Written by Gabrielle Little
Willimantic, CT - Eastern Connecticut State University students Kathryn Harner, an English major from Oxford, and Brittney Cava, a political science major from Torrington, were honored at the 24th Annual Henry Barnard Distinguished Student Award Dinner on April 23 at the Aqua Turf Club in Southington.
Harner and Cava were two of 12 state university students to win the award; each was nominated by their respective universities. The award is named for the first U.S. Commissioner of Education, Henry Barnard, a distinguished Connecticut educator who was the state's first superintendent of schools and principal of what later became Central Connecticut State University. A $500 award comes with the honor.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy delivered the keynote address. Malloy applauded the accomplishments of the 12 Barnard winners, calling them "exceptional people" who he said he hopes will stay in Connecticut and "contribute mightily to the economic growth and development of the state. Your own personal success guarantees you unlimited potential to affect the lives of many people around you. I implore you to find a job that makes you happy, and use your brainpower to invest in other people's success to move your community forward."
"Brittney was very engaged on campus in multiple clubs, including People Helping People," said Eastern President Elsa Nunez. "She played a key role in conducting research with Dr. Nicole Krassas that deconstructed race and gender in the 2008 primaries, and was very dedicated to improving the Eastern and Willimantic community." The president said Cava and Harner are best friends who work together as members of numerous student clubs.
"Brittney and Kate have strong GPAs that reflect their hard work. If you look at their transcripts, you see they both took rigorous courses. Like Brittney, Kate also engaged inchallenging research in a business writing class on historical homes in Scotland, CT. Kate's research will benefit local history tremendously."
Harner earned a 4.0 GPA and has been on the Dean's List every semester while studying at Eastern. She has served as president of the student volunteer group People Helping People, and as co-coordinator of Eastern's Fifth Annual "Day of Giving" Thanksgiving meal and food drive.
Harner participated in two international field experiences with trips to Florence, Italy, and Dublin, Ireland, as part of study abroad courses offered in the summer months. She also served in numerous volunteer service capacities both on and off campus, including as a peer mentor for the First-Year Program and as a volunteer for Joshua's Trust, an organization that works to preserve more than 4,000 acres in northeast Connecticut. Harner also gained extensive research and pre-professional experience through several internships, projects and an on-campus job in the Office of University Relations.
English Professor Miriam Chirico, who hand-selected Harner to be an intern and a peer mentor in several of her courses, said, "Kate has the rare combination of intelligence, lively curiosity, and enthusiasm for a variety of projects, and has the respect of her peers to boot." Dwight Bachman, Eastern's public relations officer who served as Harner's supervisor in the Office of University Relations, concurred. "Kate is mature beyond her age. She is an exceptional, caring human being with excellent people skills, smooth writing skills, ethical standards and a wonderful sense of humor."
Cava completed the majority of her academic studies in just three years, while maintaining an impressive 3.85 GPA. While finishing up her last remaining degree requirements this year, she is working full time as an AmeriCorps VISTA member in Eastern's Center for Community Engagement (CCE). In her position with the CCE, Cava has coordinated more than 200 Eastern volunteers each semester who contribute more than 2,000 hours of service at 20 different locations in and around Willimantic.
According to Kim Silcox, CCE director, the VISTA position has only been offered in the past to college graduates. However, because of Cava's demonstrated commitment to the community and her tireless advocacy for social justice, an exception was made to offer her the post. "Brittney has been a creative, inspirational leader who listens carefully to the needs of the community as well as the interests of the students and carefully constructs meaningful relationships to address the challenges," said Silcox.
William Salka, chairperson of the Political Science Department, agreed. "Brittney is thoughtful, kind, well-organized and uniquely committed to public service. Her classroom achievements, in many ways, speak for themselves. While taking a competitive course load, Brittney has displayed commitment, reliability and productivity...which can be traced back to her first semester here."
Cava spent a summer in Washington, D.C., at Georgetown University's prestigious Institute on Philanthropy and Volunteerism, where she took three courses; interned full-time at the Student Conservation Association in Arlington, VA; and participated in numerous site visits and professional development workshops. In addition, she was chosen by Political Science Professor Nicole Krassas to participate on a research project about the roles that race and gender played in the media during the 2008 presidential primaries. A preliminary draft of the paper was presented by Cava and Krassas at the New England Political Science Association meeting this past year.
Cava plans to continue her commitment to community service in graduate school at the University of Vermont this fall, where she will pursue a master's degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration, with the ultimate goal of landing a job as a community engagement director at a university.
CL&P and Yankee Gas; Otis Elevator Company; People's United Bank; Fusco; MetroHartford Alliance; and Dr. and Mrs. William Cibes Jr. were the major sponsors for this year's Henry Barnard Distinguished Student Awards Banquet.