning.

After graduation, Laufer hopes to pursue a career as a firefighter and will start in his role as an emergency medical technician with the Tempe Fire Medical Rescue Department in February. Down the line, he hopes to work in city government or run for public office.

Anjali Mistry

Dean’s Medal: School of Social Transformation
Majors: Political science, women and gender studies

While pursuing dual degrees in political science and women and gender studies, Mistry worked to promote inclusion and awareness of critical social issues. Informed by intersectionality, much of her academic work examined domestic and sexual violence, gender-related issues and accessibility.

Mistry was a political reporter and opinion columnist for the State Press and a co-coordinator of the Clothesline Project, which seeks to raise awareness about domestic and sexual violence. She also collaborated with other ASU students to develop a sex education curriculum that addresses the sexuality of the disabled community to provide a comprehensive and inclusive sex education course available to children of all ages.

In addition, she also worked at various government institutions, including as a page with the Arizona State Senate and as an intern at the Arizona Attorney General’s Office of Victim Services.

Mistry’s faculty nominator commended her excellence in the classroom and her exemplification of the School of Social Transformation’s goals of preparing real-world problem solvers and champions for equality. Her course instructors have been particularly impressed by the thoughtfulness and insightfulness of her contributions to class discussions.

Motivated by her dedication to advocate for marginalized populations and to work to address racial disparities in criminal sentencing, Mistry plans to attend law school and become a public defender.

Monica Orillo

Dean’s Medal: School of International Letters and Cultures
Majors: Political science, German

Over the course of her undergraduate career at ASU, Orillo has translated her engagement in German and political science into a keen interest in international affairs, migration and refugee studies, and diplomacy.

For the last three semesters, Orillo served as a junior research fellow at the Center on the Future of War, where she conducted research with an investigative journalist in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. She also studied abroad several times. During her time in Germany, she completed an internship with the State Department’s Foreign Service at the U.S. consulate in Frankfurt. 

She participated in a number of extracurricular activities on and off campus including as secretary for the Make Your Impact club, Peace Corps campus ambassador and as a change agent at Changemaker Central on the Tempe campus. 

“Monica brings a clear commitment to furthering her education, an intellectual motivation unmatched by her peers at the undergraduate level, and a pride in purpose that will serve her well as she moves forward with her plans to continue her education beyond ASU,” said Daniel Gilfillan, an associate professor in the School of International Letters and Cultures.

After graduation, Orillo will complete an internship at Phoenix Sister Cities and will return to Germany as part of the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Program. After that, she hopes to stay in Germany to pursue a graduate degree in peace and conflict studies, with the goal of someday working in the field of international education or public diplomacy.

Annaliese Pickett

Dean’s Medal: School of Human Evolution and Social Change (also a student in the Department of Economics)
Majors: Economics, global health 
Minors: Spanish, French

This fall, Pickett will graduate with dual degrees in economics and global health and dual minors in Spanish and French. She has her sights on a career that focuses on alleviating poverty among low-income groups both locally and in developing nations.

Pickett, a Barrett student, participated in a number of extracurricular activities, research opportunities and study abroad trips during her time at ASU. Her study abroad projects took her to Dakar, Senegal, where she worked with a nonprofit that provided business workshops for female entrepreneurs, and to Arica, Chile, where she worked in a rural health clinic helping design interview protocols for Indigenous women whose children received health services. She also studied abroad in Spain with the School of International Letters and Cultures. Locally, she worked with the International Rescue Committee of Phoenix on projects designed to assist refugees and immigrants. 

She participated in research in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change’s Global Impact Collaboratory and the Global Ethnohydrology Lab, collecting and analyzing interview data on perceptions of water quality and access throughout the Phoenix metropolitan area and leading a field team in Apache Junction.

“Annaliese is not only outstanding academically and has inspiring professional goals, but on a personal level she comports herself in line with her inspiring ideals of being kind and helpful as an individual. I feel privileged to have had her in my class and to have interacted with her,” said Professor Jose Mendez, chair of the Department of Economics Awards Committee.

Pickett plans to apply for the master’s degree program in data, economics and development policy offered by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her long-term goal is to pursue a PhD in economics so that she can work in developing nations assisting governments with their poverty-alleviation strategies.

Elinor Sauer

Dean’s Medal: School of Molecular Sciences
Majors: Chemistry (environmental chemistry), biological sciences 
Minor: Sustainability, philosophy

Sauer, a Barrett student, will earn dual degrees in chemistry and biological sciences as well as two minors in sustainability and philosophy this fall. Throughout her academic journey, Sauer found many female mentors who helped shape her path.

She is a Moeur Award winner for 2020 and received two prestigious scholarships from the School of Molecular Sciences, the Therald Moeller Scholarship and the John Holloway Undergraduate Scholarship. She was also the recipient of a NASA space grant fellowship for three consecutive years. 

Sauer was a part of ASU faculty John Nagy’s research team focusing on the North American pika and worked in Professor Hilairy Hartnett’s Carbon and Nitrogen Dynamics lab. She also worked as a teaching assistant for general chemistry.

