Lander Honors Achievement with Student Life Awards

April 21, 2024

The achievements of many of Lander University’s finest student leaders were recognized during the annual Student Life Awards ceremony Wednesday, April 17, at Finis Horne Arena.

The ceremony recognized the accomplishments of students outside the classroom, said Dr. Boyd Yarbrough, Lander’s vice president for Student Affairs.

Describing the commitment of those honored and their successes, Yarbrough quoted a 2017 talk by inspirational speaker Alexa Rose Carlin, who said, “If you want something you have never had before, you must do something you’ve never done before … you can be anything you dream.”

The 2024 awards and honors include:

Dr. Richard Cosentino, right, Lander University president, presented the President’s Award to Aaron Groomes, of Enoree. Photo by Laura Wood

President’s Award: Aaron Groomes, of Enoree. Presented by Lander President Dr. Richard Cosentino, the President’s Award is given annually in recognition of unique exemplification of the ethic of service to the Lander community. Involved in many campus activities, Groomes was honored for his authentic student leadership. His leadership style consists of continuous learning and improvement while motivating and encouraging his peers.” He has served as a presidential ambassador, a member of the Student Homecoming Committee and was named New Student Leader of the Year in 2021. An orientation leader for three years, Groomes was selected as Orientation Leader of the Year for 2023. He was also president of the Campus Activities Board and Delta Sigma Phi fraternity.

Samuel and Laura Lander Man and Woman of the Year: Alex Ellis, of Sykesville, Maryland, Samuel Lander Man of the Year; and Lillian Strawn, of Clarks Hill, Laura Lander Woman of the Year. These awards are named in honor of Lander University’s founder, the Rev. Samuel Lander, and his wife, Laura Lander. The individuals chosen for these honors are those who exhibit high aspirations and noble humanitarian qualities of character throughout all areas of campus life.

Dr. Boyd Yarbrough, center, vice president for Student Affairs, presented the Samuel Lander Man of the Year Award to Alex Ellis, of Sykesville, Maryland, and the Laura Lander Woman of the Year Award to Lillian Strawn, of Clarks Hill. Photo by Laura Wood

Ellis was called “the personification of ‘student-leader’ and noted for “leading with enthusiasm, honesty, integrity and selflessness.” An active member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Ellis was the vice president of the organization. As a member and captain of the Men’s Lacrosse Team, Ellis was hailed as “a model student-athlete and team captain” whose triumph over challenges earned him the respect of his teammates.  A tutor in chemistry, biology and statistics, Ellis plans to attend the University of Tennessee and pursue a doctoral degree in environmental chemistry.

Strawn was recognized for helping to “promote a safe, fun and productive learning atmosphere on campus.” A member of Lander’s Homecoming Committee, Strawn served in leadership positions with Gamma Phi Beta sorority, was an orientation leader and resident assistant and served as the president and treasurer of the Order of Omega. Active in community service projects for the Boys and Girls Club, Strawn also was a coach for Girls on the Run at a Greenwood elementary school and was honored with a Greek Leader of the Year award in 2023.

Greek Leaders of the Year: Jamie McElveen, of Effingham, for Alpha Kappa Alpha; and Christian Shasky, of Virginia Beach, Virginia, for Delta Sigma Phi. This award is presented to Greek life leaders who have contributed to the Greek community while exhibiting the characteristics and values of Greek life, including scholarship, brotherhood/sisterhood, leadership and community service.

Katherine Lukas, center, Lander’s coordinator of Student Life, presented the Greek Leader of the Year awards to Jamie McElveen, of Effingham, and Christian Shasky, of Virginia Beach, Virginia. Photo by Laura Wood

McElveen was honored for her contributions to “sisterhood, leadership and service.” A president of her sorority, McElveen was recognized for leading her sorority in community service projects throughout Greenwood and surrounding communities.

Shasky was hailed for holding his fraternity members “to a higher standard and working tirelessly with the national office. He has paved the way for the fraternity to continue thriving on Lander’s campus.”

H. Randall Bouknight Civility Champion Award: Jade Green, of Helenville, Wisconsin, student award recipient; and Dr. Jeffrey Baggett, faculty/staff award recipient. The award is named after former vice president for Student Affairs H. Randall “Randy” Bouknight and is given annually to one student and one employee. Recipients are recognized for their commitment to the Bearcat Creed, including the ability to maintain the standards of academic integrity and personal character, exemplify respect for all people and discourage prejudice, value diverse opinions and collaboration, be mindful of how words and actions can impact others, and express genuine concern for individuals through acts of kindness and compassion.

Green was recognized as a “dedicated and motivated individual who invariably demonstrates a strong work ethic and a passion for positively impacting the Greenwood and Lander communities.” Her compassion as the graduate assistant for Lander’s Bear Necessities Food Pantry was cited as creating “a welcome and inclusive space where no one feels judged to come and get food regardless of the need … She has done more to further the goal of making the Bear Necessities by students, for students than everyone else combined.

Baggett, chair of the department of English and Foreign Languages, was cited for setting “the bar high for integrity, kindness and civility … He inspires everyone around him to be better and to grow better.” A colleague said of Baggett, “he is one of the best leaders I have ever met … Sometimes we have different opinions on topics, but I know that I can be authentic with him.”

