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Natural Sciences Students Sweep Outstanding Student Awards

Natural Sciences Students Sweep Outstanding Student Awards

Each year, Texas Parents honors a male and female Outstanding Student recipient and four Outstanding Student finalists who demonstrate exceptional leadership, scholarship, character and service. This year, all six are pursuing majors in the College of Natural Sciences, including the two award winners, Colton Becker and Jacqueline Gibson.

Colton, Jacqueline, and the other finalists also have been receiving attention from around campus for their contributions in their time on campus. Here we introduce you to six exceptional seniors – among many worth highlighting as the Class of 2019 prepares to cross the graduation station.

Outstanding Student Award Recipients

Colton Becker. Original portrait: Texas Exes/Matt Wright-Steel

Colton Becker

Major: Advanced Nutritional Sciences

Hometown: Alvin, Texas

Colton Becker says the values he learned growing up in a small Texas town have influenced how he leads the UT Austin student body as Student Government president.

"UT has been the biggest engine for change in my life," he says. "That's why I want to make UT a better place and pay it forward."

In addition to Student Government, Becker championed sexual violence prevention with Not On My Campus, and his roles in the Phi Delta Theta fraternity and Interfraternity Council. He shaped student programming through the Student Endowed Centennial Lectureship and by serving on the University Unions Board of Directors. He applied his academic degree to a role in the Wellness Network and also volunteers with Kids in a New Groove, Dell Children's Hospital and the Be Positive Foundation.

Other Awards: He also received a 2019 President's Leadership Award and a CNS Distinction in Service & Leadership.

After-Graduation Plans: Becker plans to pursue law or medical school so he can continue serving others. He is also considering a future in politics.

"I want to help people and feel like I'm contributing to society," he says. "I'm driven to make my parents and the people who've invested in me proud."

Jacqueline Gibson. Photo by Vivian Abagiu

Jacqueline Gibson

Majors: Computer Science, African and African Diaspora Studies

Hometown: Cedar Hill, Texas

If Jacqueline Gibson does not have a seat at the table, she says she'll "bring a folding chair." With that spirit, she helps give all students a voice through Senate of College Councils and the President's Student Advisory Committee.

"My desire to make the world a better place is what motivates me daily, a passion inspired by my parents, nurtured throughout grade school and now lived out across the Forty Acres," she said.

Gibson, a Forty Acres Scholar, sees her on-campus activities and volunteer roles as avenues to apply her computer science and African and African Diaspora studies research. Gibson has influenced campus life through the Student Endowed Centennial Lectureship and the Association of Black Computer Scientists. She supported the academic pursuits of others as a teaching assistant in the School of Undergraduate Studies. Gibson also volunteers with Changing Expectations, the National Center for Women in Information Technology and SAG3. Her ambitious leadership was also recognized early in her UT Austin career with invitations to the prestigious Texas Orange Jackets and Friar Society.

Other Awards: Gibson won a 2018 President's Leadership Award and a 2019 Dean's Choice Aspire Award. She is also a Dean's Honored Graduate, receiving CNS Distinctions in Service & Leadership and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.

After-Graduation Plans: Gibson will work as a software engineer at Microsoft. She'll create website accessibility tools to fulfill her dream of using technology to create a more equitable world.

Outstanding Student Finalists

Janelle Chavez. Photo credit: University of Texas at Austin.

Janelle Chavez

Major: Biology

Hometown: Port Isabel, Texas

Janelle Chavez grew up in a small coastal community near the southern tip of Texas. Living with her four grandparents in Port Isabel, Texas, she saw them struggle with broken bones, heart disease and cancer. Those emotional experiences inspired Janelle. "I knew I wanted to be a physician."

Recently featured in the university's "Changing Your World" series highlighting Texas students who make a difference, Janelle has worked at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Harvard Medical School, McGovern Medical School, the Texas Children's and Memorial Hermann Hospital, and UT Dell Medical School. All along her journey, she says, "I've seen patients who remind me of my grandparents."

A Forty Acres Scholar, Chavez has participated in Texas Orange Jackets, Student Government, Global Medical Training, Global Surgery Student Alliance and the Hispanic Honors Student Association. She also volunteered at The Settlement Home for Children and served as a health policy intern at the Texas State Capitol.

"Before coming to UT Austin, I had never had the opportunity to engage in laboratory research. Through scholarship, leadership, character and service, I hope that I have contributed to my Longhorn community, leaving an impact for years to come."

