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Students Recognized with Institute Awards

Student award recipients

On October 7, the McBee IHE faculty gathered to recognize the achievements of five students, as well as the lives and legacies that our scholarships honor. We were please to host award recipients and their families in person and virtually through Zoom. 

The 2021-2022 Zell and Shirley Miller Fellowship recipient is Matt Gregory, a fourth-year Ph.D. student. During his time at the McBee Institute, Gregory has led key tasks associated with numerous projects; the most notable on major grant received from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. With previous experience at a university-based institutional research office and background in statistics, Gregory is very skilled at managing and solving multiple complex statistical processes and problems. 

In additional to his important research and writing experience, Gregory is a student leader at the McBee Institute, having served as a co-coordinator of the Research Roundtable for two years. He was the student representative to the unit’s Technology Committee as well.

Gregory’s dissertation advances current thinking around the distinction between public for-profit and not-for-profit higher education and how it has defined the landscape of higher education in this country. “Thank you for the recognition,” Gregory said, “In a year that has been unlike any other and has taken a toll on all of us, this recognition means a lot.”

The Zell and Shirley Miller Fellowship is given to honor the legacy of Governor Zell Miller and his wife, Mrs. Shirley Miller. Governor Miller achieved national eminence as one of the strongest pro-education governors in the history of the United States. The Miller Award supports professional development and recognizes the scholarly potential of a doctoral candidate. 

Charles Sanchez is this year’s recipient of the Thomas G. Dyer Outstanding Dissertation Award. Sanchez has a passionate interest in finding structures to improve college access among populations that have historically been disadvantaged in higher education. 

Some of his professional experiences include working with the UGA Center for Latino Achievement and Success in Education, the Georgia College Advising Corps, and serving as a mentor with multiple high school education programs. These experiences inspired his current dissertation titled, Here to Stay: Assessing the Relationship Between Pre-College Access Programs and College in Persistence. His dissertation is a comprehensive investigation of how outreach programs, external to traditional school counseling, can improve college access for students. 

In his remarks, Sanchez recognized and thanked his advisor, Dr. George Spencer, for his guidance while working on his dissertation. “While I’m appreciative of this award and recognition, it wouldn’t have happened without you,” Sanchez said, “And this is another instance of me being very lucky to have met a good person, who has helped me along the way.”

The Thomas G. Dyer Outstanding Dissertation Research Award was established to honor Professor Dyer on the occasion of his retirement on December 1, 2006, following over three decades of distinguished leadership at UGA. The Dyer Award supports and recognizes the potential for rigorous, original scholarship in the field of higher education.

This year’s recipient of the J. Douglas Toma Excellence in Scholarship and Service Award is Julianne O’Connell. “When I first heard about this award, I had a chance to read about Doug and learn about his legacy, not only to greater academia, but also on this campus. I felt very humbled to be thought of in relation to him.”

O’Connell has taken part in many service opportunities including serving on the Public Service and Outreach Committee and the Higher Education Student Society Executive Committee, volunteering at the UGArden Student Community Farm, being a Service Ambassador for Serve UGA, participating in and being a site leader for the Impact Alternatives Spring Breaks Program, and serving on the University Housing’s Culture and Inclusion Committee. 

She is in the process of writing her dissertation proposal on an important topic to her: food insecurity in higher education. Through a qualitative approach, she is working to understand not just how institutions work to solve this issue, but how students in need of support experience and interact with those efforts as well.

The J. Douglas Toma Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Service honors the life and legacy of former UGA Professor, Doug Toma. He was known as an energetic inclusive colleague who took great joy in bringing people together from all walks of life. Professor Toma also designed and directed the McBee Institute’s Executive Doctoral Program in Higher Education Management, which was launched in 2009. Doug is remembered not only for his commitments to research and service, but also his passion for international travel. The Toma Award is given in recognition of academic achievements and commitment to institutional and professional engagement. 

Alexa Arndt and Ben Cecil are the recipients of the Libby V. Morris Leadership Award for 2021-2022.

Arndt, a third-year Ph.D. student, who arrived at the McBee Institute with an array of leadership experience, having served as interim director of the Office of Leadership and Advocacy at the University of Mississippi and as an advisor to the Student Organization Ethics Board at Indiana University. 

At UGA, Arndt has served as the president of the Higher Education Student Society, and she holds a graduate research assistantship at the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development. She is also the area advisor for the National Panhellenic Conference and the Panhellenic Coordinator for Delta Delta Delta. 

Alexa is in the process of researching equity issues in higher education, relative to leadership. Her dissertation will apply critical feminist theory to the study of women in higher education. “It’s humbling to have my name associated with this award’s former recipients, and it is even more humbling to be awarded anything associated with Dr. Morris,” Arndt said, “I promise to do my best to represent the incredible legacy that [she] has created at the McBee Institute of Higher Education.”

Cecil was the assistant director of the Office of International Student Affairs, 2017-2021, where he directed international student orientation, led workshops on intercultural competency, and served as a leader for experiential learning programs for international students. He also taught courses on global perspectives and culture and professional practice in student affairs as an adjunct instructor in the Mary Frances Early College of Education.

Currently, Ben works as a graduate research associate for the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C. Cecil’s dissertation will seek to understand institutional decision making and behaviors around the internationalization of higher education. 

“My time here as a student at the McBee Institute of Higher Education has been nothing short of transformative,” Cecil said, “The environment of inquiry and intellectual growth that we foster here has equipped me with the tools to go out and try to answer many of the tough questions that are facing higher education today. I am particularly grateful for the holistic support by our faculty and staff here at the [McBee] Institute. I’m honored to be recognized by them for this award this year.”

The Libby V. Morris Award honors Dr. Libby V. Morris, director of the McBee Institute of Higher Education. Dr. Morris also serves as the Zell Miller distinguished professor of higher education. The Morris Leadership Award fosters commitment to the land grant missions of instruction, research and public service. This award recognizes students who show potential for leadership in colleges and universities. 

The event was held in the UGA Special Collections Libraries.


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