Outstanding Graduates Will Be Honored for Service, Academics and Perseverance
Seven undergraduates will be recognized with four university-wide awards for their service to the community, academic accomplishments and perseverance.
Seven graduating University of Arizona seniors will be honored for their extraordinary accomplishments during a series of graduation ceremonies to celebrate the class of 2021.
This year's smaller in-person ceremonies are split by programs, and graduates were able to invite up to four guests. The events begin on May 10 in Phoenix, where the College of Medicine – Phoenix will hold its ceremony on the Phoenix Biomedical Campus. Additional celebrations will take place May 11-18, with main campus ceremonies being held at Arizona Stadium and the Cole and Jeannie Davis Sports Center. All ceremonies will be streamed live on the Commencement website and University of Arizona YouTube page.
A full schedule and more information, including COVID-19 guidelines and requirements for students, are available on the Commencement website.
Nominated by faculty and peers, this year's seven student award winners were selected based on their integrity, notable achievements and positive contributions to their families and communities.
The Provost Award goes to an outstanding graduating student who transferred to the university from an Arizona community college. Criteria for the award include perseverance and commitment to academic studies, contributions to the university community, and above-average scholastic ability, citizenship and leadership.
Enrique Alan Olivares-Pelayo is a writer, poet, activist and public speaker determined to reduce the size and scope of the criminal punishment system. In addition to his studies, Olivares-Pelayo is the lead organizer for the ReFraming Justice project at American Friends Service Committee – Arizona, where he dedicates himself to advocacy through the empowerment and elevation of voices from marginalized communities.
Olivares-Pelayo is graduating summa cum laude with dual Bachelor of Arts degrees in English and creative writing. He also has completed the Professional and Technical Writing Certificate. Olivares-Pelayo is a recipient of the Elaine A. Bychinsky Promising Writer Award, the Emma Lou Fielder Scholarship in Literature, the Richard Garcia Memorial Scholarship, the Richard Kissling Spirit of Inquiry Endowed Scholarship and the Maya Smith-Dolana Memorial Award in Creative Writing. A member of both the Honors College and the English Honors Program, Olivares-Pelayo's honors thesis is a work of creative nonfiction that draws from his own life and grapples with the themes of addiction, incarceration and identity.
Olivares-Pelayo's experiences surviving addiction, and the four years he spent as a prisoner in the Arizona Department of Corrections, inform his research interests. As a scholar in the Ronald E. McNair Achievement Program, Olivares-Pelayo focused his research on qualitative methods to explore race inside Arizona's prisons. His work as a McNair Scholar culminated with the journal article "Carceral Geographies from Inside Prison Gates: The Micro-Politics of Everyday Racialization,'' which he co-authored with assistant professor Stefano Bloch of the School of Geography, Development and Environment. The article was published in Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography.
After graduation, Olivares-Pelayo will pursue graduate studies in the university's Accelerated Master of Arts in English program while remaining a committed advocate for restorative justice and community safety.
Robie Gold Medal
The Robie Gold Medal honors those who demonstrate personal integrity, initiative, cooperation, enthusiasm, willingness to give more than required, and a love of God and country.
Precious Craig is graduating magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in public health, with an emphasis in health promotion, and a minor in biochemistry. At the age of 3 she migrated from Lagos, Nigeria, to Phoenix. As a first-generation Nigerian immigrant, Craig has always valued the importance of education and is dedicated to serving others and giving back to her community.
During her time at UArizona, Craig served as a desk assistant at THINK TANK and as vice president of the Pre-Pharmacy Club. Additionally, she completed over 1,200 hours of community service as a youth academic specialist for Goodwill Metro. She worked closely with the METRO Goodwill Youth Program, which serves youth and young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not in school or working. She also acted as a youth liaison for an applied practice research study called Project Slate. The aim of the study was to create stable lines of communication between youth and adults. Her undergraduate honors thesis is on opportunity youth and the influence of socioeconomic status. Craig served as a preceptor in the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and has worked at the UArizona COVID-19 vaccine point of distribution as a pharmacy technician and dispensing runner, assisting in the preparation and distribution of vaccine. Additionally, she is a member of the United Way of Southern Arizona Youth Leadership Council, where she works on youth advocacy projects.