Presidential Ambassador of the Year: Palak Patel, of Lexington. Voted on by fellow presidential ambassadors, this award recognizes the ambassador who best embodies what it means to be a Lander Presidential Ambassador.

Named Resident Assistant of the Year, Jonathan Walker, of Mountville, gives a thumbs up as Lander University students, families and friends gathered for the annual Student Life Awards ceremony at Finis Horne Arena. Photo by Deb Crenshaw-Nygro

Resident Assistant (RA) of the Year: Jonathan Walker, of Mountville. The award recognizes the outstanding and continuous service of the resident assistant to the department of Housing and Residential Life, their residential area and the Lander community. The honoree is a role model for other students and resident assistants while fulfilling the responsibilities of the position.

Student Government Association (SGA) Member of the Year: Kristina Peay, of Lexington. The award is presented to someone who shows enthusiasm towards the organization, donates their time to SGA and personifies SGA’s mission.

Campus Activities Board (CAB) Member of the Year: Jaylen Ware, of Anderson. Lander’s Campus Activities Board (CAB) hosts events that provide entertainment to the student body, including concerts, comedians, craft nights, movies, and other small- and large-scale events.

Campus Recreation Awards: Bennett Kirkland, of Greenville, was honored with the Facility Attendant of the Year Award. The Intramural Athlete of the Year Award was presented to Lucas Boyce, of Anderson, who holds the most intramural sports wins in Lander’s history. Megan Powers, of Gilbert, received the Group Exercise Award, which honors the most well-rounded group exercise instructor and their ability to design, plan and instruct group exercise classes on a weekly basis.

Student Success Center (SSC) Award – Peer Mentor of the Year: Kaitlyn Quinn, of Columbia. This award recognizes a student employee within the SSC who displays a passion for helping students succeed both inside and outside of the classroom.

Student Success Center (SSC) Award – Tutor of the Year: Anna-Marie Bright, of Easley. The award honors the peer tutor who displays excellent tutoring strategies, including the ability to explain course content and adapt tutoring strategies to fit their students’ learning styles.

Hall of Leaders: This recognition goes to a select group of students who have demonstrated outstanding involvement with campus life and extracurricular activities. Through service, they have exemplified a commitment to the positive enhancement of the Lander campus. Lander’s 2024 Hall of Leaders award recipients are Anna-Marie Bright, of Easley; Riley Crawford, of Greenwood; Favio Delgado, of Fort Mill; Aaron Groomes, of Enoree; Janessa Haddon, of Abbeville; Sydney Lafayette, of Charleston; Keygarion Mursier, of Greenwood; Shelley Nevins, of Columbia; Charlotte Schultz, of Lexington; and Katherine Wagner, of Union.

Organization Advisor of the Year: Lori Stone, Lander University Student Nurses Association. The award recognizes a Lander University faculty or staff member for their significant, voluntary involvement in co-curricular activities for advising, guiding and supporting an organization and its members during the 2023-24 academic year.

Organization of the Year: HOSA-Future Health Professionals. The award to a registered student organization recognizes significant positive impact on Lander and the surrounding community. Criteria include the number and quality of campus events, amount of community service performed, involvement with campus events and the initiative to further advance the education of Lander students beyond the classroom.

Excellence in Programming: True Crime Club. The award recognizes a student organization or group for its exceptional creativity, planning and execution of a University program. Criteria include the group’s appeal to a broad cross-section of the University community, as well as originality and participation of members.

Community Impact: Phi Beta Sigma fraternity. The purpose of this award is to recognize an outstanding organization for their involvement in community service during the current academic year. The service is expected to contribute to the Lander, Greenwood and global communities.

Transfer Student Leader: Asia Arnold, of Gaffney. This award recognizes the unique role of transfer students to the campus community and is given to students who have transferred with sophomore standing, or above, and completed a full year of coursework at Lander.

New Student Leader: Heather James, of Bishopville. Recognizing a first-year freshman or a transfer student, the award honors individuals who have been actively involved in contributing time and energy to learning leadership skills and contributing to the Lander community.

Graduate Student Leader: Chloe Harrell, of Charleston. This award, newly created to honor the great work of Lander’s growing Graduate Program students, recognizes a graduate-level student who has been actively involved in contributions to the greater university community through service, leadership and/or programming while maintaining high academic standards.

James Curtis Harkness Diversity Achievement Award: Ashley Vargas-Luna, of Greenwood. The award is named for Lander alumnus James “Curtis” Harkness who was captain of the 1982-84 men’s basketball team and later began a career in Student Affairs. The award recognizes a student who has exemplified model citizenship, outstanding student leadership, high academic achievement and has been most effective in advancing the concerns of multicultural students.

Betty Williams Unsung Hero Award: Katie Wagner, of Union. The award is named after Betty Williams, a Lander College graduate and former Lander librarian, who continues to volunteer with the University and assist the Lander community. This award is presented to students who, through their behindthe scenes involvement in student life, have exemplified a commitment to enhancing Lander campus life.