Every year a committee of William Jewell College faculty recognizes a group of five exceptional seniors to consider awarding the Faculty Award. The annual award is usually announced at Honors’ Convocation – which will likely not occur in its typical format due to the coronavirus pandemic. This year’s finalists are Sofia Arthurs-Schoppe, communication and chemistry major; Tate Cooper, Oxbridge Institutions and Policy major; Margo Evilsizor, international relations and Oxbridge Institutions and Policy major; Caeley Pittman, physics, Applied Critical Thought and Inquiry (ACT-In) and Oxbridge Literature and Theory major; and Elliott Yoakum, Oxbridge Literature and Theory major.
“The Faculty Award is given to the student who best represents the ideals of a liberal arts education at Jewell,” said Dr. David McCune, professor of mathematics and chair of the Faculty Award Committee. “The award is the highest honor that the college can bestow on a student. It is kind of like being valedictorian of a high school class, but the award is given based on criteria that are broader than just GPA [grade point average].”
Seniors are eligible to apply for the award if they have spent at least six semesters at Jewell and have a GPA of at least 3.75. The written application details personal experiences and achievements, post-graduation plans and an essay discussion criteria the applicant thinks should be used to determine the Faculty Award recipient.
After students apply, the faculty committee identifies a group of semi-finalists who are interviewed by the committee and submit letters of recommendation. The finalists describe the interview as intellectually rigorous and based around a written text, this year it was a speech written by David Foster Wallace. The five finalists are determined based on written applications, interviews and letters of recommendation.
Arthurs-Schoppe discussed her history and path to Jewell in discussing her decision to apply for the Faculty Award. A native of Mauku, New Zealand, Arthurs-Schoppe dreamed of attending college in the United States despite skepticism from people in her hometown. She views her achievements and recognition by the faculty as evidence of her hardwork and dedication to achieving her goals. Arthurs-Schoppe hopes that being named as a finalist shows young people in her hometown and high school – Pukekohe High School – that they can achieve their goals despite the questions and skepticism.
“Where I grew up, there’s not a lot of people who have opportunities like they have here in the states,” said Arthurs-Schoppe. “To have been able to have this opportunity to come here and to go to school in this country and to learn all these things and to have these opportunities is really impactful.”
Arthurs-Shoppe also went on to discuss the lack of support she felt when she told others about her dream to study in the United States.
“When I was going through middle school and high school, I was telling people I wanted to go to school in the states one day, and people didn’t really believe that I could do it. They kind of turned around and said ‘Well, that’s a nice dream but…’ and it just felt very dismissive,” said Arthurs-Schoppe. “ In some ways [being a finalist] is a way for me to dispel some of those doubts that were built up over years and years of being told I should stop trying and it wasn’t worth my time.”
She also applied for the award because she wanted to recognize all the opportunities offered by Jewell. Arthurs-Schoppe emphasized the close connections with professors and opportunities provided by the college to pursue individual interests.
“To have an award where the faculty turn around and recognize – and say ‘Hey, we noticed how hard you’ve been working. We think that it’s admirable and think that, for want of better words, you’ve done it right,’ I think that means a lot,” said Arthurs-Schoppe.
In her time at Jewell, Arthurs-Schoppe won the Hall Grant, worked in Washington D.C. for the German Press Agency as a reporter and won the Pritchard Humanitarian Award for community service in Kansas City. Between her first and second years, Arthurs-Schoppe worked in the Middle East and Eastern Europe interviewing people about different conflict situations – resulting in her publishing a book. She was also the photography editor for the Hilltop Monitor before serving as Editor-in-Chief for two years. She views the work she’s done on the Monitor as defining her Jewell experience and as being a vehicle with which she made an impact on the Jewell community. She has also been involved with University Innovation Fellows, oSTEM and the International Students Organization.
Arthurs-Schoppe accepted a job as a venture analyst with Stray Dog Capital – a venture capitalist organization working to minimize the use of animals in the supply chain. A vegan, she views the mission of the organization as aligning with her own beliefs and convictions. Additionally, Arthurs-Schoppe is engaged to be married.
The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted so much of her senior year, but Arthurs-Schoppe has made the most of the situation. She was in Peru to do research on a Journey Grant when the pandemic started causing problems with travel. The trip was to be a culmination of research into electricity access in rural communities – yet it had to be prematurely disrupted before Arthurs-Schoppe’s safe return to the United States.
