Connect with us

Student Academic Excellence Awards 2024

By Walter Villa, Special to STU

It is a happy dilemma.

The talent on display at St. Thomas University’s Student Academic Excellence Awards Brunch on Monday was so inspiring and vast, that it is hard to know where to begin.

This year’s ceremony was reimagined by Michelle Johnson-Garcia, STU’s Provost and Chief Academic Officer.

In addition, the event was financially supported by a generous gift of $225,000 from Herbert Yardley, an STU Board of Trustees member.

Scott Koskoski, STU’s Vice President of Philanthropy, served as the Master of Ceremonies.

Koskoski kicked off the event by introducing STU President David A. Armstrong, J.D.

“This is our most important annual function,” President Armstrong said of the Student Academic Excellence Awards. “When I talk about higher-education institutions, I compare it to the human body.

“For example, the brain of the institution is the Registrar. The skeleton of the body is our maintenance staff that holds it together.

“But the heart of the institution is the educational process – our faculty and our students – and today we get to honor those people.”

Added President Armstrong: “Excellence is in this room today.”

Provost Johnson-Garcia spoke next, thanking STU’s faculty and STUdents for their hard work and perseverance.

“None of this could have happened without all of your efforts, guidance and support,” Provost Johnson-Garcia said.

In a nod to STU’s students, she added: “Go out and conquer the world.”

Here then – in the order they were presented — are the individual awards handed out on Monday:

Dylan Francisco won the St. Anthony Campus Ministry Award as presented by Father Rafael Capo, STU’s Vice President of Mission.

The award goes to the student who – besides earning a grade-point average of 3.5 or higher and shows outstanding commitment to ministry in the STU community.


Francisco, who maintained a 3.95 GPA and participated in STU’s Rowing Club, dedicated weekly time to Miami’s homeless population, helping with food provision.

He also helped organize the EPIC Night of Mercy concert. He traveled to World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal, where he led the Catechesis sessions for groups of pilgrims from different nations. And he attended a national Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill, which was hosted by Catholic Relief Services.

Andrew Pardo won the Experience Matters Award as presented by Felipe Larcada, STU’s Director of Experiential Learning.

Pardo, a Biology major with a 3.4 GPA, regularly visited numerous local schools in an effort to develop scientific interest among South Florida’s youth.

He also devoted his time in seven consecutive semesters – including summers – in the lab of STU professor Dr. Jeffrey Plunkett as they worked on a project studying the role of stem cells in central nervous system regeneration following traumatic brain injury.

Upon graduation, Pardo will be pursuing a career in veterinary medicine, and he’s the perfect example of how “hands on” learning can enable student success.

Jeneen Penate won the Mimi Dooner Biscayne College Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Humanitarian Award.

The award, presented by Biscayne College Dean Colin Roche, is given to the student who best exemplifies the mission of advancing human values through peace, justice and spirituality. The minimum GPA to be eligible for this award is 3.5.

Penate, who earned a 3.9 GPA, has completed a major in Criminal Justice and a minor in Biology. She also works as substitute teacher and cheerleading coach at a local Catholic school.

Her ultimate goal is to become a pharmacist. Toward that end, she has already been accepted to Palm Beach Atlantic’s Gregory School of Pharmacy.

Lauren Alcindor won the Outstanding STEM Student Award as presented by Dr. Jeffrey Plunkett, STU’s Dean of the College of Health Sciences & Technology.

The award goes to the student who excels in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) field of study. The minimum GPA to be eligible is 3.5, and the award also rewards the person who displays a dedication to research, as well as mentoring fellow STEM students.

Alcindor worked with Plunkett on the aforementioned traumatic brain injury research project. In fact, they presented their work at the International Winter Conference on Brain Research in Colorado this past January.

A Biology major, Alcindor earned a 3. 8 GPA while also participating in cheer and dance at STU.

Jay’nea Johnson won the Florence Nightingale Award. The honor is given in recognition of academic excellence in the nursing program as well as outstanding dedication to clinicals and didactic experiences.

The minimum GPA to be eligible for this award is 3.5.

Dr. Nashat Abualhaija, the dean of the School of Nursing, presented the award.

Johnson, among other things, served as the president of STU’s Nursing Student Association. She also displayed exceptional skill and unparalleled compassion in her patient care.

Aside from majoring in Nursing, Johnson earned a minor in Education. She will return to STU in pursuit of a Master’s degree in order to become a nurse practitioner, specializing in family nursing with a focus in pediatric care.

