AMU APU Careers & Learning Online Learning Original

Congratulations to Our 2022 Student and Alumni Award Winners!

By Janet Athanasiou
Student and Alumni Affairs Liaison

Congratulations to the Class of 2022 and our student and alumni award winners! The University is proud of you for the significant contributions you made to your community and the University. All of these individuals have provided distinguished service and shown an unwavering commitment to helping other people.

President’s Award: James Hodgman and Nicolaus Hucal

The President’s Award recognizes two graduating students, one undergraduate and one graduate. To receive this award, the winners must distinguish themselves academically and make significant contributions to their nation and/or their community. This award recognizes their commitment to service, scholastic achievement, outstanding character and leadership.

James Hodgman (graduate award) and Nicolaus Hucal (undergraduate award) are the winners of this year’s President’s Award.

James Hodgman

James is a photojournalist in the U.S. Air Force and has 20 years of service. He has traveled the world to showcase the Air Force’s mission and its people. His work has been featured in several media outlets, including Stars and Stripes, CNN, Fox News, Air Force Times and numerous military websites.

James Hodgman

James grew up in Troy, New Hampshire, and enlisted in the Air Force in April 2002. He has held different security forces positions, working as an entry controller, patrolman and desk sergeant. Later, he entered the field of public relations as a photojournalist in 2009. James is also a freelance editor and a stand-up comedian, often serving as an emcee for corporate and private events.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in General Studies from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and a master’s degree in management from AMU. James was recently accepted into a doctoral program in Communication at Liberty University.

Some of his noteworthy accomplishments include serving as an Air Force tactical combat casualty care and resiliency instructor. In 2019, James became a crisis counselor with Crisis Text Line and has spent more than 120 hours counseling people. James is also a LivingWorks Suicide Alertness for Everyone: Tell, Ask, Listen and Keep Safe (SAFETALK) trainer.

In September 2021, he taught the first SAFETALK class for the U.S. Space Force at Patrick Space Force Base in Florida. He also founded “Sweat the Stress Away,” a fitness club in his community that provides free workouts to help people achieve their fitness goals.

James served as the Team Red, White and Blue veteran engagement director for the Solano County, California, chapter for three years. He is also the vice president of the Bedford Falls Homeowners Association Board of Directors and the father of two children.

Nicolaus Hucal

Nicolaus Hucal received a bachelor’s degree in intelligence studies from AMU in June 2022. He has a GPA of 4.0.

Nicolaus was born and raised in Berthoud, Colorado, and enlisted in the United States Air Force in June 2016. His hobbies include backpacking, fitness, and volunteering for the Dyess We Care Team, a local organization dedicated to providing home improvements to local impoverished and elderly citizens in the Abilene area. In 2018, Nicolaus received the Superior Community Service Award from the mayor of Abilene, Texas for his work with this organization.

Nicolaus is an active-duty Staff Sergeant in the United States Air Force and currently teaches the Targeting Analyst Course at the 315th Training Squadron, Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas. As an instructor, provides intelligence training to new Airmen from Basic Military Training and cross-trains prior-service Airmen.

He is a critical component in developing the world’s most combat-ready intelligence professionals for global intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions. His previous assignments include roles as a Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge of Mission Planning for worldwide B-1B task force missions from Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota and a Target Analyst for B-1B missions flown out of Dyess Air Force Base in Texas.

Academic Scholar Awards

Ten graduates from the Class of 2022 received the Academic Scholar Award for their superior academic achievements in earning a degree. They showed high levels of engagement and rapport with their instructors and peers, had consistent participation in discussion forums, showed leadership in the online classroom, and maintained a high GPA throughout their programs.

Hannah Via, Undergraduate, School of Arts, Humanities, and Education

Hannah Via

Hannah Via graduated from APU in October 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a GPA of 3.9. Her love of psychology started out of a desire to help remove the stigma around mental health due to her own struggles with depression and anxiety. During her time at the University, Hannah was highly involved in various clubs and honor societies, including Pi Gamma Mu and Golden Key. She also founded the Jewish Student Association to honor her culture and religion while she pursued her degree.

Hannah currently works for UVM Hillel as their IACT Israel Engagement Coordinator, running their Birthright program. She is also a graduate student at Capella University, seeking a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling. Her work with the University is not done, however, she serves as the President of our Alumni Advisory Council for 2022.

