By Amy Everson
Director, Student and Alumni Affairs
Congratulations to our 2022 leadership, service and innovation award winners! You have made significant contributions to your community and the University. Our award winners – consisting of instructors, staff members, students, and student organizations – deserve recognition for their distinguished service and unwavering commitment to helping other people.
Dr. Wallace E. Boston Leadership Award: Dr. Awilda Hernandez
Since 2016, the Dr. Wallace E. Boston Leadership Award has been presented annually by the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees. It recognizes a University community member for outstanding leadership and a significant impact on a community, an industry, or the world. This year’s award winner is faculty member Dr. Awilda Hernandez.
Dr. Awilda Hernandez graduated from Georgian Court University with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a minor in Spanish literature in 2011. While serving in the United States Army, she completed a master’s in intelligence studies with a concentration in criminal intelligence from American Military University (AMU), receiving her degree in 2014.
Awilda served with the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia, during Operation Enduring Freedom. She is a recipient of the National Defense Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal, and Global War on Terrorism Medal.
In 2020, she graduated from Concordia University-Wisconsin with a doctorate in education, focusing on the theoretical model of culturally relevant pedagogy. Her education is founded on Christian values, women’s empowerment and leadership with a spirit of justice.
Currently, Awilda works as an investigator for the federal government. She has experience working in grand jury and specialized investigations, criminal/civil litigation, white-collar crime, housing discrimination, securities fraud, and environmental enforcement investigations.
Some of her current and former services include serving as an Alumni Advisory Council member at the University. Her efforts included helping community families with living skills and educating women and children victims of domestic violence. Providing resources and information for their care needs has also been a primary focus of her volunteer efforts.
Awilda is also an Equal Employment Opportunity counselor and volunteers as a student mentor for her previous academic institutions. She volunteered with the Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), assisting 1,148 unaccompanied children from various parts of Central America and South America.
She is writing a children-inspired book, “Shaping Up Nicely!” The book encourages children to appreciate their differences and to understand the strength of working together as one person for a common goal.
James P. Etter Creativity and Innovation Award: Sherrie Dennee
The James P. Etter Creativity and Innovation Award has been presented annually since 2004. This award recognizes a member of the University community for an innovative or creative contribution that made a significant impact on a community, an industry, or the world. This year, this award goes to staff member Sherrie Dennee.
Sherrie Dennee began her career in the University’s academic advising department in 2010, becoming the Director of Academic Advising in 2019. During her tenure, she has demonstrated her ability to manage large-scale projects, becoming a champion for positive change and finding innovative solutions for the University.
Sherrie earned a bachelor’s in business management from California University of Pennsylvania and a MBA from the University of Phoenix. Prior to working at the University, Sherrie started her career in higher education working with the military community as an education counselor and a regional student services officer at a military base in Schweinfurt, Germany. Her passion for helping servicemembers became a motivating factor for working at the University.
Sherrie is the driving force in her department, with a dedicated focus on a “student-first” approach. Her ability to collaborate and break through barriers has allowed for the implementation of numerous projects that have led to increased student persistence. Her contribution and management of robotic process automation (RPA), her involvement in the Retention and Optimization Center, and her contributions as a steering committee member for the Excellence in Academic Advising self-study, sponsored by the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) and the Gardner Institute, have spotlighted her contributions as a thought leader to the University.
Sherrie’s experience and insights as an advisor, team manager, senior manager, director, and leader of many teams and projects have proven invaluable to the University. She is a valuable, vital, and highly respected member of the academic advising department and the University.
Excellence in Service Award: Lindsey Larson
The Excellence in Service Award recognizes an outstanding University staff member for quality and dedicated work. This year’s recipient is Lindsey Larson.
Lindsey graduated from Shepherd University with a bachelor’s in business administration and a minor in music. She also holds a MBA from Shepherd University and was a member of the honor society of Phi Kappa Phi.
Lindsey joined the University in 2012 as an admissions representative, working with prospective students. Since then, Lindsey has served the University in various roles, including student support and enrollment management. Currently, she works in the Office of the Provost.
Lindsey’s emotional intelligence, forward-thinking approach, verve to drive initiatives forward and motivate others, dedication to operational excellence, and commitment to serving the University’s mission, make her a valuable member of the University community.
She takes pride in focusing on operational and process efficiencies for staff, faculty, and students in regard to our procedures and experiences. Lindsey says, “It is easy to work in a single lane to achieve goals, but true accomplishment and magic happen when we cross departmental lines and collaborate as one team for one mission.” Lindsey holds herself to a high level of professionalism and positivity, and she has a strong drive to serve the University in any way possible.
