2020 Award for Academic Distinction Winners

Fifteen Mizzou students have received the university’s seventh annual Award for Academic Distinction.

Recognizing academic excellence outside the classroom, the award is given to students who have been nominated by faculty mentors and chosen by a cross-disciplinary faculty panel.

Selected students have a history of intellectual curiosity, have sought knowledge beyond their coursework, shared that knowledge with the public, and significantly contributed to the academic atmosphere at Mizzou.

“These students — and this award — embrace Mizzou’s core values of respect, responsibility, discovery and excellence,” says Jim Spain, vice provost of Undergraduate Studies, who supported Mizzou students in establishing the award in 2014. “It’s a great thrill to recognize these students and the significant achievements each of them has made. They continue the tradition that the Award for Academic Distinction was created to honor.”

The 2020 honorees represent multiple majors and come from six schools and colleges at MU.

In lieu of an in-person reception, recipients received a congratulatory message from Spain and a mailed certificate.

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Ethan Anderson

Ethan Anderson is a junior from Poplar Bluff, Missouri, studying English and history. Anderson is a McNair Scholar and a 2020 Kinder Summer Scholar. As a McNair Scholar, Anderson has conducted a summerlong artistry project under the direction of Samuel Cohen, associate professor of English. Anderson composed over 150 pages of critical and creative literary work. He presented his McNair work at the Midwestern Modern Language Association Conference in Chicago. Anderson has received the Hesburgh Award for Academic Achievement, the English Alumni Scholarship, and the Global Scholars Award from the College of Arts and Sciences, among others. He is currently studying with the University of Manchester in Manchester, England. Prior to his studies abroad, Anderson worked as an undergraduate writing tutor for the MU Writing Center. He has also participated in a graduate-level seminar on Renaissance British literature under Lee Manion, associate professor of English. Anderson is an active participant in MU Model United Nations and acted as a delegate in the 2019 American Model United Nations Conference, where the Mizzou team won “Best Delegation.” He has published creative nonfiction work, and his poetry has won a number of creative writing awards. He plans on going to graduate school for medieval English literature.

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Abigail Beckerdite

Abby Beckerdite is a senior biological engineering major from O’Fallon, Missouri. Her hobbies include biking, running and golfing. In her time at MU, she studied nervous system injury recovery and network behavior in the lab of David Schulz, professor of biological sciences. For her work, Beckerdite earned the Honors Scholar designation and was funded by the Life Sciences Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program stipend. She also conducted research under Ellen Wan, assistant professor of biomedical, biological and chemical engineering, developing an affordable, environmentally friendly method to produce graphene. In addition to research, Beckerdite held an internship with Nanova, a surgical device manufacturer. During this internship, she was selected to help run the company booth at the Arab Health Conference in Dubai. An active member of the MU community, Beckerdite serves as secretary of the Alpha Epsilon Honors Fraternity for Bioengineers and has volunteered with Mizzou Alternative Breaks. This fall, she will attend dental school at the Southern Illinois University School of Dental Medicine.

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Cole Diggins

Cole Diggins is a senior, majoring in soil, environmental, and atmospheric science, minoring in plant science, and completing a certificate in geographic information science. Diggins was mentored by Stephen Anderson, the William A. Albrecht Distinguished Professor of soil and environmental sciences, whose guidance and encouragement were instrumental in his academic success. Diggins completed his honors thesis examining soil water hydraulic properties on a variety of established agricultural plots, researching the saturated hydraulic conductivity, bulk density and soil water retention in claypan soil.

He has presented his research at the University of Missouri McNair Scholars Conference, the Missouri Extension Summit, the MKN Heartland Research Conference and the National Tri-Society Student Research Symposium. He was chosen to present his poster at the Undergraduate Research Day at the Missouri State Capitol. He was recently named a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program honorable mention.

