Baylor Graduates Named Winners of Inaugural F. Ray Wilson II Award for Best Thesis

April 15, 2010

Award honors life and legacy of longtime Honors Program mentor and Master Teacher

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Baylor University graduates Kirsten Appleyard, Lisa Funkhouser and Carrie Wallis have been selected as the inaugural recipients of the F. Ray Wilson II Award for Best Thesis, which 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. Appleyard, Funkhouser and Wallis will be honored at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 15, during the Honors Program banquet at the Mayborn Museum Complex, 1300 S. University Parks.

"Ray Wilson's life of scholarship and Christian service touched countless lives, and this award continues his remarkable legacy," said Dr. Andrew C. Wisely, director of the Honors Program and associate professor and director of German and Russian. "The three inaugural winners of the Wilson Award will address this year's Honors Program graduates about what they learned from their thesis experience and how it has equipped them for the work they are now doing."

The three award winners were among the Baylor undergraduates who presented their theses during Baylor's annual Honors Week in 2009. After earning an "Outstanding" designation following their thesis defense, the student's thesis could then by nominated for the Wilson Award by the thesis director or an Honors Program faculty member.

The academic work of these students represents the highest form of scholarship produced by undergraduates at Baylor, said Dr. Wesley Null, associate professor of curriculum and foundations of education in the School of Education and Honors College and faculty assistant director of the Honors Program.

"One of the criteria the Wilson Award committee uses to determine winners is publishability. All of these theses are of publishable quality in their respective fields," Null said. "In addition, the work of these students is rigorously researched, well situated within existing scholarship in the field and written to the highest standards. As evidenced by letters of nomination from thesis directors, each of these theses makes a substantial contribution to existing research. These inaugural Wilson Award winners should be congratulated on a job well done. Our hope is that the work of these students will serve as a model for others for many years to come."

Appleyard's thesis - "'Moi je vis un peu avec les anges': The Search for Transcendence in the Contemporary Art of Arcabas" - was nominated in the Humanities category by Dr. David L. Jeffrey, Distinguished Professor of Literature and Humanities. "This is the best example of interdisciplinary research in the humanities (art, theology, aesthetics) and one of the best examples of press-worthy writing it has been my privilege to supervise," Jeffrey wrote in his nomination letter.

Funkhouser's thesis - "Roles of LBK1 and AMPK in the Maintenance of Cell Polarity in Drosophila Photoreceptor Cells under Energetic Stress Conditions" - was nominated in the Physical Sciences category by Dr. Sang-Chul Nam, assistant professor of biology. "Lisa clearly demonstrated her talents essential for conducting valuable biological research. Based on her outstanding performance in her honors thesis, I have no doubt that she will make seminal contributions to the field of biological sciences in the near future," Nam wrote in his nomination letter.

Wallis's thesis - "Civil Religion in Wartime: The Religious Rhetoric of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt" - was nominated in the Social Sciences category by Dr. Barry G. Hankins, professor of history and church-state studies. "Because of Wallis's reliance on primary sources and the creative nature of her interpretation, I believe she could get a publishable article out of the thesis," Hankins wrote in his nomination letter.

Appleyard, who is from Renfrew, Ontario, Canada, was a William Carey Crane Scholar at Baylor and a 2009 University Scholar graduate. She was one of the founders of the Honors College French Conversation Club and participated in Klub Deutsch. In addition, she was named a Marion G. Wells Honors Fellow by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. She is pursuing a master's degree in art history at the University of Notre Dame and also is involved in curating a Marc Chagall and Georges Rouault exhibition this summer at the Mayborn Museum.

Funkhouser, who is from Albuquerque, N.M., earned her bachelor's degree in biology with minors in chemistry and Spanish from Baylor in 2009. She was a member of Beta Beta Beta Biological Honor Society and Gamma Beta Phi Honor Society and served as a student representative on the College of Arts and Sciences Curriculum Committee. She also worked for the biology department for three years as a genetics teaching assistant and molecular genetics lab assistant. She is a graduate student in the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program for the Biological Sciences at Vanderbilt University and will soon begin her thesis work investigating the use of insect-infecting bacteria to control vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever.

Wallis, who is from Rowlett, received her bachelor's degree in history from Baylor in 2009. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and was named Outstanding History Student of the Year for 2009. In addition, she was a member of the public relations team for The Pulse, Baylor's undergraduate scholarly journal. She is currently a member of the Strickland Scholars Program at Baylor and will receive her master of science in education degree with initial teacher certification in August.

The award honors Wilson, who died July 9, 2004, shortly after he had been named director of the Honors Program. The establishment of the award also coincided with the 50-year anniversary of the Honors Program in 2009.

"The award, made possible through the generosity of Earl and Elizabeth (Betty) Hull Roberts, enables us to recognize publicly the hard work and academic excellence of our very best Honors Program students," said Dr. Thomas S. Hibbs, dean of the Honors College and Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Culture at Baylor. "Because it also recognizes the indispensable role of faculty mentors in the writing of the senior honors thesis, it underscores Baylor's longstanding commitment to excellence in teaching and to collaborative scholarly work between students and faculty."

Wilson joined the Baylor faculty in 1973 as an assistant professor of biology and was named full professor in 1989.

During his three decades at Baylor, Wilson was honored with numerous teaching awards, including his selection by the 1997 senior class as the Collins Outstanding Professor. He also was honored seven times by Mortar Board as "Top Professor" and was named to the academic honor society's Circle of Achievement for Outstanding Professors eight times. In November 2003, Wilson was designated as Master Teacher, the highest honor granted to Baylor faculty members.

More than anything, Wilson was legendary among the Baylor student body for mentoring hundreds of students pursuing graduate degrees in the sciences, while also directing countless undergraduate honors theses.

For more information about the award, go to the Wilson Award web site. For more information about the Ray Wilson Award Endowment Fund, contact the Baylor Office of University Development.

Media contact: Lori Fogleman, director of media communications, (254) 710-6275

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