Craig found her passion through forming mentorships and serving as a role model to fellow students pursuing higher education. She has been honored with several awards, including the Wildcat Excellence Award, a NAACP Tucson Scholarship, Dean's List, Laura and Arch Brown Scholarship, Richard Garcia Memorial Scholarship, and Victoria Foundation/George Dean Scholarship.
After graduation, Craig will pursue a doctorate in pharmacy at UArizona.
Brennen Feder is a third-generation graduate of UArizona. The Honors College student is graduating with a Bachelor of Science in literacy, learning and leadership from the College of Education and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in management and entrepreneurship from the Eller College of Management.
Amplifying student voices and evoking positive change have been the foundation of Feder's involvement on campus. With aspirations of becoming a university president, Feder has been a member of several University of Arizona committees, including the Student Service Fee Advisory Board; the University General Education Committee; the Student Affairs and Policy Committee; the Eller Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee; and the Undergraduate Council. In addition, Feder founded the College of Education Dean's Undergraduate Advisory Board and the Eller LGBTQ+ Advisory Board.
Feder has served in a variety of leadership roles at the university. Those roles include president of Delta Sigma Pi Professional Business Fraternity, president of SOPHOS Sophomore Honorary and president of the Likins Hall Council. Additionally, Feder conducted research in Jonathan Tullis' Cognition and Memory in Education and Learning Lab in the College of Education and volunteered with Saving Animals from Euthanasia animal rescue.
Feder received the 2021 National Collegian of the Year award from the Delta Sigma Pi Professional Business Fraternity, selected out of the 13,000-plus members to represent the collegiate voice on the board of directors. He also received the Outstanding Student Organization President Award, earned the Highest Academic Distinction award and was one of Eller's 2020 Outstanding Scholars of the Year.
Following graduation, Feder will join Procter & Gamble as a growth analyst on the Amazon account team. He also will serve on the national board of directors of Delta Sigma Pi Professional Business Fraternity and will finish his term on the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation Alumni Advisory Board.
Robert Logan Nugent Award
The Robert Logan Nugent Award goes to students who display a record of accomplishments that exemplifies the high ideals of Robert Logan Nugent, a former University of Arizona executive vice president.
Alyssa Jean Peterson will graduate magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in molecular and cellular biology and a Bachelor of Arts in biochemistry and religious studies.
In 2016, Peterson had the opportunity to serve the community of Rusinga, Kenya. The experience piqued her interest in mosquito vector disease research. Following her return, Peterson applied to Roger Miesfeld's lab in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, where researcher Jun Isoe mentored, taught and supported her as she pursued her passion for science and interest in mosquito research. Together they authored a research paper, "Characterization of Essential Eggshell Proteins from Aedes aegypti mosquitoes," which was published on the biological sciences preprint repository bioRxiv.
A love of cultures moved Peterson to add a religious studies major in 2020. She aspires to help people live healthier lives by combining cultural understanding with groundbreaking scientific discoveries to be the best public health professional possible.
Peterson is involved in several campus leadership positions, including serving as president of the Molecular and Cellular Biology Club, vice president of Women in Medicine and Science, College of Science health ambassador, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry ambassador, peer mentor and a member at the COVID Ambassadors Team, which operates a hotline to provide public health information and assistance. She was awarded the Microscopy Society of America Undergraduate Research Scholarship in 2020 and an American Chemical Society Hach Land-Grant Scholarship. She was recognized as Biochemistry Student of the Month in September 2019 and August 2020, and received a Fred and Barbara Borga Award, which supports outstanding undergraduate students who are majoring in religious studies with a concentration in religious studies for health professionals.
After graduation, Peterson will take a gap year. She then plans to pursue a doctorate in infectious disease research and work on bringing vaccines, interventions and health education to underserved communities around the world.
Akshay Nathan is graduating magna cum laude from the Honors College with a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry. Nathan was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, by immigrant parents from India, who aspired to help their children achieve the American dream. Nathan hopes to rise to their parent's hopes and desires.