Dina Fontenelle, Undergraduate, Wallace E. Boston School of Business

Dina Fontenelle graduated summa cum laude from APU with a bachelor’s degree in business administration in December 2021. Her degree concentration was in business analysis, and she maintained a 4.0 GPA.

Dina Fontenelle

Dina is originally from the small Caribbean island of St. Lucia and migrated to the United States several years ago. From an early age, Dina was taught to work hard for anything she wanted and persevered, although her academic was overwhelmed with struggles.

She received multiple President’s List awards for her scholarly abilities, and she is a member of the Delta Mu Delta International Honor Society. Her interest in business strategy, operations and analysis was inspired from assisting her brother in his small business. In addition, Dina has managed multiple teams and projects in a Fortune 500 company.

Dina takes pride in helping others and wants to be a role model for girls, single women, and single parents. She participates in diversity, equity, and inclusion groups like Women’s Network and Black Heritage Network at work. In addition, Dina hopes to someday be more deeply involved in a foundation that will help Caribbean immigrant women transition from the islands to America.

She has donated her time to helping and feeding the less fortunate in her community and volunteered to educate university students on financial literacy. She is a member of the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA), a worldwide association with the purpose of helping institutions and information technology professionals with IT governance. Her ultimate educational goal is to achieve her Ph.D. In her free time, Dina enjoys traveling, gardening, enjoying nature and spending time with family.

Roderick Davenport, Undergraduate, School of Health Sciences

Roderick was accepted to many higher education institutions, but just one caught his eye: APU. From day one, the University has truly been Roderick’s strength and the guiding force to his academic excellence.

Roderick Davenport

Pursuing a degree was especially challenging for Roderick. He had to balance a tough academic schedule, undergo many surgeries and cope with chronic pain after being diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome.

In addition, Roderick faced a series of family deaths, making it hard for him to remain focused while he was going through so much. He credits God, his faith and a great support system for helping him to keep going through life and his academic journey.

Roderick successfully navigated his way through every semester as a straight-A student and has a 3.9 GPA. He will graduate summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in sports management.

Majoring in sports management is tailored around Roderick’s everyday duties of serving local youth and empowering low-income disadvantaged communities. As a sports management major, Roderick uses sports to empower the kids he helps.

Roderick loves coaching, mentoring and creating greater opportunities for youth, which he has done for over 15 years. Upon graduating from APU, his focus is to open a youth sports academy for kids from disadvantaged communities and backgrounds.

Some of his noteworthy accomplishments include being on the University’s Dean’s List, being a member of the Sports Management and Sports Health Sciences Honor Society, and being inducted into The Society for Collegiate Leadership and Achievement and the University’s chapter of Golden Key International Honour Society. He was also selected to be a University Ambassador and received recognition from the Central Florida Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). His life is committed to making a difference and changing lives.

Vanessa Zander, Undergraduate, School of Security and Global Studies

Vanessa Jean Zander has served eight years of active duty in the Army, completing an associate degree in 2019 from Barton Community College. In April 2022, she graduated from AMU with a bachelor’s degree in international relations and global security. Her concentration was in human security and globalization.

Vanessa Zander

Vanessa earned her degree while she served a nine-month overseas rotation as an Abrams Tank Mechanic, attended the Drill Sergeant Academy and moved to a new state. She often had 15-hour workdays as a Drill Sergeant. Despite the challenges of a hectic life and a few misfortunes along the way, she was determined to finish her classes.

Vanessa took three classes at a time and finished her degree within 18 months, earning a GPA of 3.963. Immediately after completing her degree, Vanessa began a master’s program at AMU towards a dual degree in emergency and disaster management and homeland security. She currently volunteers 24 hours a month as a disaster action team duty officer with the American Red Cross.

When Vanessa is not working, volunteering, or completing homework, she enjoys spending time with her wife, playing guitar, and reading. Vanessa always has a passion for learning and motivates her Soldiers to pursue further education despite any challenges they may face.

Vanessa is a first-generation American whose family originates from Brazil. She is thankful to her parents for their courageous efforts to immigrate to the United States, leaving everything familiar behind for a better life. Her accomplishments exemplify their investment in her future and her determination.

David Ruiz, Undergraduate, School of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math

David Ruiz graduated summa cum laude from AMU with a bachelor’s in information technology management in October 2021, with a GPA of 3.91. He also serves in a leadership role as the webmaster for the University’s Association of Technology Professionals.

