Lauren VanCitters had an impressive collection of academic medals and stoles draped over her gown as she waited at the front of the line of College of Science students on May 14 for Commencement ceremonies to begin.
Her collection included a Westfall Scholar medal for earning the highest GPA in biology, one of her majors, along with a senior scholars award from her other major in biochemistry; a Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) medal for being a member of the first WiSE graduating class; a university Honors Program silver stole; a Circle K (Kiwanis) International golden stole for service and leadership; and finally, two cords, silver and blue, that were adorned with a tiny silver lacrosse stick and made by a fellow university lacrosse player to honor VanCitters, who helped start the women's lacrosse program four years ago.
Her highest honor, however, was yet to come.
University President Marc Johnson called VanCitters to the stage soon after the nearly 1,500 undergraduates settled into the long rows of white chairs assembled on the Quad, and there he presented her with the 2011 Herz Gold Medal, the university's oldest and most prestigious award. Brothers Richard, Carl and Otto Herz established the Herz Gold Medal in 1910 that is presented at each commencement ceremony to the graduating senior with the highest GPA. This was the 19th year in a row that the recipient of the award has graduated with a 4.00 GPA.
As an incoming freshman, VanCitters decided to join the WiSE program, a living-learning community of first-year female students interested in science and engineering. She credits the program for helping her make connections and learning good study habits.
"I thought it would be a good experience to get to know some girls who were interested in the same fields I'm interested in," she said. "Looking back, I think WiSE really got me acquainted with the university and I met a lot of people. We had to take a one-credit class each semester and we picked guest speakers to come talk about their professions, so I got to meet a lot of interesting people. I also heard some of my professors speak so I got learn more about them. The program also taught us good study habits like time management and that's been really helpful."
VanCitters is quick to credit two professors who were most influential: Chi-Yun Pai in biology and Sarah Cummings in chemistry.
The admiration is mutual.
"Lauren was one of a small group of students who inspired me as I developed as an instructor," Cummings said. "It has been my pleasure to get to know Lauren over the past four years and to watch her excel. Lauren is an outstanding student; she is motivated, mature and hard working. She displays a dynamic and friendly personality both in and out of the classroom and is a genuinely thoughtful individual."
When asked what advice she would share with other young women who are incoming freshmen, VanCitters said: "Manage your time wisely and get involved outside of school because it will make your experience so much better."
VanCitters spent much of her time outside the classroom on the campus recreation fields where she and four other friends founded the University's women's lacrosse team during her freshman year. She also helps coach the Galena High School lacrosse team, which she helped start three years ago at her alma mater.
VanCitters said she discovered her career passion, a blend of sports and science, while still in high school.
"I've been really lucky. I volunteered at Nevada Physical Therapy (in its sports medicine clinic on campus) in high school and I loved it," she said. "They offered me a job when I entered my freshman year. I have learned so much from everyone there and I hope to use what I've learned in my career."
VanCitters will continue to pursue her passion when she starts a three-year doctoral program in physical therapy in mid-June at University of California-San Francisco.