Nathan has been a member of the Mobile Medicats since their freshman year of college and later became director of volunteering, vice president, then president of the club, which provides basic medical care and health education to people experiencing homelessness. Additionally, Nathan volunteers at Z Mansion, providing medical care and support to medically underserved populations.
Nathan conducts public health research under Purnima Madhivanan at the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and is interested in health disparities in underserved populations living in the slums of India. Nathan also spent a summer studying bacteria metabolism under Sujata Chaudhari at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Nathan has been a research and education intern with the UA Debate Series, which facilitates internal and external debate events, since the program's inception. Nathan has also participated in the inaugural Regents Cup, earning a scholarship, and was nominated for the Chemistry and Biochemistry Outstanding Senior Award. Additional honors include the Wildcat Excellence Award and an International Baccalaureate scholarship.
Nathan is planning to pursue a master's degree in public health at Boston University, with certificates in human rights and social justice as well as sex, sexuality and gender. Nathan then plans to attend medical school and eventually pursue a career in psychiatry.
Merrill P. Freeman Medal
The Merrill P. Freeman Medal is named in honor of Merrill Freeman, who served the University of Arizona as a regent and chancellor. Qualifications for the award include outstanding character.
Nikita Ganesh is a first-generation Indian American student originally from Phoenix. Ganesh spent most of her formative education years outside the United States. At age 12, she moved to Bangalore, India. From there, she relocated to Hong Kong and later Shanghai. After graduating from Shanghai American School, she chose to return home and attend the University of Arizona.
Ganesh is graduating with degrees in psychological science and Chinese. Although she never expected to play a collegiate sport, Ganesh has been a starting player on the UArizona women's rugby team since her freshman year and has served as the team's vice president for the past two years. She takes comfort in knowing she has created a pathway for women – regardless of shape and size – to be a part of a sport made for everyone. Ganesh was involved with SOPHOS Sophomore Honorary and Links Junior Honorary. She is also a part of Alpha Kappa Psi and has was crowned Homecoming queen this year.
Interning at an immigration law firm her junior year solidified Ganesh's desire to pursue a legal career. Through her honors thesis on reporting attitudes with respect to Title IX changes, Ganesh has been able to put her passion for the legal field into action as an undergraduate. She looks forward to dedicating her professional career to ensuring equal access to justice.
After graduation, Ganesh will pursue a law degree at the University of Pennsylvania with a Dean's Fellow scholarship.
Daniel Robert Wieland is graduating summa cum laude from the Honors College with a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry, molecular and cellular biology, and biomedical engineering with a minor in math. Born and raised in Tucson, Wieland was interested in medicine and research from an early age after witnessing the debilitating effects of disease on friends and family.
As a freshman, Wieland joined Jacob Schwartz's lab in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, researching proteins responsible for diseases such as ALS and Ewing sarcoma, a pediatric bone cancer. He has two manuscripts in progress. For his work, he has received a Barry Goldwater Scholarship and a Galileo Circle Scholarship, as well as an Excellence in the Biological Sciences Award. Additionally, he conducted epidemiological research with Dr. Chien-Hsiang Weng of Brown University, with whom Wieland has two co-first author publications and is currently writing another. Under Dennis Discher, he conducted virtual bioinformatics cancer research at the University of Pennsylvania.
Wieland serves as president of the University of Arizona chapter of HOSA, formerly called the Health Occupations Students of America, and as an officer of the Arizona Global Health Project, which sets up biannual temporary free clinics in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico. He volunteered in the emergency room at Banner – University Medical Center Tucson, recruiting patients for clinical trials. For his senior design project, he worked on a way to visualize sequencing data to diagnose secondary infections in intubated COVID-19 patients. As a chemistry and biochemistry ambassador and mentor, he helped first-year students transition into college and assisted the department in its events. As an undergraduate biology research ambassador, he assisted others in applying for research opportunities on campus. He was awarded the Biochemistry Outstanding Student Award for his respective class each year.
Upon graduation, Wieland plans to enroll in a dual M.D.-Ph.D. program with the goal of treating patients both at the bedside and through the lab.
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