Other Awards: Janelle won a prestigious 2019 Knight Henessy Scholar award, a 2017 Leadership and Service Aspire Award, a CNS Distinction in Service & Leadership and she is a Dean's Honored Graduate.

After-Graduation Plans: Chavez will attend Stanford Medical School.

Kamil Ali. Photo by Vivian Abagiu

Kamil Ali

Major: Computer Science

Hometown: Houston, Texas

Kamil Ali has been involved in research at UT Austin since his first year, when he was part of the Freshman Research Initiative. Since then, he has been an undergraduate researcher for several labs, including the Biomedical Informatics Lab and the UT Deep Learning Group.

Ali was the Vice President of Technology at the Longhorn Entrepreneurship Agency, and he co-founded Vinterv, an online video interviewing platform. He also volunteered with Kids Who Code and was a member of The Ismaili Student Association.

"The sense of responsibility my mother instilled in me at an early age became the foundation for my actions and enforced my appreciation for the education I received," he says. "I believe that the award attests to the impact I have left behind through leveraging my education to better my community and people within it."

Other Awards: Ali was selected as a Dean's Honored Graduate, and he is receiving Distinctions in Service & Leadership and in Entrepreneurship.

After-Graduation Plans: After graduation, Ali will attend Stanford University for a Master's in Computer Science with a concentration in Artificial Intelligence.

Kelsey Mumford. Photo credit: University of Texas at Austin.

Kelsey Mumford

Majors: Biology, Nursing

Hometown: Lago Vista, Texas

Kelsey Mumford, a Forty Acres Scholar, has found her calling in health care policy. "I've always been interested in it," she says, "and seeing how I can use my career to help others."

In her first year on campus, she got involved with Student Government as the School of Nursing representative.

In 2017 Mumford received a grant at a student policy summit in Washington, D.C., designed to immerse student nurses in the federal policy process, for her proposal to create an advocacy campaign on campus surrounding a bill in the Texas Legislature that called for an opt-out organ donation policy. It garnered more than 1,000 UT students' responses in a show of support that led to her testifying at a committee hearing at the Capitol. Kelsey was featured in the University's 2019 "Changing Your World" series about students who are making a difference.

"I'm really passionate about getting students involved in changing policies," she says. "Whether you're a biology major or international relations, get involved. You have common issues, commons goals — have a voice out there as a young professional."

Mumford was also a Texas Coed Cheerleader, part of the Dell Medical School Health Leadership Apprentice Program and Dell Medical School Design Institute for Health.

Other Awards: Mumford was also selected for a 2019 President's Leadership Award and a CNS Distinction in Service & Leadership.

After-Graduation Plans: Mumford is moving to Washington D.C. to work as a post-baccalaureate researcher at the National Institutes of Health. She is pursuing a career in health policy at the national level and hopes her research has a direct impact on policy and alleviates health disparities.

Benjamin Solder. Photo by Vivian Abagiu

Benjamin Solder

Major: Neuroscience

Hometown: Kerrville, Texas

Benjamin Solder is in the Polymathic Honors Program, which gives students the chance to design their own field of study, culminating in a Capstone Thesis. Solder's chosen field is "Teaching Emotional Intelligence," for which he researched mindfulness, compassion, and positive psychology in educational settings.

He was also a resident assistant, a lifeguard and swim instructor at UT RecSports, and a summer research fellow at The University at Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Additionally, Solder has participated in Student Government, including the Natural Sciences Council, been to Nicaragua, Panama and Guatemala with the Global Medical Brigades and volunteered at Vista Summer Camps and Refuge International.

"I have always tried to support others into being the best versions of themselves in pursuit of common goals," he says. "My accomplishments would have been untenable on my own, and I am proud of what I have been able to do with, and in thanks to, many students and friends."

Other Awards: Solder is a Dean's Honored Graduate, receiving a CNS Distinction in Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.

After-Graduation Plans: Solder plans to attend medical school to pursue minority community health. After residency, he would like to teach at a medical school to help future physicians better understand the role of culture and medical communication on patients.

All Outstanding Student Award recipients and finalists have their stories shared by the UT Division of Student Affairs. Winners receive a plaque, a brick paver laid at the Student Services Building in their honor and a $1,000 grant given in each of their names to the registered student organization or campus program of their choice.

This article is based in part on pieces by the UT Division of Student Affairs, UT News and The Alcalde.

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