Lindsey is an effective communicator and a master problem solver. She has taken numerous processes and transitioned them in a way that has led to their alignment with strategic goals. Lindsey is positive, agile, goal-oriented, mission-driven and highly committed, and she goes above and beyond in everything that she does.
Her role touches most operations and projects within the academics department, and her leadership is an integral piece of our operations and continued success. For the last 10 years, Lindsey has led and participated in various committees, including the Excellence in Academic Advising committee, the Diversity, Equity, Including and Belonging (DEIB) Survey Subcommittee, and the Next Generation Leadership Academy committee. Lindsey often says, “Regardless of how hard the problem is, we can achieve absolutely anything.”
Outstanding Campus Leader Award: Jenna Gushwa, Kathryn Hill and Ashley Johnson
This year’s recipients of the Outstanding Campus Leader Award are Jenna Gushwa, Kathryn Hill and Ashley Johnson. This award recognizes these three student leaders who have contributed significantly to one of the University’s organizations, going above and beyond in their efforts to engage the organization’s members.
Jenna Gushwa began her academic career at AMU in 2017. She completed a certificate in paralegal studies in 2019. In April 2022, she earned a bachelor’s degree in legal studies and a certificate in real estate management. She has a 4.0 GPA.
Jenna is a chapter officer with the University’s chapter of the Phi Alpha Delta law fraternity. She began as the chapter treasurer in 2019 and has been elected as chapter president four times in her She was awarded the 2021 Frank McCown Outstanding Pre-Law Chapter President Award through Phi Alpha Delta International.
Jenna has also had the honor of being a panel speaker for several events, including the Campus Leadership Institute and the Phi Alpha Delta Pre-Law Conference. Jenna is also a member of the Phi Alpha Delta Society of Scholars and the DEIB Taskforce.
Though she still has a large interest in the law, Jenna intends to further her education with a master’s degree. She intends to earn a Master of Education in Student Affairs in Higher Education (M.Ed.), so that she can ultimately offer students the same support and empowerment the University’s personnel have done for her. Jenna is also the wife of a Marine Corps veteran, a homeschool mom with five children, and a business owner.
Kathryn Hill is a full-time domestic manager and a part-time doula, interested in incorporating contemporary psychology issues into her practice. Kathryn has an associate degree in Spanish from the Defense Language Institute, a bachelor’s degree in human development and family studies from AMU, and a master’s degree in psychology from AMU.
Kathryn has served on the leadership board of the R.E.A.D. Book Club for more than five years, most recently as the President. Kathryn is generous with her time and sharing lessons learned as a campus leader with leaders from other organizations. For the last five years, she has coordinated a Lunch and Learn to share best practices and has been invited to speak and present at the 2020 and 2021 Campus Leadership Institute.
Ashley Johnson began her educational career at American Public University at the start of the pandemic, seeking to complete her second bachelor’s degree in natural science with a concentration in biology. As of April 2022, she has a GPA of 3.74.
Ashley has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Southern New Hampshire University, and she plans to pursue a career in forensic science. She has been accepted into the University of Florida’s master’s in forensic medicine program to start this fall.
She has made many connections in the University community as the 2021 secretary for Women in STEM (wSTEM) and the Association for Women in Science (AWIS). Ashley currently serves as the current wSTEM President. This leadership position has grown her confidence and provided her with countless networking connections and a supportive family to push her toward achieving her dreams.
When Ashley is not studying for her current courses, she enjoys reading and working towards her advanced scuba certification. She strongly believes in supporting shark conservation efforts and hopes to participate in shark research dives as a hobby.
Chapter Advisor of the Year Award: Natascha Gast
The Chapter Advisor of the Year Award is presented to an instructor who sets a high standard. That faculty member provides exemplary service to a student organization that he or she serves and to that organization’s leadership team. This year’s award winner is Natascha Gast.
Natascha Gast joined the University’s Department of English and Literature in 2007 as an adjunct faculty member and became a full-time instructor in 2009. Natascha is the sequence lead for all American literature courses and the course lead for classes such as “American Poetry from Bradstreet to Bukowski” and “Effective Business Communication.”
Before joining the University, she was a developmental editor of industrial trade publications and taught at the American University in Cairo, where she was also the Writing Center Coordinator. Natascha has developed materials and services as well as supervised tutors for two online writing labs. She has two bachelor’s degrees in English and philosophy from Louisiana State University and received a master’s degree in English with a concentration in American Studies from the University of Connecticut.
Since 2014, Natascha has been an advisor for the R.E.A.D. Book Club, guiding the club from limited member participation to become a thriving organization. This student organization has achieved the highest chapter standing every year, including receiving the Outstanding Chapter of the Year Award in 2021. Natascha works closely with R.E.A.D. Book Club officers and her co-advisor. She has worked on many service projects and collaborations with other student organizations. Natascha has also helped with guest author visits, virtual field trips, presentations and monthly book discussions.
