Four outstanding students at Southern have been selected for the Henry Barnard Distinguished Student Award.
A total of 12 students are chosen for the award each year from the four Connecticut State University campuses, including a quartet from Southern. It is considered among the university’s most prestigious awards. Criteria include a 3.7 GPA and having demonstrated significant participation in university and/or community life. They were honored at a recent banquet at the Aqua Turf Club in Southington.
*Ariana Bengtson of Newington is an English major with a concentration in professional writing and a history and Spanish minor with a 3.94 GPA.
She is a member of the Honors College and recipient of the Presidential Scholarship and the Roberta B. Willis Merit Scholarship. She is president of the SCSU Global Brigades, where she organized and executed a medical brigade with 18 students to Nicaragua.
Bengtson is also a writing tutor in SCSU’s Academic Success Center and an editorial assistant at SCSU’s Metaphilosophy journal. She is an intern with the Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants in Bridgeport, helping victims of human trafficking get access to legal and social services. She eventually hopes to work for a nonprofit organization to help immigrants and refugees, and then as a human rights lawyer.
Cynthia Stretch, professor of English, praised Bengtson both as a student and as a writing tutor she supervised.
“Ariana excelled at her work,” Stretch said. “I never had to second guess or worry about the actual reading and writing instruction she was providing to the students; it was always on point. And she very quickly established a near-peer tutoring relationship with the students that was friendly, approachable, and yet down-to-business.”
She is the recipient of the Outstanding Women’s Studies Student Award, the Robin M. Glassman Journalism Scholarship, and the Charles S. and Eugenia M. Whitney Journalism Scholarship for academic excellence and commitment to her major. She is a news editor and general reporter for Southern News, and a co-editor in chief of Crescent magazine. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, where she served as secretary.
She also worked as a copy editor for a local art magazine and is currently manager of the Southport Galleries. After graduation, Victoria intends to write for a newspaper or accept a fellowship, and plans to obtain her master’s degree in women’s studies or journalism.
Cindy Simoneau, chairwoman of the Journalism Department, said Bresnahan has been an excellent editor who also served as a mentor to her fellow student journalists.
“I have seen this confident and selfless approach toward fellow students in the classroom as well as through these student activities,” Simoneau said. “Victoria is simply, a leader among students who will, no doubt, be a leader among professionals someday soon.”
*Taylor Hurley of Canaan is an elementary education major and interdisciplinary studies minor with a 3.94 GPA.
She received several scholarships, including the Roberta B. Willis Merit Scholarship and SCSU Foundation scholarships. She is an Urban Education Fellow, which is a student-led program for students committed to social justice and education.
Hurley also worked with students at the Beecher Museum Magnet School, Wintergreen Interdistrict Magnet School, and Quinnipiac STEM School. She volunteers at Noble Horizons, assisting residents in daily living; and at Salisbury Central School.
She hopes to work in the education system with an interest at studying systemic inequities in education and the goal of attending graduate school.
Jessica Powell, assistant professor of curriculum and learning, said Hurley demonstrated strong leadership and collaborative skills in her classroom and as an Urban Education Fellow.
“She worked with her peers to navigate and grapple with controversial topics and helped the group come to consensus,” Powell said. “She also was a leader in presenting ideas to the class and challenging her peers to consider the ethical dimensions of education. I feel confident that Taylor is graduating from our program as a beginning teacher who will be a positive change agent in whichever school community she serves.”
*Zachary Jezek of Moodus is a public health major with a 3.92 GPA
He was the owner of Grist Mill Market in Moodus from 2005-18, where he helped address the issue of food insecurity. Currently, Jezek is an intern with the state Department of Public Health Food Protection program, where he is responsible in helping review and test data systems, log foodborne illness complains, and track certified food inspectors and food establishment inspection reports.
Jezek will be trained in the National Environmental Reporting System and become a certified food inspector. He belongs to the East Haddam Lions Club, where he twice served as president and was awarded the Lions International Melvin Jones Fellowship. He is a member of the East Haddam Leos, where he advises 12- to 18-year-old students through community engagement. He intends to earn his master’s degree in public health at SCSU with the goal of becoming a health director.
Elizabeth Schwartz, instructor of public health, said Jezek was not only prepared for each class, but was ready to tackle challenging concepts.
“Though he often came to class with a given perspective on an issue, he also made it very clear that he is open to grappling with new ideas and points of view, an attitude that I believe is at the core of a meaningful college education,” Schwartz said. “In presenting this combination of gentle confidence and open-mindedness. Zac was a role model to his classmates, demonstrating that being a distinguished student isn’t just about knowing the ‘right’ answers but is about exercising patience, fortitude, respect and encouragement.”