David Ruiz

David is an Army veteran with 27 years of military service. His interest in information technology developed over the years while he worked as a signal communicator for the United States Army and other countries’ armed forces throughout his military career. He continues to develop his knowledge of IT and cybersecurity by continual education and staying up to date with current trends.

David has a strong desire to help his fellow students and veterans to achieve their potential and develop in the IT world. He fosters a positive environment by providing sound guidance and direction on how to further prepare themselves for understanding the corporate IT field. David has a passion for coaching and enjoys helping others to understand how to further their education and pursue their next career steps.

David is now pursuing a master’s degree in information technology information assurance and security from AMU. He is in the process of retiring from the Army and will work as the cybersecurity manager for the Fayetteville North Carolina Public Works Commission. He is a musician and enjoys playing electric guitar, cycling, and celebrating life with his family.

Amy Everson, Graduate, School of Arts, Humanities, and Education

Amy Everson graduated from APU with a master’s in Education: Student Affairs in June 2022. Her interest in student affairs started as an undergraduate at West Virginia University, where she worked as a resident assistant and served in many leadership roles in student organizations.

Amy Everson

In 2014, Amy returned to the field of student affairs. Amy is the Director of Student and Alumni Affairs at the University. She leads a team that offers co-curricular and extracurricular opportunities to students through campus leadership, student organizations, and mentoring.

Amy is often inspired by the University’s students and alumni. She takes great pride in creating communities that help students successfully navigate and enhance their academic journeys.

She lives in West Virginia with her husband Tim and daughter Ellie. Amy enjoys baking and exploring new places. As a foodie, she is constantly searching for the perfect charcuterie board.

Maria Clark, Graduate, Wallace E. Boston School of Business

Maria Clark was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. She attended both private and public schools, where she demonstrated a strong ability and desire to excel in life and her educational studies.

Maria Clark

After graduating high school, Maria joined the Armed Forces and worked her way up to the rank of Sergeant. She worked as an Automated Logistics Specialist for many years before using her military experience to excel and dominate the logistics industry in her civilian career.

Maria has since relocated to Arkansas, where she remains employed in logistics. She spent several years working at a multi-billion-dollar pipe manufacturer as a Logistics Supervisor before transitioning to a new career opportunity.

Maria enrolled at AMU to earn a MBA degree, maintaining a high GPA throughout her tenure with the university. While Maria is not the first in her family to graduate college, she is looked up to by most of her peers, family, and friends.

Maria is always looking for ways to advance, even offering to help others find the best in themselves. Maria loves to spend her spare time traveling, visiting with family and friends, and finding ways to better herself. She also enjoys taking on new tasks; therefore, Maria intends to return for her Ph.D. in the near future.

Adrienne (AJ) Fisher, Graduate, School of Health Sciences

AJ Fisher was born in the town of Middleborough, Massachusetts, one of the world’s highest producers of cranberries. She stood out for her scholarly abilities and talent, winning Cranberry District’s Junior Miss award at age 17.

AJ Fisher

Growing up as a competitive dancer and inspired by her single mother’s unrelenting work ethic, AJ began a career in the performing arts with the big dream of being on Broadway. After a decade of pounding pavement in Los Angeles and New York City, she won positions performing with Cirque du Soleil. AJ made her Broadway debut with “Mamma Mia!”, where she understudied nine tracks for four years of nightly performances.

In addition to her career in the performing arts, AJ worked as a personal trainer. She earned certifications from Precision Nutrition Coaching. She has also received more prestigious certifications such as Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist from the National Strength and Conditioning Association and Medical Exercise Specialist from the American Council on Exercise.

Her academic pursuits were non-traditional; she had to take a circuitous route to achieve her undergraduate and graduate degrees. Impressed by the roster of published professors, AJ chose American Public University to earn her exercise science degree, while continuing to serve her private clients and having her two children Ozzie and Jo.

AJ recognized the amazing therapeutic benefits of hypoxic training and voluntary breath training during her undergraduate research. This curiosity motivated her to pursue her master’s degree at APU.

AJ and University instructor Dr. Adrienne Herrenbruck have been approved for a research grant to examine the effects of hypoxic breathing during functional fitness training on body composition, strength, and basal metabolic rate. AJ also devotes a percentage of her weekly work hours to researching the benefits of hypoxic training, produced by both breathing techniques and at altitude, for the general population.