Natascha’s teaching philosophy is to promote lifelong learning and success in all areas. She seeks to instill critical thinking, communication skills and digital literacy in her students through the study of writing and literature. To this end, her professional research and presentations have focused on the use of technology in course design, assignments, and discussions.
When not teaching, reading or researching, Natascha enjoys the outdoors around her home in Colorado. She also continues to travel the world.
Student Organization Chapter of the Year Award: Model United Nations Club
The Student Organization Chapter of the Year Award is intended to recognize a student organization that has exemplified outstanding achievements in leadership, engagement, service, and commemoration. This year’s recipient is the Model United Nations (Model UN) Club.
The Model UN Club provides opportunities for its members to learn about the governing bodies, functions, and methods of the United Nations through first-hand experiences. This student organization strives to teach members about public speaking, group negotiation, and research and gives them the opportunity to practice these skills in a competitive forum.
Initially chartered in 2018, the Model UN Club has more than 370 members under the guidance of faculty advisors Dr. James Barney, Dr. Paula Wylie and Dr. Mily Kao. The Model UN Club has provided dozens of our University’s students with a chance to network with their peers, learn from foreign policy experts, and apply the skills and information they learn through their participation in virtual and in-person Model UN conferences. The Model UN Club has used various tools, including social media sites, video conferences, the online classroom, and telephone to recruit members, prepare for conferences, and create a sense of community among club members.
In February 2021, Model UN Club members competed in a virtual conference hosted by the Osgood Center, winning six awards for their collective and individual efforts. In May 2021, club members earned more honors at a conference hosted by a non-governmental organization from Ecuador. This club’s continued success throughout 2021 has demonstrated that its training methods, including lectures and workshops led by faculty and outside speakers, consistently produces results.
Outstanding New Organization Award: Military Spouses Club
The Outstanding New Organization Award recognizes a newly created organization that has established a positive presence at the University. This organization collaborates with other student organizations or university departments to ensure they have a firm foundation for their chapter. This year’s recipient of this award is the Military Spouses Club.
The Military Spouses Club supports military spouses, creates networking opportunities and serves as an advocate for the causes that impact military spouses. This student organization unites students, alumni, faculty members, and staff who are interested in supporting military spouses and the unique issues they face in their lives.
Chartered in February 2021, this organization has quickly grown to nearly 200 members. It is guided by chapter advisors Dr. Kerry Erisman, J.D., and Cecilia DeSilva Selbrede, J.D.
The Military Spouses Club’s noteworthy activities include:
- Recognizing club members for inclusion on the quarterly Dean’s and President’s lists
- Celebrating member degree and certificate conferrals
- Developing and distributing chapter newsletters to club members
- Hosting guest lectures from career coaches and organizations that support military spouses, including InDependent and Brittany Boucher, the 2017 Military Spouse of the Year.
Legacy Award: West Virginia Students’ Alliance, Jefferson County Restoration Project
The Legacy Award recognizes a student organization that has created and implemented a project that will continue with the chapter each year. This project contributes to the legacy of excellence at our University. This year’s award winner is the West Virginia Students’ Alliance (WVSA).
WVSA was created to serve the state of West Virginia by organizing university students, alumni, faculty, and staff in projects related to leadership and service. Initially chartered in 2017, the organization now has more than 130 members. WVSA is guided by chapter advisors Amanda Wilson-Echeverria and Holli Fergus.
The University’s chapter of WVSA has organized a local service project each year since the chapter was established. These projects have ranged from promoting literacy through the installment of a Little Free Library at the Ranson Civic Center in 2017 to garden restoration and equipment building for local schools in 2018 and 2019. In 2020, several WVSA members restored the Little Free Library at Ranson due to the high demand for books during the COVID-19 lockdown.
During 2021, the organization helped the local Boys and Girls Club of America organization with a large-scale project to restore their grounds and donated a new grill for picnics and other outdoor activities. Over 40 people showed up to support this event.
WVSA is committed to creating a strong partnership between the University and the local community in West Virginia. The community service this club has provided has helped to improve the lives of local residents.
About the Author
Amy Everson, the Director of Student and Alumni Affairs, has had the privilege to serve in various roles at the University for over 12 years. In her current role, she leads a team facilitating the leadership and development of students and alumni through campus leadership, student organizations, mentoring, university awards, and recognition.
Amy believes in the importance of peer-to-peer leadership development as an integral piece of the higher education puzzle. She has worked with more than 500 campus leaders to plan engagement opportunities for more than 70 student organizations.
Amy received her bachelor’s in agribusiness management and rural development from West Virginia University. She also holds a master of science in environmental policy and management and a master of education in student affairs in higher education, both from American Public University.