University honors 2020 Spring Senior Scholar recipients

University of Nevada, Reno and the Nevada Alumni Association recognize 11 graduates with top grade-point average

Morrill Hall on the University of Nevada, Reno campus.

University honors 2020 Spring Senior Scholar recipients

University of Nevada, Reno and the Nevada Alumni Association recognize 11 graduates with top grade-point average

Morrill Hall on the University of Nevada, Reno campus.

The University of Nevada, Reno and its Alumni Association are proud to recognize graduates with one of the most prestigious awards at the University – the Senior Scholar distinction. The top graduate from each school and college are honored along with the faculty mentor who has had the greatest impact on their scholastic success at Nevada. 

Edward R. Cruz

College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources
GPA: 4.0
Mentor: Ian Wallace 

Edward CruzEdward R. Cruz, Senior Scholar award winner from the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources chose to attend Nevada because it offered the best resources to help him “become an effective researcher and develop intellectually”. After graduation, he is going to continue pursuing his research interests at Princeton University as he works towards his Ph.D. in Molecular Biology with the aim to one day teach at the university level. 

When asked about his favorite college memory, Cruz shared “Recently, my closest friends organized a surprise birthday party for me, and that was by far my favorite college memory. They made me feel loved and appreciated, and it was a really fun night.” 

Why the University of Nevada, Reno?
It offered the best resources to help me become an effective researcher and develop intellectually. I was able to start research early in my freshman year and received many other opportunities for professional development and funding. 

Plans after graduation
I want to continue pursuing research, and I am excited to start my Ph.D. in molecular biology at Princeton University this coming fall! Eventually, I hope to teach at the university level. 

Katie M. Grinsell

Reynolds School of Journalism
GPA: 3.945
Mentor: Luke Sorensen 

Katie GrinsellKatie Grinsell, Senior Scholar award winner from Reynolds School of Journalism chose to attend Nevada because after graduating from Reno High School, she was undecided on what she wanted to study in college and did want to travel out of state. After taking her core classes and exploring different majors, she found the Reynolds School of Journalism and was happy that she chose Nevada. After graduation, she plans on transitioning into a full-time position with her current employer and continuing to sharpen her video editing and production skill set. 

When asked about a favorite college memory, Katie shares, “All the days of video production with my classmates, both as a class and in smaller groups. Even though many of the days were often grueling and long, they're definitely the most memorable days and where I gained most of my friendships throughout college. I really enjoyed the process of creation with my peers.” 

Why the University?
I chose to attend the University of Nevada, Reno because after graduating from Reno High School, I still didn’t have a clear path of what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to go to an expensive out-of-state school without first knowing what path I was going to take. After getting all my core classes out of the way and exploring different majors and then finally finding the Reynolds School of Journalism, I knew I was happy I had stayed and gone to Nevada because it has led me to where I am now. 

Plans after graduation:
I currently work part-time at a video production company called Three Sticks Productions. After graduation, I plan on transitioning to full-time with them and improving my skills in video editing and production with my team there. 

Janna M. Ishikawa

School of Medicine, Speech Pathology & Audiology
GPA: 3.937
Mentor: Laura Archer

 Janna IshikawaJanna Ishikawa, Senior Scholar award winner from the School of Medicine, Speech Pathology & Audiology chose to attend Nevada because she didn’t want to travel too far from home but she also wanted to attend a school that offered Speech Pathology as a major. After researching the University, she learned about Reno’s beauty and found out that Nevada offered everything she was looking for in a college. After graduation, Janna will be attending the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine where she will be pursuing a Master’s degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders. 

When asked about a favorite college memory, Janna shares, “Living in the residence halls during the summer before my senior year of college. Prior to that, I hadn't lived in the dorms since my Freshman year. I forgot about the fun of living with so many different people and being able to hang out with my friends whenever I wanted to. I had the opportunity to explore Reno, meet new people, and make new friends all while having fun.” 

Why the University of Nevada, Reno?
I didn’t want to travel too far from home but I also wanted to attend a school that offered Speech Pathology as a major. When I heard about the University of Nevada, Reno from a friend who visited Reno often, I was interested in applying. I did some research and found that Reno is such a beautiful city and the University offered me everything I was looking for in a college. Once I decided to apply, I was set on this school. 

Plans after graduation:
After graduation, I will be attending the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine where I will be pursuing a master’s degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders. I am excited to return home and continue my path to being a speech-language pathologist! 

Natashja K. Atherton

College of Liberal Arts
GPA: 4.0
Mentor: Jason Fisette 

Natashja AthertonNatashja K. Atherton, Senior Scholar award winner from the College of Liberal Arts chose to attend Nevada because it has the clubs, education, commitment to student success and financial support she was looking for not to mention, she’s always had Wolf Pack pride so it was the perfect choice! After graduation, she is planning to work as a legal assistant at a criminal defense firm while she studies for the LSAT and applies to law school. 