She had already accepted and planned to start her job with Stray Dog Capital, and the company has helped her get started remotely. Despite acknowledging the importance of safety measures during the pandemic, Arthurs-Schoppe is disappointed she will not be able to see her family from New Zealand in the near future. They had planned to come to the United States in May, but all flights to and from New Zealand have been canceled through June.
In summation, Arthurs-Schoppe emphasized that despite her gratefulness and recognition of the award, it is not a sole determinant of value or work throughout the college experience. She does not want such a concrete or restrictive award to be the only recognition or evaluation of four years of dedication and effort.
Cooper said he was initially hesitant to apply for the award but ultimately decided to due to encouragement from his peers. In addition to his Oxbridge Institutions and Policy major, Cooper has minors in mathematics and music. He has been involved in band, jazz band, Pi Sigma Alpha – the national political science honor society, Cardinal Hosts and Mortar Board.
In addition to these involvements, Cooper described other experiences which may have contributed to his nomination as a finalist. During his junior year, Cooper interned for congresswoman Ann Wagner in Washington, D.C., and Cooper interned with the Missouri Department of Public Safety. Cooper has won the Presidential Leadership Award by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Institute, an award for Academic Excellence in Public Policy by The Fund for American Studies and Jewell’s Edward Lakin Music Theory Award and Scholarship. He volunteers as a young adult mentor for the Immune Deficiency Foundation and participates in the Columbia Community Band.
The process of application led Cooper to reflect upon his Jewell experiences and further appreciate the close relationships fostered by the college. Cooper cites the close collaboration with professors and students’ deep involvement and engagement with academic work – especially as compared to other colleges and universities.
In the fall Cooper will attend the University of Missouri School of Law and hopes to pursue his interest in public policy. As it has disrupted much of his senior year, Cooper commented on the coronavirus pandemic. Due to underlying medical conditions, Cooper started self-isolating about ten days before Jewell’s campus closed. He is concerned about his ability to attend law school in the fall, but he can defer his acceptance and scholarship if it is not safe to attend.
Though disappointed, Cooper emphasized that his position and that of many in the Jewell community is significantly better than many others. He is thankful for medical workers, sanitation workers, grocery workers, truckers, first responders and more risking their health to fight the pandemic. Cooper is glad to do his part in flattening the curve – especially if all it requires is completing his school work via Zoom.
In summation, Cooper expressed gratitude for his nomination.
“I am truly humbled and deeply grateful to be included as a finalist for this award,” Cooper said. “The faculty here are outstanding, and it means a lot to be recognized by them. When I look at the other finalists, I am incredibly impressed by so much of what they have achieved already, and it’s an honor to appear with them.”
Evilsizor applied for the award because she was encouraged by her peers to apply and was excited by the nature of the award. Throughout her time at Jewell, Evilsizor used Jewell’s Hall Grant to conduct field research interviews in Mafraq, Jordan for her honors thesis on women’s empowerment in the Syrian Civil War. With the Pritchard Humanitarian Award she spoke out against violence against women at a self-organized public forum at the state congress in Morelos, Mexico. Evilsizor has also co-authored an article with Dr. Fletcher Cox, professor of political science, about women’s empowerment. She is president of Pi Sigma Alpha and vice president of Mortar Board.
The process of application led Evilsizor to reflect on the purpose of a liberal arts education, her education at Jewell and her growth as a thinker – as she thinks the application is intended to do.
After graduation, Evilsizor will move to Mexico City – though her specific plans are still developing. She is a semi-finalist for a Fulbright program in Mexico City, and her primary backup plans have been put on hold due to the pandemic. If Evilsizor does not get the Fulbright, she will complete a Spanish language intensive before applying to jobs in Mexico. Evilsizor wants to pursue business consulting and eventually either get an MBA or attend law school.
The pandemic has put many of Evilsizor’s plans on hold and has concerned her regarding her entrance to the workforce.
“I completed a round of interviews for a summer internship that had the potential to turn into a full-time job mid-March,” Evilsizor said. “After completing all the application steps, I got a notification that in light of COVID-19, all hiring processes have been put on pause. I had also planned to move to Mexico during the first week of June. Now, that seems unlikely. I am also closely watching Fulbright. While my program would not start until September, I am concerned that it will get delayed or canceled. Since it is a program funded by the U.S. government, it is difficult to know whether they would approve it for the fall.”