Beyond his research interests, he sought life-enriching experiences and volunteer opportunities that would allow him to have a broader impact on campus, currently serving as an ambassador for Undergraduate Research, the School of Natural Resources and the McNair program; an officer in the Mizzou Soil and Water Conservation Society; and as a member of the nationally qualified MU Collegiate Soil Judging Team.

Proudly recognized as a national Coca-Cola Scholar, a University of Missouri Litton Leadership Scholar, and a McNair Research Scholar, Diggins will be seeking a master’s degree in plant and soil science at Oklahoma State University this fall, with the end goal of receiving a doctorate.

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Bryce Fuemmeler

Bryce Fuemmeler is a senior economics and history major with a minor in English from Boonville, Missouri. At Mizzou he has developed an abiding interest in academia revolving around history, politics, and economics though the Kinder Institute, including its Society of Fellows, Kinder Scholars and Oxford study abroad program. He has interned for elected representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives, in both Jefferson City, Missouri, and Washington, D.C., and most recently provided research for the financial services team at American Action Forum, a D.C. think tank. On campus, Fuemmeler has remained active as a teaching assistant for “Money, Banking, and Financial Markets” and “Principles of Macroeconomics,” while also working as a tutor for the MU Writing Center. Away from campus, Fuemmeler enjoys groundskeeping for a local golf course and reading fiction. After graduation, he plans to earn his master’s degree in economic and social history from the University of Oxford or to participate in the Kinder Institute’s inaugural master’s program in Atlantic history and politics.

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Kody Jones

Kody Jones is a recent graduate from Kansas City. He majored in biochemistry with minors in leadership and public service, and biological sciences. While a freshman in the Discovery Fellows program, Jones joined the research lab of Antje Heese, associate professor of agriculture biochemistry. He soon began his own project investigating the relationship between two proteins involved in plant development and immunity, which he presented at several venues and wrote about in his senior thesis. Outside of research, Jones was extensively involved with Mizzou Global Brigades, eventually serving as the organization’s co-president and campus chairperson. He has also participated in several Mizzou Alternative Breaks trips and served as a site leader for a weekend MAB trip to Putnam County, Missouri. On campus, he worked as a student staff member at the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center. Jones currently works at University Hospital Emergency Department and plans on attending medical school in the fall.

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Paxton Kostos

Paxton Kostos is a senior majoring in biochemistry with a minor in philosophy from Lee’s Summit, Missouri. Kostos has been involved with on-campus research since her freshman year in the lab of Antje Heese, associate professor of biochemistry. Kostos studies Arabidopsis plants to understand how mutations in the dynamin protein network can lead to heightened plant immune responses. Kostos has traveled to several conferences to present her research and earned the Outstanding Poster Award at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students; she took third place at Mizzou’s Life Sciences Conference as well. For the past four years, Kostos has been involved with the NIH-funded Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity Exposure to Research for Science Students (IMSD EXPRESS) as an apprentice and fellow, she is a member of the National Honor Fraternity Phi Sigma Pi, and she has tutored students in STEM courses. Kostos hopes to continue to develop her scientific passion by attaining a doctorate in the coming years.

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Sharanya Kumar

Sharanya Kumar is a senior from Chesterfield, Missouri, majoring in biological engineering with minors in music, leadership and public service, and biology. She has enjoyed getting involved in various activities throughout her time at MU, from working in the laboratory of Heather Hunt, associate professor of biological engineering, to serving as treasurer for the Mizzou Asian American Association. She has led two Refugee and Immigration Service trips through Mizzou Alternative Breaks and plays viola in the University Philharmonic Orchestra. She is grateful for all of the opportunities she has had over the past four years to grow, gain new experiences, and learn how to better serve her community. After graduation, Kumar will be joining the Qualtrics team as a product specialist in Provo, Utah, as she continues exploring diverse interests.

