HomeGraduation2024 Barnard Scholars Excel in Academic and Community Impact

2024 Barnard Scholars Excel in Academic and Community Impact

Four Southern graduates have earned this year’s Henry Barnard Distinguished Student Award, recognizing their dedication to community service, academic excellence, and campus involvement.

Each year, 12 seniors are chosen by the four Connecticut State Universities – four each from Southern and Central, and two each from Eastern and Western. The Barnard Award is considered among the university’s most prestigious student awards, with criteria including a 3.7 GPA or better and significant participation in university and/or community life.

Meet this year’s scholars:

Kyle Mashia-Thaxton 

Hometown: Groton, Conn. 

Degree: Dual B.A. in history and political science, with minors in business administration and French

In 2020, Kyle Mashia-Thaxton began his college journey as a student in Southern’s Honors College amidst the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. Turns out, being part of that academic cohort helped ease the challenges imposed by social distancing and limited activities on campus. His early classwork not only encouraged him to connect with fellow students but also sparked in him a sense of adventure, something he used to step out of his comfort zone and embrace this extraordinary start to his college experience.

Mashia-Thaxton would go on to serve as a member of Southern’s Student Government Association, Student Activism Committee, College Democrats, Pre-Law Society, and Future Teachers Organization. Through these experiences, he also cultivated a deeper purpose in serving others. 

“I have learned how to not just be an advocate for myself, but more importantly for others, inspiring me to seek out a career in public service,” said Mashia-Thaxton. 

Mashia-Thaxton currently works as a legislative intern for the Connecticut General Assembly, and last summer he served as a congressional intern for U.S. Senator Chris Murphy.

“Kyle embodies what it means to be part of the Southern community,” said Daphney Alston, associate director for student involvement and leadership development. “His passion for our institution is cemented in his work ethic, academic rigor, and pride in being an Owl.”

Jen Ng

Hometown: Fairfield, Conn. 

Degree: B.S. in philosophy, with minors in psychology and women’s and gender studies

From the outset, Jen Ng understood that her college experience would unfold differently amidst the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a Hong Kong Chinese American, she acutely felt the misrepresentation and one-dimensionalism at times conveyed by global news, and aspired to use the interdisciplinary opportunities granted by the Honors College to become a force for change. 

“These courses guided my interest to learn about the impact of controversial and unspoken pieces of history,” said Ng. “My research incorporates my love for Asian entertainment into an analysis of world issues such as immigration, xenophobia, and exploited migrant work.” 

Ng has distinguished herself both as a scholar and a leader, earning the F.E. Lowe Endowed Scholarship for philosophy majors and receiving an award from the Bron & Noir Society in 2023. She was also chosen by History Professor Sarah Roe to intern at the Research Center for Values Emerging in Science and Technology (RC-VEST) and help expand the center’s focus on students.

With a keen focus on community building and advocacy, Ng aspires to continue honing her scholarly inquiry and activism to amplify underrepresented narratives and effect meaningful change in society.

“Without a doubt, I would say that Jen is an asset to any community she puts herself in,” said Tricia Lin, chair of the Women’s and Gender Studies Department. “She is mature and wise beyond her age, with a clear vision for herself and her communities.”

Emily Rowland 

Hometown: Milford, Conn. 

Degree: B.S. in social work, with a minor in psychology 

Emily Rowland stands on the cusp of her undergraduate graduation with a blend of “excitement, anxiety, and pride,” a sentiment echoed by many of her fellow Class of 2024 graduates. Yet her journey to this moment has been anything but conventional. Realizing the traditional high school trajectory wasn’t for her, Rowland found a way to take her education into her own hands.

“My high school experience taught me how to advocate for myself, the importance of developing skills to articulate what I need, and to be unafraid of being different or taking my own pathway to success,” said Rowland. 

Emily’s journey is marked by stops and starts and overcoming personal struggles, but also exceptional achievement and finding her true calling. From battling mental health challenges to earning her GED, to rediscovering her love for learning at Housatonic Community College and now thriving at Southern, Rowland is poised to start her career upon graduation as a social worker for underserved populations.

“As a future social worker, this experience has helped me to be open-minded to alternative solutions, to focus on empowerment and skill building, and to have empathy for people who don’t fit the mold expected by teachers, parents, therapists, and society,” said Rowland.

Rowland has held multiple positions at Southern, including student ambassador for the College of Health and Human Services and student worker for the Community Alliance for Research and Engagement (CARE) and the COMPASS Childcare Center. She also worked as an intern for Yale New Haven Health’s Children’s Day Hospital, supporting clinical interventions and case management tasks.

Throughout her educational journey, Rowland has achieved the distinction of consistently earning top spots on both the Dean’s and President’s Lists.

Dr. Michele Vancour, executive director of healthcare programs, describes Rowland as an excellent role model for students with whom she coaches, mentors, and supports. 

“Emily’s service and commitment to her academic, personal, and professional goals demonstrate her strength of character and potential for continued academic and professional success,” said Vancour.

Nadesha Shakes

Hometown: Hamden, Conn. 

Degree: Dual B.S. in nursing and public health, with minors in wellness and forensic science

Having balanced her family life and an outstanding military career, Nadesha Shakes’ graduation from Southern marks the culmination of a decade of steadfast dedication to her studies and the realization of her lifelong dream to become a nurse. 

Shakes proudly serves as a logistic specialist in the U.S. Navy Reserves, with assignments in Scotland, Bahrain, and Djibouti, Africa. 

On campus, she’s been a public health intern for the Student Health Services Department and a research assistant. She’s also active in Zeta Delta Epsilon, affiliated with the Honorary Service Organization, SCSU Veterans’ Association, and Eta Sigma Gamma.

Amongst her numerous accolades, Shakes has earned a place on the Dean’s List, the Public Health Award for Excellence, and a Joint Service Commendation Medal for her service in Africa. 

“Nadesha has consistently shown exceptional dedication and commitment to her studies in nursing,” said Melissa Lopez, director of Student Health Services. “She continuously seeks opportunities to enhance her knowledge and skills, going above and beyond what is required.”  

After graduating, Shakes aims to earn her master’s in public health and doctor of nursing practice and ultimately to open up her practice. She hopes to return to her hometown of Springfield in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica, and open a community center for underprivileged young women, providing mentorship and guidance. 

“My drive for success, my passion to help and be a positive influence in the lives of others, my love for youth and children, the love and support of my family and friends, and the support, guidance, and mentorship from my professors and peers, are the driving forces behind all that I have been able to attain over all these years,” said Shakes. 


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