UND Today

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Finding their own sparks

Fifth Annual National Scholarship Ceremony honors UND’s high academic achievers

Among the students who were honored at UND’s Fifth Annual National Scholarship Ceremony were (from left) Erin Morin, Mataya Erickson, Lance Roadifer, Mario Medeles, Elizabeth Starosta, Ariel Brunner, Sydney Smith and Ashley Davis. Photo by Tom Dennis/UND Today.

Some 23 UND students – a record number for this event – were honored recently at the University’s Fifth Annual National Scholarship Ceremony, an occasion for celebrating students who’ve won or come close to winning prestigious national awards. 

“This is one of my favorite events of the year,” said UND Provost Eric Link, the first of a lineup of featured speakers – which also included UND President Andy Armacost – at the event.

“I am always privileged, honored and delighted to see all of the students who are getting national scholarships and awards,” Link continued. 

“To the students in the room, thank you for taking the risk – for working hard and being willing to raise your hand and say, ‘You know what? It’s scary, and I don’t exactly know what this means, but I’m going to throw my hat into the ring and just see what happens.’ ” 

When students do that, Link said, “great things can happen. And we are recognizing some of those great achievements here today.” 

Pictured here delivering remarks at UND’s Fifth Annual National Scholarship Ceremony, Yee Han Chu, the University’s academic support and fellowship opportunities coordinator, said her work helping students apply for scholarships and fellowships amounts to “one of the best jobs on campus.” Photo by Tom Dennis/UND Today

The ceremony took place on Nov. 17 in the Memorial Union at UND. During the event, students from across campus and with majors ranging from Physics and Mechanical Engineering to Communication and Norwegian language & literature were presented with mounted certificates honoring them and their awards. 

“This is an opportunity for students from all academic backgrounds to shine,” said Randi Tanglen, vice provost for Faculty Affairs at UND, during her remarks. “And we’ll be hearing about all types of different opportunities that these awards will be providing for students, such as learning a new language while studying in an international location or developing research skills at a national lab. 

“I’m proud to be part of an institution that encourages students to excel in their journey as they try these new things.” 

By the way, even those students whose scholarship applications are unsuccessful can benefit from the process, said Mario Medeles, a Computer Science major and Hispanic Scholarship Fund winner who served as the student speaker at the ceremony.

“The point is to really put yourself through that test and by doing so, become a better ‘you’ than you were when you started,” he said in his remarks.

“When we compose these essays, go through with the interviews and complete all of the other steps, we gain confidence.” And when student take advantage of their confidence and skills by, for example, doing even better academically and applying for more scholarships, their strengthened persistence and stepped-up drive make them much more likely to meet with success, Medeles said.

Mario Medeles, a Computer Science major and winner of a Hispanic Scholarship Fund scholarship, was the student speaker at the Fifth Annual National Scholarship Ceremony at UND. Photo by Tom Dennis/UND Today.

All of the speakers – including Medeles and the provost and vice provost – made a point of not only praising students but also thanking the UND faculty and staff mentors who had helped the students by offering counsel, writing letters of recommendation and often calling the scholarship to the student’s attention in the first place. 

“To take just one example, it can take many hours to write a really good letter of recommendation,” Tanglen said. “That would be one that gives specific examples of academic excellence, or of a time when the student went above and beyond, or that talks specifically about a student’s growth – those are the characteristics that all of these scholarships are looking for. 

“Plus, our faculty and staff make a point of recognizing talent in students, and cultivating interests that students might not even know that they have. These are skills and talents and passions, and I’m happy to recognize them among my colleagues at UND.” 

At UND’s Fifth Annual National Scholarship Ceremony, some of the University’s highest-achieving students and their faculty or staff mentors were honored. Pictured here is Nursing major and Cobell Scholarship winner Erin Morin (center), delivering a few remarks after being honored along with one of her mentors, Chantel Vazquez (left), student support mentor for the University’s Recruiting American Indians into Nursing (RAIN) program. To the right is Randi Tanglen, vice provost of Faculty Affairs at UND. Photo by Tom Dennis/UND Today.

One of those mentors is Melissa Gjellstad, professor of Norwegian and chair of the UND Department of Modern & Classical Languages & Literatures.  

“Working with students both in and out of the classroom is one of the best parts of being a faculty member,” Gjellstad said in her remarks at the ceremony. 

Through scholarship advising, Gjellstad is able to sit down with students and hear what they have to say, then help the student meld their language skills or proficiency in another language with research or other academic interests that can lead to exceptional scholarship opportunities.  

Watching students “find their own spark” and then push their own bounds and grow intellectually is tremendously rewarding, Gjellstad said. “And encouraging them when the process gets challenging – this is one of the things that brings me joy.” 

Yee Han Chu, academic support and fellowship opportunities coordinator at UND, shares Gjellstad’s satisfaction with helping students achieve. “I always say I have one of the best jobs on campus,” Chu said.  

“I say that because these are students who are asking questions that are quite mature for their years.” When they’re writing their scholarship-application essays, students often think about and then describe how they can use their college educations to help others, not just themselves. 

And watching that process, as students not only achieve academically but also grow in character, never gets old, Chu said. “I’m so glad that these students’ excellence is recognized, supported and appreciated at UND,” she said. “That’s what we’re all here for, is to support them and the mentors who have helped these students take flight.”


The following is the list of students, along with their major and their award or awards, who were honored at the National Scholarship Ceremony: 

Ariel Brunner
Norwegian Language & Literature, and ROTC
Project GO 

Payton Cole
Fine Arts
Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (Czech Republic) Semi­-Finalist 

Ashley Davis

Bebas Dhungana
Economics and Computer Science
Critical Language Scholarship 

Mataya Erickson
Elementary Education
Fulbright UK Summer Institutes Interviewee 

Patricia Hopp (Bye)
Atmospheric Science
American Meteorological Society Graduate Fellowship 

Thomas Iken
Mathematics and Physics
DoD SMART Semi-finalist 

Parker Johnson
Stony Brook Research Experience for Undergraduates 

Vincent Ledvina
National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program 

Ethan McGregor
Political Science
Critical Language Scholarship SPARK Alternate 

Dallas McNeal
Mechanical Engineering
Department of Defense SMART Semi-Finalist 

Mario Medeles
Computer Science
DoD SMART Semi-Finalist and Hispanic Scholarship Fund 

Sydney Menne
Mathematics and Physics
Marshall, Rhodes Finalist and Matthew Isakowitz 

Jacob Moll
Geography and Geographic Information Science
Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (North Macedonia) 

Erin Morin

Michaela L. Neal
Geological Engineering
National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program 

Toyosi Olola
American Association of University Women International Fellowship 

Maya Orvis
Medical Laboratory Science
Department of Defense SMART Semi-Finalist 

Lance Roadifer
Mechanical Engineering
Department of Defense SMART Semi-Finalist 

Sydney Smith

Elisabeth Starosta
Biochemistry and Molecular & Integrative Biology
Department of Defense SMART Semi-Finalist 

Chenoa Swenson

Kordell Tan
Biomedical Engineering
American College of Clinical Engineering Student Paper Winner and DoD SMART Semi-Finalist