When asked to share her favorite college memory, Atherton shared “My favorite college memory is when I traveled to Arizona to compete with my mock trial team in the Regionals 2017 competition. The laughs and stories shared among my teammates have stuck with me to this day and pushed our team forward to win multiple awards over the seasons. I was named Best Attorney as a freshman with no experience in competitive mock trial. In that moment, I understood my calling. …Nevada Mock Trial has been the best part of my college experience.” 

Why the University?
I was raised in Reno, so I grew up around the Wolf Pack spirit. Nevada was the perfect choice for me, because it offered the clubs, education, and commitment to student success that I was looking for, was the smartest financial choice, is in an amazing location, and allowed me to stay close to family. 

Plans after graduation:
After graduation, I will be working as a legal assistant at a criminal defense firm while I study for the LSAT and apply to law school. I intend to travel to observe otherh criminal justice systems and explore different cultures. I will then attend a law school in California, Colorado, or Washington to ultimately become a prosecutor or public defender. 

Guglielmo G. Panelli

College of Science
GPA: 4.0
Mentor: Andrei Derevianko 

Guglielmo PanelliGuglielmo G. Panelli, Senior Scholar award winner from the College of Science chose to attend Nevada because of its ideal location, financial aid, and research classification. After graduation, he is planning on training new undergraduate students to take over his research projects, training new Senior Editors for the Nevada State Undergraduate Research Journal, and in the fall, preparing for his next academic venture at Stanford University where he will be working towards his Ph.D. in Physics. 

When asked what his favorite college memory was, Panelli had trouble picking just one memory, he’s enjoyed so many small moments throughout his time at Nevada! Some of his favorite memories include his first drive up to Tahoe, hot summer nights spent at Food Truck Friday, evenings spent in his apartment with close friends enjoying each other’s company, trips to national labs and conferences, and winning the KC trivia night. He shared, “I guess I have no individual favorite – just the entangled collection of memories that initiate a feeling as indescribable as the pinkish-red Reno sunsets every time I reflect on my life at this institution and in this city.” 

Why the University of Nevada, Reno?
I grew up in Las Vegas and knew I didn’t want to stay there for college. Reno was the perfect refuge for me with Lake Tahoe in its backyard and an attractive in-state tuition price tag. A small yet incredibly active Department of Physics was the last element of convincing I needed to choose the University of Nevada, Reno as my home for four years. This choice turned out to have a much higher return on investment than I could have ever imagined. 

Plans after graduation:
I will spend much of my summer continuing many of my research pursuits and completing other projects like creating video lectures for introductory physics courses and assisting in making changes to physics labs. In the fall, I will be saying good-bye to my mentors, colleagues, and friends at the University to begin my Ph.D. studies and research at Stanford University. 

Derek D. Stratton

College of Engineering
GPA: 4.0
Mentor: Emily Hand 

Derek StrattonDerek D. Stratton, Senior Scholar award winner from the College of Engineering chose to attend Nevada because it afforded him the opportunity to stay in his home state, study in a strong computer science program and receive the financial support he was looking for. After graduation, he plans to continue his studies at Nevada and earn his Ph.D. in Computer Science and Engineering.

When asked about his favorite college memory, he shared “One of my favorite memories during my time in college was traveling to Honolulu with my closest friends during my junior year. It was a fantastic experience and it brought us all closer together.” 

Why the University of Nevada, Reno?
For a Nevadan, born and raised in Las Vegas, University of Nevada, Reno offered an excellent combination of a great computer science education, student resources and financial support, and the college experience of living on my own. 

Plans after graduation:
I plan to pursue a Ph.D. in computer science and engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno under the mentorship of Dr. Emily Hand. My goal is to expand my knowledge of machine learning so I can create ideas and technologies in that domain that that can positively influence peoples’ lives. 

Briana Esquivel

College of Education
GPA: 4.0
Mentor: Alicia Shaw

Briana EsquivelBriana Esquivel, Senior Scholar award winner from the College of Education chose to attend Nevada because she was looking for a campus that felt like a small connected community with access to resources and new opportunities from which to grow. After graduation, she is hoping to teach in an elementary school in the district. 

When asked about her favorite college memory, Esquivel shared “My favorite college memories were the late nights I spent at the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, working on group projects. While group projects are arduous, it was during these nights that I met the people I consider my lifelong friends. Through countless cups of caffeine, we were able to not only compose some of our best work, but we were able to laugh about life and create friendships out of mutual interests.” 

Why the University of Nevada, Reno?
I wanted to continue to grow and work in this community. I grew up in Sparks, Nevada, and wanted to attend a college that would offer me the feeling and connectedness that I felt while growing up in Sparks. At the University of Nevada, Reno, I knew that I would be afforded the comforts of a small community feeling while still having access to countless resources and new opportunities for learning. 