Wahidullah Mayar, Graduate, School of Security and Global Studies

Wahidullah Mayar is from Afghanistan, also known as “the land of beauty and conflict.” Prior to the collapse of the Afghan government and its takeover by the Taliban, he worked as a senior strategic communication advisor to the Health Secretary of Afghanistan and a spokesperson with the Afghan Ministry of Public Health in Afghanistan.

Wahidullah Mayar

Wahidullah possesses three master’s degrees. He has a master’s degree in strategic communication from the University of Ottawa, a MBA with a concentration in change leadership from the City University of Seattle and a master’s degree in national security studies from American Military University.

He is a medical doctor and trained journalist with more than 20 years of professional work experience. Wahidullah has worked with various international organizations and Afghan ministries, including CNN, Doctors without Borders, United Nations, the United States Embassy to Afghanistan, and the Afghan Ministry of Public Health.
As an Afghan living and navigating different political power shifts in the country, he perceives the shortage of professionals in the Afghan security field as one of the main problems causing Afghanistan’s internal unrest. Realizing the need for Afghan security professionals heightened his quest for pursuing his security studies at AMU.

Wahidullah feels that his education has equipped him with the required knowledge and leadership skills to make meaningful contributions towards advancing peace and security in his home country. His education has helped him to progress toward becoming an agent of change.

He graduated from AMU with a master’s degree in national security studies (capstone option) in April 2022. He has a 4.0 GPA and a concentration in security and intelligence analysis.

Angela Luckey, Graduate, School of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math

Angela Luckey graduated from APU in August of 2021. She holds a master’s degree in environmental policy and management with a focus in environmental planning and maintained a 4.0 GPA.

Angela Luckey

Angela is driven by the desire to make a difference in her community. She enjoys participating in the development of collaborative solutions to move toward a sustainable future that considers social well-being, environmental health, and economic success. 

Undertaking her master’s degree was the catalyst for many major changes in Angela’s life.  She volunteered with student chapters as the vice president of the National Association of Environmental Professionals (NAEP) and as the secretary of the Wildlife Society.

After graduating, Angela became the director of the Natural Neighbors Program with an environmental non-profit organization. Through this program, she encourages and educates property owners on how they can support biodiversity and create habitat for the native flora and fauna of Martha’s Vineyard. 

Angela found her time at the University to be an invaluable experience that empowered her to engage with colleagues and the general public. Some of her major accomplishments include serving on the West Tisbury Conservation Commission, the Mill Brook Watershed Committeeand the West Tisbury Community Preservation Committee. She is deeply honored to accept the Graduate Academic Scholar Award from the School of STEM.

Mary Kim Ward Resilience and Service Award

The Mary Kim Ward Resilience and Service Award honors the memory of Mary Kim Ward, a member of the University’s Board of Trustees. Established in 2020, this award is presented to a university student who demonstrates resilience, patience, and determination. The winner must make an impact on public service, social justice, and inclusion while completing a degree. This year, Philysha Beneby is the winner of this year’s Mary Kim Ward Resilience and Service Award.

Philysha Beneby

Philysha Carol Beneby is a Navy veteran, born and raised in West Palm Beach, Florida. In 2019, she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Maryland University College. In October 2021, she earned a master’s in psychology with a concentration in military and trauma from AMU.

Philysha Beneby

In the future, Philysha plans to earn a master’s degree in genetic counseling and a Ph.D. in epigenetics. During her time at the University, she was initiated into Pi Gamma Mu, the Society for Collegiate Leadership and Achievement, and the SALUTE National Veterans Honor Society.

In November 2021, she presented her thesis at the Pi Gamma Mu Triennial Convention and received a Top Ten award. Philysha is the co-chair, convention coordinator, and secretary of American Psychological Association (APA) Division 20 Special Interest Group Coping, Resilience, and Successful Aging. Her research goals involve epigenetics and intergenerational trauma among black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities. She focuses on gene inheritance and intersectionality as well as intergenerational trauma and its physical/mental relation to aging.

Philysha is the founder and chief executive of Beneby Enterprises, where she is a trauma recovery coach and diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) consultant. She is also a UN Generation Equality Commitment Maker. She collaborates with the Action Coalition on Feminist Movements and Leadership, the Action Coalition on Technology Innovation for Gender Equality, the Action Coalition Private Sector and Philanthropy, and the Action Coalition of Bodily Autonomy and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights.