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Katelynn McIlwain

Katelynn McIlwain is a sophomore majoring in journalism and minoring in East Asian studies. She is from Freeport, Illinois, a town known as “Pretzel City,” and has a passion for writing and storytelling. McIlwain aspires to be a reporter and podcaster covering music, entertainment, television and film. Currently, McIlwain is an intern at the MU News Bureau, writing feature stories and press releases to highlight exceptional university milestones, faculty research and student achievement. McIlwain is also a resident adviser and peer learning assistant with MU Residential Life. She teaches a one–credit hour course in the fall to incoming Walter Williams Scholars, the most high-achieving students in the School of Journalism. In October 2019, McIlwain won the Best Behind-the-Scenes Film Award for Campus Movie Fest 2019. As a George C. Brooks Scholar, McIlwain has enjoyed bonding and growing with her peers who are high-achieving and ethnically underrepresented at MU. As a Walter Williams Scholar, McIlwain has thrived among determined young journalists who journey alongside her in a mission of contributing meaningfully to our public sphere of communication. Most of all, McIlwain believes her role as a disciple in God’s church is what gives her the most fulfillment and hope, no matter where her education and career aspirations take her.

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Stephanie Scott

Stephanie Scott is a junior at the University of Missouri double majoring in human physiology and translational science, and biochemistry. Scott received the Discovery Fellows scholarship her freshman year, allowing her to begin research her first semester at Mizzou. Presently, Scott works with Richard Ferrieri, a research professor in the MU Research Reactor, in his plant imaging lab. There, she hopes to unravel how to boost crop nutritional value through the use of soil bacteria. Scott has presented her research to legislators at the Missouri State Capitol as well as at Life Sciences Week and the Pioneer Symposium, where her poster earned fourth place. Scott is the first author of a manuscript that was published in the scientific journal “Agronomy” in March 2020. Stephanie is a peer learning assistant for the Biochemistry Department, where she taught the sophomore honors, writing intensive biochemistry lab this fall. She has been involved with MU Residential Life for the past two years, teaching the Freshman Interest Group Medical Careers A. Scott’s faith is important to her as well, and she serves as a fellowship team leader in the Baptist Student Union. This summer, Scott is applying to medical school and hopes to become a surgeon.

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Heather Silvey

Heather Silvey is a senior majoring in psychology and communication with a Spanish minor; she is graduating summa cum laude with university honors. Silvey explored her passion for learning through research. She conducted an original study on idealized-body exposure on Instagram and its effects on self-esteem and body-concept and is writing a journal manuscript with guidance from her mentor Christopher Josey, assistant teaching professor of communication. She worked on a study by Colleen Colaner, associate professor of communication, on children’s experience of being adopted, and completed research on physiological and psychological effects of complex childhood trauma. Silvey helped write the interview protocol and conducted child interviews, earning her authorship on the study. Outside of research, she served as co-director of Mizzou Sustainability Week, on the undergraduate curriculum committee for the Communication Department, and on the planning committee for COMM Week 2020. Silvey has been named as the Mary-Jeanette Smythe Outstanding Senior in Interpersonal and Family Communication. Throughout her undergraduate career, she held a job as a waitress and bartender at Willie’s and Fieldhouse, and enjoyed helping children in the community as an assistant at The Speech-Language Preschool in music and social skill therapy sessions, and Easterseals Midwest as an implementer of applied behavioral analysis for the Missouri First Steps Program.

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Yasmeen Taranissi

Yasmeen Taranissi is a senior from Columbia, Missouri, double majoring in accounting and economics. She has earned induction into the national honor society Mortar Board, later serving as president of the Mizzou chapter. She serves as a student ambassador for the College of Arts and Science and was both a teaching and research assistant in the Department of Economics. She also tutored economics for the MU Learning Center. In the Trulaske College of Business, she is the director of Business Week and has helped lead two student teams to first-place finishes in School of Accountancy case competitions. Throughout her college experience, Taranissi has developed a passion for social justice. She is a member of business school’s Diverse Student Association. She also started a grassroots initiative in which she partnered with peers and administrators to implement structural solutions around inclusion and diversity within the college. Additionally, she serves as a co-chair for the Trulaske College of Business Executive Diversity Committee. Taranissi has interned with Veterans United as a marketing insights analyst; she plans to matriculate into the Masters of Accountancy program in the fall.

