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Recognizing outstanding undergraduate students

Ten honored with top awards for research and creative accomplishments

Contact: Andrea Mestdagh


Central Michigan University President Bob Davies and Provost Mary C. Schutten recently announced the recipients of this year's President's and Provost's Awards, recognizing undergraduate students for research and creative work, such as research presentations at national or international meetings, peer-reviewed literature publications or juried art exhibitions.

President's Awards

Yasmeen Duncan

Senior Yasmeen Duncan is a theatre and interpretation major who is honored for her outstanding development and direction of the 2020-21 CMU University Theatre production of "A Song for Coretta," by Pearl Cleage. Duncan was the first student in 40 years to be honored with a directorial role in a main stage University Theatre production. The play, with its timely themes of racial justice and civil rights, would be a challenging project at any time, but Duncan accepted the responsibility during a pandemic. Undeterred, she conducted comprehensive research to understand the lives, communities and struggles of the characters represented in the play.

Steve Berglund, professor and chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance, described her research process as exceptional and commended her "collaborative, creative, scholarly and flexible approach" as director. Based on the quality of her work and the strength of the final production, Duncan was awarded a Certificate of Merit for Excellence in Direction for "A Song for Coretta" from the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.

Abigail Shepard

Abigail Shepard is a senior and an Honors Program Centralis Scholar with a double major in music and psychology. She recently was honored as the Presser Scholar, the highest honor given by the School of Music. An alto saxophone player, Shepard is a gifted musician who has innovated important research into the role of mindfulness in musicians' practice. Nominating faculty member John Nichol, professor in the School of Music, confirmed that her results have the potential to restructure traditional university music education.

In addition to her national and international performances as a talented musician, Shepard has presented her scholarly research regionally and internationally. She has conducted workshops on her methods at CMU, Michigan State University and Hope College, and she recently created an online community, Sustainable Shepard, combining her passion for music, meditation and social justice. Her research on mindfulness with faculty in the Department of Psychology earned a nomination for a Fulbright study grant leading to a master's degree in music psychology in Sheffield in the United Kingdom.

Katie Pulaski

Katie Pulaski is a senior with a double major in public and nonprofit administration and anthropology. She is a semifinalist for a Fulbright award to teach English in Thailand. Pulaski's interest in the lives of refugees and their migration has facilitated a successful Honors Program thesis titled "Community Advocacy for Migrant Families in Michigan." She completed an internship with a Detroit-area community advocacy group that required extensive, sophisticated research methods and ethical considerations, which she managed effectively.

Pulaski currently is completing a remote internship with a South African community-based police advisory organization. Each week, she meets with a mentor and community members to conduct important research that will inform training for better community policing of persons affected by mind-altering drugs. Pulaski's community-based research achieves understanding and strives for better cooperation and support in the areas she serves.

Provost's Awards

Kiara Cushway

A biology senior, Kiara Cushway is regarded as an "amazingly talented researcher" by nominator Daelyn Woolnough, professor in the Department of Biology. Cushway demonstrates a sophisticated grasp of the science that at times rivals the considerable knowledge of graduate assistants.

Cushway developed a two-part honors thesis and, despite pandemic-related travel restrictions, was able to complete both components. The results of the research projects will be submitted to highly ranked, peer-reviewed journals for publication. An effective troubleshooter, Cushway created a website to meaningfully share lab data with other researchers and stakeholders. Woolnough describes Cushway as "a standout student who always goes above and beyond in her courses." For her graduate work, Cushway will join the fish and wildlife department at Texas State University to continue in academia, focusing on native freshwater mussels.

Paige Dombrowski

English literature, language and writing junior Paige Dombrowski was enthusiastically honored by nominator Matthew Roberson, professor in the Department of English Language and Literature, who describes her as a "singularly intelligent and dedicated student, as well as an inspiring and involved presence on campus."

She is heartily commended for the exceptional quality and depth of her writing talent, as well as her successfully published and presented work for the Honors Program. Dombrowski is equally committed to promoting the success of others, as demonstrated by her valuable work on behalf of CMU's honors publications and literary magazine. Her devotion to young students' creativity and inspiration is shown through her passion for volunteering, particularly for the Sweet Reads Bookmobile program.

"Her creative work truly exemplifies the sort of imaginative, ambitious and brilliantly crafted writing we in English dream of encountering," Roberson said.

Julia Kalusniak

Julia Kalusniak effectively balances the requirements of two majors — public health education and public and nonprofit administration — as well as the Honors Program, her sorority membership and the presidency of the honors society for health education, Eta Sigma Gamma, with her other scholarly projects.

To combat the pandemic, Kalusniak initiated a mask-wearing campaign. Her peer-to-peer marketing efforts required leadership, student coordination and the organizational skills to plan productive meetings at a trying time for the university community. In addition, Kalusniak implemented a national study regarding student perceptions of mask-wearing on university campuses and provided essential services to help people at risk obtain protective masks to lower their infection risk. Nominators Jodi Brookins-Fisher, professor and division director in the School of Health Sciences, and Lana Ivanitskaya, professor in the School of Health Sciences, affirm that Kalusniak possesses phenomenal leadership skills and the follow-through needed for excellent leadership.

Nick Malendowski

Nick Malendowski is a senior in communication sciences and disorders who joined the aphasia-focused laboratory of Katie Strong as a volunteer and quickly ascended to an "integral part of the lab team." As a student researcher, Malendowski learned transcription, analysis and numerous other qualitative research skills. Strong describes Malendowski's work as stellar and commends his professionalism and dedication. As a lab team member, he collaboratively designed an independent research project that was accepted for presentation at state and national conferences.

For his honors capstone project, Malendowski designed a qualitative study that led to research interaction with an investigator and graduate student at Nova Southeastern University. He turned the research experience into four additional presentation opportunities, including an accepted poster session at the Aphasia Access Leadership Summit, and he will submit a manuscript to a peer-reviewed journal for publication. Malendowski will continue his research in a graduate program this fall.

Elizabeth Scupholm and Lillian Tibbott

Seniors Elizabeth Scupholm and Lillian Tibbott are marketing majors who were nominated by Michael Garver, professor in the Department of Marketing and Hospitality Services Administration, for their excellent collaboration on their Honors Program research project, "Analyzing Customer Experience Survey Scales through Music Streaming Services."

The duo were intent on finding a better way to assess customer service and minimize the limitations and biases that confound other such surveys. Scupholm and Tibbott created a survey for the music streaming industry that incorporated three different customer survey scales. According to Garver, the pair's analysis of these scales had the scope and quality of studies conducted by professional research firms. The duo plan additional analyses and will submit their research manuscript for publication in a scholarly journal.

Julia Willsie

Senior biology student Julia Willsie's "achievements in research as an undergraduate at CMU are extraordinary," according to nominator David Zanatta, professor in the Department of Biology.

Willsie has grown immeasurably in her understanding and ability to conduct sophisticated research — including mastery of DNA techniques, field protocols, analytical tools and independent laboratory work. For her honors capstone project, Willsie collaborated with Zanatta and graduate students to collect and process mussel specimens in Michigan, Arkansas, Missouri and Ontario.

Willsie's work was supported by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the CMU Summer Scholars Program and led to several presentations and top honors at two undergraduate research symposia at CMU. Despite the pandemic, she presented virtually at a key conference and has another presentation accepted for 2021. Further, her research was published in Diversity, a top peer-reviewed journal in her field. Willsie currently is choosing among letters of acceptance received for her graduate work in aquatic ecology and conservation biology.


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