Leadership, service awards renamed in tribute to retiring president

Published 05.14.2022

Photos by Tom Wilson, writer/editor-PCToday

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It was meant to be the somewhat routine continuation of a 25-year campus ritual, President Davie Jane Gilmour's proud presentation of Penn College Awards to kick off the commencement weekend that hectically (yet happily) ends the spring semester.

The awards were first distributed in 1997 to recognize graduating students who have made outstanding contributions to Pennsylvania College of Technology through their involvement in campus life, the leadership positions that they have held and the service that they have provided to the college community.

But the opening remarks from Elliott Strickland, vice president for student affairs – who billed this season's event as "an evening of astonishing stories" – held a curveball that would both respect and redefine that enduring tradition.

Elliott Strickland Jr. reveals the renaming of the Penn College Awards."As most of you already know, Dr. Gilmour will be retiring this summer after 24 years as president and 45 years at Penn College," he told his Thursday night audience in Le Jeune Chef Restaurant. "During this time, there has not been a stronger advocate for the holistic growth and development of Penn College students: excellence within our classrooms and labs with an opportunity for the highest levels of engagement in the co-curriculum. Those of us that work at Penn College are continually reminded that Davie’s core message is that students should be at the center of all we do.

"Therefore, it is my honor to announce that the Penn College Award has been renamed 'the Dr. Davie Jane Gilmour Award for Leadership & Service to Penn College' and will be forever presented to graduates who exemplify President Gilmour’s legacy of outstanding leadership and contributions to the student experience."

So as not to breach that revelation, the Student Leadership & Service Awards Ceremony brochure – which contained the award's new name – wasn't handed out until after Strickland's announcement. And a commencement program provided to Gilmour earlier in the week to aid in her preparation for the weekend's three graduation ceremonies? It was a fake, retaining the Penn College Award nomenclature so as to avoid a spoiler.

A good-news bombshell hits its intended target, whose initial surprise rapidly morphed into grateful – and graceful – acquiescence.The president's expression affirmed that the surprise held, her shock quickly turning to acceptance of the honor: "I didn't see that coming!" she said with a smile. She was then welcomed to the microphone to present the awards that now bear her name, telling the students that they are the very embodiment of the lives that are transformed in Penn College's classrooms and labs.

She affixed a lapel pin to each of the award winners, then posed for photos with the students and their presenters. Those sponsors were specially invited by the honorees, indicative of the mutual admiration between students and their faculty/staff mentors and supportive peers.

"A night of testimonials to support these students’ selections for their respective awards was promised," Carolyn R. Strickland, vice president for enrollment management and associate provost, would say toward the end of the program, "and I believe we delivered."

One after another for the preceding hour, the presenters had offered story upon story about the students and their attributes – statements of selfless involvement, second-nature kindness, civic engagement, military service, academic achievement, friendship and a commendable lack of boastfulness.

An alphabetical list of recipients (some of whom will graduate later in calendar year 2022), their hometowns and majors, and a severely shortened accounting of their many activities follow:

Caila N. FlanaganCaila Nicole Flanagan (introduced by Trisha M. Temple, academic affairs specialist)
Business management and business administration: management concentration
Student commencement speaker, Unsung Hero of the Year (2020), Student Leader of the Year (2021), Awesome Woman Exemplar, Wildcat Events Board chair and promotions lead, vice president of Theta Phi Alpha, resident assistant, Phi Theta Kappa honor society, lead Connections link, Mrs. T’s Pierogies commercial, Wildcat Wednesdays, Food Truck Fridays, (community) Service Saturdays.

Dakota C. Harrison
Automated manufacturing technology and manufacturing engineering technology
Harrison – vice president, race team captain and lead manufacturing engineer for the SAE Baja – was unable to attend due to a weekend competition at Tennessee Tech University. His award will be presented upon his return.

Michael Edward Highland IIMichael E. Highland II (introduced by Joseph M. Harner II, instructor of electronics/automation and robotics)
Electronics & computer engineering technology
Student Government Association executive vice president; SGA senator for the (former) School of Industrial, Computing & Engineering Technologies; IEEE vice chair; presenter for Girl Scout Robotics Patch event; Connections link, Student Engagement information desk assistant; Mrs. T’s Pierogies commercial; SGA Silent Auction; Welcome Weekend; Open House.

Charlee Rianne MarshallCharlee Marshall (introduced by Bradley M. Martin, instructor of construction management)
Snow Shoe
Construction management
Student commencement speaker, Construction Management Advisory Committee Achievement Award, Construction Management Association of America, Penn College Construction Management Association, participant in national competition, Sigma Lambda Chi construction management honor society, Penn College Women in Construction, SGA vice president of finance and public relations, senior resident assistant, mathematics tutor, women's soccer player and volunteer coach, Women in Sports Day clinic, Yards for Yeardley, Special Olympics "Train With the Wildcats."

