Palm Beach Atlantic honored outstanding graduates for their academic achievements and Christ-like character during a special Honors Day Chapel on Tuesday.
Provost Dr. Randy Richards stressed the importance of pausing from busy schedules to give honor to whom it is due. The students who were recognized used their God-given gifts well over the course of their collegiate careers, he said.
“He gave them to you, but you chose what to do with them,” Richards said.
The University’s nine schools recognized eight outstanding graduates. Krystal White, of St. Petersburg, Florida, earned the distinction in both the School of Arts & Sciences and the School of Ministry. She will graduate with a double major in behavioral neuroscience and biblical studies.
In addition, Richards announced Dr. Matthew Mitchell, associate professor of health and human performance, as the recipient of the Charles & Hazel Corts Award for Outstanding Teaching. Mitchell was nominated by students and faculty alike. He was praised for consistently keeping students engaged in the classroom and going above and beyond to offer mentorship and counsel, even to students who were not in his class. In the past five years, he has guided 55 students on research projects, meeting with them weekly.
Richards shared one of Mitchell’s nominations: “This professor is one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met.”
Mitchell came to academia from pastoral ministry as a church planter in Orlando and Gainesville. While completing his doctoral work at the University of Florida, he served as assistant women’s soccer coach.
In announcing White as the Outstanding Graduate for the School of Arts and Sciences, Dean Dr. Robert Lloyd commended her for her “amazing GPA” and two independent research projects that were accepted by major psychological associations. White presented both projects, which center on depression, at PBA’s Interdisciplinary Research Conference this spring.
Dr. Jonathan Grenz, dean of the School of Ministry, said White has excelled in all of her studies, including a third year of Greek. She leads a girls Bible study through her church, where she has volunteered with the children’s ministry. She was described as a “strong Christian leader who is both compassionate and nurturing.” In her free time, she performs spoken word, writes fiction and practices photography.
In the Rinker School of Business, Benjamin DeHaan was named the Outstanding Graduate. Though it was difficult to choose, DeHaan stood out above the rest, said Dean Dr. Brian Strow. DeHaan, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, is a double major in management and political science. He was a Freidheim Fellow in the LeMieux Center for Public Policy, where he researched the foreign policy implications of NATO.
Maria Landron, the other Freidheim Fellow and a Women of Distinction Scholarship recipient, was named the School of Communication & Media’s Outstanding Graduate. Landron, of Royal Palm Beach, Florida, also is a recipient of the Johnson Scholarship. Her Freidheim Fellows research project on U.S. immigration policy was informed partly by a visit to the Arizona-Mexico border, and her research was presented to a U.S. senator’s chief of staff.
In addition, she serves on the highest board of Circle K International, the largest service-leadership organization for college students, and won an award for her global volunteer efforts. She has served as a peer mentor to fellow PBA students four times and completed numerous internships, including with the Village of Royal Palm Beach to bolster the village’s U.S. Census response. She plans to attend law school to practice immigration law.
Nehemiah Pride, a senior studying exercise science, earned the Outstanding Graduate Award for the School of Education & Behavioral Studies. Pride, a first-generation college student from Sarasota, Florida, showed “true grit,” riding his bicycle and finding other means of transportation to get to his clinical rotations in athletic training without a car, said Dean Dr. Chelly Templeton. His presence was essential as a trusted part of each clinical site’s health care team, she said.
At PBA, Pride is in the Supper Honors Program and serves as a Presidential Ambassador, member of the Council for Intercultural Engagement and member of the Student Wellness Committee. In the community, he counsels youth at Bow Down Church. This spring, he received the coveted Jess Moody Award, which is for a PBA senior “with outstanding dreams and the heart to reach them.” He plans to become a rehab physician specializing in sports medicine.
Steven Baran, president of the National Christian Counselors Association, drove to West Palm Beach from Sarasota to accept his award as the Outstanding Graduate in the Catherine T. MacArthur School of Leadership. Baran is an online student who will graduate with his degree in organizational leadership. He sought his PBA education to improve the association’s organization as it grows “by leaps and bounds,” said Grenz, who serves as dean over both the MacArthur School of Leadership and the School of Ministry.
School of Music & Fine Arts Dean Dr. Jason Lester presented the Outstanding Graduate Award to Ashley Smith, an art education major from Rochester, Minnesota. She was described as “an enthusiastic scholar” who is eager to try anything to improve. At her church, she helps with the class of two- and three-year-old children and serves the needs of the local community. One of her professors who nominated her wrote: “I believe that she will be a lifelong learner and a leader in any environment.” She will work as a teacher after graduation.
School of Nursing Outstanding Graduate Melodie Zuelke was heralded as an exemplary student with Christ-like character. Her grades earned her a spot on the President’s List every semester, and she was inducted into the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing, said Dean Dr. Phyllis King. She worked part-time in admissions with the prospective nursing students and served as a mentor and friend to lower-level nursing students. She was the co-leader of the SONshine Ministry for nurses, president of the PBA Running Club and member of the Student Wellness Committee. She will complete a nursing externship at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center.
Gregory School of Pharmacy Dean Dr. Jeff Lewis introduced Gregory Outstanding Graduate Abdulwhab Shremo Msdi by reading the first few lines of the essay he submitted to be considered for the award: “Six years ago, the civil war started in my home country of Syria, where I was faced with death and destruction. These experiences motivated me to seek new opportunities in which I could find hope and a true purpose. I arrived in the U.S. in 2015 with one goal in mind: to advance my education and make a difference in the lives of others. Although I did not have a sound plan or adequate resources at the start of my journey, I knew I had God by my side every step of the way.” He has made a difference in the classroom, in clinical practice and serving the community, Lewis said. Read more of his story here.
In other awards:
Photo 1: School of Nursing Outstanding Graduate Melodie Zuelke, School of Arts & Sciences and School of Ministry Outstanding Graduate Krystal White, School of Communication & Media Outstanding Graduate Maria Landron, Rinker School of Business Outstanding Graduate Benjamin DeHaan, School of Education and Behavioral Studies Outstanding Graduate Nehemiah Pride, MacArthur School of Leadership Outstanding Graduate Steven Baran, Gregory School of Pharmacy Outstanding Graduate Abdulwhab Shremo Msdi and School of Music & Fine Arts Outstanding Graduate Ashley Smith pose for a photo after receiving their awards at Honors Day Chapel.
Photo 2: Provost Dr. Randy Richards presents the Charles & Hazel Corts Award for Outstanding Teaching to Dr. Matthew Mitchell.
Photo 3: Students gather to celebrate the Outstanding Graduates during Honors Chapel in the Rubin Arena on Tuesday, April 20, 2021.