Baylor Grads Win F. Ray Wilson II Award for Best Thesis
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Baylor University graduates Sarah Berry, Jessie Kuykendall and Christa Leotti have been selected as this year's recipients of the F. Ray Wilson II Award for Best Thesis. The award honors the life of the beloved Baylor professor of biology and Master Teacher, who directed 37 Honors theses during more than 30 years of teaching at the university.
The Wilson Award recognizes the outstanding thesis from each year in the Physical Sciences, Social Sciences and Humanities, including music, art, theater and other fine arts. Thesis winners are invited to return to campus to deliver remarks to Honors Program graduates of the following year. Berry, Kuykendall and Leotti were honored April 14 during the Honors Program banquet at Baylor.
The three award winners were among the Baylor undergraduates who presented their theses during Baylor's annual Honors Week in 2010. After earning an "Outstanding" designation following their thesis defense, the student's thesis could then be nominated for the Wilson Award by the thesis director or an Honors Program faculty member.
Berry, originally from Coppell, Texas, was a William Carey Crane Scholar and 2010 University Scholar graduate. During her time at Baylor, she was also involved in the Honors Program, The Pulse and Delta Delta Delta. She is currently pursuing her Masters degree in English Literature at Boston College. Berry is a Writing Fellow preparing to teach freshman composition next fall. She also serves as the assistant managing editor of the literary magazine Post Road.
Berry's thesis investigated the way in which the contemporary Irish poet Seamus Heaney draws on Joyce and Yeats in his development of a sacramental understanding of poetry. Her primary research interests include British and Irish modernism and contemporary Irish poetry.
Kuykendall graduated summa cum laude in May 2010 with a B.A in international studies and minors in Spanish and history. She also is a graduate of the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core program, winner of the Richard D. Huff Distinguished Student in International Studies Award, and an Honors student with distinction. Kuykendall is currently a graduate student at The George Washington University pursuing her M.A in global communication. She also is a Thomas Pickering Graduate Foreign Affairs Fellow.
Kuykendall's thesis discussed using soft power in the Middle East to lessen the effectiveness of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism. She wanted to know what methods could be used to reach individuals who do not engage in terrorist-related violence themselves, but support it in other ways.
"Soft power is an important part of the current effort to fight terrorism, one that focuses on the strength of ideas and values and their persuasive capability, rather than the more coercive, traditional power we often see on the news," Kuykendall said.
Leotti was a William Carey Crane Scholar and 2010 graduate with a B.A in medical humanities. She was also a BU MEDS discussion leader and a lifeguard for Campus Recreation. She also spent the fall of her junior year studying abroad in Maastricht, The Netherlands, with a Glennis McCrary Goodrich International Scholarship. She is currently employed as a coordinator for a non-profit organization focused on health and wellness in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Leotti's thesis analyzed the optimal surgical strategy for the treatment of anterior pelvic organ prolapse (POP), which affects 41.1 percent of all U.S. women 50 years and older, with regard to patient quality of life.
Each winner and thesis director will have their names engraved on a nameplate affixed to the F. Ray Wilson Award for Best Thesis plaque that hangs in the Honors Program suite in Morrison Hall.
The award honors Wilson, who died July 9, 2004, shortly after he had been named director of the Honors Program at Baylor. The establishment of the award also coincided with the 50-year anniversary of the Honors Program in 2009.
by Susie Typher, student newswriter, (254) 710-6805