Pittman applied for the award because she viewed the application as a way to synthesize all the work she has done while at Jewell and in the Oxbridge program. Some of this work includes participating in Jewell’s Pillsbury Scholars Program, research experiences for undergraduates at the Maria Mitchell Association and CERN and seeking out extracurricular research in Oxford University’s department of physics. Pittman was also the creative nonfiction genre editor for Inscape Magazine and president of the Society of Physics Students. She participated in outreach at elementary schools and has worked at observatory open nights with Jewell’s physics department.
Pittman is in the Phi Epsilon honor society and has been awarded the national Barry Goldwater Scholarship, Jewell’s James R. Eaton Memorial Scholarship for Achievement in Physics and Jewell’s Pritchard Award for Humanitarian Service.
Pittman reflects upon how the application impacts her perspective on her time at Jewell.
“[In] this process I have interacted with professors who have supported me at different points along my journey at Jewell, which, combined with composing the application itself, helped me develop a more holistic view of what my time at Jewell has done for me,” Pittman said.
In the fall Pittman will be starting an Astronomy Ph.D. at Boston University – where she will work with Dr. Catherine Espaillat on studying young star systems just beginning to form planets.
On the pandemic, Pittman expressed her disappointment about missing several senior events and a sense of closure to her college experience, in addition to missing the daily interaction and discussion with professors and fellow students.
Yoakum applied for the award because he felt the need to prove to himself that his Jewell education was worthwhile. He used the essay portion of the application to critique Jewell’s status as a liberal arts college – a designation of which he is skeptical given the college’s newest initiatives. Yoakum views changes made by the college as prioritizing production of workers and numbers. He questions Jewell’s position as the Critical Thinking College – unaccompanied by actual shifts in the college’s priorities, this label is meaningless.
“I applied ultimately because I am saddened by the direction the college is going, and I wanted an audience for my critique,” Yoakum said. “Being named a finalist means at least a small section of the faculty has at least heard my thoughts, whether or not they agree, so hopefully this can lead to meaningful change in the college’s direction.”
Some of Yoakum’s accomplishments include receiving a Bright Flight Award, a music scholarship, being a member of Alpha Lambda Delta, winning the Hilltop Monitor Award and several Missouri College Media Association awards, a nonfiction reader for Inscape Magazine, presenting at the 2018 National Undergraduate Literature Conference, being a member of the Sigma Tau Delta English honor society and being selected to present at their 2020 Convention in Las Vegas—canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic—being a member of Mortar Board and presenting at Duke Colloquium.
At Jewell, Yoakum has been president of QUILTBAG, a member of the diversity and inclusion work group, and a member of Concert Choir, Choral Scholars, Handbell Choir and Schola Cantorum. At Oxford, Yoakum sang with the selective St. John’s College Chapel Choir. Additionally, he has written for the Hilltop Monitor, where he currently serves as Arts and Culture page editor. During the school year Yoakum works as the Development and Finance Intern for the Harriman-Jewell Series. At the Series he has also worked as Box Office Intern and Gala Intern. He also spent the summer of 2018 volunteering with World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) in St. Croix and Sacy-le-Petit, France.
Yoakum initially applied in order to evidence his growth during his time at Jewell, and the process of application led him to recognize his growth as a thinker and person.
“It also makes me extremely disappointed in the lack of opportunities at Jewell, the dearth of opportunities for departments which are underfunded or often, despite excellent performance [i.e. Music] overlooked for flashier projects [i.e. new sports and rec center],” said Yoakum.
After graduation, Yoakum plans to take a gap year before attending graduate school in a humanities field like English or cultural studies. He is looking to apply for the master’s in Cultural Studies at SOAS, the School of Oriental and Asian Studies, and the master’s in Global Thought at Columbia University. Yoakum hopes to work at a museum, arts organization, publishing house or public radio station during his gap year but has not heard back about his applications.
Due to the pandemic, many arts organizations have had to either close or restrict their budgets. Yoakum has been notified by several organizations he applied to that their process of evaluation has been delayed or that the summer internship program has been canceled. He says that if closures remain in place into the summer, it will be difficult to find a job in a museum or arts presentation organization.