Plans after graduation:
Everything is a bit up in the air at the moment with shutdowns and virtual learning, but in my ideal scenario, I would begin teaching this upcoming fall at an elementary school in the district. I hope to teach anywhere from 1st through 5th grade but am up for any challenge. 

Nayeli Villalobos Rodriguez

The College of Business
GPA: 4.0
Mentor: Dana Edberg 

Nayeli Villalobos RodriguezNayeli Villalobos Rodriguez, Senior Scholar award winner from the College of Business chose to attend Nevada because of its dedication to providing a great academic experience for students, as well as its bright and lively campus community. After graduation, Nayeli hopes to enter the workforce to gain professional experience in the field of Information Systems before eventually pursuing a master’s degree. 

When asked about a favorite college memory, Nayeli shared, “[On] a fall afternoon, when the tree leaves had reached their peak autumn color, my friends and I walked around campus to admire the beautiful scenery… I simply realized what a wonderful feeling it would be to come back the following fall as part of the alumni family of the University of Nevada, Reno.” 

Why the University of Nevada, Reno?
When I toured the University of Nevada, Reno one spring day, I quickly realized I wanted to become part of the bright and lively community on campus. Ultimately, I knew the University of Nevada, Reno, would offer me the opportunity for personal and professional growth. 

Plans after graduation:
Following graduation, my plans are to gain experience in the field of Information Systems. I plan to apply what I have learned and gained more knowledge in a professional organization to then pursue my master’s degree related to Information Systems. 

Brooke Z. Eriksen

School of Community Health Sciences
GPA: 4.0
Mentor: Nora Constantino 

Brooke EriksenBrooke Eriksen, Senior Scholar award winner from the School of Community Health Sciences chose to attend Nevada because Reno is her home and it was the best option for her financially, as she was a National Merit Scholarship recipient. After graduation, Brooke plans to become a certified yoga instructor and physical therapy technician, while eventually planning to continue her education in either the field of Public Health or Evolutionary Biology. 

When asked about a favorite college memory, Brooke shared, “Sitting out on the Quad on a spring day with the sun shining and studying or eating lunch. It's the simple moments like those that I think I will look back on most fondly.” 

Why the University of Nevada, Reno?
I chose to attend UNR because Reno is my home, and it was the best option for me financially since I received the National Merit scholarship. I also love the campus and the facilities at the University. 

Plans after graduation:
I plan to become a certified yoga instructor and Physical Therapy technician. Eventually, I would like to continue my education in either public health or evolutionary biology. 

Emily L. Morgan

School of Social Work
GPA: 3.911
Mentor: Colleen Tuttle 

Emily MorganEmily Morgan, Senior Scholar award winner from the School of Social Work chose to attend Nevada because she moved here from a small town in Wyoming to attend college with her boyfriend (they are now engaged!) and to experience a bigger city than her hometown. After graduation, Emily hopes to find a job working in the field of Child Welfare as an assessment worker and she will also be getting married in June. 

When asked about a favorite college memory, Emily shared, “Being able to meet my great friend Brooke! Taking time away from school and work to hang out with a friend is so important...especially when all of your friends and family are back in Wyoming.” 

Why the University?
I moved to Reno from a small town in Wyoming to be with a boy (yes we are still together and now engaged)! I had plans to attend college right after high school and the University of Nevada, Reno just fell into place. It’s been good to have this experience in a big city versus where I was raised. 

Plans after graduation:
After graduation, I will be getting married in June. I also hope to get a job with child welfare as an assessment worker shortly after. 

Sarah K. Belheir

Orvis School of Nursing
GPA: 3.963
Mentor: Val Wedler 

Sarah BeleirSarah K. Belheir, Senior Scholar award winner from the Orvis School of Nursing chose to attend Nevada because it wasn’t too far from home offering in-state tuition and a new city to experience. After graduation, she plans to move back to Las Vegas where she will start her graduate residency and eventually become an oncology nurse, earn her Ph.D. and work as a research nurse and professor. 

When asked to share her favorite memory, Belheir shared, “My favorite memory from college would be when I first found out I had been accepted into Orvis! At the time I was just casually walking through campus and stumbled on the email while trying to change the song I was listening to on my phone. That day was filled with so much joy and it was wonderful to share that with my friends and family.” 

Why the University?
After graduating from high school, I knew I wanted the typical college experience but still wanted to stay close to home. The University of Nevada, Reno was the perfect choice for me since it was still in-state but was a fresh new city for me to experience. 

Plans after graduation:
After graduation, I am moving back to Las Vegas and starting a new grad residency! I plan to become an oncology nurse and continue on to earn my Ph.D. Ultimately, I hope to become a research nurse and a nursing professor! I hope to inspire other nurses as the professors at Orvis have inspired me.

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