Philysha has provided promotion, rebuilding, healing, and advocation services to the homeless of Palm Beach County, working with members of all age groups and backgrounds. She is a certified clinical trauma specialist in family and addiction.

In her free time, Philysha enjoys painting, tennis, theatre visits and, playing the piano. She also loves learning French, dancing, reading, gaming, hiking, swimming, volunteering, mentoring, traveling, wine tasting, cooking and picnicking with her fiancée.

Student Speaker Awards

The Student Speaker award is given to one undergraduate and one graduate student from each annual graduating class. The winners of this award are given the opportunity to address the graduating class at their respective commencement ceremonies.

This year, Ethan Grow is the undergraduate student speaker. Maria Clark is the graduate student speaker.

Ethan Grow

Ethan Grow graduated from AMU with a bachelor’s in information technology management and a GPA of 3.83. His degree was earned during years of active-duty service in the U.S. Navy.

Ethan Grow

Ethan’s first two years in the Navy were spent in service as a casket bearer with the ceremonial guard, where he developed his passion for leadership and the mentorship of his peers. As his career in IT and system administration developed, Ethan took on the challenge of completing a degree that would help to support his career after the military.

Ethan now lives in Florida with his wife and two children and works for the DOD as a systems technician. In the future, he plans to obtain project management certifications to advance his career. Ethan enjoys hiking with his family, adventure racing, weightlifting and surfing.

Alumni Service Award and Distinguished Graduate Award

The Alumni Service Award is commonly given to an exceptional alumnus or alumna who has rendered distinctive service to a community or to society. The Distinguished Graduate Award recognizes an exceptional alumnus or alumna who embodies the University’s mission through their personal and professional efforts.

Bryan Sodders is the winner of this year’s Alumni Service Award, and Lark Escobar is the winner of this year’s Distinguished Graduate Award.

Bryan Sodders

Bryan Sodders graduated from AMU with a bachelor’s in homeland security in 2017.  He is currently enrolled in a master’s program for management and an associate program for human relations. 

Bryan Sodders

Bryan has served in the Air Force since June 2003. He has served at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, Osan Air Base in South Korea and Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming. Bryan is currently stationed at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida and serves as a First Sergeant to the 592d Special Operations Maintenance Squadron.

He has been married to his best friend Santana for 14 years. They have four kids: Trey, Amya, Caiden and Makinley. As a family, they enjoy the outdoors and anything that enables them to spend quality time together. 

Lark Escobar

Lark Escobar graduated summa cum laude from AMU in February 2018. She holds a bachelor’s degree (her fourth degree) in Middle Eastern studies with a GPA of 3.98.  In one of her AMU courses, Sociology of Religion, she completed field studies that took her from the United Arab Emirates to Armenia and India. These field studies cemented her interest in genocide prevention, cultural memory, religious heritage, human rights, international law, terrorism studies, and human security in the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia, and South Asia.

Lark Escobar

Lark has taught in higher education environments in seven countries. During her career, she created and implemented an American English and Culture degree at the National Military Academy of Afghanistan where she was an academic, gender, and culture advisor. Lark has headed the English department for NATO headquarters and also designed and conducted university faculty professional development and secondary educator training throughout the Middle East. 

She earned a master’s in law and diplomacy at the Fletcher School at Tufts University (her 6th degree). During that degree program, she focused on international law, gender, comparative Islamic civilization and human security studies. 

Lark’s free time is invested in volunteering. She is active in a variety of volunteer capacities, ranging from serving as a DoD cultural liaison to curating open-source intelligence content and supporting medical aid in Ukraine as part of the Ukraine Non-Governmental Organization Network (UNCN). 

Her most notable work is her service as an Afghan evacuation coordinator in the non-combatant evacuation operation in the AfghanEvac/Digital Dunkirk movement. Her student and teacher volunteers have registered over 700 Afghan evacuees for DoD vetting in addition to providing safe houses, food, and medical aid to Afghan allies in hiding. That work has consumed over 4,800 hours in service of those allies and their families left behind in Afghanistan.

Janet Athanasiou is a Student and Alumni Affairs Liaison and has worked for the University since 2011, holding positions such as Academic Advisor, Senior Manager of Advising Schools, and Graduate Academic Advisor. Previously, she worked as a Residence Coordinator for the University of Alberta in Canada. Her academic credentials include a bachelor’s degree in history from Dalhousie University, a master of education degree in counseling psychology from James Madison University, and a Ph.D. in higher education from George Mason University.

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