"Elinor has been my go-to person for the monitoring project in Tempe Town Lake for the last two years, and she’s done some fantastic new work as part of her honor’s thesis to model ecosystem productivity in the lake using our high-resolution in situ data,” Hartnett said. “She’s always willing to lend a hand when there’s something that needs to be done and has become a first-rate young scientist."

After graduation, Sauer hopes to continue acquiring hands-on experience and exploring different career paths that interest her.

Karishma Singh

Dean’s Medal: Department of Psychology
Majors: Psychology, family and human development

Throughout her time at ASU, Singh pursued global research internships at the Institute of Physiology of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague; Asha Hospital in Hyderabad, India; and Dulwich College in Singapore. She earned many accolades including the New American University Scholarship, the Psychology Scholar Award and the Dariel Overby Memorial Scholarship Award.

Singh worked in the Department of Psychology as both a teaching and research assistant. Outside of class and research, she served as vice president of philanthropy and as scholarship chair for Phi Sigma Pi, a national honor fraternity, as a first-year success coach and as a global peer mentor for the ASU International Students and Scholars Center.

“Since her first year at ASU, I've been struck by how genuinely curious Karishma is. She is continually looking for ways to learn, whether it is from her own experiences or others,” said Carolyn Cavanaugh Toft, principal lecturer in the Department of Psychology. “She is such an absolute delight to work with. She won't be the loudest voice in the room, but if you give her the space, she will often have the wisest, most thoughtful observations.”

After graduation, Singh plans on pursuing a master's degree in clinical mental health counseling and hopes to start a career as a professional therapist or counselor. 

Sisko Stargazer

Dean’s Medal: Department of English
Major: Film and media studies
Certificates: International cinema, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender studies

Stargazer, a Barrett student, has had a particular interest in queer, gender and disability theories during his time at ASU. As a facilitator of media relations for the ASU Rainbow Coalition, he was able to connect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Sun Devils with resources and their community. 

As a transfer student, Stargazer worked to empower future Sun Devils and help them discover a home in ASU. Through his role as a project specialist in Public Allies Arizona for the ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation, Stargazer connected students and members of the community with this AmeriCorps program that mobilizes community assets to develop solutions to local challenges. Stargazer also worked as a grader and provided support for students alongside professors to help make learning at ASU a more inclusive and accessible experience.

After graduation, Stargazer plans to take some time off and possibly pursue graduate school in the future.

Victoria Vandekop

Dean’s Medal: Hugh Downs School of Human Communication
Major: Communication
Certificate: Cross-sector leadership

Vandekop, a Barrett student, will graduate this fall earning a bachelor’s degree in communication with a certificate in cross-sector leadership. During her time at ASU, she was awarded a scholarship from ASU's Next Generation Service Corps. Through the four-year leadership development program, she completed three internships in three different sectors: nonprofit, private and public.

For her nonprofit internship, she worked with Defend Our Future, a nonpartisan activist group centered on climate change. In addition to her studies and internships, Vandekop also worked at ASU in three positions: front-desk worker for the Barrett student center, digital communications intern for the Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science, and a research aide for the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics. Vandekop also studied American Sign Language during her time as an undergraduate student.

“Victoria is very conscientious and always came prepared. She has been very involved in many organizations that she cares about, and she is very energetic as is seen through both her volunteer activities and her thesis,” said Carol Comito, an academic success adviser in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication. “She gives all of her attention and enthusiasm to everything she does.”

After graduation, Vandekop plans to work in digital communications in Texas.

Carlos Yanez Navarro

Dean’s Medal: School of Transborder Studies
Majors: Justice studies, political science, transborder Chicana/o and Latina/o studies (U.S. and Mexican regional immigration policy and economy)
Certificates: Human rights, socio-legal studies, Brazilian studies, international studies

Yanez Navarro will earn three degrees and four certificates this fall. During his time as an undergraduate student, he engaged in independent research projects with several faculty members in the School of Transborder Studies, including a project with Associate Professor María Luz Cruz-Torres exploring how Brazilians in Miami asserted, negotiated and re-accommodated their cultural identity. 

His sister, Nicole Yanez Navarro, who is receiving her bachelor's in nursing, took on extra classes each semester so that they could graduate together this December. And although there won’t be an in-person commemoration at Desert Financial Arena like usual, the Yanez Navarros plan on creating their own in their backyard on commencement day. 

In fall 2018, Carlos Yanez Navarro was recognized as a student leader in The College for going above and beyond in his courses. Outside the classroom, he stood out as an advocate in the Latino community. He served as a political intern for the Mexican consulate in Phoenix and traveled to Washington, D.C., to participate in the California-Mexico Studies Center’s national campaign to restore the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

“Carlos is undeniably an exceptional student, who will continue to be successful and will have a positive impact in our community,” said School of Transborder Studies Director and Professor Irasema Coronado.

In the future, Yanez Navarro hopes to pursue a career in law.

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