Charles Benjamin MierwaldCharles Benjamin Mierwald (introduced by human services & restorative student Zakariah K. Marshall)
Lock Haven
Human services & restorative justice
Vice president, treasurer and secretary of Penn College Alliance; SGA vice president of internal relations; Inclusive Housing Initiative; Connections link; Writing Center tutor; Student Engagement information desk assistant; Disability & Access Resources intern; human services & restorative justice mentor; Penn College Pep Band.

Angelyvette SantanaAngelyvette Santana (introduced by Chris L. Eckenrod, director of radiography)
Founder and president of the One World Club, SGA senator for nursing & health sciences, Medical Imaging Club, Thanksgiving food drive, Student Health Care Week, Awesome Woman Exemplar, Multicultural Lawn Party, Wildcat Dance Team, American Eagle Real Change Scholarship for Social Justice.

Rudy C. ShadleRudy C. Shadle (introduced by Danielle M. Liddic, Career Services' employer and industry relations manager)
Construction management
Penn College Benefiting THON executive director (among other administrative posts), college relations assistant, Construction Management Association and participant in multiple national competitions, Sigma Lambda Chi honor society member and president, presidential student ambassador, resident assistant, Student Leader Legacy Scholarship, Central PA Food Bank volunteer, Career Fair volunteer.

Dessa D. ValisnoDessa D. Valisno (introduced by Rob Cooley, associate professor of anthropology and environmental science)
Business administration: marketing concentration
One World Club president; community peer educator; student award for diversity, equity and inclusion; organizer, “The Glass Ceiling Effect"; Phi Theta Kappa honor society; Awesome Woman Exemplar; marches against domestic violence and Asian American Pacific Islander hate crimes; Welcome Weekend.

Devin S. WatsonDevin S. Watson (introduced by Edward J. Almasy Jr., associate professor of electronics)
Electronics & computer engineering technology
Veterans Club; Omega Delta Sigma veterans fraternity secretary and treasurer; American Legion, Salute veterans honor society vice president; IEEE president, vice president and secretary; presenter for Girl Scout Robotics Patch event; Phi Theta Kappa honor society treasurer; 5K Silkies Run to raise awareness of suicide among veterans; research internship, BKV Oil; electronics engineering internship, Qortek; Wildcat Egg Hunt.

Sophia G. WiestSophia G. Wiest (introduced by Meghan R. Delsite Coleman, assistant director of student engagement)
Entrepreneurial innovation
Lead Connections link, presidential student ambassador, Leadership Boot Camp, Lead PCT, Penn College Circle K president and treasurer, resident assistant, Horticulture Club member and participant in National Collegiate Landscape Competition, Student Leader Legacy Scholarship, Awesome Woman Exemplar, Mrs. T’s Pierogies commercial, (community) Service Saturdays, SPCA Paws Run.

Members of the inaugural graduating class to be honored with the Dr. Davie Jane Gilmour Award for Leadership & Service to Penn College gather outside Le Jeune Chef with the president and Elliott Strickland Jr.Carolyn R. Strickland explains that a handful of collegewide commencement awards were added to the Thursday event, so as to offer the audience a greater appreciation of the underlying student stories.The evening also included the college's top campuswide commencement awards, introduced by Carolyn Strickland and presented by Michael J. Reed, vice president for academic affairs/provost (and incoming college president).

Two students received The Lewis H. Bardo Memorial Award, presented to graduates who exemplify the ideals of Lewis H. Bardo (devotion to duty, helpfulness to others, friendliness and high ideals): Wesley Scott McCray (left), an engineering design technology student from Corry, who was introduced by Melinda D. Heckman, coordinator of admissions events and communications; and Jesse James Walker (right), a web & interactive media student from Las Vegas, introduced by former wrestling coach Jamie R. Miller.

The Rose Staiman Memorial Award for brotherhood, service to college and community, and scholastic achievement was presented to Callie Alexandra Sobolewski, a nursing student from Budd Lake, New Jersey. She was introduced by Pamela W. Baker, associate professor of nursing.

Dhruv Singh, of Dayton, New Jersey, earning a bachelor's degree in automotive technology management, will receive the Academic Vice President and Provost’s Award for scholastic achievement and service when he returns from the SAE Baja competition in Tennessee.

McGarvey (third from right) is joined by Reed (right) and part of his team at the Lumley Aviation Center, where faculty, staff and classmates learned American Sign Language as a supportive bridge to better communication. With McGarvey and Reed are (from left) Kimberly S. Cordrey, secretary to the aviation center; Roupp; Zachary A. Jackson, an aviation maintenance technology student from Wernersville; and Dickey.The Board of Directors’ Award for achievement under exceptional conditions was given to Aaron Dylan McGarvey, an aviation maintenance technician student from Coatesville, whose introduction was co-presented by Dawn M. Dickey, director of disability and access resources, and Heidi E. Roupp, disability and access resources specialist/staff interpreter.

Gilmour returned to the lectern for the final presentation to two students: the President’s Award for leadership and service to the college.

Those honors went to Harrison, who will be officially recognized at the August awards ceremony, and Flanagan, who was again introduced by Temple.

All of Penn College's commencement awards were announced at the May 13-14 graduation ceremonies in the Community Arts Center.