Natalia Novis-Figueiredo won the Gus Machado College of Business Outstanding Student Award. David Edwards, the Dean of the Gus Machado College of Business, presented the award.

The award was paired with a $5,000 scholarship, which was generously funded by Julio Barrionuevo, the chair of the GMCOB Advisory Board.

Novis-Figueiredo, who majored in Marketing, earned a 3.8 GPA while also serving as a member of the Honors College and as part of STU’s women’s soccer team.

A high achiever, she worked as an intern for two Mexico City marketing agencies.

Figueiredo currently works for the Miami Heat as a Marketing and Game Operations intern. She beat out 800 applicants for that one position, and she has impressed the Heat so much that they have extended her internship through September.

Maya Melendez Herrera won the Bernard F. Graham Award for Finance and Accounting. The award, presented by the aforementioned Dean Edwards, also comes with a major scholarship of $10,000.

Herrera, who majored in Accounting, earned her undergraduate degree in just two years, posting an impeccable 4.0 GPA. She also earned Summa Cum Laude honors and has served as a Becker Ambassador.

She is currently an STU Master of Accounting graduate student.

In addition, Herrera has displayed unwavering support for the VITA Program, which assists the elderly and individuals with language barriers pay their taxes with invaluable resources.

Herrera has also started the rigorous process of becoming a Certified Public Accountant as she has been accepted to sit for the Florida CPA exam.

Rosanne Sherman won the St. Thomas More Award, which goes to the graduating College of Law student who best exemplifies the characteristics of the Catholic faith.

The award was presented by Tarlika Nunez Navarro, the Dean of STU’s Benjamin L. Crump College of Law.

Sherman distinguished herself as the president of the St. Thomas More Catholic Law Society.

In addition, Sherman promoted the highest standard of ethics, civility, dignity, justice, and skill in the practice of law. She worked with Campus Ministry on events, leading attendees in prayers. She also spoke to incoming students at Orientation Week.

Neasha Prince won the Benjamin L. Crump College of Law Social Justice Award, which was also presented by Nunez Navarro.

The award is granted to a graduating law-school student who demonstrates a passion for social justice, including the leadership needed to engage in projects at STU or in the community, helping individuals navigate through our legal system.

Prince is the president of the Black Law Students Association.

She is also this year’s leader in pro bono hours. In fact, she donated nearly 500 hours of her service to the community.

Prince led several events during this school year, including the Black Owned Business Fair as well as STU’s Martin Luther King Day celebration.

Dovic Jarc won the Catherine Yardley Provost Outstanding Scholar Award. The award was presented by the aforementioned Herbert Yardley, as well as provost Michelle Johnson-Garcia.

This award is granted to the student who is at the top of the graduating class. The winner of this award also exemplifies student engagement while showing promise in future career endeavors.

Jarc, who has been a member of the softball team during her time at STU, earned an impeccable GPA of 4.0 while graduating two years early with a degree in Health Sciences.

She also helped develop the Performance Lab, which has become a key component to the Health Sciences program.

Jarc has already been accepted into the University of North Florida’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program.

Christian Pommells won the St. Thomas of Villanova Award.

This Presidential award is granted to the top STU student who has best exemplified ethical leadership with a track record of academic achievement. The winner of this award will have excelled in various categories such as service on student committees, creative work, civic activities, employment and/or independent research.

Pommells, crowned the 2021-2022 STU Homecoming Queen, was a member of the Bobcats track and field team. She was also a member of STU’s cheer and dance teams.

Set to be a student speaker at Wednesday’s Undergraduate Commencement ceremony, Pommels has earned a major in Psychology while minoring in Ethical Leadership.

Pommells also served as a member of the Student Athletic Advisory Council and as a student director of the Campus Activities Board.

In addition, she is the former vice president of the Black Student Union.

In addition to the individual awards, 10 students graduating this week from STU’s Honors College were recognized. They were each handed an “honors cord” that they will proudly wear on graduation day.

Those 10 students were: Manuel Buroz; Omarhiyon Malcolm; Victoria Boles; Hope Leavy-Gaskins; Kelly Fairclough; Orlando Suarez; Kimorah Ward; Natalia Novis-Figueiredo; Emily Holzer; and Logan Susi.

The cords were handed out by Christtian Travieso, the Director of STU’s Honors College.


Kris Williams

Author Kris Williams

More posts by Kris Williams