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Stephanie Tarr

Stephanie Tarr is a junior from Columbia, Missouri, pursuing double majors in Spanish and biological sciences with a minor in chemistry. Her academic involvement focuses on applying Spanish outside the classroom. She is the president of Mizzou Spanish Club, leading activities such as trivia and conversation hours, along with fostering community partnerships. As part of a rotational education initiative, she participated in an international Mizzou Alternative Breaks trip to the Dominican Republic. In Peru, she did an exchange program with the Spanish department to learn about Andean civilization. She conducts research in the laboratory of Alan Parrish, associate professor of medical pharmacology and physiology, studying pathways that promote metastatic behavior in kidney cancer and toxins that may induce this. She is a regular participant in the True/False Film Festival. In her free time, she works at Bubblecup Tea Zone downtown. She will spend one of her remaining semesters studying abroad in Argentina.

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Cate Wilkins

Cate Wilkins is a senior studying political science. Originally from O’Fallon, Missouri, she began her academic involvement at Mizzou as a Show-Me Scholar assisting J.D. Bowers, director of the MU Honors College, in researching the ongoing Cyprus conflict. She twice presented at the university’s Undergraduate Research Poster Presentation on issues involving women in Cyprus. Wilkins has interned at the Missouri Commission on Human Rights and the ACLU of Missouri, and also studied abroad in Den Haag, Netherlands, at the international courts and tribunals there. When she became a Kinder Fellow and had the opportunity to write for the Kinder Journal on Constitutional Democracy, she built upon what she had learned in the Netherlands, writing about restorative justice in international law. Some of her proudest contributions to Mizzou have been as a member of Marching Mizzou’s trumpet section and a team captain in the Mizzou Mock Trial Association.

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Titus Wu

Titus Wu is a journalism major specializing in print/digital investigative journalism. Raised in Southern California, Titus hopes to become an investigative reporter for a daily newspaper or nonprofit news organization anywhere in the U.S. At Mizzou, he’s worked in leadership roles for the Maneater and KCOU, the student radio station. Currently, he reports on state government for the Columbia Missourian, and he has had various summer internships, including at POLITICO and Newsday. Outside journalism, Titus was a Discovery Fellow, helping Cristina Mislan, assistant professor of journalism, on her research on the relationship between media and the Ferguson protests. He’s also involved with various campus ministries and volunteering trips in his spare time.

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Erin Zimmerman

Erin Zimmerman is a junior from Malvern, Pennsylvania, majoring in biology and ancient Mediterranean studies with minors in philosophy and psychology. Zimmerman is a Mizzou track and field scholarship athlete and a proud member of its javelin squad. Zimmerman is an Honors College student, and, currently, is the vice president of service for Tri Beta, an honors biology society on campus. While leading service, she helped increase event participation and introduce the club’s members to new volunteer activities and opportunities throughout Columbia. In her time at Mizzou, Zimmerman has been taught and mentored by professors such as Ted Tarkow, retired associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Peter Markie, Chancellor’s Professor and Curators’ Distinguished Teaching Professor Emiritus in philosophy, who have helped guide her throughout her studies. As evidenced by Zimmerman’s unconventional double major, one of her favorite aspects of learning is making connections across fields of study. This summer, Erin was scheduled to go overseas and work on the Gabii Project, an archaeological dig outside of Rome, led by Marcello Mogetta, assistant professor of Roman art and archeology. Instead, because of the new coronavirus, she hopes to work with Mogetta online, reviewing artifacts and gaining an experience that in some way replicates the knowledge she would have acquired in Italy.